How turning 40 opened my eyes to a brand-new me
CXC Logo

The birthday party was held in lockdown, but the cake held the key to an exciting new world

"The grey hairs I’m growing are a privilege, and no longer an insult to my sensitivities."

Celebrating a new decade of my life under lockdown left me feeling reticent about turning 40. But as it turns out, it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

I felt that same eerie pang when I turned 30, back in 2010. But, as 30 soon showed, it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. There’s a picture from my 30th birthday party – the last birthday party I’ve ever thrown for myself! – where I’m surrounded by balloons and friends.

That picture sealed my sense of self in turning 30. My sense of self settling right into my soul was not what I expected from turning 40.

Many women report feeling a sense of invisibility, when those 40 birthday candles are blown out. My cake had just three, to symbolise the wonderful circle of my family.

That strange sense of invisibility has not, I can confirm, descended. Instead, I feel more seen, by myself. I feel more self-assured in my decision-making prowess.

During my first week of turning 40, I had to make a series of uncomfortable professional choices. Confronted by a situation involving a person who had little regard for boundaries, and even less regard for my professional life, it suddenly felt way easier to simply say “No.”

Twenty-year-old me would’ve quivered in her boots and worked until 2am to please some implacable person. Forty-year-old me easily turned them down and showed them the door. It’s been liberating.

I had intended to throw a big party for this turning of a decade. A pandemic sure knows how to mess up your plans.

Instead, I celebrated quietly with my family. With cake, treats, and wishes from across the world, the celebration definitely felt more internal than external.

I was happily tucked into my bed by 8 that night. I have no regrets. Perhaps that’s the lesson of turning 40: that’s when the party begins, as you grow in self-assurance.

I may also be growing in palate. My chosen beverage nowadays is rooibos tea. That’s a surprise, but I can’t handle much caffeine after lunchtime. Perhaps it’s not a terrible shift, because I’m certainly sleeping better.

I’m thinking clearer too, and all sorts of unexpected outcomes have arrived at my 40-year-old feet. My journey to 40 had me searching for meaning in the world.

Turning 40 has shown me that the meaning is found in my own kitchen, in my head, and in my home. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this seemingly indulgent headspace.

Armed with my best friend in skincare, serums and cellular fillers, I’m happier with the face that greets me every morning in the mirror. There’s less noise, more joys, learning how to nap during the day, and the quiet certainty of dogs on my lap.

The grey hairs I’m growing are a privilege, and no longer an insult to my sensitivities.

Ironically, as much as I may feel mentally stronger, my physical self is laughing. I’m typing this column one-handed, as I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my back, while I was asleep.

So before you get too excited about turning 40, understand that your body will start to hate you. Go for that walk, space out that run, and don’t forget to take your multi-vitamins. You’ll need them when you turn 40.