A few days ago I turned 40.
Until recently, I would have been very hesitant to admit that openly. After all, isn’t 40 the scary age, for women? “The Big 4-0”? Admitting that you are 40 in today’s society almost feels like admitting a weakness, or a shameful secret, or an embarrassing drunken mistake.
Ha! Excuse me while I roll my eyes. And that knowing smile on my face? That’s because I know that getting older isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. You have persevered through everything that life has thrown at you and you are here, still showing up. Yay, you! And yay, me.
I find myself much happier and serene right now, at 40, than I have ever been through the past two decades. I spent my 20s and 30s largely feeling weighed down by a sense of failure so deep it was sometimes almost crippling. As often as my life was filled with joy (and it was!) there was always this dark cloud on the horizon, this cumulus of expectations I hadn’t lived up to, this giant nimbus of inadequacy.
It took me years to realize that the source of my frustration, the reason why I just couldn’t seem to do things right, was that the expectations I was trying to live up to were not my own. And once I realized that, it took me a little while yet to let go of the need to fulfill other people’s expectations and to seek someone else’s approval of what I should be, do, say, feel.
No matter whose expectations you are internalizing — is can be someone close to you, even someone who means well, or it can just be one of those instances of societal pressure that we are all subjected to — if they do not align with your goals, if they are not a reflection of you being true to yourself… then they are just noise. They are an interference, a distraction from the pursuit of your goals and dreams.
Once I saw that, I stopped fighting myself. I let go. Because society can take its unrealistic and totally arbitrary standards of beauty, parenting, wealth and success and shove them. Because there is more than one way to be beautiful, to be alive, to be successful, to be a parent, to be a friend, to be human.
So, off it went, all that dead weight. And you know what? I am not Atlas, and the sky didn’t fall crashing down over my head.
What did happen was that I felt like I could finally breathe. And soon after, once the dust settled, I could finally see my dreams again, and I could set new goals, goals that make me wake up excited in the morning, and give me a boost when things get a bit tough.
Go on, try it. Ask yourself if your goals are really your own. And if they are not, I hope you have the courage to drop them like a hot potato, and make new goals that reflect YOU and your aspirations, not those of your mom, your high school teacher, or that girl from Instagram who always has so many likes and seems to be living the perfect life.
It might not happen overnight, but put it there, keep it in sight, strive towards it. Walk the path towards a day when you can walk out in the world feeling like you are comfortable with yourself, your body and the direction in which you are taking your life; a day when other people reflecting their own uncertainties and insecurities on you doesn’t shake you, when someone criticizing what you do or who you are because they don’t understand it, doesn’t make you waver. A day when you know with full certainty that you are more than the size of your butt, or the color of your hair, or the car you drive; and that there is still a lot of untapped potential in you, and you can’t wait to see what else you can do with it.
Because that might just be what happiness is made of.