In the space of 10 months last year I moved back to my hometown, bought my first home and turned 40. Having spent most of my adult life as a bit of a gypsy, constantly moving and traveling, I was excited to put down some real roots. And reaching a culturally significant, albeit arbitrary, age milestone lent itself to some serious self-reflection. I sailed into my birthday with a solid job, the reassurance from my doctor that babies of my own were still biologically on the table, the most optimism toward dating I had felt in a long time, and check marks next to a giant list of impressive accomplishments. I spent my 40th weekend at a posh hotel in Park City, surrounded by family and good friends. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had successfully avoided any kind of mid-life meltdown.
But you know what’s coming right? That I’m not here to write about how flawlessly I handled actually BEING 40?
Around the beginning of the year, I started feeling exhausted all the time. I couldn’t get enough rest; I’d slog through the day and then come home and fall asleep on the couch. I was in bed until 11 or 12 on the weekends. I was terrified that this was some kind of new reality of getting older. I went to my doctor, she did some tests and it turned out I was running too low on iron. We got me on some supplements and within days, all my physically energy came roaring back. I was relieved. But it was also clear to me that although I wasn’t tired and my body was feeling normal again, my mind and my heart were still sluggish and out of sorts.
I was crossing the road to work one morning when I found myself thinking “so wait, is this it then? I’m just going to get up and go to a job every day for the rest of forever? And then go home and spend an hour swiping left and right on an increasingly grim pool of potential mates? Is this really it?” Every. Single. Mid-life Crisis. Cliché. Floated through my head.
I was heartbroken. I tried so hard, for so long, to take every opportunity, to say yes more than I said no, to do more, to set goals, to try, to go and to go and to go, and now here I was, metaphorically and often literally, laying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, feeling empty and tired and like maybe I had done it all wrong. I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t just look around at what a good life I had built and feel grateful. And I was embarrassed that I turned 40 and immediately lost my shit. How very, very basic of me.
I wallowed in it for a bit. I cried a lot. I watched too much Netflix. I channeled a fair amount of frustration into the treadmill. I actually cried on a date, which was definitely a life low point, and probably one of the catalysts that pushed me to figure out a solution.
I had spent 17 years moving to new cities, starting my life over time after time, giving too much of myself to crazy high pressure jobs, often spending as much time in hotel rooms as I did at home. I lost my dad, I had a couple of incredibly disappointing breakups and I always, always kept my chin up, always tried to be the best little soldier. And in the process of trying to live at the top of my lungs, I burned myself out.
What I needed was a break. Not a wild adventure, not another brand new slate. But an opportunity to slow down, to own all of my time, to be all the way present in the parts of my life that I most care about. I needed to do something to show my heart and my soul that no, this wasn’t “it”.
So I quit my job. Just. Quit. I’m a world-class worrier who likes security and often panics when I do something dramatic, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite as peaceful about any decision in my entire life. I left my office on the last day and drove straight to Southern Utah where my brother and brother-in-law and I took five small children camping in the Grand Canyon, the first time there for all of us.
And then for eight, long, sunny, dreamy, perfect weeks, I did whatever I wanted. I’ve had a job since high school. I worked in college and then through the summers. My “gap year” was an LDS mission where all we did was work. I haven’t owned every second of my time in my entire life. I made the joke that for once, what my life looked like on social media was actually underselling how great it was. I hiked, I played with my nieces and nephews, I napped when I felt like it, I sat at the pool for hours at a time, I went on long walks with friends and talked about things that mattered, I took the scenic route back from road trips, I went on dates, I worked out in the middle of the day, I showed up for friends in ways you can’t always do when you are working, I did some service, I reorganized a closet or two and planted so, so many flowers. I saw a few of my very favorite musicians, ate outside as often as I could, cooked a lot, didn’t check email almost ever. I broke some bad habits, figured out some boundaries I would set for the next job, and made a list of the compromises I wouldn’t make when I started working again.
But mostly, I tried to be truly present in everything I did. I wasn’t constantly processing the ten other things I needed to be doing or where I was going next or whether I could squeeze in this or that. I didn’t have the stress of my work life bleeding over into my life life.
After a few weeks of unspooling, it became so clear that I hadn’t had a full cup in a very long time. There was a calm and a confidence and a peace in my life that came crashing back during that time. I felt the most “me” I had felt in years.
And then I got a job again. A job I am excited about, at a company that works hard to treat its people well. A company where the EVP told me he expects his team to really leave when they walk out the door at night. It will be a good challenge and a terrific place to work, but it won’t be my identity, and I won’t give it the parts of me it isn’t even asking for.
I’ve made a lot of good decisions in my life, but this one-putting aside a lot of fear and worry and doing something slightly crazy-is probably the thing I will look back on with the most pride. I know not everyone can just quit their jobs and drop out of responsible society for a few months. But I am quite convinced that when your life starts feeling like it’s living you instead of the other way around, there are ways to flip that script. Everyone has some version of taking a step off the cliff and finding out how the universe is going to make sure you grow wings. Six months ago I was convinced I had hit an expiration date. Sitting here tonight, I feel like I am in the prime of my life. Strong. Happy. Present. Open to an infinity of possibilities. I have no doubt that some of my very best chapters are still ahead.
So take that 40. You did your worst and I totally won. Boom.