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Ever since my birthday, I’ve been thinking about what to say in this blog about turning 40. Finally, last week, after the idea kept coming back to me, I decided to write “40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years.” I wrote 30 of them, decided that it was much too long for one blog entry, and split it into two parts. I was about to publish it when I decided I’d better write all 40 (both parts) before publishing one of them in case something that came at the end would fit better at the beginning, or vice versa. (You writer friends know what I mean!) Since at that point it was well past midnight on a work night, I pressed save and closed the laptop.Fast forward to the next day after work. It was my first night in a long time that I got to just go home after work (at a normal hour) and actually have a few hours to do whatever I wanted (rare, precious time). I decided what I most wanted was to go through the bags of gifts from my birthday and write thank you cards. (Kristen, you’ve taught me well.) More than anything, I love the thought put into the cards and gifts from my dear friends and family. And amongst them all, I found a letter that I hadn’t seen in the craziness of the party. I opened it and laughed out loud! It was from Vanessa: a list of things she’s learned since she turned 40! I figured it would be similar to the list I was making, but was surprised to find that it’s not. In fact, the things I’ve learned in my barely 40 years hardly overlap with the things she’s learned since turning 40. I thanked Vanessa profusely for sharing her wisdom and asked if I could include it here – and she said yes. Thank you, Vanessa! Enjoy all! (And I’ll share my 40 things later this week…)

February 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, Amy!

Hi there,

I’ve been thinking about what to buy you for your birthday for some time now. I thought about donating to causes and non-profit organizations in your name. I thought of milestone pieces of jewelry. I thought of kitschy-mementos to honor your birth year. They were all good, but they all rang hollow. Besides, what do you buy for the person who has everything? I mean, turning 40 is huge.

That’s when I knew what I would get you. Turning 40 is a distinct rite of passage. If you’re a woman, that journey is colored with complexities, shaded by doubt and confronted by bold dreams. I wish someone had told me that instead of texting me an unimpressive nursery rhymed, rhetorical “Lordy, Lordy, looks who’s 40” message.

So my friend, even though I’m only six months ahead, here’s what I’ve learned since turning 40:

  1. Life is just beginning; it’s not a cliché. Long before I heard Oprah bellow to her audience about turning 40 and hearing celebrity guests like the late Nora Ephron talk about using scarves to cover “your aging neck”, I never understood what the fear was all about. We’re fortunate to be alive at this time. Yes, the glass ceiling has cracked a bit and salaries of professional women have shown marginal increase, but our generation is not judged as failures if we’re not draped on some dashing Prince Charming’s arm by a certain “magical age”. No, women like us are leading the way. We may not have all gone on an 83-day-long cross-country-trip across the U.S., but we’re living by the rules we set for ourselves.  Sometimes there are stops and detours in that journey. When cancer threw you a curve ball, you stared that sucker down and kicked it in the groin—grinding in your stiletto for good measure. You have your whole life ahead of you. A life that’s yours to do what you want, and pursue your dreams and goals.
  2. It’s OK to rid yourself of toxic people. The key to enjoying the next 40+ years is peace. You can’t get peace if your life is full of toxic parasites who inject negativity and depression into your world. We all have them. They masquerade as fun friends, rational-thinking relatives and the occasional acquaintances maligning you with misguided, misinformed missives of mayhem. One of my friends at church reminded me I told her to be careful about who she allowed to “speak into [her] life” years ago.  It’s still true today and it’s a creed I live by now. Hurt and hurting people flock to those with similar experiences and/or those who seem to have it all together. That’s understandable, but it’s exhausting when those individuals drain their sorrows into your generous heart and are too caught up with their own needs to discern when you need an ear. I’ve learned to let them go. I need to be surrounded by people of like mind and attitude who know that friendship is a two-way street. One shouldn’t be forced into caring. Instead, true friends care and are there without being asked because they value precious people.
  3. I’m a big girl and can make my own decisions. For the longest while I felt like I needed to poll those around me, or get the opinion of those whom I respected, to help my decision making. As I’ve gotten older and my outlook has changed, I’ve come to the realization that no one will live with those decisions, but me. What galled me was people’s need to frequently correct and critique my decisions when they didn’t line up with what they would have done. I’m empowered now to kindly, and if need be, curtly thank them for their opinion and reinforce that as an adult I’m entitled to make my own decisions and choices. I may decide to revisit an old relationship or venture into something completely atypical from what my personality dictates. If my decisions come with mistakes, bring it. I’m a big girl and I can handle it.
  4. Turning 40 is empowering! Do you remember how you were in every past decade of your life? Did uncertainty and doubt overshadow decisions you made? Perhaps you found yourself subconsciously acting a certain way to fit in with friends, or saying particular things to impress peers or and even dressing to please a crush or a boyfriend? One of the many great things about turning 40 is you no longer feel pressured to do those things. I frequently hear myself saying, “I’m at an age and stage in my life where I don’t feel I need to (fill in the blank).” It is so liberating.
  5. Even though I’ve accomplished a lot, I still want to do more. Like me, you’ve done more personally and professionally than many people you know. If others were to view our dossiers, our lives would look successful, glamorous and extremely well-traveled. And that’s understandable, but I still feel as though there’s more to do. I still feel unfulfilled in some areas. For a while I listened to others who told me I “was too hard” on myself. Then I realized that I’m not hard on myself. There are things I want (or need) to do. And that’s OK. I’m constantly looking to expand my horizon and conquer new things. We shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting more from life.
  6. Put God first. I don’t consider myself religious, but I have a personal relationship with God. I pray or talk to Him as much as I can. I even have “date nights”. I know. It sounds hokey. Basically, I block off an evening, prepare a fantastic meal, key up some worship music on my MP3 or laptop and spend my evening listening to music, reading my Bible and pouring out my heart to Him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m quiet. Whatever I do, I am always deeply satisfied after. You’ll find your own way, I’m sure. But who better to pour out my hopes, dreams and fears to but the One who made me? I couldn’t have made it as far as I have without Him and I tell all my friends the same. Put Him first and you’ll never regret it.

I’m sure you’ll receive numerous gifts and well-wishes. You’ll be surrounded by those you love and who love you just as much. When everybody’s gone and you’re left with your thoughts, I hope you’ll find these observations useful.  Like I mentioned before, we are alive in a time in history where the world is literally at our fingertips. All you have to do is pick up your phone or tablet and you will instantly have access to review opportunities and dreams before you pursue them. You’ll chart your own course, make your own rules, and live your own dreams. So happy birthday, my dear, the best is yet to come!

– Vanessa

With Vanessa at my 40th birthday party.

With Vanessa at my 40th birthday party.

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