I banished my mid-life crisis by embracing everything that scared me about turning 40

Oct 16, 2016 at 12:09 p.m. ET
Image: Matthew Wiebe
Prior to turning 40, I was never the type to experience any angst about my age. My twenties were great. Turning thirty was uneventful, because I was so busy – married for five years and pregnant with my third child.

But the Big 4-0: Well, that was a different story.

The prospect of turning 40 didn’t sit well. 40 is old. 40 is sore muscles, mom jeans, sensible haircuts, and reading glasses. I didn’t want my forehead wrinkles to belie my youthful vigor. I didn’t want to think that I hadn’t made my mark on the world, in the way that we as young idealists envision that we will.

The problem was, the approaching chronological number didn’t gel with my internal age, which I'd estimate to be about 23. I am still footloose and fancy-free, on the inside anyway.

I suppose it was a typical mid-life crisis moment, but as the day of reckoning approached, I began to take stock of my life. How did my twenties fly by so fast? I remember watching Friends way back in 1994, marveling at how sophisticated and mature they appeared to be. I admired their apartments, jobs, relationships, and their hours of lounging in trendy NYC coffee shops. It was so glamorous and “grown up.” It looked ideal, yet was also completely foreign to me. My twenties held very little of these ideals, instead consisting of minimum wage jobs through college, marrying young and squeezing our domestic bliss into a tiny, basement apartment with nary a single Pottery Barn item. We were young, broke, and too busy working to slack off in coffee shops.

And then my twenties flew by

Thirtysomething, circa 1987, was a show that I assumed also depicted "real adult life," despite the fact that I couldn’t even fathom being that old. Mortgages? Marital tension? Balancing work and home life and kids and adult friends – it was all pure fantasy to me. And when my thirties arrived, they consisted of an avalanche of children, rent rather than mortgage payments, a transition from teaching full time to permanent stay-at-home mothering, the reality of hefty student loan payments on a limited budget, and a variety of curve ball life challenges hurled at us along the way. Thirtysomething it was not.

And then my thirties flew by

It’s a cliche, but time really does fly by. I was melancholy for a bit, realizing how fast it’s all gone by. I began to feel like I’d lost myself in the midst of being married, and in the flurry of building a home and a family. I had invested so much of that period of life into my family that I wondered: Have I really been living my life, or was I merely living it for everyone else?

(Chalk it up to the mid-life crisis angst that comes with turning 40.)

I’m not going to lie. Yes, I spent a few hours bemoaning my lost youth, worrying about losing my youthful appearance, and mourning the things I’d never done, and might never do.

But, my 40th birthday celebration was comprised of a fantastically fun dinner out with friends and family at my favorite restaurant, followed by a backyard BBQ the next day, with even more family and friends. I was surrounded by people that love me so much and were happy to celebrate this milestone birthday with me.

And that’s when I realized what my forty years were really about: love, family and friends.

I had the good fortune of spending my younger years being raised in an amazing family, and I’ve been privileged to spend my adult years raising an amazing family of my own. There are certain things I haven’t done, some I’ve yet to do, and some I may never do. But instead of being hung up about those things, I realized that I’ve been given:

  • 40 years of being a daughter of loving and dedicated parents.
  • 38 years of being a big sister to the wackiest, funniest brother and sister on the planet.
  • 35 years of treasured friendship with my two best friends.
  • 18 years of letting God lead the way, while meeting more of my best friends on that journey.
  • 15 years of being married to the love of my life.
  • 13 years of being a mom to six hysterical and loving kids that are beautiful inside and out.
  • 6 years of advanced education, investing in my love of language and writing.
  • 4 years of teaching and sharing my love of literature and writing with countless students.

While the idea of being 40 still feels odd to me, I’m no longer hung up on the number. Forty used to represent a loss to me of a golden youth that disappeared down the road. But now, I can see that 40 represents a good deal of quality living. And while I still feel like my internal maturity level is that of the average 23 year old – that will likely not change – I’m thankful that I’ve enjoyed so much in this life so far.

For all parents, it’s easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day minutiae of building and supporting a family. I’ve chosen to invest in my family for most of my adult years, and while that can require a good deal of self-sacrifice, I now see that I actually have been living my life the way that I want to, with and through the people that I love. I’m literally surrounded with people that love me and want to be loved by me, and for that, I am so grateful. It’s investing in the people in our lives that matters, whether you’re a parent, or a loyal friend, or an adult caring for aging parents.

While I can’t always preserve a youthful exterior or stop time from hustling along at a fast clip, I know that loving the people in my life to best of my ability is my true legacy.