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Turning 40 is a Big Pile of Poop

If you’d like to read the happy side of approaching 40, read my earlier blog, or read this currently popular NYT piece. But this post isn’t like those. Let’s get all the hard truth out of the way: I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful life I’ve had so far- wonderful husband and truly my best friend, amazing kids, great job, great career, great standard of living, great dog, I’m in great health (if not great shape… but we’ll get to that). I have nothing, literally nothing to complain about. And yet, I’m going to.

Turning 40 (on the 28th of Feb, if you must know) is making me schizophrenic. So, read all of the above and then realize that I was crying into my coffee this morning because I feel like an abject failure. Okay, maybe not abject- but sizable, like clog the toilet sizable. There are some ugly realizations that hit at 40. I’m never going to be Tina Fey, or Nicholas Kristof, or even that guy that writes/draws The Oatmeal. Fame & fortune probably aren’t in the cards.

This seemed like a good idea in '81. We all know that didn't go as planned.

This seemed like a good idea in ’81. We all know it was no fairy tale.

I remember being six years old, sitting in front of the TV and watching Princess Diana marry Prince Charles and thinking- that fairy tale could be mine. There was a chance, however remote, that I could be swept up in a fantasy like that. I had some English blood in there somewhere, right? I believed it with the fiery purity of a six year old.

Fast forward, thirty-four years.

Obviously, those dreams are long, long gone and good riddance to them. I mean- look how that marriage turned out! I’m confident Tony & I have had more happiness in one day than they had cumulatively in their 15 years. But I also believed, as a child, that I was exceptional. And that feeling didn’t dissipate with the years. I have held on to that belief. As I climbed through the ranks at school, at various companies, measuring milestones based on goals around tangible things like job titles, fitness level, kids, possessions, etc.,- I felt secure, like I had settled into a good position. Not crazy leader-of-the-pack, but with a couple of accomplishments that I could cuddle at night, the way I used to snuggle my beloved stuffed rabbit.

Now, with the big 4-0 just days away, my subconscious image of who I am and what I should have accomplished is crumbling beneath my fingers like sawdust. I thought I’d always be on the fast track at work, I thought I’d always be able to knock out a half-marathon at a moment’s notice, I thought I’d have parenting down seven years into it (oh, how wrong I was on that one!). In short, I thought I’d have it figured out. I believed I’d go riding into my forties triumphant, on the back of chariot like Marc Antony coming into Rome. I might have even practiced my wave and sincere-yet-knowing smile.

Looks like turning 40 is as good a time as any!

Looks like turning 40 is as good a time as any!

Pbbhhhbt. Instead, 40 feels like shit. I am just overwhelmed by impostor syndrome. Not only do I feel like my career hasn’t reached the heights I’d hoped for, but I have this horrible suspicion that ALL my jobs and all my work has been a fraud. I also spend a fair amount of time thinking I’m a horrible mother. And don’t get me started on my fitness or weight. Pull up the goddamn bridge, ’cause I’m going for it.

These realizations have been hitting in waves. At the end of December, I was struck by the fact that I would never make a “40 under 40 list” and, if I can be honest- I had really thought I would. Maybe it would have been in the community newsletter- but as I said, I have felt, for my entire life, like I had something exceptional, something special to contribute. Yeah, not so much, I guess. So, being a “pull myself up by my bootstraps” type, I thought, I may not make the PSBJ list… but you know what?! I’ll just write my own list of 40 accomplishments that I have made before 40. Then I’ll feel great! And worthy! Hooray!

Mentally, I began to compose my list. Happily married. Ta-da! Master’s degree. I am smart! Fancy jobs at Microsoft and PATH. I am accomplished! Peace Corps in Kenya. I am altruistic! Incredible kids. I am a parent! Just 34 more little feathers to put in my cap. I should feel GREAT by the end of this.

Then, abruptly, I stopped, a cool horror dawning. I realized something profound. I was still fucking competing. Comparing. Measuring myself. Cuddling up with my little stuffed rabbit of self-worth. Against whom was I competing? Against what yardstick? I’m flipping 40- it’s time to let that whole ridiculous business go. Measuring your worth through accomplishments is a young person’s game. Yes, I know.

But it’s hard to let go. It’s super hard to change your perspective from “what you have done makes you worthy” to “who you are makes you worthy”. As people who know me personally will attest… I can be a bit of a control freak. I like things to go my way. I like to be in charge. I like having a list of “dones” to refer to. Long time security blanket, first time confessor. This has been my yardstick my entire life!

The truth is, I may have let go of my “swept off my feet Princess Diana dream” (though, if I have hit the jackpot anywhere in my life, it’s on the marriage front), but I swapped one set of unrealistic aspirations for another. I suppose we all do to some degree. Now, I know that 40 is the gate-keeper that makes you put all that crap down or at least take a long hard look at it.

Here’s the thing I am really struggling with- I’m disappointed in myself. Not in my life- because again, there is not one actual thing I should be disappointed in about it, but I guess I had hoped for more from me. It’s that exceptional thing again. I know- I can hear all of you (or some of you, anyway) saying “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” Yes, I know. And some of you are saying, “Life isn’t over at forty, it’s just beginning!” Yes, I know that too. When not mercilessly flagellating myself, I feel so excited and optimistic about the future. I feel great about everything I can shed now that I have crossed this magical, mystical threshold. But that gate-keeper is extracting a painful toll. And I can see that this is not a one-and-done exercise.

So, 40. It’s coming on like a freight train and as my sister so wisely said, it’s a lot better than the alternative. I just have to stand at the platform and get on board.

That’s what I’ve got going on right now. It’s not a super pretty time to be in my head but I wanted to give you a peek at the journey. It’s a little bit of the sausage-making, but I wanted to share the darker side, the harder side of turning 40. In case you have felt it, are feeling it (I know Wilson High School Class of ’93- you feel me), or wanted to be forewarned about feeling it (if you are under forty- don’t even talk to me right now). I did not know that a ding-dang birthday- some arbitrary date on the calendar could inflict such angst and agony in the midst of so much to be grateful for. My rational self is violently shaking my emotional self by the collar and yelling, “Get yourself together, Locati!” Did I mention that it’s a little ugly in my head at the moment? Maybe call before you come over….

Over the years, I have come to see myself like a cork floater on a fishing line. I get pulled down occasionally, but I always pop back up to the surface. Turns out that 40 is more of a whopper than I anticipated but I’ll bob back up and have a heck of a story to tell in the process.

Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me!

Contemplating The Over Under of Approaching 40

This week, Tom Magliozzi, beloved half of the Click & Clack the Tappet Brothers and co-host of Car Talk died. He was 77. When I saw the news come across my Facebook feed, the first thing I thought was, “I want to have a life like he did- doing what he loved, laughing all the way to the end.” My second thought was “Shenanigans, if his lifespan was my yardstick, I’d be over halfway through.”

Turning 40 feels like getting to step on the gas and damn the consequences.

Turning 40 feels like getting to step on the gas and damn the consequences!

I am turning 40 early next year and in general, I’m excited about it. Actually, I am more than that- I am PUMPED. Hitting 40 feels like finally being grown up. It has this sense of coming into the fullness of who you are. Its approach definitely has a whiff of Fried Green Tomatoes about it and for the record, I DO carry a lot of insurance on my car.

Furthermore, I have this sneaking suspicion that next year, my big 4-0 is going to awesome. I’m not sure how or in what way it’s going to manifest itself, but I can feel the epic coming. I’ve got that tingly, anticipatory sensation- I imagine it’s how a dog feels ahead of an earthquake, as long as it’s the type of dog that likes earthquakes. I am also basing my excitement for this upcoming decade on the “track record” of my life (if you will). It’s been a very steady positive trajectory.

  • Childhood– I was an awkward, nerdy, know-it-all kid without a lot of friends but I don’t think I was terribly aware of that fact except in hindsight.
  • Teens– Gah. Who remembers their teen years with fondness? Seriously? Sure, there were bright spots- rowing, cross-country, being my high school’s mascot, that time my neighbor let me borrow his candy-apple red Corvette on Halloween.
    Driving my neighbor's 1981 t-top Corvette may have been the highlight of my teen years.

    Driving my neighbor’s 1981 t-top Corvette may have been the highlight of my teen years.

    Can I just stop here and say I was 16 and dressed as a 60’s-era go-go dancer with a green wool mini dress and knee high white boots?! Holy hell. I wish I had a better way to end the story- I went solo to a party I was only slightly invited to, found no one to hang out with and ended up driving home, safe & sound. Note to my kids: That whole neighbor-lends-you-his-hot-car-thing is never, ever going to happen to you at 16 or probably ever, for that matter..

  • Twenties– This is where life begins to get good- really, really good. I started to get who I was- leaving behind the younger, less self-assured self. I met my husband, married, joined the Peace Corps, lived in Kenya. Hell to the yes, the twenties were so much better than the teens.
  • Thirties– First off, how are they already coming to an end?! I feel like they just started! But they have been amazing! I became a mom, had a fantastic time & career at Microsoft, took the exciting leap away from Microsoft, started this blog, and now I work for PATH. I am feeling happier and more confident that I ever have before.

So, all that’s to say, if the past is any kind of indicator of future results- not only will the 40’s be good, but I guess the 50’s are going to blow my mind.

Another thing I have been thinking about as 40 approaches is exactly what year, what day, will be my midway point? Being both a realist and an optimist (yes, I feel like I am BOTH- so you can just roll with it), I assume that somewhere in my forties I will hit “the halfway point” between life and death. Halfway between smiling, laughing, thinking, and that long dirt nap.

The average life expectancy of a woman in the US is 81 years old (that’s the realist talking). I consider myself healthier and happier than average, so round that up a few years (that’s the optimist talking) and I find myself gravitating towards 86. It’s a nice number, cleanly divisible by two, still older than my dad, so- I figured I wouldn’t need to confront the idea of “halfway” until my mid-forties.

But today, the news of Tom’s death brought me up a little short. What if my estimate is high? What if I don’t even hit 80? What if I have passed halfway already?

(Take a breath)

(In through your nose, out through you mouth)

(Okay, maybe a couple more to steady the nerves)

Yeah- I don’t really like THAT idea at all. I mean, I love the age that I ended up having children at, it feels like the Goldilocks “just right” age for becoming a mom, but if I start doing a little mathy-poo based on it…

Let’s see, I had the twins at 32. If they have kids around the same age, I’ll be pushing 65 when I start my run as a grandma. Hmm… still okay, but that only gives me about 20 years and that may mean that I won’t get to see a grandchild walk down the aisle to accept a college diploma, to say nothing of a wedding aisle.

(Remember your breathing)

(Head between your knees if you get light-headed)

Noooooooooo. I am not feeling Zen about this at all. The first 40 (or 39.8 at the moment) have gone so fast! And they have been so fun! So good! There is still so, so much to see and do! I am just finally getting the hang of it, for heaven’s sake.

So, what’s the big takeaway from this navel-gazing? It’s time to get crack-a-lackin’! Whatever exciting, important, noble, notable, adventurous, memorable, silly, significant, magnificent things I want to do, they best start lining up, because there is not a day to waste. (This is probably making my husband shake his head- he already thinks I am a Tasmanian Devil of activity, but I think he kinda loves it too.)

So, what’s the big takeaway from this navel-gazing? It’s time to get crack-a-lackin’! Whatever exciting, important, noble, notable, adventurous, memorable, silly, significant, magnificent things I want to do, they best start lining up, because there is not a day to waste.

Tim Robbins famously said as Andy Dufresne to Morgan Freeman’s “Red” in Stephen King’s brilliant The Shawshank Redemption, “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying.” My question is- if you have hit halfway, are you actually working on the second part of that statement whether you want to or not?

I know I am not the only one thinking about this (heck, it’s the basis for a lot of organized religion) and I am sure some of you have your own little ways of coping with this realization- regardless of the decade you are in. A trick I have employed for years as a runner is to imagine that after the halfway mark in a run, I am just picking up the steps I have already laid down. Easy as that. It makes the second half of a run feel so much lighter to just mentally scoop them back up.

When running, it is a comforting thought to know that there are a finite numbers of steps ahead of you. I can’t say the same of sunrises. It may be a worthy and worthwhile goal to see if you can find some kind of comfort in knowing that there are a finite number of days ahead of you. I know I am not there yet or that I will ever get there, but it’s something to think about- probably while on one of those long runs.

In the meantime, I’m definitely going with the over on this bet.

Thanks for reading and spending a few of your (finite) moments reading this blog. I’d love for you to share your thoughts here and share this blog with your friends.

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