As kids we were taught that it is not polite to ask a woman how old they are. Lately I’ve begun to wonder, why is that? My guess is that it is some kind of antiquated edict meant to protect the “fragility” of a woman. Especially an “older woman” who has probably lost her beauty, her appeal, and her intelligence. Surely her worth and sanity are hanging on by a thread so delicate that the query of a curious 8 year old would threaten to unravel it. In case you’re not picking up on it, I’m being sarcastic. I’m adding a little extra salt to this meal because today is my 42nd birthday and I couldn’t be happier to be another year older. In fact, if you scroll long enough through social media, you might just catch me dancing like a slightly out of rhythm, middle aged woman…in a unicorn onesie.

I have a vague memory of being in my early 20s (let’s be honest, all the memories from that time are pretty hazy). I am sitting in a friend’s basement apartment on a well worn futon and somehow we’ve gotten on the topic of getting older. She is talking about how she isn’t afraid to age at all and I clearly remember her saying something like, “I can’t wait to get older. Just imagine how many books I will have read, how much more I’ll know and how much smarter I’ll be.” I have reflected on this conversation almost every year for the last 20 years and now that I am at an age where I feel like I’ve gathered sufficient life experience to properly judge my last 2 decades I want to say that my friend was absolutely correct. With each decade that has passed since I became an adult, I have learned a great deal, become more intelligent and yup, I have read a lot of books.

My Disastrous 20s

My 20s were an absolute disaster. I had some incredible moments – I graduated from University, got married and had 2 beautiful baby boys. But overall, my initiation into adulthood was messy and difficult. I struggled with who I was and what I wanted to do and I tried on a lot of identities. There was the punk rocker, the feminist, the scholar, the party animal, the bartender, and in the latter part of the decade, there was the dutiful employee, mom, and wife. I partied a lot, made some really bad decisions and thanks to a rather loud mouthed disposition, made an ass out of myself on a pretty regular basis. When I look back on my 20s, I’m not particularly proud of who I was. Don’t get me wrong, I had a LOT of fun but sometimes I regret not having tried harder to use those years to be more productive. I could have studied harder at school, traveled the world, saved money, washed my face regularly – you know, things my older self would have thanked me for – but I didn’t. I used to look back on those years with shame but lately I see that perhaps everything that happened in the latter stages of my temporal lobe formation was meant to prepare me for what came in my 30s.

My Transformative 30s

My 30s were a decade of transformation. These were the years when I got shit done. I divorced the man from my 20s (remember those bad decisions I talked about?). I married my soul mate. I became a business owner. I was diagnosed with and beat stage 3 rectal cancer. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. I had many successes, big and small, over that 10 year span that I am tremendously proud of. I was focused, driven and I accomplished most of what I set out to do. Life in my 30s wasn’t always easy but I felt like it was the first time since I was a kid that I was truly happy. I call these my transformational years because all the things I did over that decade brought me closer to who I wanted to be and farther from the regrets of my 20s. I was creating someone new from the ashes of a disaster, which was exhilarating but it also had its drawbacks. I was tremendously hard on myself. I worried so much about what other people thought that my anxiety often bubbled over into panic attacks. Most days I was present in a room but not really there, constantly retreating into my head where all kinds of stories were being told. I could not stomach the smallest failure and this often led to me pushing myself beyond safe limits both physically and mentally. I remember a conversation with my husband where he told me he was worried about how I would handle it if I could no longer do some of the things I had come to see as my identity. He was right to be worried. I defined myself by how hard I could hustle and what I could achieve. What I’m learning now is that this might not be the way to live a sustainably enjoyable life.

My 40s

I want you to imagine that you are in your car. You’re driving home from a long, frustrating day at work and traffic is heavy. You change lanes aggressively, only to come to a standstill and repeating this technique over and over again yields the same result. You are frustrated, maybe even on the verge of being emotionally overwhelmed and more than anything you just want to get home. And then something happens. All of a sudden you become very aware of your presence in the car. You realize you’re leaning forward and your body is so rigid that your shoulders almost touch your ears. Your hands are talons gripping the wheel like a small animal you intend to eat, and your jaw is clenched tight. You take note of your body and mind and all at once the futility of your physical and mental tension becomes so apparent that you take a deep, shuddering breath, lean back and let go. That moment – the one where you realize that fighting to get to where you’re going is so ineffective and you choose, instead, to release the pressure of all the things outside the car that you cannot control – that’s what my 40s feel like so far. I am in the same car, driving the same road I was on in my 20s and 30s but the difference is, I trust that I am going to get home whether I’m white knuckling the steering wheel or leaning back to enjoy the ride. I gotta tell you, it feels damn good to let go.

I don’t know what the rest of my 40s will hold for me. It’s impossible to try to predict the future. It’s safe to say there will be hills to climb and I will, no doubt, fall down from time to time. To think anything less would be naive. The only thing I can say for certain, and what I’m trying to say here, is that so far, things have only gotten better as I have gotten older. I am grateful for the lessons I learned from the risk taker with the bleached out hair and lip ring. I am proud of the woman who beat cancer and ran 44 kilometres through the streets of Boston, pushing herself so hard that she collapsed and spent an hour in a medical tent just so she could stand again. Every single one of those experiences has led me to this exact place at this exact time. I am 42 years old and for the first time in my life, I feel an overwhelming sense of calm about who I am and where I’m going. I have stopped fighting the traffic and things have started to flow. I don’t lament getting older because with every year that goes by, I develop more into the woman I am meant to be. And friends, she is anything but fragile.

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