I clearly remember my dad’s 40th birthday. We were on a family spring break vacation driving from Wyoming to Oregon to visit my aunt and uncle and new baby cousin. We stayed in a motel overnight and while we were packing up for the second day of our trip, my dad somehow managed to throw a shoe onto the roof of the roadside motel. In the 25 years since, we haven’t let him forget that he spent part of his 40th birthday trying to figure out how to get a shoe off of a roof.
I remember when I used to be excited about birthdays. Those milestones meant new privileges and responsibilities. And then the milestones just meant that I was one year older, something I didn’t necessarily look forward to.
Thirty was rough. I really didn’t want to leave my twenties behind. Our daughter was born just six weeks before my 30th birthday and I relentlessly teased my husband because I became a parent before I turned 30 and he didn’t. Thirty sounded old, like I suddenly needed to act like a responsible adult. And it wasn’t that I didn’t already act like a responsible adult. I was married and a high school teacher with little free time. When we did get together with our friends, we didn’t go to bars or clubs; instead we hung out at each other’s houses (houses that we all owned), talked, played games, and drank (mostly) responsibly. But something about the combination of motherhood and my thirtieth birthday put me into a little bit of a funk.
My husband surprised me with a party of our closest friends on my actual birthday, and I started to dream about all the things that my thirties could mean. The next day he dropped the bomb that his boss wanted to transfer him to a new city; suddenly the hopes I had drawn up for the next decade of my life were blown to smithereens.
But life is a series of highs and lows and no decade of our life is going to be a trouble-free journey across a wide, open plain. The last decade of my life brought me another baby, a graduate degree, three different jobs, two moves, two new dogs, a long winding road to financial stability, a new discovery of health when I lost all the baby weight and then some (and humility when I gained back the “and then some”), the determination to start running on a regular basis once I was in the second half of the decade, new adventures with my family when we decided to start camping again, and the rediscovery of my love for writing. My thirties weren’t perfect, but as I neared the end of the decade, I looked back at everything I learned and experienced and realized ten years later I was stronger and ready to face new unknowns.
Where, thirty felt like the end of something, forty feels like the beginning.
I used to think that 40 was so old, like once I hit 40 it would be the end and all of the claims that it is “over the hill” meant that I didn’t have more to look forward to. Instead, I look towards the future and see another decade of potential highs and lows and learning and growth and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
By chance last week I decided to listen to one of Jen Hatmaker’s latest For the Love podcasts in which she spoke to Rich Karlgaard from Forbes Magazine. As a mom and a teacher, I was convicted by his discussion of the pressure that kids are feeling to do it all and be it all so early in their lives. But I was also encouraged by the idea that life isn’t over at 40 or 50. Dreams are still possible. New goals are still achievable. I can continue to grow and evolve as a woman, wife, mother, and professional. I haven’t peaked and I shouldn’t feel like I should have already.
As I looked to my fortieth birthday, I started writing a list of goals for the next year, and then I realized that my life has changed so much in the last ten, how could I possibly know what the next ten will hold? I’m not the same person today that I was ten years ago. How could I box myself in to arbitrary goals that seem like a good idea at the time, but don’t fit my life as it changes? As I face the curveballs that send life off of the planned track? As my family continues to grow and change in ways both imagined and unimagined?
So what do I want my 40s to look like?
I want to pursue health and healthy body image over a number on a scale. When I started running four years ago, I thought I was pretty fit. I wasn’t wrong, but I’m even more fit than I was when I went on my weight loss binge over six years ago. I may have gained some of the weight back, but running up to ten miles a week has given me energy that I never knew I was missing and I continue to be intentional about working healthier options into my diet, including eating the same chicken salad (minus dressing) nearly every day of the last school year. Since January, I have also added light weight lifting to my weekly routine, and that has also made a small difference. I need to be better about seeing a regular family doctor and the check-ups that keep us healthy as we get older. But I’ve also decided that life is too short to deny myself the pleasures of good food, including favorites like the Garrett’s Chicago mix that my husband and I bought on our weekend trip to Las Vegas.
I want to be more intentional about making and maintaining my friendships. My 30s started with fantastically close friendships in a friend circle that drifted after we moved to a new city. We all had babies and jobs and we were moving farther apart geographically. Those friendships still remain and we’ve made good friends since we’ve moved to Houston, but my introverted self finds it far easier to stay in my own bubble than to reach out of my comfort zone to extend new hands of friendship. But I see the importance and value of close female friendships. My husband may truly be my best friend, but I still need my girlfriends who understand the unique challenges of being a woman, wife, mother, and daughter.
I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I want to be more ecologically and environmentally responsible, smarter and more generous with my resources, less wasteful of the things I have and focus on my needs more than on-the-whim wants, and seek to find solutions instead of just complaining about the problems. I want to be an example that my children and students can follow, so they can see what it is to both say that they are Christians and be Christians. I want to serve Jesus by serving others. What all of this looks like, I have no idea, but it’s never too late to start trying to find out.
I want to pursue dreams and accept the challenges that go with those dreams. I’m not old. God willing, I have a lot of time left but I don’t want to just keep saying “next year.” The recent untimely death of Christian writer Rachel Held Evans reminded me that every day is a gift and that I need to use the time that God has given me. Sometimes we need to say “not yet,” but our lives shouldn’t be a list of “somedays.” I will keep writing. I will continue to travel. I won’t just dream about returning to Europe after twenty years, but I will find a way to use the passport that we got at the end of last year. After all, Mark Twain may have already done “all the things” before he was 40, but so many others were just getting started when they turned 40, enough to inspire me to declare that God is far from finished with me.
I want to be better about focusing on my family. I can be a hopeless workaholic, and because I both love what I do and I am a relentless people-pleaser, I often find myself sacrificing for my job over my family. I know that there is no such thing as a perfect balance, but I want to find true satisfaction in my job as both mother and teacher without losing myself at the same time. I don’t want to stop reading and writing and bettering myself as a wife, mom, teacher, and citizen, but I also need to take the time to just be a wife, mom, teacher, and productive citizen.
It has been said on sign and meme and poster time and time again: I may not know what the future holds but I know who holds the future. It’s a little cheesy but it’s also true. No matter what the future holds, I’m looking forward to the next decade. I choose to not see 40 as the start of the decline (despite what my knees occasionally tell me) but the continuation of a life that just gets better with age.