A year ago, I turned 40.
As my birthday approached, I heard messages such as “it’s not so bad,” “it’s just a number,” and “it’ll be okay.” Perhaps because I’m stubborn, but I decided that I didn’t want 40 to be just okay. I wanted 40 to be reverent, I wanted 40 to be inspiring, I wanted 40 to be a game-changer.
Now, one year later, I can say with confidence that it was. Forty was a teacher, and 40 taught me several valuable lessons.
Forty taught me to celebrate. I celebrated my birthday, I celebrated myself, I celebrated my life.
Forty taught me to go after my goals: to write that article, to finish that book, to complete that project that scared me to pieces.
Forty taught me to take care of my body, because my body is working hard to take care of me.
Forty taught me to see and see deeply. There is more to this life than my ego lets on.
Forty taught me the value of womanhood. The value of sisterhood. The importance of the feminine. Also, that feminine has nothing to do with being quiet or polite, and everything to do with a very raw and creative power.
Forty taught me the difference between defence and offence; between being defensive and defending myself. It taught me to use my voice to teach others how to communicate with me, rather than allowing people to spew freely.
Forty taught me boundaries.
Forty taught me that I am not a victim to this life. No matter what happened, no matter the hurts, no matter how the ghosts of my 20s affected the decisions of my 30s. More than once my heart has cracked, more than once my world has shattered—still, still, I am not a victim. Living as a victim is not living.
Forty taught me that validation won’t come from my immediate circle. That if I need validation, I need to look inward.
Forty taught me that 20/20 vision is not about what you see outside yourself, but what you see within yourself. It taught me that, even if I don’t complete all my goals, check off my bucket list items, get the right gig, or a better salary, I’ll be okay as long as I trust from within. There is a voice within me that understands my needs better than I ever could.
Forty taught me that being spiritual doesn’t stop you from being angry. When the world is stupid, call out the stupid. Do something about the stupid. Don’t let the stupid bring you down. Bring down the stupid.
Forty taught me that sometimes the strongest action I can take for myself is to let go of my strength. It isn’t a weakness to bow down before my life and let go of the reins. It isn’t a weakness to acknowledge that control is an illusion. Sometimes letting go is the greatest act of kindness I can give myself. Sometimes not being strong is the strongest I can be.
Forty taught me that what I thought I understood as a teenager, what I thought I improved in my 20s, and what I thought I learned in my 30s, were but fence posts along a path with no end. Every once in a while there are curves in the path, shifts in direction, or varying levels of steepness. Sometimes it feels arduous, sometimes the air is clean and pristine, but always, the path keeps going. I will never know where it leads, I will never have a map, but, if I can accept this, I will enjoy my travels that much more.
And now that I’m at the end of my 40th year, now that I am looking 41 in the eye, I recognize that all these lessons were learned because I allowed them to be. I invited them in. Life was waiting, prompting, and asking, but it was my choice to heed rather than ignore. I can make a choice now, to stop learning or to keep going; to dig even deeper, and to walk this path with even greater intention.
Forty taught me to open my mind. Forty taught me to open my heart. Forty taught me to crack open my soul. Forty-one, it will be a teacher too. Because I choose to allow it.
Originally published in Elephant Journal, Sept 16th 2020: