Turning 40: Plans and What I’ve Learned

This is how I want to be remembered.

Miles run today: 4.5

Mornings spent at the beach last week: 6

Years I’ve been alive: 40!

I’m back! My husband, two kids and I spent last week at the beach with: my sister and brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, my aunt and grandmother and three dogs.

It was every bit as crazy and fun as you would expect. We spent every morning on the beach, spent most afternoons playing Apples to Apples or dominoes (Mexican Train, which I hadn’t played before) and laughed a lot. My good friend and her family happened to book the same week at the same beach, so we got to visit on the beach and share a meal together.

While I was there, I turned 40.

I’ve thought a bit about what I want to do before I’m 50 and what I’ve learned by this mid-life point. I thought I’d share them with you.

To Do List Before I Turn 50

1. Learn to surf. I don’t mean that I plan to win competitions in Tahiti with the kind of surfing where they drive you out on a high-powered jet ski and drop you off on waves that would top my two-story home. I mean that I want to learn to stand on a board and catch waves and wipe out a lot and not care.

2. Publish a (New York Times bestselling) novel. While I would love to say that I’m okay with toiling away in obscurity, the truth is that people reading and enjoying your writing is a very big part of why people write. I will keep trying. And even if my novel is published when I’m 49 1/2, I will continue chanting to myself, “Fifty is the new 40.”

3. Visit San Francisco and California wine country. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and I would like to do more. Tahiti and Thailand and various spots in Indonesia and Australia top my wish list, but I thought I’d be realistic. My kids will (sob!) be heading off to college within the next ten years, so jetting off to Madagascar might have to be on hold for a little while longer (the Before-60 To Do List??).

4. Stay healthy. The old saying about how your health is the most important thing used to confuse me as a child. Health? It was so taken-for-granted that I thought only old people had to worry about it.

Like after you got old (35, maybe 40), things like cancer or multiple sclerosis could sneak up on you and kill you in a second. Then you were gone, and it didn’t matter anyway. No biggie. Maturity and growing wise are double-edged swords: now I know how quickly you can go from the picture of health to fighting for your life. For years.

I am now officially one of those old people who talks about treasuring your health. Let me bore you for a while.

5. Help my children love themselves and eventually make meaningful contributions to society. All of you parents out there who are working hard to do the right thing for your children: kudos. We all have different ideas about what the right things are, but if your children know they are loved and supported, they get to start out their adult lives at a distinct advantage.

I know, because I felt like I got a jump-start on most of my peers. My parents (gasp!) sacrificed to make sure I started my adult life happily and healthily.

And now, if I had to write a letter to my 20-year-old self, here’s what I’ve learned in the past 20 years:

Dear 20-Year-Old Anne,

You’re a good kid. Not perfect, mind you, but pretty darn good.

I know you don’t have any big image in your mind of life at age 40. That’s okay. But someday you will think about the choices you made and question them. Here are some things I’ve learned to try to save you some time in the intervening years.

1. Get rid of the jealousy. Other people have talents and great gifts. You have them, too. Stop looking over your shoulder and comparing yours to theirs. You’re just fine as you are.

2. Wear sunscreen on your eyelids. Seriously. You haven’t heard about this phenomenon yet, but your eyelids will one day have a disconcerting way of sitting on top of your lower lids. I know. It’s not cool. Wear sunglasses and protect yourself. Contrary to what you may think now, you will not be a multi-millionaire who can pay to correct this horrible misfortune. You will have to live with them as they are.

3. There aren’t any Major Life Points for achieving the perfect life before you’re 30. We all know you’re goal-oriented. And this will cause you no end of angst. Not everyone (including your future husband) is on the same ambitious timetable. Maybe you could sit back and have a few more pieces of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It all works out just fine in the end.

4. You will meet someone who doesn’t think marriage and kids are akin to death. You will also, later on, keep having friends and family members tell you that he looks just like David Beckham, which frankly, gets a little old. I know: You haven’t heard of David Beckham yet. Trust me; it’s worth waiting a few years to find out. Yum.

5. Start writing the Great American Novel now. You have some kind of romantic notion that you are very busy at age 20. I am here to tell you that you are the least busy you will ever be again. The hours are stretching out before you like a 5-year-old’s wait for next Christmas on December 26. You may not have a whole heck of a lot to write about, but you could start practicing.

You know that time that you think you’ll have after the future babies are born, when you’re “hanging out” at home, not doing anything? Maybe I should let you in on a little secret: you will be so sleep-deprived that you forget your sister’s phone number. Yes, the same sister you call every day. You will also have, not quiet, well-mannered babies that exist only in the imagination, but babies who talk to you every second of the day. If you think you will get tons of writing done while you’re a stay-at-home mom, rethink that plan.

6. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s becoming a parent or being a stay-at-home parent, or getting older. But you will mellow in these 20 years. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you start thinking back to that really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day you had that time when you couldn’t see out the windshield because you were crying so hard.

When the men who happily held the door open for you when you were pregnant but dropped the door on you when you had a 2-year-old in tow and a huge double stroller with a starving newborn inside, you were able to take the high road and feel bad for that man who couldn’t stay home with his little ones.

And when the store clerk is rude, you are able to feel pity for her. She might be going through a divorce or wrestling with chronic pain.

Someday in the future when you are in pain or manage to offend someone else, you can only hope that the other person has learned the same lesson.

7. The best news of all: you get to be 40. Not everyone does. So when someone laughs at your middle-agedness or the dressing room guy at the Banana Republic Outlet Store looks down his nose at you as if you are too old to wear such fun, youthful clothes, give him the full eye-twinkle look. Be proud. You made it!


33 thoughts on “Turning 40: Plans and What I’ve Learned

  1. Great introspection and advice. For the record, fifty is not so bad either. Time just goes by faster. 🙂

  2. Happy 40th! May this year – and many years – bring some of your wishes to fruition. xox

  3. Melissa says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I hope you had a wonderful time. We thought about you as we drove past. Make the most of everything…these years will speed past.

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Welcome back! I think your goals are worthy (San Francisco is great, by the way), and I loved your words to your younger self, especially #6 and giving people the benefit of the doubt. We get so caught up in ourselves that that can be hard to do.

    And the photo of you in the wave? Absolutely perfect! I think WordPress should use it for their weekly photo challenge. Really great. Such happiness in it. 🙂

  5. 4amWriter says:

    Happy 40th. I love your letter to your 20 year old self and I can hear my own self in a lot of those words. The jealousy bit and feeling so, so busy, and to take advantage of my freedom now rather than wait until there is no more freedom. Yup. That stuff would be in my letter, too.

    And I love your goals list. It makes me want to write one, too. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be a NY Times Bestselling author, because I agree with you, very few of us are writing for our own entertainment.

    Great picture!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Kate. I probably could have spent a little more time on my goals list, but it’s a start. I’d love to hear other people’s lists, too. I can picture nodding my head, like, oh yeah, I forgot to include that one.

      I guess there’s a reason we have to go through life to learn things… and I appreciate my life so much more now than I did at 20.

  6. David Gentry says:

    I am so proud to have you as a daughter. I keep saying “I am so proud” because I am.

    It is no small thing to have found tolerance, empathy, and compassion at your young age. For the record, it took me longer. I know, I know, it may not show that I know anything about them.

    Love, Dad

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Dad. I am very thankful for your optimism and the fact that I have always felt loved. You and Mom did that. I wish everyone could feel the same way–the world would be a very different place.

  7. Wait, your husband looks like David Beckham? What did you write about after that bit, I couldn’t focus any more…;)

    Seriously though, GREAT photo, love it. And a really great letter to yourself.

    As a 41 year old, I can say welcome to the 40s club!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Vanessa. Well, I think my husband is as gorgeous as David Beckham… as for being a dead ringer? I don’t know. I like my husband’s voice better. ; )

      Nice to hear all of the plus-40s out there. So it’s not like I’m going to fall off of a cliff now that I’ve hit the peak of middle age?!?!? Phew!

  8. Bernie Brown says:

    I lovet the photo of you in the water. You look so happy! I remember I was a little freaked at turning 40. And then a little freaked at 50. I’m about to turn 64 and am done wasting energy on being freaked at my age. As you have said, we learn how many things we worry about that are so trivial. I wish my arms were better shaped, then I remember I have two arms and they both work and I am thankful. You already have learned that. That’s wisdom.

    • annewoodman says:

      Bernie, You have great arms. ; ) I hope the next ten years will bring more wisdom, and the next ten after that, and the next ten after that… and really, it would be great if that wisdom could spare someone else some pain. ; )

  9. Laura says:

    Great post! Happy Birthday! Glad you had a good vaca week with the family … but it’s good to have you back.

  10. Ravena Guron says:

    Happy late birthday! I love that one about stop comparing yourself to other people. I TRY not to any more and guess what? Yesterday I almost went a whole day without thinking “that person is so much more talented than me.” YAY for progress!

  11. Amy Mak says:

    Love your list – esp. the last one. You’re right, not everyone gets to turn 40! My husband turned 40 this past weekend and you’re right – it is a good moment of reflection. Quite a milestone. I also liked the part about giving people the benefit of the doubt b/c you have no idea what they are going through. Good stuff. You are wise 🙂

  12. LOVE it – and I agree completely with setting goals. I do not want to be that lady whose life gets smaller every year.

    That said, I did not ride the bike today…

  13. Wonderful post! Setting goals at 40 for when you’re 50 is an interesting plan. But writing a letter to your 20-year-old self when you’re 40 is brilliant! Hindsight is 20/20, and your advice to yourself is personal and insightful.

  14. Joyce says:

    Anne! I spent some time this morning catching up on some of your blog posts. You have been busy! I don’t know how you do it all, Superwoman! But your blog is awesome and funny. Love your note to your 20yo self!
    You should promote it more on Facebook to remind those 40yo sometimers/half-timers (on their way to Alzheimers) like me can remember to check it out. It’s worth the time. We had a wonderful time celebrating with you at the beach. And the Parade of Homes was fun. I suggest a blog post on the number of times we’ve seen our dream home or enjoyed a dream meal while out parading.
    Have a wonderful time at the conference!

  15. kabe1 says:

    I love this! I am turning 40 in 3 weeks and have many of the same goals for the next decade as you – including that bestseller novel! I have started all sorts of new things including blogging about turning twice twenty as I like to think of it! I loved your letter to your 20 year old self.

  16. […] also turned 40, wrote a draft of a novel, started looking for a full-time job and ran many, many miles. (I should […]

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