I turn 39 next month. That sounds so. Old. I remember my dad’s 40th birthday. As in, I was a viable human person when my father turned 40 and I heard people making all the requisite over the hill, mid-life crisis jokes. My mother was having her sixth baby right about my age and as a ninth-grader I was whole-heartedly dismayed to discover that my old, old mother thought that was OK. 40 was practically dead the end.
But 2015 is a different time to be approaching “middle age” than 1987 was and aside from some slight biological freakouts that a woman my age who would still like a young’un or two is bound to have, I’m pretty comfortable with the distance between me and the big four oh.
When I turned 30 I decided that I had done my twenties a little bit wrong. I am basically all the cliché things you would think about an oldest female raised by devout Mormons. I’m a hyper responsible, rule following, people pleasing, bundle of nerves. Always working, hustling, doing the right thing, being nice about it. These are not bad qualities. I like these things about me. But it also means that I worry a lot. That I feel guilty a lot. That I am exceptionally hard on myself. That I said no a lot because I am also scared of a lot of things. I wanted my 30’s to be different. So I made a decision that my default answer would always be “yes”. Not to things that were against my moral code or things that hurt people. But to be thoughtful about why I often hesitated over things that seemed out of my introvert comfort zone and to really try to say yes if there was not a compelling reason to say no.
My experiment went well. My thirties have been filled with the kind of adventures and possibilities that seem to grow exponentially once you show that you are open to them. Saying yes means experiencing things you never dreamed of. But sometimes that also means putting off things that you DID dream of.
I was with some friends this summer who were talking about a triathlon they were training for and I made the mistake of saying that I have been wanting to do a triathlon for like ten years and never have. Don’t say that to the kind of people who regularly train for triathlons. And definitely don’t say that to people who know you are a default “yes” person. Because you will absolutely find yourself committing to train for a race that is exactly one month away.
For YEARS this was something I had wanted to do and for YEARS I came up with excuses. But as Jess and Rob shot holes in all my reasons for not being able to do this one, I could hear how silly it must sound for a grown woman to protest so much over something she clearly wanted to do. Some friends helped me throw together a training program, I found a pool nearby, rented a wetsuit and even kept up my running when an out of town photoshoot threatened to derail me.
Training was even more fun than I thought it would be. I had forgotten how much I love to swim and enjoyed exploring the city on my bike. I got back into running shape. And then came race day. My friend Jess was racing a different distance so she was there to help me set up my transition area and to cheer me on. I loved every second. Even the few panicked moments at the beginning of the swim where I was convinced I would drown and refused to put my face in the water for the entire distance. I passed people on the bike. Lots of them. I felt awesome on the run. I loved looking down and seeing my number in marker on my arm. I cried at the finish line. Mostly because I was so damn proud of myself but a little bit because what on earth had I been so afraid of? Why had I been talking about this for ten years and not doing it? And what else am I not doing that I’ve been talking about?
So that’s it. That’s my theme for my 39th year. Do the things you keep talking about. I’m kicking off the year with a weekend in Austin at the Austin City Limits Music Festival-a thing I’ve been saying I was going to do for ages.
Saying yes built up a series reserve of confidence and an invaluable sense of possibility. The next logical step is to channel that into dreams and goals that become easy to dismiss as you get older and more “practical”.
My thirties have been fantastic and when I say that I even mean this last pretty terrible year as well. I still worry too much, I still look around at what everyone else is doing and feel behind too much, and it seems like I'm developing new flaws as fast as I'm working on getting rid of the existing ones, BUT, I'm also getting better every day at relaxing into myself. I'm excited for what I'll feel like when I'm working on the theme for my fifties (!).