Last month I celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday, and began my journey to 40. Birthdays have really never bothered me, and I hadn’t given much thought to turning forty until thirty-nine rolled around. However, now that I see that birthday cake bonfire on the horizon, this particular milestone is taking up a lot of space in my mind. I find myself thinking of a lot of “should” and “should nots.” For example, I probably shouldn’t eat cake for breakfast. I shouldn’t hope for snow days. I shouldn’t get traffic tickets for running stop signs or not wearing my seat belt. I shouldn’t be surprised by bad manners, and I shouldn’t forget my cell phone at restaurants. At the same time, I should be more responsible with my money. I should watch the news. I should know and understand the intricacies of our political system. I should cook dinner every night, and probably drink more water. But mostly, I should feel more like a grown-up. The problem is, I just don’t. In fact, I actually find myself referring to other people as grown-ups—some of which are younger than me. I don’t feel in charge of anything specific—other than my family. I can give orders to those crazies better than any CEO, but in dealing with everyday people, I feel like I blend. And now a month into this year of 40, I see myself stepping out of my comfort zone more than usual.
I’m speaking my mind more often and with more confidence—thinking that my ideas, beliefs, and goals have value. I see solutions to problems more clearly, and work to solve those problems more efficiently. I feel myself not wanting to be ignored—in my profession, with my kids, or even in the check-out line at Wal-Mart. I expect people to use good manners and be competent in what they do—no matter that task. While I’ve always leaned towards shy, lately I’ve come out of that shell and connected with people because of common interests and experiences, and it’s those experiences that have given me perspective. I’ve seen a few things, done a few things, made a few mistakes, and had a few successes. Shockingly, I’m beginning to realize I know things.
I also find myself wondering where my place is among my peers, co-workers, and community, and if I’ve earned a cushion of respect and loyalty to be more comfortable in my own skin—something that has always been a struggle for me. It’s always been easy to see my faults, to criticize my failures, and to downplay my successes. In doing that, I’ve become a master at shaking my own confidence. I’m realizing that being a grown up is finding confidence in my skills and strengths, accepting my faults and failures, and knowing that those faults and failures don’t define me. They have built my character, added to my perspective, taught me life lessons, and given me the power to accept who I am.
Last week I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a friend’s wedding. The last time we were together in the city was in 1997 during our Congressional Internship. At that time, we had no clue how to manage our lives, what goals we had, or where our decisions would take us. Breathing the same air together this many years later, and reflecting on our work, kids, friends, heartbreak, and celebrations since that time added to my brain frenzy about turning 40. I realized how much I have changed in the last seventeen years, and surprisingly, how much I have actually grown up.
As I inch closer to celebrating the past four decades, I feel myself letting things go, looking to the future, and daring myself to relax, get comfortable, smile, and say my piece—whether I should or should not.