I’m staring 40 in the face. It’s only two days away, and it feels huge.
I don’t feel that old. In so many ways, I feel like I’m still waiting for my life to begin.
My 20’s were full of naïveté and ease. I thought was strong and competent, and I think I made a pretty good show of it. I spent a lot of my 20’s pretending. I longed to be somehow more and less than I was. I wanted to be both physically smaller and eminently bigger (read: attractive and important) because I bought into the lie that those were the most important determining factors of self-worth.
I spent my 20’s creating a version of myself that I thought was strong and competent. I took a teaching job at a school so small that I was a department unto myself, so I was in charge of a lot of people. Granted, they were all between the ages of 14-18, but I was still bossing people around for a living, and I was good at it. It wasn’t hard to feel important—big fish in a small pond and all.
I had my sights set on family, on 2.5 (well, I wanted 5) kids and a white picket fence. I had the husband, the job, the house. It felt like a video game level I had to complete. But then I turned 30, and that mask of competence and badassery was ripped away in a hurricane of infertility and epilepsy.
It felt like someone pulled the plug on the Nintendo when I was just about to rescue the princess.
My 30’s have been pockmarked by loss and disappointment. The doctors told us a biological family was not only unlikely, but physically impossible. They told me I had epilepsy, chronic migraine, and fibromyalgia, and they tried a zillion medications to quiet my overactive nerves and get the seizures and headaches under control. I surrendered my job, my consciousness, my driver’s license, and my dignity.
So much for feeling strong and competent.
My 20’s were about striving for an ideal, about striving for the “American dream.” It was a time ripe with possibility and confidence, and the self I’d crafted reflected both. But my 30’s have been about learning to live without that mask I’d made in my 20’s. Actually, they’ve been about exactly that—learning to be without—without a driver’s license, without a job, without biological children, even without makeup. I’ve even embraced my natural hair color—figured I should enjoy it before it turns gray.
My 30’s have been about radical acceptance of what is, about collecting the shattered pieces of my reality and trying to fashion them into something new and beautiful. But my 30’s have also been about grief, about the death of so many dreams.
I never did rescue that princess. When the Nintendo rebooted, that game no longer worked. I found myself playing a different game entirely.
So as I embark on my 40’s, I am facing a fresh start. A second (third? fourth?) chance. A new game.
Every decade of my life has been an act of creation. I want my 40’s to be marked by the daring humility of new beginnings.
I just earned my yellow belt in taekwondo. I realize this may not be much of an accomplishment—it’s one level up from white, which is the color all beginners wear. But that wasn’t the true accomplishment. The true accomplishment was setting down my own stubborn pride and allowing myself to be a beginner. It was opening myself to the possibility of failure. It was embracing the discomfort of inexperience and recognizing that failure is simply a risk one must take to truly live.
I spent my 20’s avoiding failure.
I spent my 30’s mired in failure.
I want to spend my 40’s boldly risking failure.
So, in that spirit, I’m going roller skating tonight, something I haven’t done in more than 25 years. I might fall. (I realize that I probably will—I scheduled a preemptive chiropractor appointment for Monday morning.) But I bought a hot pink romper, put my hair into a wild side ponytail, and slathered on the blue eyeshadow to commemorate the occasion.
My roller skates even have pink light-up wheels.
I have decided to spend this next decade doing some of the things I’ve never dared to do before:
Cheers to new beginnings and bold failures.
Here’s to a fresh start, a reboot, a bonus life, and a new princess to rescue, even if it takes a few tries.
It’s time to be 40. Might as well make the most of it!