5 Things I Learned in my 40s That Prepared Me for Turning 50
Almost nothing looks the way I thought it would, but I'm happy enough to say, so what?
When I turned 40, I had a meltdown. I just couldn’t fathom leaving behind my marvelous, exciting, robust 30s for middle age. So, I jumped on a plane to Italy, drank a lot of wine, ate a bunch of pasta, had a fling and wrote a novel about it. I guess that’s what I needed to take the edge off things.
A little over a month ago, I turned 50. Like most women I know who have hit this milestone moment, I felt unsettled, to say the least. I mean I didn’t “feel” 50, so it was hard to believe it was really happening. Over half my life was over, and I had no idea what the next chapter would bring.
However, there are lessons I learned in my 40s that prepared me for this new decade and taught me to embrace 50 with optimism instead of fear.
1. First and foremost, so what if I wasn’t thin at 50? It’s being healthy that’s important. We know that women of all ages and backgrounds struggle with body image issues, and the majority of us lament regularly (okay fine, daily) about the need to lose those last ten pounds. And when a milestone birthday arrives, you want to look your best, and this means being thin and fit. Even as a self-professed overachiever, I freely admit I was nowhere near my ideal weight on my 50th birthday. Perimenopause coupled with “the quarantine 15” had stopped me cold in my tracks.
However, even though I was struggling with stubborn belly fat, hot flashes, and a “new” body, I was honestly grateful for all of it because I was healthy. My 40s prepared me for this. I went up a full size and did not change anything in my diet or exercise regime. The pounds simply became much harder to take off. But I also gave up running after an injury and started yoga and biking. Maybe I wasn’t burning as many calories per session, but I knew my body was stronger — mentally and physically. And in my late 40s, I gave up on yo-yo dieting in favor of a whole foods and a mainly plant-based diet. For me, I knew this was the best course, and even though I was not at my ideal weight, I felt healthy and strong and realized that is all that mattered. Maybe I had finally reached acceptance, and this was my new normal. At 50, especially after watching friends in their 40s encounter some major health care scares, I am grateful to have my body just as it is.
2. So what if I wasn’t a VP of something by 50? I had accomplished a lot.
For most of my adult years, I was laser-focused on my career. I definitely thought I would be the VP of something big by 50, but I wasn’t. In fact, I wasn’t even the employee of anything big at all — I was an independent contractor doing many things I enjoy, working for myself. My 40s, however, taught me this was okay. After losing my big law firm job and the opportunity for partnership that came with it, I went my own way instead of trying to conform to theirs. I started two health care companies and began freelancing as a writer. I will confess it’s very weird after a career on Capitol Hill and as a lobbyist for IBM to be professionally untethered. But I have never been happier, and each day I get to meet my standards and my goals versus trying to satisfy someone else’s. I found it’s okay to be on the outside of corporate America.
3. So what if I experienced loss? I still have a lot of great people in my life
For many of us, our 40s are a decade of caregiving and the “sandwich” generation, caring for elderly parents and young children at the same time. I lost my father, fairly rapidly and unexpectedly, at 48. Although this was the worst year of my life, I learned how to care for someone else for once and put his needs above my own. It also made me grateful — for the opportunity to take care of him and for having him in my life for as long as I did. More importantly, it made me appreciate my mom (who I am now trying to take care of) so much more. I have some awesome aunts and close family friends who are still alive and part of my life, and I think that deep loss in my 40s made me appreciate life so much more when I hit age 50.
4. So what if I wasn’t married at 50? I had something better.
As a woman who’s dated a litany of jerks (so much so that I wrote a book about it!) and put up with way too much crap from men, it shouldn’t be shocking that I wasn’t married when I turned 50. Although I wasted a lot of my 30s dating men who, on paper, looked to be perfect and compatible with my goals, I learned in my 40s the things that were really important in a partner, and I found him. Instead of focusing on the big-city superficial hot-ticket items like looks or job or degrees, I chose to focus on looking at character, values and integrity. It’s sad it took me so long to do this, but as they say, even after half a century, better late than never. And now I have something I value more than a marriage — a healthy relationship based on mutual respect and shared beliefs.
5. So what if I am isolated during a pandemic? I enjoy spending time with me.
Without a doubt, I miss my old life. I miss the yoga studio, the gym, the restaurants, my weekends with girlfriends and travel. However, this pandemic has taught me something really special — I can (finally) be alone and enjoy my own company. I take long walks and hike by myself or with my new puppy. I read books and listen to podcasts. I write more often and with a deeper clarity, because there are less distractions and noise. I cook meals slowly instead of getting takeout all the time. I even learned to garden and am making sachets from lavender harvested from my backyard, which I give away to friends who are also struggling during the pandemic. So finally, the most important thing I have learned during this challenging time is to enjoy time with me and challenge myself to do entirely new things. The 40s were challenging and different than any other decade past, but they taught me a great deal about what is really important in life and how to relish the time we have left.
So far, I’m digging 50. I’m still celebrating with a bunch of pasta, though.