On Turning 40

A few weeks ago I turned 40. Those of you who read the blog regularly will know that I had my birthday celebration in September – The Bloke and I went to London for a few days and did lots of eating and exploring. (In case you missed it, you can find the post here). Rather than sending me a present in November, my family and friends had very generously gifted me some birthday money towards it – it was very reminiscent of our honeymoon in New York four years ago in which we did as much as possible, took photos of what the money was spent on (which were predominantly glorious meals in random places all around the city) and sent them to everyone with a thank you message.

Consequently, my plan for the day of my actual birthday was to do nothing. My Out of Office was switched on, my social media clients were informed that I was on annual leave and I told The Bloke that I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything other than watch my favourite films and have food brought to me. It was definitely the right decision – it was freezing cold and we had an unexpected and rather large amount of snow (yes, I can hear my Canadian friends laughing at what we term as a large amount) which would have made a trip anywhere difficult. 

It’s a birthday guinea pig. In a birthday hat. I had to share.

As I had already celebrated early, I genuinely expected it to be a quiet day. How wrong I was! The Bloke had got up early to decorate the living room in balloons (including massive 40 balloons that took up most of the couch), I received a bucket load of texts and calls, lots of cards and, despite the fact that I had already been incredibly spoiled, I got a whole bunch of presents, flower deliveries and my friend and her husband drove through the snow to wish me a happy birthday (that’s the second time she has done that this year – she drove through the snow in January to drop off homemade bread and cinnamon rolls when The Bloke had covid). 

I’m so lucky. 

The Bloke ordered me some epic pancakes from Tamu (one of my favourite brunch places) and we curled up under a duvet on the couch and watched the films on my list, and I caught up on some sleep. Completely epic – for two days afterwards I refused the get rid of the balloons until it became impossible to move around the room.

Since then I’ve been asked a few times how I feel about being 40. It’s considered a milestone, but in all honesty I hadn’t really thought about it much until now – work and life have kept me busy so there has been little time to reflect in the way I expected I would. Generally, I’m fairly unfazed by it. My 30’s were a decade of considerable change – I started the blog, quit my job as a teacher and embarked on a completely different trajectory as a social media manager, got married, travelled, said goodbye to all three cats, moved house three times, made new friends… The blog opened up a completely new world and The Bloke and I have had some unforgettable experiences and met some amazing people, some who have become friends in ‘real life.’ When I stop to think about it my world is completely different to what it was a decade ago, and mainly for the better. 

At 30 I was miserable. At 40 I usually wake up feeling positive and genuinely looking forward to starting the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my bad days where I want to throw my laptop in the bin and question every decision I’ve ever made, but it is a fortunate position where I have the ability to change most of the things that bring me down, and I have done… repeatedly. 

My physical being at 40 is… different. I started the menopause at 38 and the changes in hormones, waking up at 2.00am for no reason, hot flushes and inability to concentrate have been an experience, shall we say. I’ve started making those ‘oooof’ noises when I stand up, things move and crack that shouldn’t, I put on 10lbs just by looking at a chocolate bar, I am at the stage where I put my back out simply by sneezing, I have random chin hair and getting dressed up in something the size of a tea towel and dancing around nightclubs in heels until 4.00am are definitely a thing of the past. At 20 I could go to university, work in a bar until past midnight, go out drinking afterwards until the early hours, stagger home, get up and repeat for days on end. My only night out this year was a rather epic jaunt with my friend to the opening of a new bar in Birmingham in October, and (while admittedly I drank WAY beyond my limit) it took me almost a week to fully recover. 

Mentally I have often felt there has been little change since my early twenties. Despite being 40 there are still people I see regularly that I consider to be in the ‘adult’ bracket who seemingly have their lives together, with children, mortgages, family holidays and who approach life in a rational, mature manner. I’ve never really felt on the same level with those people – the type of life I lead is still rather reminiscent of my student days with little responsibility other than paying bills on time and I prefer to be quite spontaneous in how I do things. It still blows my mind that, at 40, my mum had three children, a mortgage, job and a dog. It is only a recent revelation that I need to start thinking about my long-term future instead of what is happening next week. 

However, there have been huge changes in my mindset that the 20 year-old me wouldn’t have even contemplated.

Here are some of the things I have learned at 40.

Time spent with loved ones is precious. Nothing has demonstrated the importance of spending quality time with those that matter most than the events of the last few years. I didn’t see my mum for over fifteen months and I haven’t seen my sister in person for over two years, and spending that amount of time away highlighted the things that I took for granted. Consequently, when I do see my mum I make more of an effort for it to be fun – booking in exciting things, trying new food, looking at incredible views… I consider myself incredibly lucky in that The Bloke and I have each other and that both our families are doing ok – I can’t imagine what it must have been like for those who live alone and those who don’t have family they can turn to, even if it is a quick phone or zoom call.

Experiences and making memories are far more important than material possessions. I once read that material things are items you build up over a lifetime for your family and friends to throw away when you die, and while it is a rather macabre notion, it is completely true. Despite many repeated attempts to declutter, The Bloke and I have a lot of stuff that we don’t need and so we have spent the last few years focusing on experiences rather than amassing more stuff. I would much rather spend time with great people, visiting beautiful places and watching exciting shows than go shopping, and I always do my best to take the time to stop and be mindful of something in the moment as it is happening. 

It’s important to stand up for yourself. As a lifelong people-pleaser (and being burned many times over for it) I’ve only learned to say no and set boundaries as I have aged, whether it is with family members, friends or in the workplace. While it hasn’t always been an easy journey, it has certainly been worth the time. If I don’t want to go somewhere or do something, I won’t. Similarly, if I want to go somewhere or try something new, I will say so and I’m not afraid to go out by myself. I don’t like confrontation, but I’m less afraid of it. 

There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. At 40 I know what I like and I indulge myself without worrying about what other people think. I can happily spend hours doodling in my bullet journal, I listen to Def Leppard and the Bee Gees almost daily and Hallmark movies and TV shows are fantastic (seriously, When Calls the Heart rocks my world). I’m obsessed with forensic true crime shows. I adore soap-making tutorials on YouTube. Am I going to be making soap anytime soon? Absolutely not, but when Katie from Royalty Soaps posts a new video I’m the first there. I can spend hours quite happily walking round a museum or exploring a stately home. A night at karaoke is always a night well spent.

Lots of people like to have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. It’s nice to be able to seek advice should you need it but it is important to do what is right for you – another massive learning curve but once I stopped listening to what everyone else’s thoughts on what I should do and how I should do it (which often involved it being more convenient for them rather than the other way around ) life suddenly became much more simple. Similarly, it isn’t your job to push your own moral code and belief system onto anyone else. You do you. Let them do them.

You’ll never be able to control every situation and outcome. Sometimes, as frustrating as it may be, you have to simply roll with the punches, pick yourself up and keep fighting.

Realistic dreams are indeed achievable if you really want them, regardless of your age. It’s highly unlikely that I will become a backing dancer for Janet Jackson or sing a duet with Jennifer Hudson any time soon, but it is entirely possible to set a goal and achieve it, whatever age you are. Of course, it is never as easy as saying you want something and it will happen (particularly if you’re responsible for a family and a home), but you can always start small and do something. I acknowledge that I’m lucky in many ways, but there has also been a lot of hard work involved too. 

Similarly, doing something is usually better than nothing. Doing nothing results in nothing. Small changes or efforts are much more likely to have a positive impact.

Your friendships group will change and even decrease, and that’s okay. I spent my 30th birthday in Reflex with a massive group of friends (classy, as always). Ten years later I’m probably still in contact with about six or seven of them. Most of this hasn’t been a conscious thing, more that life has simply happened and everyone (including myself) have been busy living it. What I love about my friends is that I can go for months without speaking to them and then pick up right where we left off.

Looking after your health is more important than ever. This is something I still need to work on – despite multiple health scares in the last decade my physical wellbeing and health is not what it should be, and the added effects of an early menopause doesn’t help. I need to start making healthier choices in what I eat, creating a more regular exercise routine and being conscious of the fact that I should spend as much time improving my body as I try to do with my mind. 

It. Gets. Better. When I am feeling low I remind myself of where I was 20 years ago and how much better things are. As a person I feel more confident in myself and my abilities, I find excitement in things I would never have even considered before, and I love the fact that there are lots of things just waiting to be discovered. I found that my 20’s were spent starting out on the lowest rung of the ladder and working really hard to make even the tiniest progression. In my 30’s I almost had to do it all over again, but it was easier because I had a decade of knowledge and experience, a higher skillset and I had made many (many many many) mistakes that I had learned from. I want my 40’s to be spent at a slightly slower and less urgent pace – the hustle is always there but I feel comfortable taking a little bit more time to enjoy everything that I have built instead of simply focusing solely on the building process.

Here’s to the next decade!

What about you guys? How have you felt when you have reached milestone birthdays? Let me know in the comments below!

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10 thoughts on “On Turning 40

  1. Happy Birthday, Suzie! You are still a baby to me at almost 61 this month. Enjoy it while you are still young, my friend! I’m glad that the Bloke spoils you so much, you deserve it! ❤️🇬🇧

  2. You’ve learned a lot in your short 40 years (the new 29), Suzie. I am envious. At 77, I don’t have the long future you will have, which you can now treasure with all that that you’ve learned. Me, I am the new 65 and heading slowly to 66!. Congratulations on reaching this milestone!

  3. I live alone. Before the pandemic, I was eating out four to six times a week and going to the theater to watch films. I met a friend once a week at a local farmer’s market. I belonged to two support groups that met in person each week.

    Then COVID arrived, and I isolated myself, stopped eating out, stopped going to the theater, stopped attending the in-person support groups that ended up meeting online, a first for me. I had never Zoomed before. Now I’m hooked. Before, I was filling up the gas tank each week. Since March 2020, I’ve only filled the tank three times and the price of car insurance dropped drastically since a major factor in that price was based on milage driven.

    But, I’m not lonely. I’m calmer than I have been in decades. For the first time in two years, my family came together for Thanksgiving, I joined them, and they said they had never seen me looking so calm and relaxed.

    Since the US Marines and Vietnam back in the 1960s, I have lived with PTSD. The support groups I mentioned earlier came together at the local veteran’s hospital to help us vets manage the trauma of our PTSD.

    I started sleeping better a few weeks into the pandemic hit. I was a lot calmer. Crowds triggered the PTSD. Driving triggered the PTSD. Just leaving the house triggered the PTSD.

    Not leaving the house, no triggers. I feel better than I have since Vietnam. My lifestyle has changed and I don’t want to return to what it was before.

    I told my PTSD VA counselor what was happening, and he said he was hearing that from a lot of the combat vets he works with. The Vet Center has decided to keep the Zoom-style meetups even after the pandemic has run its course because a lot of vets do not want to return to that told normal again.

    Even the other two, civilian, writing critique groups I belong to have decided meeting through Zoom is a lot better than dealing with traffic and meeting in an always noisy public place, a restaurant, or library.

    Before the pandemic, I thought living alone sucked. I was wrong to think that way. Now I enjoy living alone.

  4. Welcome to the 40’s! This is such a thoughtful and insightful post. I so enjoyed reading your words. I am in the headlong rush to 70. After hitting the halfway point (and beyond) I can easily see 70. Hard for me to believe that. You are so far ahead of where I was at 40. I am just now being comfortable disagreeing with people. I, too, have been a major people pleaser. It just causing frustration most of the time. I am comfortable with not rushing to please. It is freeing. I always thought that if my dreams were not made manifest by my 40th birthday then life was over. I am still dreaming and hoping to see results of those dreams. I know my life has been so blessed in knowing you and I am still holding onto the dream that one day we will meet and actually go to your favorite pub and lift a glass (or two) to creativity, dreams and friendship. Thanks so much for being you, Cathi (DAF)

    • Thanks so much lovely, and what a lovely message! I totally agree about the not rushing to please – it really is wonderful for the mental health. Thanks so much for your support, as always!

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