On Turning 40

I recently turned 40.  I have to tell you, I feel pretty good about this.  Given that I've reached this point by steadily accumulating a lifespan of 14,600 days, nothing about the event was surprising.  I don't feel any different.  Billions of other people already have hit this milestone before me, so it's not remarkable that it was my turn.  Still, celebrating a 40th birthday seems like a personal accomplishment, like I've been training to get here since 1978.  I'm happy I've arrived.

A good friend and I have declared that our 40's will be a great decade.  We're wiser than we once were.  We're more established.  We're better at discerning good from best while making important life choices, which is harder (but just as important) as discerning good from bad.

In the broadest of terms, here's what I'm looking forward to in my 40's.  (It's not the wrinkles or the promise of a slower metabolism, by the way. Sheesh.  Those things are entirely uncalled for.)

Loving this Parenting Stage.  At 40, I'm no longer in the highly hands-on, sleep-deprived, spit-upon, continually-touched stage of parenting.  This is good.  Really good.  (That stage was exhausting.  Sweet and precious and remarkably tender, of course, but exhausting.)

But graduating from the "early" parenting stage also means that I'm now immersed in the highly active-listening, support-giving, and life-coaching stage of "middle-years" parenting.  The instructional foundations established during phase one now have real-world applications, moral dimensions, and practical consequences for my kids.  (Parenting looks different at every stage, but it's always all-in.)

I want to parent well during these years.  By the time I exit this decade, my young children, who currently range from 7-12 years old, will be young adult children.  (But we don't need to rush that.  Right now we're just figuring out orthodontia.)

Cultivating Friendships.  During my 30's, the bulk of my conversations with other adults outside of work were fragmented snippets of coherence with some child crying in the background.  Now there's a bit more breathing room, and with that breathing room, there's more time to invest in relationships.

For example, I went out to dinner and shopped with my neighbors one evening last week because we wanted to and because we could.  This warrants typing in italics, people!  I came home from this evening so filled-up and refreshed.

Plain and simple, we need fun and authentic friendships and community.  I plan to invest in my friendships this decade.  It's essential to well-being, both now and in the future. 

Taking Care of Myself.  Last fall I read an article about self-care that contained this remarkable sentence: "True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from."  (Cue dropping the mic.)

I push myself too hard sometimes.  I've had rough seasons when I've simultaneously tackled too much professionally and personally, when I've poured out while forgetting to pour back into myself.  None of this is wise.  On the surface, continual effort might seem goal-oriented or generous, but it's actually foolish.  It's not sustainable.  It leads to burn out or bitterness, and I've hit those walls enough time to know better.

So, in my 40's, I'm committed to building a life that I don't need to regularly escape from.  It means I sleep enough, and eat (somewhat) sensibly, and exercise.  It means I accept that my performance at work, though rewarding, doesn't determine my worth.  It means that I write because I love to write, but that I don't strive for blog statistics because Google Analytics doesn't determine my worth, either.

That's the gift of cumulative years of trial and error: we get greater self-awareness.  At this stage of life, I better understand and respect my limitations.  I don't resent them as much as I used to.  I can whisper to myself at ease, soldier, and extend myself some grace on most days.

That's good self-care.

Seizing Opportunities.  At the same time, saying no to certain things means that I free up time and resources so I can say yes to better things.  It's like I can commandeer Liam Neeson's epic Taken quote ("What I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career") and apply it to my life, except I'm not hunting down kidnappers.

No, my particular set of skills are more humane.  I'm a communicator.  I write, I speak, and I teach.  These skills not only have established my career as a teaching professor, but I've also leveraged them to encourage others in different venues, like when I speak at women's events, churches, or mom's groups. 

When your talents and passions intersect with other's needs, it's ripe territory.  I'm committed to explore this territory more during my 40's.

Walking with God.  This never gets old.  Since I became a Christian 25 years ago, I've been on a journey where I'm hedged in from behind, protected on the sides, and guided from ahead by a God who perfectly restores, redeems, forgives, and loves.  I'm secure, and this security transcends circumstances.  What a wonderful place to be, no matter the age!

So, 40 has arrived, and it's looking good, even with some strands of gray hair, and less toned parts, and the unnerving realization that when I engage with a college-aged person outside of my classroom I'm not sure whether I should be their mother or their friend.  (It's quite perplexing, actually.  I'm still spry -- I can do push ups! multiple push ups! -- but who are these young people, and how am I not one of them?  Was I really 20 once?)

The first 40 years have just been the warm up, and I'm ready for the next leg of the race.  Bring it on. Except for the part about the slower metabolism.  I'd like to stick with my 30's metabolism, please.

But everything else, bring it on. I'm glad 40 has arrived.

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