Forty: my second favourite F word

I turn forty later this month, and since the start of the year I’ve been turning thoughts about that over in my head, trying to come up with a funny, perceptive blog post about what it means to hit this milestone age.

But I’ve failed.

Perhaps that’s because my creativity is fairly dormant just now. I’ve been spending a lot more time on writing for work than I have for on writing for pleasure, and while I trust that my voice will come back eventually, it doesn’t currently feel like I have any great insights to share.

Or perhaps it’s because I quite genuinely don’t have any big feelings about turning forty. It doesn’t fill me with horror about ageing; but nor does it fill me with enthusiasm and excitement about reinventing myself over the next decade. I’m already enormously lucky to be living in a place that makes me happy, with people who make me happy, doing a job that makes me happy – I don’t have much need for a dramatic life change.

So, other than my GP using it as a reason to refer me for a veritable smorgasbord of tests and screenings over the coming months, I’m not sure that forty is going to be much different to any other birthday.

I have blogged before about birthdays – and in particular my dislike of parties. There was my 8th birthday party, nice and simple, where a dozen slightly feral children ate frozen pizza and went for a bike ride. I rocked an incredible double denim combo, and cried when my friends gave me the birthday bumps. (This is a fun Scottish tradition where you either get thumped on the arm or picked up and bounced on the floor for whatever number corresponds with your birthday…)

Then there was my 16th, a joint party with my high school bestie who also now lives in Australia. I’m sure neither of us moved across the world solely to escape the people we spent our teenage years with… but clearly that party had an impact on her too because there have been no more since. A week or two ago she celebrated her fortieth in the Whitsundays with her husband and toddler, which honestly seems like the ideal solution.

Anyway, it will come as very little surprise to anyone who knows me, even in passing, that there are no big celebrations planned. No party. No dancing. No powerpoint slideshow of embarrassing baby photos. I’m hoping for a quiet dinner out with the fam, and a stack of new books. (I was keen for a new cafetiere too, so I could stop straining our coffee through a sieve every morning, but DorkyDad jumped the gun on that and bought one last week.)

The one thing that’s bothering me slightly is the feeling that I should have gathered some wisdom to impart by this age. Shouldn’t I… know more? Shouldn’t I… be a little bit better put together by now?

I have reached that point where I look at the birth year of other people – Scotland’s new First Minister, who is two years younger than me; the bestselling writer in their mid 20s; the Oscar winner in their 30s – and feel a confusing mixture of admiration and anxiety. I don’t especially want to be First Minister, and I can’t think of much worse than attending the Oscars… but maybe I should be aiming a little higher than hiding behind my computer writing web copy every day.

Or maybe not.

I feel so grateful to have had the chance over the last forty years to try so many cool and interesting things. I’ve held office jobs and casual jobs, and I’ve camped on the Arctic Ice Sheet. I’ve been a campaigner, an intern, a university student, and a Parliamentary candidate. I’ve made speeches to hundreds of people, tied untold numbers of placards to lampposts, and knocked on countless doors trying to change the opinion of strangers. Having a go at those things and then choosing not to continue with them allows me to say with certainty that those roles – those lives – were not the right fit for me.

They were incredible opportunities: fun and interesting, challenging and rewarding. But they weren’t aways great for my mental and physical health. Being an out-there introvert is only sustainable for so long, and I think it was inevitable that I would eventually choose a quieter way.

I like myself a lot more now than I used to. I believe am a better person at 40 than I was at 8, 16, 21 and even 30. I am more confident about drawing healthy boundaries. I am kinder, less judgmental, braver, more self-motivated, more patient and more honest than I was earlier in my life. And I think all those attributes and values that combine to make a good person become easier to enact as you become a happier person.

So, if I have one wish for the next decade, it’s for that trend to continue: for me to look back at 50 and feel like I’m a better person then than I am now. Because that will mean I’m even happier then than I am now.

I also hope that I continue to slough off some of the pressures of being younger – some of which I don’t think we even realise exist until they are gone. It is a delight to reach an age where you can let go of things that don’t matter. The opinions of strangers, fast fashion, petty arguments, contact lenses, needing to be right, needing to persuade other people that you’re right, being too proud to ask for help, the obligation to finish a book you’re not enjoying, the obligation to drink because other people are… For me, they’ve all been put in the box marked Yeah, Nah. I’m sure over the next ten years that box will become even fuller than it already is.

It is not a glamorous thing, to be nearly forty. My back hurts all the time. (Rather annoyingly, it stops when I do yoga every day, but I have to actually do the yoga for that to work instead of just thinking about doing the yoga and hoping it will work by osmosis.) When I find a pair of jeans that fits, I buy three identical pairs and wear then until they are in tatters. I take nana naps most afternoons and have to pop a digestive enzyme before I tackle a slice of pizza. I don’t drink anymore because it gives me migraines, I don’t smoke anything interesting or uninteresting, and I’m insufferable the next morning if I stay up past 9.30pm.

But that too is all okay. When I look around me – at this beautiful house, at my husband and son, at the dog snoozing by my feet – it is hard to feel anything other than spectacularly lucky to have made it this far. It is worth a celebration, albeit a quiet one.

Hurrah for forty, and for everything that will follow.


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

12 responses

  1. Happy birthday! You will love the next step of your life- it really does get better- probably because you aren’t as concerned with others perception of you and more of your happiness with who and what you are! Celebrate your life and dreams! A life well lived!

  2. I don’t think you have lost your voice at all. Lovely flowing post, and so many things you have achieved so far. What an interesting life you have led! You’re going to rock your forties. X

  3. I identify very strongly with much of this, especially the jeans, the naps and the booze. I’m 44 now and this is a great decade. Happy birthday Ruth x

  4. happy 40th. the best is yet to come! they say the decade of your sixties is the very best so you have lots to look forward to. I’m turning 65 this year and these have been the best years of my life!

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