I did not intend to write about turning 36. Initially, this blog post started off as a general recap of how I celebrated my birthday this past month. But over the course of two weeks this post morphed into a stream of thoughts about my anxieties on turning 36, questioning why I felt this way, and how trying not to give a fuck is helpful to me. So, if this post seems disjointed it is because these are truly the thoughts I have been grappling with.
I am generally fine with the concept of getting older and I really love to celebrate my birthdays. But strangely, after being 36 for two weeks it has sunk in that the next few years, here on out, bring me closer to 40. Birthday milestones, especially those that indicate some type of coming of age (e.g. sweet 16, finally 21) can be fun and as a society we’ve placed some importance on milestones that are sometimes, but not always, age related from infancy to early adulthood (e.g. getting a drivers license, turning the legal age to buy cigarettes or alcohol). But for some reason all that coming of age birthday fun doesn’t seem to transfer past your 30s, at least from what I’ve gathered through popular media. This is perhaps why all of a sudden I felt some anxiety about turning 36 and the idea that 40 is just around the corner.
It’s not like 40 wasn’t just ‘around the corner’ the day before I turned 36, it was. But today it feels closer and I feel different. I recall a similar feeling when I hit my mid/late-twenties … that soon I would be turning 30 and I didn’t feel anywhere closer to achieving my goals. Ten years later and I still feel unaccomplished. I do think I have let go some of the external expectations of what success should look like for me. However, the idea of 40 as a milestone makes me anxious because I’m still trying to figure shit out and it feels like I need more than 4 years to do so.
But honestly, where did this idea that I had to figure things out by 40 come from?
We learn the skill to compare and contrast very young in life as an infant and it is a skill that develops in complexity as we grow and learn. Do you remember the toddler toy that is a container with shapes cutout in the top and toddlers had to select the correct shaped object to push into the container? Simply stated, with that toy toddlers are learning to compare and contrast discreet objects from each other. This skill develops over time into comparing oneself with others. In elementary school perhaps you had to form a line based on your height or other personal characteristic and you then had to look at everyone else’s height to figure out where you belonged in the line. When applying for jobs you have to make yourself stand out from other applicants, which to a degree means you are comparing yourself to others. Comparison is a very useful skill in our everyday lives but can become a stressful and debilitating process if one constantly critiques themselves in comparison to others – something I certainly have engaged in.
I have a handful of friends who are older than me, some possibly in their 40s, who I believe have successful careers. They’ve made impactful contributions to their communities and/or have continually advanced within an organization. At one point, I used to constantly compare my achievements to theirs. But it took time for me to recognize that 1) since they are older than me they had the benefit of a few extra years to get shit done and 2) my life journey is very different from theirs and as such my achievements would be different from theirs. But yet, despite this logic, the need to compare my achievements to them and others can make me feel like I haven’t accomplished very much.
However, I have accomplished things – so many things. It just happens to be that my accomplishments are very different from those of people I admire. And I’ve been trying to learn that this is okay and trying not to give a fuck – a skill I’m still working on.
Trying Not To Give A Fuck
So, how did I learn that it is okay that my accomplishments and successes are different than others? By learning not to give a fuck. No, seriously. Not giving a fuck is about not giving a fuck about what others in my circle have done or are currently doing. Not giving a fuck is about focusing on myself and valuing me, my work, and my achievements. Not giving a fuck is also about not letting society’s standards and popular media influence what success means to me and how I should measure it. I am not an entrepreneur and so I shouldn’t be measuring success by whether or not I have a startup company that should be going public, which seems a common theme in movies nowadays.
My life journey is my own and very different from others my age, even my friends. As such, I should be measuring success and defining my goals on my own terms. Not giving a fuck is a skill I am incorporating into my life especially when it comes to establishing a body positive lifestyle. It easily transfers to other areas of my life like regaining confidence and pride in the things I’ve accomplished by not giving a fuck what others may say or think of my life journey.
Lastly, where is all of the excitement for turning 40? When I look at age milestones in mainstream society there appears to be a gap between turning 30 and 50. What happened to celebrating birthdays from 31-49 years of age? Where are the catchy slogans and movies for turning 40 that are encouraging and motivating? And can we please not make jokes at almost being over the hill? K, thanks.
Tutu in Blush from Society+ (view my other Society+ outfits here)
T-shirt from Torrid
Heidi Studded Crossbody from 88.EightyEight Handbags
Sterling Silver jewelry made by Navajo Silversmith Mildred Parkhurst & Krystal Parkhurst (personal collection)
Photos by me in the blush tutu taken by my BFF Nasreen Wahid.