I'm Turning 40 & My Life Looks Nothing Like I Expected. Here's Why That's A Good Thing
I never thought I would reach this point. When it comes to that natural thing we all know as aging, I somehow fantasized I would commit a stunt that simply stalled my age in my 30s. The trajectory would not necessarily boomerang in the opposite direction a la Benjamin Button, but pause like a needle on a vinyl record 32 ... 33 ... 34 ... 35 ... 35 ... 35 ... 35 ... 35 … Maybe in the digital music age, my vinyl metaphor is outdated.
Needless to say, exactly two months since turning 39 on a warm night in late May with my parents on Long Island, I am officially pushing 40.
I know, the ultimate freedom is to resist buying into externally imposed timelines. (Pardon me while I have that conversation with my ovaries.)
Many thoughts pop into my head. The first is the image "pushing 40" conjures, as if I am going to move this number out of the way like a weighted sleigh on a gym floor. Grr. (Note to self: That would hurt my lower back. Don't try.).
The second thought is a fear of being perceived as self-pitying. Into my head pops my father's way of celebrating birthdays with that dark comedic adage, "Any day you spend above the grave is a good day! Be grateful!"
But I haven't reached the culturally defined milestones of my 30s.
Married? Nope. Live-in boyfriend? Uh-uh. Third Bumble date? Not so much.
Me living my BEST LIVE EVA, loving being single, traveling the world, achieving massive career and financial success because of "all the free time I have" and "having no other responsibilities" (something a married friend with two children once said to me)? This, while my female friends with families and careers are busy having and (when not venting on social media) enjoying it all?!
Yeah. Nope. Can't say that's happened, either. Maybe I could be grateful said milestones have migrated from the 20s into the 30s, and technically I'm not that far behind? I know, I know, the ultimate freedom is to resist buying into externally imposed timelines. (Pardon me while I have that conversation with my ovaries.)
The people who engage with my unfiltered face and soul on the regular are often shocked when they hear I am pushing 40. If I don't look 39, does that somehow make it better? The most invasive thing I've ever done to my skin is a glycolic peel (I have an excellent facialist if you need a rec). No Botox or fillers for me. But if I want them, what does that mean? I live a healthy lifestyle, so I suppose I can take pride in those results but also, genetics.
Thanks to our society's neuroses and sexism, which I see a lot of because I work in industries (entertainment and fitness) that value youth, I live in constant fear of losing control of my face and not being able to afford measures to make it look more youthful.
Confidence may be an inside job, but there is so much focus on the outside job, it is hard to ignore.
Of course the struggle and reality of aging are more than skin deep, as much as the culture would have us believe we are in some kind of Last Woman Standing battle where the one with the smoothest forehead and least visible crow's feet conquers all. I hereby exhort you — don't buy into the bullshit!
Swim beneath the surface.
My 30s had a lot of struggle (and I'm not just talking about adjusting to a life lived on social media) and were in many ways as intense as my 20s — years marked by hospitalizations for an eating disorder and a battle with depression. My 20s were about shock and awe: shock at the onset of my mental health problems and awe at the amount of emotional pain I could feel, not to mention the failed methods I tried before finding my way into recovery.
My 30s were about taking much greater responsibility for solutions and learning how to release and transcend suffering, so I could pursue my life with as much passion as possible despite those challenges.
I discovered a deep love for acting and writing, but the vision I declared in my 20s did not manifest in my 30s. If it had, I would be writing this from my L.A. home beside a pool paid for by my million-dollar film and TV career, taking breaks only to read the scripts Aaron Sorkin and Spielberg Fed-Exed to my doorstep.
My sexy yet accessible, witty, genetically monogamous husband would be calling me (oh yeah, I had a relationship vision, too, and wrote it before the onset of texting) from set where he is working on a film but has enough time in between takes to tell me he loves me. I would be working on a draft of my latest screenplay, for which studios are already bidding, based on the elevator pitch that I actually delivered (perfectly) in an elevator.
Instead, I am writing from a friend's apartment in NYC, where I'm staying for free while renting out my own overpriced Chelsea studio in an effort to clear the debt I've accrued thanks to a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. I haven't had a paid acting job in about a year and that was extra work.
My writing has been mostly unpaid and for the stage, mounted by beautiful actors who aren't household names. The sum total of my acting and writing income are enough to finance a decent vacation to Europe, which I have not taken in over three years. I work an abundance of hours at a "day job" turned "day career" that, while gratifying, tuckers me out to the point that writing and auditioning are much harder. I get fatigued because I work many hours and teach a lot of classes that I love but that can be draining, and, oh yeah, I am 39.
In my 30s, I've been faced with the decision to quit or keep going. Where? Not in the direction of my poolside L.A. dream. That's long gone. Instead of living in a fantasy, I had to discover whether I had the strength to face reality.
It appears I do.
The determination to keep going in my 30s looked different from I anticipated. When faced with six orthopedic surgeries that led to endless stops and starts, pain management issues, more depression, and cycles of self-hate, I began to deepen my strength in the darkness.
And when I experienced heartbreak in love that leveled me, the remnants of my eating disorder issues reared their ugly heads as I tried to reconcile myself with what was happening. I made it through that, too. My career saw many ups and downs, as fulfillment found me in the most unexpected ways and places. It has become harder to wrap my head around my own life, which looks so unbelievably different from the one I imagined when I was pre-med at Cornell and thought I'd be a pediatrician married to another doctor, our kids well-behaved soccer stars.
I worked through the stuff I did not ask for. I leaned in on my own inner bedrock of never-give-up-bad-assery (and also on my closest friends and family who are beyond awesome #teamLBD). If I ever wondered whether I had the strength to survive adversity, my 30s answered me with a resounding YES.
There is so much more that could be written about what this decade has meant for me. My dear, beautiful, fucked-up, amazing, hard, astounding 30s. Part of me wishes it hadn't hurt so much. Another part of me wishes I could relive some of my most profound, beautiful memories. As I leave, I do realize now that it has gone by a bit too quickly and at the same time, I am glad to see it go. Forty, you are on the bright horizon, and I am not pushing you anywhere.