It was my birthday the other day, and a few people (separately, not as a cohesive group) asked me how it felt to turn forty. Did I have to work myself up to it? Do I feel different?
Last year on my birthday, I was super depressed. Not because of my age, but because I had just let myself go from a job that wasn’t working out, even though I liked it. I was depressed because I had failed– even though that particular job is, I have since learned, set up for massive amounts of “failure”. I was a part time instructor at a city college. I loved the student body and the people I worked with. Actually, I just passed other instructors in the hallways. The real people you work with when you are a part timer are the students themselves. They’re your real coworkers, because you see them every single day, up close and personal. My whole education has revolved around teaching college, and all of a sudden I wasn’t doing that anymore, and I was really, really sad.
I also know that I don’t want to go back, because I will never get picked up full time. It would be like going back to that boyfriend that we enjoyed but who never really got us, and we would have to pick up ALL the tabs for dinner instead of half of them, and maybe he might go out drinking with girls that aren’t you. It would be like that.
So, last year during my birthday, it was very difficult to untangle how I felt. Was I depressed because my career was down the toilet? Was I depressed because my career had actually been a “career” that whole time? Or was it because I was getting older? Was it because I was 39 and didn’t have that second kid yet?
And so a year has passed, and I have let go of most of the guilt that had frozen me immovably. I’ve begun to thaw and take action. I’ve let go of the idea of having a second kid. And while I am a year older and the big 4-0, I am actually in a happier place than I was just a short year ago. I’m not sure what happened. Perhaps I was tired of being depressed? That is too dismissive of depression, and I know better than that. But on some level, I think that is what happened. Some part of me decided to stop being sad and feeling guilty and try something else, and I think I just had to feel my way through it or something.
So, no, I didn’t have to get myself ready for 40. It was ready for me, waiting to legitimize me somehow. It’s okay to not get carded at Trader Joe’s (though I still am flattered when it happens). I can look at the twenty somethings and instead of feeling a thirty something pang of Remember When, I can sigh with relief that I’m not their age anymore! I’m not intimidated by a whole lot other than my own mind. Which means I am more formidable than I thought. And that is a pretty awesome revelation, if you ask me.