A few weeks ago, someone asked me if I was feeling forty yet, and I had to admit that I didn't know. I mean – how does anyone say they “feel” when they are forty? It got me thinking about what forty feels like, and if I was feeling it yet. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I spent a lot of my life afraid that I wouldn’t even reach the age of forty. Those who know me well know that my mother passed away when I was a child, having not yet reached the age of forty, and this was one of my big fears. So in reality, for a long time I never really thought about what it meant to be forty – I just wanted to get there in one piece and I could always decide how I felt about it after the fact. I had little to no expectation about what I would actually feel like at forty.
As I approached this milestone with the friends in my age group however, there was one cry I heard coming up from a few of them, and this was that they weren’t where they thought they would be at the age of forty. Some were still single who thought they would be married; some without children thought they would have a family; some still renting (or living at home) thought they would have a house by now, some thought they would be more advanced in their career, or in a different career altogether. It made me think a lot about our expectations, and how those expectations influence how we feel about the things that we actually have, do and achieve, and how those feelings then cause us to act (or in some cases to do nothing!) Expectations can strangle our reality and steal our joy if we stick slavishly to achieving them and to having an outcome in exactly the way that we want.
While my expectations were not age related, I sometimes also think about where I would like to be and how far away I am from it. I think about my health, my weight, my career, that book I haven’t finished (reading OR writing), perfecting the perfect chocolate cake recipe, and so on. Why just a few weeks ago, I dedicated an entire post to things I have not achieved! And where do these expectations even come from? Television? Seriously? Let us think about this for a minute – how the TV that we grew up with made family life look easy since every problem could be solved in 30 minutes, and everything ended with a hug (and a cheesy soundtrack… sometimes I still listen for music to play when I feel sad!). Where the food looks tasty (also finished within 30 minutes). Where everyone is beautiful – even sex looks….. sexy!! And even though we probably know in our head that reality is a far cry from TV, I know that deep inside I still have some of those ideals tucked away in my mind, and the expectation to be airlifted right into the middle of a 90s sitcom. What about books and magazines? I remember learning that the pictures we see of food in magazines is sometimes made from wax – but that never stopped me from being ridiculously disappointed when the food I made didn’t come out like it did in the picture in the recipe. Perhaps social media? We all know that everything we see on there is true!
All jokes aside, one lesson I learned was to be careful when setting my expectations. There is nothing wrong with having goals and aspirations in life, and indeed without them we may not improve and grow. But for me I needed to be careful with my expectations. Be careful what I base them on, and even when I reach for the stars, (for I intend to reach for the stars) to ensure that I acknowledge how far I have come, and exercise self compassion instead of criticism (and this is a daily practice I am still working on), and not to hold too firmly to the outcome. I learned both firsthand and by watching others – if you stick slavishly to your expectations and outcomes being exactly what you want, you may become so blinded by them that you do not even notice when you have ended up with something better! In addition, I have to remind myself daily to remember that even when I have not reached my goals, to be grateful for where I am and what I have achieved so far, and not to see my current situation as inferior to the outcomes of the goals I have. So in a nutshell – I needed to have goals but enjoy the journey, appreciate each step, and be prepared to change plans if need be. Or to put it another way (from one of my previous posts) – don’t name the food until after I have finished. It could be a nasty soufflé or a tasty omlette – my choice! And realise that what I choose can determine how happy and grateful I feel with the result.
As for my feelings on approaching forty – having given the question some thought, I can now say that they have far exceeded my expectations. I am grateful that I can reflect on what has gone by, think about (and write about) the lessons that I learned, and still look forward to whatever life brings me. I genuinely feel as if I am moving into a new phase of life, and so perhaps one chapter is ending in a way, although I prefer to think of it as a new chapter beginning. As I approach forty, I want to believe that anything is possible as long as I keep an open mind. And I still have 3 more weeks to focus on ensuring that (if life is spared), that is exactly how I feel on the day.
In the meantime, I send you big love from a small island
Ps - above is a photo of a beautiful waterfall I came across in Scotland some years ago. One of my goals when I was younger was to be able to photograph a waterfall and have the water look all blurry - was soo pleased with myself with how this one came out! You see.... dreams do come true!