Fabulous At 40

This weekend a friend of mine turned 40 (many happy returns of the day, Miker!). At his party I was talking to RheostaticsFan about the fact that many in our circle of friends will hit the big 4-0 this year. It seems so surreal; I can’t believe four decades have gone by in my life. I always thought there’d be more when I got here.

It’s not just that I thought I’d have done more, although there is that. I still feel like I’m floundering about, trying to make my mark on the world. I like being a stay-at-home mom, but someday I’ll have to be more than that, and heaven knows I don’t know what “more than that” is. Every time I hear about some 25-year-old getting their first novel published, or some 30-year-old starting up a major philanthropic organization, or some 35-year-old working on his third major internet invention that will make him a multi-multi-multi-millionaire — I cringe. Have I been wasting myself? Why don’t I have more to show for my 40 years?

And it’s not just that I thought I’d have mastered more skills, although it is that too. I thought I’d be able to make a great pie by now (working on it). I thought I’d know how to grow a garden, get the best deal on a new car, decorate my house like an adult, dress myself like a professional instead of a university student. I thought I’d know how to how to break up with a friend leaving no hard feelings, how to comfort someone who has lost a loved one, how to make small talk with strangers at a wedding without babbling like an idiot.

I thought I’d be more skilled. More well-rounded. More accomplished.

But more than anything, what makes me shocked to be be 40 is that I don’t approach life with the confidence that I thought would come with adulthood, especially 40-year-old adulthood. I’m not always sure of what I want or need, and how to get it. I can’t always figure out which choice is the best one. I’m not often sure that I’m doing the right thing.

When I think back to my childhood, my parents and grandparents seemed to know it all. Their few moments of weakness were terrifying — I needed them to be strong, tough, in control. Looking back now, I’m sure they felt just as lost and confused as I do now, like they were figuring it all out as they went along. But I grew up thinking that they had some sort of secret handbook of life, that they knew all the answers, and that by the time I was old (i.e. 40), I’d be in on the secret club, too.

My kids probably think of me that way, and surely it’s my job to shepherd them through this life. To fight for them, to be powerful for them, to know all, do all, be all. I can hardly believe anyone could think of me that way, however. Me, as a tower of strength? Me, who isn’t sure if these beige socks really go with the khaki pants I’m wearing? Me, who still nods when a waiter asks me if “everything is okay,” even when my food is burned and he forgot to bring the bread?

I think I actually was a lot more self-confident in my early 20s than I am now, approaching 40. Back then, I’d get up in the morning and have a plan. I’d attack my to-do list with vigour, sure I could figure out how to do everything on it to my satisfation. I’d know the answers to my university tests, or at the very least, I’d have a good idea of whether I’d pass or fail. My first full-time job paid me enough that I got a place of my own, strutted down the street in my new fancy work clothes — oh man, I felt like hot stuff then. I didn’t always know where life was headed, but I knew it was going to be awesome. I was going to do stuff. I was going to be someone. I was going to know it all.

Not that I’m unhappy, or particularly fretful about the future or anything. Life is good. I just keep waiting for the day when I’ll wake up and feel like an actual adult. The magic day when I’ll feel like, oh yes, this is how we do this thing called life. This is how we run the show. This is how we deal with it all.

Maybe on my 40th birthday, it’ll all become clear. Not too long to wait now.

21 thoughts on “Fabulous At 40

  1. I gave up a while ago on believing I was ever going to feel like a grown-up (I do often feel old, which is NOT the same thing). You know how I feel about people who are certain about everything — anyone who thinks they’re a got-it-all-together adult is probably a total butthead. You? You’re my kind of people — we’ll be eighty still trying to figure it all out. And fancy work clothes? They’re over-rated.

    1. Interesting, I never quite thought of it that way, but it’s true that there is something very unnerving about people who waltz into a room oozing confidence. Those people never last very long on Survivor, do they?

  2. betsy mae

    Wow, this post sure spoke to me. I’m not quite forty yet, a few more years to go but either way I feel so similarly to you!

    BTW, Alllison’s comment made me smile.

  3. Just like Betsy Mae, this post really struck home with me! I always feel like I’m playing grown up and wondering when I will finally feel like I’ve an adult. Like I’ve “come into my own”. Loved this post!

  4. CapnPlanet

    Confidence is an illusion. We’re probably still fooling most other people, the difference is that the youngsters are also fooling themselves.

  5. You’re awesome, Lynn. I totally get this post.

    I feel much the way about turning 40 this year. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, especially in the last decade. I’ve fit a lot into my 30’s, unlike my 20’s where I had some major floundering going on. But I still feel the lack of confidence and lack of direction. I still wish I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up.

    I remember when I was about 25 or so and my mom was 55 asking her when it was you felt like you had it together. When do you start to feel like a real grown-up who knows what she’s doing. I was horrified when she answered, “oh Mary Lynn, I don’t think you ever feel that way.” And then my mom, who at this point had been a teacher for over 30 years said to me, “sometimes I’m at the front of the classroom talking away and I suddenly think–what if they can see how unsure I am up here? What if they see through me?”


    But now I totally get what she meant.

    Oh–and I totally agree with Allison, too. Nowadays I think it’s the people who DO have the confidence and do act and think and live with absolute certainty who scare me more than us normal people who are just muddling through and trying to figure things out. I don’t gravitate to their blogs, for the most part.

    1. Man, I won’t even make it into the secret confidence club by 55?? I better work on the pies, at least they’re concrete :).

  6. I’m not quite 40 yet, but I am certainly in the neighbourhood. I don’t feel it at all. At the age I am now, my Mom had, very suddenly, become a widow, a single parent and the soul bread winner when prior she’d been a stay at home Mom. She was (and is) amazing. She brought us through all that on her own. Now I in no way feel like a grown up and I can only assume that my Mom, at the time, felt the same way. So wow! She really seemed like she had it all together, when she probably didn’t. I know if the same thing happened to me… I wouldn’t, but I’d make a good show of it for my kids.

    1. My mom was similar…at the age I am now, she became a single mom to me and my three sisters, and when I say single mom, I mean she did everything herself — my dad was totally out of the picture. I look back now with amazement that she survived…how did she do it??? Clearly I’m not half the 40 she was.

  7. I love this post! (Did you creep inside my mind and pull out all my thoughts??).

    This turn of phrase struck me in particular as so poignant: “Their few moments of weakness were terrifying.” I remember witnessing my father crying for the first time when I was 11 years old. He had just lost a child. He was two years younger than I am now.

    I’m not sure I’m ever really going to get “there” — wherever there is. I feel like crying right now because my daughter just scratched my new office desk by accident.

    1. Oh my GOD, I could kiss you for saying that. I still have these weird moments where I freak out over the smallest thing, like one of the kids lost my favourite pen or something. Other times, I am a deep well of patience and can walk them through breakdowns and fix their toys and mend their broken hearts, too. I’m like a super mom with several unknown and mysterious kriptonite weaknesses. OY VEY.

  8. hmm, you’ve just put into a wonderful post the thoughts that have been swirling around my head for a while now. i so don’t feel 40, or 38. but then again, what is 38 supposed to feel like? for me 40 meant being secure in work, nice house, some money to take vacations, the beginnings of a nice little retirement nest egg. out of all that, i have a job (but who’s secure?) and a house. but not a great house. the rest, who knows when that will come. i try so hard not to get envious of those who have (or perceive to have) what i long for.

    i think our parents might have been a little more confident at 40 because they started their lives so much sooner than ours. my parents had their kids in their early 20s, and pretty much started their careers at the same time. they didn’t start their 3rd career in their 30s, finally meet their parterns and have a family in their mid-late 30s. like mary-lynn said, we’ve stuffed so much into one decade that i think our heads are still spinning.

    and 40 is supposed to be the new 30, so we have a bonus decade to get it together. well, that’s the delusion i am going for anyway.

    1. Very insightful. I heard someone the other day say that — that 40 is the new 30 — and it seems true, and feels true to me. I really, really need that extra decade. 🙂

  9. My husband turns forty this year and tons of his friends are also hitting that milestone. I think we all feel this way, really and truly. And I agree with the other commenters – we’re starting our families later, and that affects everything. Our careers get put on hold, things change. Not to mention life is much different than it was when our parents were 30 or 40. No fast-paced world, no internet, no iPhones, no cable. There is more to do now b/c there is more thrown at us. How can we master all these skills and parent and have a career and do everything we are “supposed” to. It is all very overwhelming.

    I think you have definitely mastered pie making. You are WAY ahead of me and most of the amateur bakers out there!!!

  10. I’ve been thinking the same thing about not feeling very accomplished and worrying about making the right decisions and I’ll be 30 in December.

    We all want to make a mark in some way, but it can feel like there is never enough time to do so!

  11. MrsCarlSagan

    Well said.

    You’re a great mom, friend, sister, daughter, have a happy marriage and are a kick-ass pie-maker. Those are solid accomplishments (and there are many more!).

    No matter how old and “grown up” we get, I think we will always have moments where we feel lost and confused.

  12. famethrowa

    You gotta remember that mom and Nana probably seemed like they had it all under control because of their nature. They almost always believed/believe they’re 100% right. When you can easily toss out other people’s ideas, it makes for a far more clear-cut path forward.

    You, being more like me, can’t help but weigh everyone’s opinion out of respect and the humility that you might not be right. That’s both good and bad, but what I find is that the more information there is, the harder it is to just plow forward.

    So as we age, we learn more and, thus, have more information to consider with every step we make.

    I started working with a new team lead recently who quickly yanked me out of my waffling. He basically said, albeit gentler than this: pick something and sell it. I got the same feedback when I worked at Microsoft from my mentor there. Sometimes you have to just pick something and make it work.

  13. LOVE this post! I turned fu-fu-fu-forty (oh, it still pains me to say it!) last August, and I swear I have still not come to terms with it. I feel like a poseur. I’m WHAT? How can I be 40 if I’m still 23 in my head?

    I have more to say, but I might just do it on my own blog… thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

    Oh, and on the confidence thing? My mom taught me: bullshit baffles brains. Or, fake it ’til you make it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen back on those ones!!

  14. I hear you, girlfran.

    You have such a lovely way of putting things, I feel exactly the same and have been thinking much along the same lines — probably because it’s my birthday at the beginning of next month.

    @DaniGirl — I am also 23 in my head. Damn, I was frickin’ COOL at 23. Would that this 33 year old version of me could have a word with THAT girl! 😉

  15. Am I an adult? Damn, how did that happen.
    Sometimes I think who is that lady with those kdis. That can’t be me?
    This post spoke to me so much. In some ways I am more me and in some ways less than I used to be.

  16. This post and all the comments really hit home. I have been feeling unhinged for a while. I don’t like my job, I am on mat leave, I can’t stay home once my leave is done, but I don’t want to go back to work where I am now. I want to find a new direction but don’t know what to do. Why, at 38, is it that I have no direction. My Dad is rolling over in his grave hearing me say this. He was the king of direction!

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