What My 40s Are Teaching Me

It was this past Thanksgiving eve, the day before I turned 41. I propped my moccasined feet on the dashboard to settle in for our annual 8-hour road trip from Tennessee to visit family in North Carolina. And then I said to my husband, Steven, who was in the driver’s seat, “I feel like such a different person than when we went on this trip last year.”

This vacation was our first extended rest at the end of a year of working multiple jobs, homeschooling, and growing our organic produce farm, and it was the first moment I’d taken to process how much I’d changed. For a girl who doesn’t really like change, I was genuinely floored.

When I sat in this passenger seat last year, I had just begun my 40s, and I was still hesitant to put myself out there—to pursue bigger writing and speaking opportunities, to share my story of starting a whole new profession, to learn how to speak up in conflict, to be brave.

Shortly after, I was thrust into some challenges that presented me with a choice: continue shrinking back in fear, or speak up in courage.

I spoke up, and the world didn’t end. It actually felt…really good. This small (yet huge) victory gave me more confidence to pursue new opportunities and a more adventurous life. I decided it was time to go for it—“it” being anything I would have shied away from in the past.

As my year of age 40 unfurled, I began to see a theme developing: I walked through uncertainty and discomfort with every bit of courage I could muster, and I saw how much better it was on the other side.

This past year, I learned how to podcast, be an organic farmer, speak the truth more boldly, play the ukulele, and write for my first print magazine. It’s not because I did anything magical and not because I wasn’t afraid sometimes, but because I just began, and each time, I had a little more courage to keep going. In The Ragamuffin Gospel, one of my all-time favorite books, author Brennan Manning says:

“The second journey begins when we know we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the morning program. We are aware that we only have a limited amount of time left to accomplish that which is really important—and that awareness illumines for us what really matters, what really counts.”

I don’t believe 40 is a magic number that divides everything into before and after. But I do believe it can be the start of a second journey instead of the beginning of a downward slope “over the hill.” Entering our 40s can be met with negativity, or it can be met with tenacity and courage—and we get to decide. I’m only one year in, but I thought I’d share some things my 40s are already teaching me:

1. 40 is much younger than I thought it was.

Remember when we were teenagers, and people in their 40s seemed totally ancient? That seems so silly now. There are things I still love doing at age 40 that I didn’t expect…like wearing sparkly paper crowns with the 4-year-olds at my daughter’s birthday party. And playing catch and climbing trees and jumping off the diving board and swimming in waterfalls. Now I see I’m still the playful, young-at-heart girl I’ve always been, just more seasoned, with a few more wrinkles and (quite a few more) gray hairs.

2. Boundaries are a good thing.

I finally read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud & John Townsend and realized how long I’ve had a lack of healthy boundaries, allowing my God-given voice and desires to be squelched for the sake of others (also totally an enneagram 9 thing). I’ve let people walk all over me while thinking I was just being kind and unselfish to not speak up. Yet, a lack of healthy boundaries has only hurt me and my relationships. I’ve found this quote from Boundaries to be so reassuring: “Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others. People with highly developed limits are the most caring people on earth.” Because now, when I make the choice to say “yes” to something or someone, I mean it with all my heart. For the first time, in my 40s, I’m using my voice and not feeling guilty about it.

3. Growth requires being uncomfortable.

My first few weeks of farming were not pretty. I was exhausted after an hour of planting cabbage and had no clue how irrigation lines worked, how deeply to plant the lettuce seeds, or how to correctly pick up a chicken. It was baptism by fire out there. But I soon learned that if I wanted to grow, I’d have to welcome and embrace that uncomfortable feeling. In all the work I’ve done this year, I’ve found that not fully knowing what I’m doing, and doing it anyway, is where the learning and growth happens. Even if I fall flat on my face, which I literally did several times on the farm.

4. The mess is pretty much always worth it.

Example: A few months ago, we visited Rutledge Falls here in middle Tennessee for the first time with some friends from out of town. We didn’t wear swimming clothes because it was a chilly September day, but when we got there and saw that big, welcoming swimming hole and the falls pounding over rocks we could sit on, we went for it. All of us jumped in with our clothes on—two 4-year-olds, an 8-year-old, three 30-something adults and me, 40.

We were soaked down to our underwear with no change of clothes, and I had runny mascara raccoon eyes. And it was exhilarating. I’m so glad we didn’t miss out because we simply didn’t want to get wet. I’m working on doing more of this, because a few moments of getting wet, or messing up the kitchen to let my kids help cook dinner is worth the connection and the memories. (Well, almost always. I’d like to say this doesn’t include the 5,462 pieces of straw and dirt I have to sweep off my floors everyday that are tracked in from the produce field.)

5. It’s not too late.

I’ve been inspired by so many women in their 40s who are changing their lives—writing books, building businesses, going to counseling, having their first baby, finally making peace. They’re not just dreaming or wishing, but finally doing it. Maybe certain gifts went into hibernation as we had babies or grew a career, but it’s not too late to go after whatever makes us come alive. Maybe life doesn’t look the way we thought it would be at “middle age,” but it doesn’t mean it’s too late to change it.

If you’re already in your 40s, what has been your experience? If you’re not yet 40, what are your hopes for this upcoming decade? With the rest of my 40s spread out before me, I’d like to continue living boldly, conquer some fears I’ve been holding onto, be consistent in my Pilates routine, and become a doula. And remember to always, always carry a change of clothes with me, just in case a messy adventure awaits.

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42 Comments

  1. Tsh Oxenreider

    Christine, I absolutely love, love, LOVE this post. I resonate so much with it, especially the first and last one! I feel so young at age 41, and all the money in the world wouldn’t have convinced me I’d feel that way when I was 21. And it’s absolutely, 100% not too late to do anything at all — and the second I feel that way, I have to remind myself how young I truly am.

    Related: This is a great episode from Marie Forleo on this very thing — it’s a great kick in the pants. 🙂

    • Christine Bailey

      Thanks so much, Tsh! I loved talking with you about this topic on the pod. Here’s to cheering each other on in our 40s! And I will queue up that podcast from Marie Forleo – thanks for the tip! 🙂

    • Julie Majors

      I went to a Seasons of Life workshop recently (as a 42yo woman) & was so enlightened about what is common for women in their 40s.
      1. We find our voices. (A hearty Amen to stop feeling guilty for saying no.)
      2. We redefine our dreams. It’s very common for women in their 40s to take up a new hobby or start a new biz.
      3. We climb mountains & ride wild horses (literally & figuratively).
      Interestingly enough (to me), men in their 40s are craving more family time.

      • Christine Bailey

        Julie, that is fascinating. I love this so much. And interestingly, I would say I agree with what you said about men in their 40s, at least for my husband who is about to turn 40. I’d love to explore more the differences in this season of life for men vs. women.

  2. seattleheather

    43 over here and feeling this SO MUCH. love love love this post and congrats on your farm! I’m messin around with a little flower farm dream over here (as a 5 year soft retirement plan) and can relate to falling flat in the garden! Also love point #4… i don’t indulge in this type of thing often enough and it’s definitely on my mind (and in my “12 months from now” planning! Also, as someone who is navigating through what sounds like some similar changes, i LOVED all the book recommendations and have them all on hold now. THANK YOU!

    • Christine Bailey

      Aw, thank you! I love that you’re working on a little flower farm – I identify with that desire! I’m with you on the messes too – I don’t naturally gravitate towards it but I really am finding that it’s worth it 🙂 I hope you like the books!

  3. Brittany

    I love this post! Even though I am not yet 40 I’ve emerged from the baby years of parenting and am starting to get to know myself again and could resonate so much with this post. And the Ragamuffin Gospel!!! I read and loved this and high school and am now sitting here wondering if I still have it to read again at in this space of my life. And I loved the “It’s never to late.” I struggle with this sometimes even though I see so many women my age and older going for it. I’m trying to make a mind shift. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Christine Bailey

      “Getting to know myself again” – SO understand that! Cheering you on as you enter this new stage 🙂

  4. Fiona

    I totally agree! I’m 49 now and starting to think about being 50, yikes. But my 40s have been years of such growth and change. I have so much more confidence than I used to; I can better cope with hard things (and there have been plenty of those); I embrace change when I always avoided it before. I eat more healthily and feel better for it. I have gone back to work after years as a stay at home mum, changed careers, and worked full-time while studying part-time to retrain in my new career – things I NEVER imagined I would be doing. So many fresh starts and opportunities to learn about myself and life have helped me feel young and energetic, and I’m very thankful for it all. Great post!

    • Christine Bailey

      I LOVE that Fiona! It gives me hope for the 50s too 🙂

  5. Chris

    Such a wise and insightful post!

    I love that you mentioned the book, Boundaries. I reluctantly read it last year, and it truly changed my life and outlook!

    Cheers to 40s! 🙂

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you, Chris! I agree on Boundaries – completely changed mine as well. So much freedom in that!

  6. Ginny

    In my 30’s I was a mom to littles and I’m so glad that I got to be at home with them (now in middle school and their needs are different). My prayer then was to THRIVE not just survive. I spent many years just surviving. Now at 41, I feel like the growth I’m experiencing I might not have appreciated a decade ago. My word for 2019 is GROW and it feels like my second journey. Love this so much! And love you Christine!!

    • Christine Bailey

      I LOVE how you’re pursuing your goals and passions now, and how you embraced the season you were in earlier in your 30s. There’s a time for everything. Love you, G!

  7. Virginia Knowles

    I started seminary the week I turned 55, after home schooling 10 kids for 26 years. I also went back to work part-time. Big switch for me! Well worth it. Like you said, it’s really not too late.

    • Christine Bailey

      AHH! That’s amazing! Wow, kudos to you – 10 kids and homeschooling for 26 years?! That’s a huge sacrifice. I love that you’re also finding it’s not too late – very encouraging!

  8. Katie

    Thank you so much for this…I really needed to read this. It feels so reassuring to know that I am not alone in this journey through my forties as I try to figure out the way forward. Thank you.

    • Christine Bailey

      I’m so glad it resonated with you, Katie. <3

  9. Emily

    There’s so much wisdom in this post. Thank you for sharing, Christine!

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you for reading!

  10. Katy Walton

    I’m only 26 but this resonates so much. My friends are all freaked out over being 25+. I’m just excited to see what happens because life is an adventure and more. I feel like you really captured that.

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you, Katy! Having a heart for adventure in your 20s will only make it easier to keep going in your 40s, I think! 🙂

  11. Abigail

    I’m turning 39 this year and slightly freaking out about turning 40. I still feel like I’m in my 20s. I think part of it too is that my kids are between 6-12 so we’ve entered a new exciting stage in parenting. Yet I can see how fast the years go and not ready to send them off yet. I know I still have years but I’m a planner ? I’m soaking up this stage of life and trying to be grateful — and figure out who I am again (I think I lost that parenting littles for so many years). I did just sign up for piano lessons – always wanted to learn and know nothing about music. This post made me excited about what the 40s will bring!!

    • Christine Bailey

      Abigail – That’s so awesome you’re learning something new in this stage of life. I love LOVE parenting little children, truly. But there is something about that stage where you can easily lose yourself, and it feels good to find it again while also enjoying the current parenting stage. So glad you’re on this journey!

  12. Naomi

    Thank you for this lovely post and your honesty. . What you wrote really resonates with me as I turn 40 this summer and am looking at changes in the near future. I hope you keep sharing!

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you for reading, Naomi, and I’m so glad it resonated. I’m excited to be sharing monthly here on AoS! Such a great community.

  13. Heide Leighty

    I turned 50 a few months ago, and it’s kind of fascinating how differently I look at the world now than I did 10 years ago. The decade of my 40s was the most “settled” of my adult life. In my 20s, I was super ambitious, then I joined the Peace Corps at 29 and wandered around the world through most of my 30s. I had a baby at 38, so when I turned 40, I had a huge shift, where we settled down, bought a house, and created a community of friends in the same stage. Now, at 50, my husband is taking a leave of absence from work, we’re selling our house and heading out to wander the world again, with our teen in tow. At 50, I don’t feel old at all. I feel like there is still so much possibility and adventure to be had. I think about how much I did in the last 20 years, and I have at least 20 more years to do even more. I want to take advantage of that time.

    • Christine Bailey

      LOVE this! Makes me so excited for my 50s too! 🙂

  14. Jennifer Pepito

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post, Christine! I love and can relate to your excitement about life, and all that is possible in this new season.

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you Jennifer!

  15. Michelle Laramore

    I am 48, and completely agree. In general, I could care less what people think of me. I no longer worry if I have the “right” shoes with the “right” pants. I don’t worry if I wore the same shirt to church two weeks in a row. I don’t care that my car is six years old and that it’s not a luxury vehicle (not that there is anything wrong with driving one!). What’s important to me is my faith, my family, and the time we spend with people we love. I say I’m becoming a hippie in my “old age” ?. It’s very free to not be tied down with society’s focus on appearances and keeping up with the Joneses -or is the Kardashians now? I am me, you are you, and life is good. I’ve always been outspoken, so now I enjoy a more mellow approach yet still get my point across. I like being the problem solver now, not just the whistleblower (but that is still needed!). Whew! That’s a lot of words. I love my 40s and will embrace 50 the same way.

    • Lisa

      Those were a lot of words…and all of the ones I would have said! I, too, find myself becoming a “hippie’ during this time in my life. Part of this, I think, is due to some serious life events I’ve witnessed in people close to me. There really isn’t any guarantee in life and if I wait for things to “get easier” or “less busy’ then I may never get around to it. Also, I worried a lot about what others thought and so I wasn’t true to my convictions. I kind of wish I would have gotten here sooner but I think everything along the way has led me to this place where I am finally content.

      • Christine Bailey

        Love this, Lisa, I agree.

    • Christine Bailey

      Thanks for sharing that, Michelle. It’s interesting to hear from the other end of the spectrum that you’re feeling the need to be more mellow in your 40s whereas I’m needing to be more bold. We are each on our own journeys, and I love that!

  16. Jane

    At 50 II have the benefit of hindsight that I probably didn’t realise I I had before. I dpn’ feel that different to how I felt in my 30s, but I am a happy, serene, wiser version of myself I love these posts and podcasts because they give me the time and space to reflect on how things are and how I want them to be. Thanks so much!

    • Christine Bailey

      “happy, serene, wiser” – love that!

  17. Julie Majors

    I feel like my 40s have brought a greater awareness of who I am (& who I am not). With that brings great freedom to say no. I love being 43!

    • Christine Bailey

      YES, so true! Here’s to 40s!

  18. Irene

    This is lovely…thanks for the tips. I’m making 40 this year in Sep and I and my friends are around there so it’s a hot topic right now.
    Am getting ready and you’re helping. Bless you!!

    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you so much for reading – so exciting that you’re getting ready for 40!

  19. Joy

    I heard the podcast with you and Tsh and then came over here to read your post. I will be 40 in a couple years and also the mom of 2 toddlers and maybe,Lord willing, another baby. We started late. 🙂
    I found myself being more vocal about my thoughts in my 30’s, so I am excited to see where my 40’s take me as I parent little people.

    • Christine Bailey

      Hi Joy! I love that you’re finding your voice. I had my first daughter at 32 and my second at 36, so I understand the stage of life you’re in. Thanks so much for reading and listening. <3

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