In the midst of my angst-y, uncertain twenties, I heard a rumor that when a woman turns forty she stops caring so much about what other people think. Wow. It was hard to imagine but it sounded so good. Like Wonderland! I held tight to that rumor. It made forty seem positively COOL!
It also took the edge off the whole aging thing because frankly, everything else I had been hearing was pretty negative. You get tired, achy, droopy, flabby, forgetful, and ornery. So that promise of self assuredness was a shining beacon. I kept it in view to help me shut my ears to all those cautionary tales and comfort me as I navigated my self-consciousness.
The days leading up to forty filled me with excitement. I anticipated waking up the morning of my birthday with a whole new perspective. As if the forty-fairy would swoop in as I slept and make me impervious to the judgment of others. Imagine my disappointment when I awoke the same old me, no miraculous overhaul of self-esteem. I felt like I was missing out on something, but what?
What does it mean to “not care what others think”? Does that mean that we don’t care at all? Does it make us indifferent? No, I picture it more like acceptance, an affirmation that you can be your true self and if others show disregard or disagreement (and they will) you are still ok. You need not change because of anyone else or in spite of anyone else. You won’t be everything to everybody but you CAN be wholly you!
I turn forty-two this month and have started to feel glimmers of that rumored wonderland. It has become infinitely easier to laugh at myself. I am better able to say no when I need to and yes when I want to, even to the things that scare me a bit. It is not always a cakewalk. Self-consciousness can still overcome me, making my hands feel awkward and hard to manage. Yes, there is a little more ache and droop. But I can see that there is growth in my spirit and I can recognize that there has been growth all along. Finding love for yourself doesn’t happen in an instant. It happens in a lifetime.
If I could offer anything to young people from my wise, 42 year-old perch it would not be catastrophic warnings or even promises of better days. What I would most like to say is this: you are already ok. You will grow and change and experience the whole spectrum of emotions, of course. Your journey will be all your own but there will be others along the way that you can relate to and share your life experiences with. You will be challenged and you will triumph. Things will change whether you want them to or not. And all the while you, as you are, will be perfectly ok.
This message is not reserved for our young people, of course. It is for all of us. Aging is really just growing. And while we don’t make it through life without growing pains, let us not forget about the growing pleasures! Every phase of life has its share of both. Why not savor it all? There is no better time to be you than right now. You are already ok.
photo by Frank Veres