Forty is a birthday milestone that should be celebrated. According to Wikipedia, if I was born in Asia between 1950 and 1955, I would be dead by now.
But I was not and I am not. I was born in 1977 in what is considered a “more developed region,” so I can expect to live to a glorious… 72.
So… moving on. What to think now of being 40? Last year, I thought 40 meant I needed to be “accomplished” in my life – a completed bucket list to show that I have lived a life worth living. Loyal readers may recall the “Twenty Before Forty” series, which still remains to be published in coming months, that reflects this perspective.
But as much as this checklist has been challenging and fun to complete, I’ve realized that I was going about this 40th birthday all wrong. Turning 40 shouldn’t be about the things I’ve done or even who I’ve become, but who I want to strive to be… What character do I want to be and show up in the world?
First is temperance, as described by the VIA Institute on Character. (I’ve never been a big drinker, but this is not what I mean.) Temperance includes virtues such as forgiveness, humility, and self-regulation. While I am far from the perfect role model for temperance, I do want to be more accepting of others’ shortcomings, and show empathy and acceptance rather than condemnation. This goes a long way in dealing with bad drivers and annoying cashiers. I also want to be more humble, and recognize that it’s better for accomplishments to speak for themselves rather than needing affirmation and explicit approval. I often let my emotions or impulses get the best of me, so greater self-control would also make me happier. As I’ve learned unfortunately several times, a tuna melt, corn dog and half-dozen doughnuts does not.
Second is courage, which includes being brave, persevering, and being honest. I was once called brave in 11th grade for telling a boy I liked him, despite not actually knowing that much about him. But I never really considered the possibility of my actually being brave until recently. By speaking up about how I feel and what I want, I’ve experienced a vulnerability I was too afraid to endure in the past. As for perseverance, the experience of online dating more than suffices. And yet, soon I’ll be embarking on that journey again because I hope for love and companionship and I know I can do what it takes to keep that a possibility. And finally, honesty about who I am and what I need. This includes accepting and even loving my introvertedness, and not shying away from fiercely protecting my alone time – even if this comes up against my desire to please others, which is also strong and not always for my highest good.
Third is transcendence, including an appreciation of beauty and excellence, hope for the future, humor, and gratitude. Appreciating beauty and excellence requires slowing down, and really seeing. I was fortunate to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks recently, and there is truly nothing like a solo hike to allow you to see – really see – nature around you, including every alarming lizard, cheeky squirrel, and noble tree. And despite nothing that can prove it or support it, I have hope for the future. It is hope that compels me to try online dating again, hope that I can make a difference through my work, hope that I can exceed Wikipedia’s expectations and live another 40 years to appreciate, enjoy, contribute and help improve this world around us. For all of this must be with humor, as I cannot imagine my first 40 years without laughter. Being able to laugh at the world, and most importantly myself, is the quickest way I know to endear and be endearing, to make the rough patches endurable, and the high points worth sharing. As Maya Angelou wisely puts it,
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
And finally, gratitude. I have so many things to be grateful for, the people in my life and the life I have lived, that it is truly beyond any comprehension or deserving… That I have this space, this Tastes Like Onion to show up in the world and express my found voice, is amazing.
Thank you for allowing me to express gratitude that you have joined me on this journey. Thank you for choosing to spend your precious time to be with me, one post at a time. Thank you for indulging the musings of one 40-year-old woman.