Most of us, at one point or another, take a moment to evaluate our lives and the paths that we have chosen to take. We each do it at different times and with different emphasis. Sometimes people do it around high school or college graduation time, when deciding what career to pursue, how we want to be regarded by society, friends, and family or how to transition ourselves from a student to a grown up.
Some people do the evaluative process when planning for a family. Sometimes it takes the illness or death of a family member, or some other tragic event to make us stop and see if we are taking our life in the right direction.
For many of us, however, hitting a certain age can cause one to stop and take pause. This happened to me last summer. I had just hit the big 3-9 and I realized that in less than one year I would be 40 years old. Now, I have been saying and believing that today’s 40 is yesterday’s 30, but I was still a bit shocked at the prospect that I would soon be what I had always considered middle aged.
Part of the problem for me with aging is that I never “feel" my age. I have this preconceived notion about what a person should be feeling or doing at a given age. I am always surprised though that I never match up with what my notion is. I have also realized that no one ever wants to be their real age. If I ask my kids how old they are they always want to round up… my daughter doesn’t turn 9 for a few weeks, but today she is nine if you ask her. Teenagers try everything to look older, sometimes even getting fake IDs to get into clubs and bars. Then once we hit 21, that magic age of “real" adulthood, something happens and we start to feel like we should begin shaving off years to continue to be young. The older we get the more years we shave off.
So in turning 40, I started to think about what that meant. My husband has been busting my chops because I am getting “old", (I turn 40 two weeks before he does, something he finds great delight in!). I remember that when my parents turned 40, I thought that it did seem old. Today, I don’t feel like I thought 40 would feel. I certainly don’t feel old; I certainly don’t feel like 20 either! So how am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to act? Do I have to be more serious and mature? Am I suppose to start looking into botox, or getting plastic surgery? Should I start buying sensible shoes? Do I need to start stocking my medicine cabinet differently?
In making the decision about how forty feels, and who I was going to be as a forty year old, I had to first look at who I was and how I currently felt. I have been plagued by a gnawing sense of insecurity since childhood, something that I have tried to work on for years. I didn’t always like myself and found it hard to have confidence in myself or my work. Friends and family would often be frustrated when paying me a compliment because I never wanted to believe them. I thought that they were only saying the words to be nice. But for some reason, turning 40 is making me look at my life and the things that I have accomplished differently. What I am realizing is that I really do have some good stuff under my belt. I am realizing that I am the only one holding me back and that I can have another 40 remarkable years if I let myself. I am beginning to truly believe that age is only a number and that the soul is only as old as you feel. In my research, there aren’t any hard and fast rules for how 40 acts or thinks or feels. So, I have decided to create my own definition, feel free to borrow it if you like!
I want to go to the park and run with my kids and play tag. I want to swim in the summer and sled in the winter. I want to go to a rock concert with my husband just because he asks. Or snuggle up in front of the fire because he didn’t. I want to like myself and the life that I live because I am choosing to do so. I don’t want someone to tell me that I need to act my age, I want them to be envious that I don’t. I am choosing to believe that I am worthy of friendships, love, happiness, and any compliment that someone chooses to offer. I am embracing the fact that I am going to be 40, and I am going to feel great about starting a new page in my book of life. I am choosing to go after what I want and if I don’t get it, I will choose not to let it devastate me. When that happens, I’ll pick up my behind and go after something else. I want to feel alive and proud and energized by my family, friends, and my own desire not to be a couch potato. I want to feel like dancin’. (Ok, maybe I am getting a bit carried away, but I think you get the point!)
I have never been one to focus much on my looks or to worry much about my style. Don’t get me wrong, I like to look good and stylish, but I never had the money it takes to do it up great. I am a fairly simple person and have no intention of changing that fact, but turning 40 does make me take a realistic look at the image that I put out into the world. I see this time in my life as an opportunity to possibly recreate myself, or minimally make sure that what I am I want to keep.
One thing about my image that I know that I don’t want to keep is an extra forty pounds I have been carrying around. After three children and years of eating whatever I wanted and not making exercise a priority in my life, I realize that not only was I setting a bad example for my kids, but I was looking pretty dumpy doing it. I constantly complained about my weight to my husband, who would look at me and say “what are you doing about it". It was a legitimate question, but coming from a guy who can eat anything, doesn’t do a lot of structured exercise and still maintains his slim college weight, I was bitter to answer his question. Unfortunately, the reality was, I wasn’t doing anything but making excuses and being depressed. My birthday made me aware that enough was enough. I needed to take control and make my health a priority and get my weight in check. I didn’t want to be 40, and 40 pounds overweight. I want to be an active part of my kid’s life and carrying all this extra poundage around wasn’t allowing me to do that. So, I am changing my lifestyle. It really is about making a total mind change not just a diet change. I make time for exercise. I do the exercises that I like to do not what I think I should do. I have a couple of buddies, who I am committed to supporting and who are committed to supporting me. We are making a great team and we are all excited about the changes we feel and see in our overall health and wellness. I admit that making time for exercise is easier now that I work from home, but I also realize that I cannot make anything an excuse for not being good to myself.
I am also trying to eat wiser. I still enjoy a good bowl of ice cream, or a chocolate candy, but I savor the smaller amounts that I allow myself to have, and I do it less frequently. I try to eat more green and orange foods, and less white. I also realize that I can be satisfied with less food, and I don’t have to eat until I puke. It is easy to say and harder to do, but everyday I renew my commitment to myself and my goals, and so far it is paying off and coming off!
My relationships are another area that I am examining. I need to make sure that those people in my life know how important they are to me. I have a large number of acquaintances, but only a few true and close friends. Those friends have made a huge impact on how I live my life and some of the decisions that I have made over the years. They need to be recognized as the truly vital part of whom I am and who I will yet to become. My husband is one of the most important people in that category. I have been married to him for 13 years and I think that my marriage is as strong if not stronger than when we were first married. My husband and I have watched marriages of friends and family struggle, some even ending in divorce. I am not naïve enough to believe that it can’t happen to us, so I am making a new commitment to him and our marriage. Every couple with kids knows how easy it is to let the romance and intimacy of marriage take a back seat to the care of your children. My kids are very important to me, but I also know that if I don’t focus more on my marriage and myself, I won’t have anything to give to my kids. I want to be a good role model for my kids when it comes to relationships. I also want to be a good wife for my husband. Relationship experts talk about the importance of date nights, but we have a tight budget and it doesn’t always allow for traditional dates. My goal is to be more creative in our dates. We can have candlelight dinners at home after the kids go to bed, even if we are having hamburgers. We can create a spa atmosphere in our own bathroom tub. We can write love letters or poems to each other, something we haven’t done in years. Our love is strong and I know that only constant attention and creative thinking will continue to foster its growth.
I AM 40 AND PROUD! I hope that when I turn 60 and start to evaluate my life again, I will look over the previous 20 years and see accomplishments, advancements, and wonderments that are only dreams now. I hope that I see that I was happy with my life, and myself. I want to see that my family and friends continued to bring me joy and completeness, and that I have shared more of myself with them. I hope to see that I have continued to grow personally and professionally and that I have more in my life to be grateful for. And mostly I hope that at 60 I feel as great and proud as I do today!
Kim Dziobak is a personal coach dedicated to working with individuals and families to improve their health and wellness.