Sunday, 9 August 2020

Being in my 40s - first impressions

I'm now in my 8th month of being in my 40s. I didn't expect it, but there has been such a tremendous shift between my 30s and now being 40, that I need to write about it. 

Before I go into what my 40s have been like for me thus far (both much better, but also worse than I anticipated), let's recap my 30s. 

I started my career as an x-ray technologist when I was 30. At the time it felt late, but now, being 10 years into that career with 20 more to go, it feels like I entered it just at the right time. 

I'm beyond grateful for all the "squandered" years and jobs I had in my 20s: working in a paper store, at a farm market, in a bookstore, delivering newspapers, sorting mail for the German post service, playing the organ at church for 18 years (I started at 15), studying (and quitting) Forestry, getting a meaningless Certificate in Hospitality, working in Wales at a 5-star resort for six months, and helping my then-boyfriend at his landscaping business as the person who always ended up doing all the annoying jobs like cleaning, ferrying a mount of dirt or gravel from one place to another, and doing all the billing and paperwork. I had my heart broken, broke one or two myself, and set out on my own with nothing more on my side than desperation and the determination to carve out a life of my own. I gained and lost 25+ pounds, got married, became an instant step-mom of 4 girls, and decided to go back to school full-time. 
But let's return to my 30s. As messy and confusing as the 20s were, my 30s were glorious.   
The first half was a mixed bag: 
I started my career. Often I loved it, sometimes I hated it.
I was struggling with the question: baby, yay or nay? (Society was not helping.) You probably know that I went with nay, a decision I haven't regretted even for a second. 
I got my "dream body" (which was heavily influenced by diet culture and not altogether healthy eating habits). 
I got my posse (which was also influenced by the pressure of modern culture of having a girl gang and not healthy at all).
I lost my posse, but started to dig to discover the real me.
I assembled my dream dog entourage.
The second half of my 30s was much better than the first:
Body was still banging; in fact, it was better than ever. 
Career was also doing much better as well: I lost most of my fear of superiors/doctors/surgeons/old curmudgeonly coworkers.  I liked my job more than ever. 
We cultivated a new circle of friends. 
We moved to our dream location. 
I wrote 2 books - the fulfillment of a life-long dream.  
We became debt-free for the first time in our adult lives.  

Everything was going swimmingly. 
And then I turned 40. 
It didn't immediately go wrong; there had been a slow build-up. My breathing had started to act up when I was 38. The middle-age spread started to set in around the same time. Thankfully, I had since abandoned the toxic diet culture lifestyle I had been enslaved to for decades, and it didn't bother me. 

But other issues started cropping up as soon as I turned 40. Old wounds I had thought had closed long ago started to break open. I was suddenly thrown back to the worst of my insecure years: scared, worried about other people's opinions, reliving old traumas that dated back years, sometimes decades.
Clearly, despite of all the work I'd been doing, I hadn't resolved some of my old baggage. But now that I was entering the second half of my life, it was time. 
So I started therapy for the first time in my life. I had strongly resisted it up to that point, because I was raised to "just deal with my problems", and also had an irrational fear of answering uncomfortable questions from a stranger. As an introvert, I hate chitchat or intrusive questions, unless I connect with that person, in which case I'm more than happy to divulge my inner-most secrets within the first hour of meeting them. 
Luckily, my therapist happened to be one of those people, and after a few sessions I was able to fully open up. 
We have worked through issues that have been holding me back for most of my life. Even though I've been living on my own since I was 19, immigrated to a new country, became a citizen of that country, made a career, have a successful marriage, step-mothered 4 girls and am able to support myself, I feel like I only grew up this year.  

Growing up is so multi-faceted. 
When you're young you think you're grown up as soon as you live on your own for the first time. You are not. You have made an important step towards it; but you're not there by a long shot.
Every other much-hyped about milestone is a step in the right direction: finding a good job/career; figuring out how to do your taxes or (in my case), paying someone who will do them for you; problem-solving issues like flat tires, burst pipes, being overcharged by the water company, or being treated unfairly by your boss.

But you're not there yet. 
Even if you have a mortgage you pay faithfully every month, go to your job five days a week, have friends and children and start paying into a retirement fund, you may still be quite a ways away from being a real adult. 
I was fooled by it, too. I believed that people automatically became functioning adults simply by growing older, going to jobs every day and having kids. 

It's so not true.   

You only truly grow up once you're ready to face the world as who you truly are. As long as you act a role, pretend to be someone you are not, or hide behind a persona that's not 100% you, you are not a grown-up. 
Being yourself includes several aspects I was reluctant to embrace, which is why it took me until my fucking 40s to finally get there:
  • Accept the fact that there always will be people who don't like you. I'm embarrassed to say how hard that has been for me to accept, but there you go. I'm finally there, though!
  • Embrace your oddness. I think of myself as a somewhat awkward person. Not extremely so, but enough that you wouldn't ask me short-notice to entertain people that are unknown to me. It's just not my strength.
  • Realize that people are liars. I'm a trusting person. Another word for trusting is naive. I'm not saying that you should distrust everyone you meet; but I've learnt the hard way that you have to take everything with a grain of salt and be cautious. 
  • Learn to put yourself first. We hear it all the time right now, don't we? Self-care is important, an empty cup can't give water, you can't be a support to your family when your needs aren't met. Still, hearing that and nodding your head, and really getting it are two completely different beasts. I've always been a big fan of the sentiment, but it wasn't until recently that I truly, fully embraced it. No matter what happens, I know that I will be fine, in the end. 
  • Be conscious of how you treat people. Most of us think of ourselves as good people. It's only natural, right? But what I learnt in therapy is that unless you are 100% honest and truthful, you manipulate others. Even if you do it for good reasons (like telling a white lie to spare someone's feelings), you manipulate them. That was a hard pill for me to swallow, because I always thought that being nice to people was better than being hurtful by being honest. That's not so; it's another people-pleasing reflex that I'm learning to overcome. Lying to someone is usually easier and protects us more than it protects them. You think you're sparing that person's hurt feelings, when in reality you're protecting yourself from their displeasure. 
This first year of my 40s has involved much more work than I anticipated. I really thought I was pretty much "there" - at that magical place where everything was falling into place, and I was living my happily-ever-after. 
My depression was telling another story, and I'm so glad I listened. For the first time ever, I feel truly empowered. 

I know who I am. I stand up for myself. I can unapologetically do everything that feels good to me: wear what I want, speak my mind, piss off people who're already pissed off with me, and whom I'd have tried very hard to get to like me until very recently. 
Now I'm just standing there, with a smile on my face, telling them: go ahead! Be mad! Hate me! I don't care. You don't matter to me. I know who I am, I know the people who love me, and your opinion of me doesn't mean shit anymore. 
I am as kind as I can be. I do the best I can. But that's all I'm willing to do.   
If you don't like it, it's your problem; not mine. 

That's the best, most hard-won lesson that my 40s have taught me. It's the most important lesson of my life. 
Worth every wrinkle, grey hair and thigh-lump, a million times over.  


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2 comments

  1. Yay for constantly growing and evolving and working on yourself!! Proud of you, lady!

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    1. Once you understand that learning and evolving never stop, it all becomes a lot more fun! I love exploring life and my own mind, and to see where they'll lead me!

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