7 Lessons Being 40 Taught Me So Far

“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”

– Lucille Ball –

I never gave growing older a second thought, not until I turned 40. It’s been nearly 7 months since my 40th birthday and if there is one thing that holds true about reaching middle-age (a term I passionately resist), then it is this: Everything changes… even aspects of your life that you thought were a constant.

Apart from a momentary age-related anxiety attack and minor physical inconveniences — I passed my first kidney stones a few weeks ago (if there is a hell that must be it!), my right shoulder has a crick it didn’t have before and I now permanently wear glasses — so far my Naughty Forties have been a pleasantly revealing experience…

It’s like all the pieces of a delicate watch have been spread out on the floor for the best part of 30 years and now, by some greater mystical command, all those tiny nuts, bolt and wheels are slowly coming together. The process is not painless or without discomfort, but at least it feels like all those ‘character-forming experiences’ of the past 3 decades is beginning to pay off.

Don’t get me wrong, Life isn’t perfect all of a sudden. Far from it. However, embracing the fact that it never will be perfect makes it so much easier to accept all its glorious imperfections.

Here’s my observations of my journey into my 40s so far:

1. Being Miss Congeniality is simply too much effort:

During my 20s and most definitely in my 30s, I bonded ‘deeply’ with anyone who remotely had similar-looking tattoos and almost shared the same taste in music as me, and I went through great lengths to nurture these superficial relationships.

This dance for acceptance exhausted me and it led me… well, down roads less travelled of which some are best forgotten. (Like the time I got mixed up with a bunch of past-life regression junkies and ended up making offerings of chopped liver to a gypsy spirit, under a willow tree  — a story for another day.)

By the time I reached 39, I’ve tried and tested quite a lot of what Life has to offer: cigarettes, hot yoga, prescription sleep aids, recreational drugs, at-home hair colour, eyebrow threading, energy bars, acupuncture, sparkling water, tap water, Hair Metal, Celine Dion, cruise ship holidays, face masks, quinoa, hummus, chai tea, minimalism, beige, organic food, raw milk, Rodeo, body piercings, open relationships, monogamy, abstinence, bankruptcy, Christianity, Buddhism, anger management, grapefruit diets, fasting and Botox… to mention but a few.

So, it’s with relief that I now can comfortably say: “I know how I like my steak and how I drink my coffee.” 

In other words, I recognise when I am among my tribe.

We won’t be compatible with everyone we meet and we won’t always be ‘liked’ by everyone. It’s not worth the effort to try and fit in everywhere… and that’s okay.

2. Hitching a short ride:

That girl, the one who worked behind the bar of a restaurant and who ‘loved’ me ‘f-o-r-E-V-E-R’ because I promised to sell her my Vespa at a bargain price…

Well, she took the Vespa without paying for it, moved to Australia, got married, had a baby… and we’ll probably never speak to each other again.

And that’s fine.

She’s one of many who briefly came into my life and quickly left through the backdoor.

This and other similar experiences have taught me to recognise the people who are only hitching a short ride around the block and those who will stay by my side for the entire journey.

True friendships — the enduring ones — don’t cost much. They don’t come with a price tag, yardstick or a measuring jug…

3. Those sex rumours? They really are totally true…

My 20s and 30s was a cacophony of delicious experiences — apart from two very awkward years, which my friends promised to never speak about… Ever! (Think chopped liver, gypsy spirit, willow tree… another day, another time.)

Even though the first two decades of my adulthood were a lot of ‘fun’, once I turned 40 the way I express my sexuality has moved to a whole new level. The mechanics of sex (my body, mind and all the bits in between) finally clicked. I’m comfortable with the ‘messiness’ of sex. I trust my instincts more, I enjoy (and appreciate) my body for the first time and, best of all, I no longer feel the need to justify (or explain) my sexual proclivities.

My thinking is: Everybody has something that makes them a bit kinky — for some it’s a jug of whipped cream and a feather, for others it’s handcuffs and an eager audience.

If you can’t accept your desires by the time you’re 40, when will you ever?

4. You’re not necessarily wrong, but I’m always right:

I used to allow people to tell me how I am ‘supposed’ to feel. And I often believed it when I was told that my emotional experiences were ‘wrong’.

Talk about verfremdungseffekt.

Disaster.

I now know that my feelings are real (I have every right to feel what I feel) and my instincts are there for a good reason (it is okay to trust my gut). I don’t have to be perfectly pleasing all the time (this took me a while to grasp). However, it’s also my responsibility to own how I react to people and situations… and better still, I can change the way I feel, especially when my emotions aren’t serving me well.

You (and only you) are the master of your emotions.

5. How do you write your story:

We all have a little voice in our heads that gives a constant running commentary on EVERYTHING. Pay careful attention to it and you’ll find that this narrative is cynical, negative, judgemental, self-defeating, inconsistent (untrustworthy) and pretty much downright nasty — certainly not a friend!

Once I began to monitor this narrative inside my head — the stuff I say about myself to myself — and replaced the negatives of that ‘inner’ conversation with supportive and realistic affirmations, my relationship with myself improved radically, which had a ripple effect to all my personal relationships.

For the sake of how we show ourselves to the world, it’s much healthier to tame the psychological warfare inside our heads. However, for the sake of living with integrity, it’s equally important to ‘fact-check’ the so-called ‘truths’ we hold onto.

There’s no greater fool than the one who pulls wool over his own eyes… and sometimes it is difficult to be honest with ourselves about the ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ we carry within ourselves.

6. Nobody wins. Nobody loses:

Shortly after I turned 40, I went a bit bonkers — like a frantic bees trying to escape through a closed window.

I was wrapped up in a debilitating fear of not having ‘enough time left’, that I’ve passed my sell-by date, wasted the best years of my life on useless people and achieved nothing. (See psychological warfare.)

This mild hysteria gave me night sweats, panic attacks and anxiety tremors (not a good look on an early-morning commuter train… or on a treadmill). Eventually, on the brink of a mental breakdown, I expressed my concerns in a conversation with my stepmom (a woman whose empathy skills are slightly underdeveloped, but her heart is in a good place). This is what she said:

“You cannot resist Time. You are getting older. That’s all there is to it. If you fight it, you WILL lose. Rather work with it and enjoy what lies ahead. It will be a lot easier and in the end, you’ll see it is not at all as bad as you thought.”

Coming from a 70-year-old woman who still travels across the globe every year and who doesn’t wear a single wrinkle on her face, I took her words to heart and decided to chill the hell out…

When panic strikes, taking deep breaths. Distressing as it first may seem, the only certainty we have is that our time here on earth eventually runs out. It’s part of the deal… and there is nothing we can do about it.

Ultimately, we have a choice: Be a spectator or be a participant.

Either way, in the end when the clock stops, nobody is a winner… And that’s okay.

7. Getting down with the gods and goddesses:

I don’t care what your religious convictions are (mine aren’t great and this is not about religion anyway). There’s no denying the fact that we all carry a Divine Spark within us — the part inside us that makes us awesome, unique and resilient. It’s the Light of our Souls that attracts and creates every experience and relationship (good and bad) that we need during our lives to help us grow and to make our time on earth a worthwhile journey.

Giving myself permission (on a daily basis) to embrace and nurture my inner Light (or superhero, genius, god, goddess, artist, healer, creator… whatever you want to call it), is the best thing I have done to keep my sanity and attract ‘the right people’.

We cannot forever deny or hide who we are… the good and the not so good… eventually, through all the cracks and beautiful imperfections, our Light will shine through… and a little tiny bit of it might even cast a shadow.

Like RuPaul always says to his drag queen prodigies: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

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