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.
• Listen to the podcast episode about this post
You May Also Like:
Get the weekly email called 5 Quick Things,
where Tsh shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)
You’ll also get an excerpt from her latest book, At Home in the World, a memoir about the school year her family backpacked around the world.