Spirit: 10 Useful Things to Know in Your 40s

Each year, Kathlyn makes a German chocolate cake for me, last year’s is shown above. She could stab me in the eye with a crochet hook and I would still love her for remembering the cake every year. Oh, and the bubbles? That was a byproduct of getting engaged.

Today is my 43rd birthday. I am 40licious for the fourth time, which is of course a thrill. I started this blog in 2008 on my first 40licious birthday because I was so excited about the milestone. I love how the blog has evolved, from navel-gazing essays on the things that I learned to talking with wise people in an effort to provide a field guide to those of us who want to navigate our 40licious time together. Here are some thing I have learned and would share with any sister turning 40 or who is in her 40s:

  1. Your relationships will be more complicated. If you are single and think you can have a partner without getting someone without baggage at this point you are way, way way off and will have a long lonely time of it. Prepare for step-kids, ex-spouses who may be insane or completely delightful, and in general, a crazy-quilt family. It will never, ever be what you expect, but it might be much better.
  2. Figure out your money right this second. When you are done reading, sharing, liking and commenting on this page, understand how much you really have, how much you owe, what you need to live on, where you can cut spending, and how much you need for retirement and how you will get there. You can’t keep putting it off — just sock away $20 a week if that is all you can swing.
  3. Cut out the clutter. You’ve accumulated a lot of stuff at this point. What do you really need? Are you hanging on to books, clothes, souveneirs, pictures, knicknacks, etc. only because you have always kept them? What can you digitize? What can you just keep in your heart without a physical manifestation? 
  4. Tell everyone you love that you love them. Who knows, they could be gone in a nanosecond. Or you could. Fix your petty crap with your family and friends because it is not the way you want to leave it. If God forbid something happens, hopefully the last time you saw your mother you were not super pissy about how she didn’t like the Christmas present you had made especially for her and vowed never to get her anything nice again. Which reminds me, I have to call my mother.
  5. Slay your energy vampires. Of course we are not talking about physical harm, but who are the people who drain your energy? If you say your family and that’s different, guess what, it’s not. You don’t have to 86 them, but give them less of yourself. Give more of yourself to what gives you life and makes you feel like you’re new. On your death bed, you don’t want to be wishing you had put up with more BS because you feared the guilt. That is your own mental construct — you can choose to feel guilt or not.
  6. Take care of yourself. This is kind of an obvious one but put a premium on the time and money it takes to pull yourself together. If it means getting up early to go to yoga or skipping your lunch hour to go to the gym, do it. If it means getting a facial instead of new jeans, do it. If it means ordering water instead of wine like everyone else is having, do it. As our 50licious friends tell us, there is pretty much no turning back at this point. Work it, ladies.
  7. Decide to be lovely. You have choices for every word and every interaction in your life. You can chirp “good morning” to your cube mate in your office and comment on her attractive sweater. Or you can just grumble your usual “mrrrnng” and get to work. Why not make the day a tiny bit better than you found it? Same for dealing with customer service reps, taxi drivers, waitresses and your manicurist.
  8. Make better decisions. Don’t make any major decision without fully strategizing first. If you decide you want to give up your soul-sucking corporate gig to fulfill your dream of being an interior designer, don’t go off the deep end until you completely understand what that means, what you have to do to get there, and the training and money required. Same goes for moving in with someone (seriously, do you really want to divide up the CD collection AGAIN?), buying a car that you haven’t researched, getting any body alterations done, adopting a pet, and removing a wall from your house. I’m not saying DON’T make big decisions, I’m just saying if you think them through all the way you’ll be way less likely to regret them, and you’ll have a better handle on how to make them happen.
  9. Take care of your world. Making the earth a cleaner and healthier place to live is a daunting task. For example, you might not think that buying a bottle of water is a big deal. But there’s ramifications to everyone thinking that. Even if you think you’re mitigating the implications by recycling your bottle when you are done, guess what? Less than half of plastic we use is recycled, but about half the plastic that we do recycle gets sent to China so they can burn it as fuel for power plants. It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving the people who live here.
  10. Be in the world, in this minute, in this second. This one is a tough one for me as I’m learning exactly how disorganized I am and that I start many things at once, which makes it harder to finish, if I finish at all. This includes opening and sorting mail, which ends up in a pile on my desk; trying to make phone calls while I’m walking the dogs; and working on the things that are most important to me, such as the 40licious book. When you are in the moment, your food tastes better, your loved ones feel like you’re truly listening, and you won’t lose the car keys.
Vanessa McGradySpirit: 10 Useful Things to Know in Your 40s

Comments 6

  1. Kathlyn

    A lovely list for your lovely day! I’m glad you included getting rid of your energy vampires – I think the hardest thing to come to grips with is that life is not infinite and while being a grown up does not necessarily mean acting like a grown up, it means making hard choices about what we will NOT do in this life. We cannot do it all and instead of making us sad, that should make us happy; the things we do are made all the richer for the things we must give up – it’s why being married to one person is fulfilling – the forsaking makes the relationship extremely special. The great thing about being older is that you must choose, but you also realize that you must choose what YOU want, not what others want for you.

    The only thing I would add here is “don’t think too much about your age.” I know it’s a blog about being in your 40s, but I find myself knee-jerk thinking “42, can’t do that.” That is so unhelpful. Of course you can do it. There are great examples of people doing things, trying new things, starting over, at all kinds of ages. I like “40licious” because it implies a knowledge and wisdom that comes from age, but it doesn’t smack down with a specific age, and in that way is much less limiting. Like your friend Monique and her fitness – yes at 40, this is all you get…but also, you GET this fully and completely. It’s yours to do whatever you want, so go do it and don’t let the idea of being the oldest in the room (I’ve been there, ain’t that bad) stop you.

    Happy birthday V! xoxo

  2. Anonymous

    Ms. V, always the giver: it’s your birthday, and you’re thinking of everyone else! Happy Birthday, my dear!


  3. Kristin

    Great advice, as I am pushing the four-oh here pretty soon. I feel like I’m finally coming to some of these realizations myself, especially the “weeding out” of those energy vampires, and giving less of myself, not putting up with any BS without the guilt (a challenge for me).
    Living in the NOW, such a challenge but so important!
    Thank you!

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