I recently turned 40.
And while I am a lover of birthdays (a birthday diva, if you will) this particular birthday stirred up more emotions than I expected.
I heard from friends who had either celebrated the big 4-0 already or would be this year, and one word kept popping up: fear.
A part of me understood—but what I was feeling was the exact opposite. I felt calm, confident, eager to step into this new phase.
And, well, that freaked me out a bit.
When I sat down to work through these feelings, I realized that while it’s healthy to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” it’s equally as healthy to accept (and celebrate) when fear isn’t part of your equation.
I realized this: 40 is a whole vibe.
She is different, but not in a magical, “I woke up like this” way. The change has been gradual, hard-earned.
She is calm, secure, more herself than she’s ever felt, even though she knows that who she is is always growing.
She harbors no fear of aging, of reaching an arbitrary number that for years was meant to signify impending doom. A crisis. An ending. A loss of something…of youth.
She instead sees this milestone as a reckoning, a revolution. The start of her Act II.
She sees the changes in the mirror—the belly that’s a little softer than it used to be, the lines on her face and neck that seem more pronounced than they did even a year ago, the grey hair that looks as unruly as she feels inside—and instead of obsessing, she knows she has a choice.
She knows she can either give in to the nagging thoughts that want her to hate herself for no longer being 20, or she can prioritize the beauty that comes with wisdom and experience.
She embraces the fact that on any given day, her soul, her heart, and even her body can feel seven or 14 or 21 or 33 or 56 or 80 years old. That our physical age is a matter of biology but our mental age, our emotional age, and our soul age are all a matter of mindset.
She is calm in the face of change, knowing all the transformations she’s been through to get here.
She lights her candles and burns her sage and reads Pema Chödrön and knows her sun sign and prays to the spirits she knows are watching over her. She connects to the spiritual practices she was raised with, and the ones she’s found along the way, because she understands that we are more than just our physical bodies.
She goes to therapy because she knows that she can’t control what happens to her but she can control her reactions.
She laughs as much as possible and speaks passionately about her interests and sings loudly and sometimes obnoxiously, especially to the corny pop songs she loved when she was 15. She loves the things that call to her heart, and doesn’t care if others don’t understand.
She still has more questions than answers but she’s learning to be okay with the unknown.
She can acknowledge the damage her past relationships have caused—the pain inflicted by men she loved or thought she loved or wondered if she could love, and friends who chose to prioritize pettiness or jealousy or their own emotional shortcomings—and still thank them, silently, (as they were never meant to hear the words) for everything that pain allowed her to create in life.
She also knows that she can be grateful for the person, for the lessons, and still let a healthy dose of anger linger, even if just to make sure that she never allows herself to accept less than what she deserves.
She creates her own family without the confines of anyone’s expectations, knowing that blood doesn’t matter if respect isn’t present.
She has learned that blocking and deleting and going no contact aren’t about throwing blame around or holding a grudge. They’re about boundaries and knowing your worth.
She loves hard, even when it’s scary, especially when it’s scary, and knows to demand the same from those who love her.
She refuses to regret, instead choosing to learn.
She is learning to be a better partner. To be aware of her triggers, her trust issues, her short fuse, her clinginess. To not fall back on old habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms. To never step fully into the role of victim or perpetrator, but to recognize that we all have the capacity for both and what matters is how we show up for each other and ourselves each day.
She is learning to accept that we all give and receive love differently. That no two people saw love modeled the same way. That what might seem like a mundane, daily task to her is actually a declaration of love from someone else. That if she chooses to pay attention, she’ll realize that these small acts of love are present in almost every moment of her life.
She is not a mother yet, at least not in the traditional sense, but she is warm and nurturing and aims to be a soft place to land for those she loves. And she finally knows, with a confidence she’s never felt before, that one day she’ll hear the precious sound of a small voice calling her Mom.
She feels at home in this confidence, in this unflinching belief in herself and what she is capable of. In her ability to build and create, to thrive and overcome, to ride the wave of acceptance and change.
She knows there are days, moments, when it’s 1,000 percent okay to not give a f*ck. To focus on herself, her needs and wants. To focus on doing nothing but what brings her peace.
She also knows there are days, moments, where she needs to step up for others, for the world. Not out of obligation but out of responsibility, care, and a desire to make things better.
She cries for no reason, for every reason.
She cries because the world is full of pain and every day is a reminder that we no longer know how to show each other basic kindness.
She cries because the world is far more beautiful than her heart can handle and every day is a reminder that we are surrounded by goodness.
She cries because she has felt grief seep into the darkest corners of her heart. She has watched those who have loved her since birth take their last breath. She has stood, cold and shaking, surrounded by friends as they say a final goodbye to one of their own. She has stared in her dog’s eyes, knowing that in a few days his body would no longer be earth-side.
She understands that part of being human is feeling it all: the deepest hurts and the most profound joys. The sadness that breaks our hearts and the laughter that slowly pieces it back together. And then forgiving ourselves when feeling it all leaves us clumsy and overwhelmed.
She knows that true forgiveness is about healing herself and not an open invitation to let those who hurt or disrespected her back in, armed to inflict more pain.
She is still learning to forgive herself for the mistakes and missteps she’s made. For the moments she hurt and disrespected others. For the moments she trusted others’ opinions more than she trusted her own intuition.
She finally, thankfully, recognizes that even on the days when she felt like she was getting left behind—literally running late for her own life—every experience, every moment, every interaction has always been beautifully on schedule.
She knows that the destination may be fuzzy, and she may not have a map, but she has arrived.