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Thankful

As I near the end of my 4th decade on this planet, I find myself filled with awe and gratitude. My thirties held so much for me – change, growth, love, and loss. Most importantly though, my thirties solidified my commitment to myself, my commitment to authenticity.

This decade brought me a career in advertising, two books and a blog. It brought me joy and it brought me heartbreak. I left a marriage that I knew wasn’t right for me and friendships that no longer served me. I got hurt and I hurt people. I formed new bonds and forged new friendships. I bought houses that I built into homes. I fell in love and I fell apart. And through it all, I settled more into myself. Getting comfortable in my own skin, learning to turn towards pain rather than away from it. I have learned that you can’t experience joy without pain, and the grief is a blessing because it is evidence of love. How grateful I am for this life and these lessons. How grateful I am for all of the pieces that have made up my story.

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Forty lessons for forty years – advice to my younger self

Something I have heard time and time again from my older friends is that, no matter what age they are, they still feel young. When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, this was difficult for me to understand. I mean let’s face it, it is often hard for us to comprehend something that we haven’t experienced yet. But now that I am approaching 40, I am beginning to grasp what they were talking about. I don’t feel 40. Even though I am a grown up who owns a house and RRSP’s, even though I have a child that will be starting college next fall, and even though I have somehow navigated my way through adulthood (albeit, clumsily at times), I still often feel like I am just getting started. Like a kid who very much still needs their mom.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely bits of me that scream, “I’m 40!” – the laugh lines that are now permanently embedded in my skin, the strands of tinsel in my hair that have become difficult to hide without the help of my hairdresser, and the fact that a late night out means I am home by 11 and need two days to recover. But the most notable change that has come with this new decade is confidence, a knowing that I no longer need to rely on the advice of other’s in order to know what to do, I can trust myself. I have realized, over these past 20 years, that I can tap into my own wisdom when faced with life’s many hurdles.

Now I use the term ‘wisdom’ loosely of course. As I said, I still often feel like a kid who doesn’t have a clue half the time. But there are definitely a lot of things I have learned along the way throughout this journey to 40. So, in honour of this milestone birthday, I decided to compile a list of things I wish I could tell my younger self. Little nuggets that would have made her life so much easier. And because I am a sucker for patterns, there are 40 of them.

40 lessons for 40 years.

Let’s do this.

1. Your life will not turn out how think it will and, for the most part, this is a gift.

2. Your body will change. This is normal and to be expected. Fun fact: You will be 25lbs heavier at 40 than you are now but you will also be way more confident in your own skin.

3. Following that, stop hating your body. Please, just stop.

4. Wear sunscreen. Don’t forget to apply to the back of your hands.

5. You are far stronger than you realize. Also, your perception of what it means to ‘be strong’ is going to change vastly over the years.

6. Courage does not equal fearlessness. It is possible to be terrified and courageous at the same time and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

7. If you have to beg or change who you are in order to be accepted, it is 100% not worth it.

8. Be accountable for your mistakes. Everyone makes them, it is okay, but no one likes someone who hides behind excuses or blames others.

9. You are going to tap into some feistiness as you get older. Roll with it, it’s kind of cool.

10. You cannot trick someone into loving you with your vagina. Stop trying, you will just end up feeling used and heartbroken. They are just not that into you and that’s okay, someone else will be. Promise.

11. Always take time to talk to your mom. You don’t see it yet but she is wise beyond measure.

12. You are enough. I repeat, you are enough. Just the way you are.

13. It is true what they say, raising kids goes so fast. Hug them every second you can.

14. Trust your gut, it is usually right. But also, it doesn’t hurt to sleep on big decisions. Your gut will still be there in the morning.

15. Say ‘no’ more often. To phone calls you don’t want to take, drinks you don’t want to have, or social gatherings you don’t want to attend. Also, ‘No.’ is a complete sentence.

16. You are going to fuck up. And that’s okay. (Please reference number 8 and 12).

17. Sometimes taking the ‘easy road’ ends up being a lot more work in the long run. Look for what is right, not what is easy.

18. Tell people you love them. All of the time.

19. Try not to stress so much. Most stuff really isn’t that big of a deal, I promise.

20. Stop dating losers. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. And you are worth more than that. (Please see #7 and #10)

21. Whenever possible, get out of your comfort zone. All of the good stuff happens there.

22. As much as you intend on being a ‘cool mom’, I regret to inform you that this is not your reality at 40. You will be ‘mediocre cool’ at best. Sadder yet, you will find yourself quite content with this label.

23. Always try new foods.

24. Also, re-try old foods. Tastes change. Believe it or not, you grow to really love olives.

25. Stop worrying so much about what other people think of you. No offence, but no one is spending that much time thinking about you. They are too busy worrying about what everyone else is thinking of them. Just be true to your values and mind your own business.

26. Take the meds. There is no medal for white-knuckling your way through life while dealing with crippling anxiety. Take the meds, trust me.

27. Buying good hair products is worth it. Start now.

28. Never underestimate the power of a good nights sleep.

29. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. You don’t always have to ‘laugh it off’ or ‘suck it up’.

30. Success really is the best revenge.

31. You can’t please everyone. In fact, it is impossible. Stop getting bent out of shape over every single person’s opinion. Choose the ones that matter.

32. Start writing. It becomes a bit of a thing for you later.

33. Stop saving things for a “special occasion”. Wear the damn lace undies. Put on your favorite pants. It is okay to feel good on a ‘regular day’ too.

34. Speaking of clothes, if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t buy it. It will just end up sitting in your closet otherwise.

35. For the love of God, stop trying to be someone you aren’t. You are actually pretty loveable just how you are so be yourself and be unapologetic about it.

36. Don’t make assumptions about people. You don’t know everyone’s story and assuming you do based on how they act or how they present themselves is dangerous.

37. Remember to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable. You are a helper through and through but sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for someone is just listen to them.

38. Be open-minded to other people’s point of view. You can learn so much from others.

39. Start investing money now. Even if it’s just a little bit each month. Don’t tell me you can’t afford it, I know some of the bullshit you spend money on. 40 sneaks up quickly so I can only imagine 60 does too. Let’s get planning for retirement, shall we?

40. Lastly, you don’t see it now but I am here to tell you that you are smart. And talented. You will accomplish goals and chase your dreams. And although it is often hard to believe right now, you will be proud of the woman you become.

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On shame, turning 40, and turning inward.

It is the summer before my 40th birthday and I am sitting at my kitchen table trying for the life of me to pinpoint the exact moment that I first felt ashamed of who I was. I can’t remember a precise moment per se but I do know that I was young. Very young. Likely partially inherited (my mom was no stranger to shame) and partially learned, shame is something I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. And as I sit here with my laptop at the age of 39 and 3/4’s, I shudder to realize how much of it I still carry with me.

Although less frequent now, the waves of remorse and embarrassment still hit from time to time, usually initiated by my being too loud, too obnoxious … too much.

My too muchness was something I learned about early and although I wasn’t always successful, it is something I worked hard to contain. I strived to be petite, polite, blonde, and quiet. Although laughable now, my first writings as a young girl was where I got to be anything I wanted – anything but me. In real life, petite is the only one I pulled off, but my energy always made up for that. And my ‘too muchness’ always found its way out, usually in loud desperate bursts.

At my core I can recognize that I really just wanted to feel accepted. To feel loved. But in each eager attempt to gain approval and connection, I only reaffirmed the truth I was trying to escape – that I didn’t quite fit. My search for belonging led me down some dark paths. I self-medicated, I gave away my body, I loathed every piece of who I was. And, as is so often the case, my behaviour and the resulting consequences only reinforced the narrative that I had adopted as a young child – that who I was wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I was forced to relook at things and make some changes. If I couldn’t love myself for myself, then I was going to love myself for the little being growing inside me. Fake it ’til you make it, as they say. And although things certainly improved and I managed to stop my self-destructive behavior for the sake of my child, I still struggled to fully accept, love, and embrace who I was.

At some point along my journey, directly or indirectly, I learned that I was not good enough. And I believed it. I learned that I could not trust myself so I had to turn to others to tell me who to be, how to act, how to look, and how worthy I am.

And although it is normal to seek approval from others, and adapt our behaviour and our appearance to please our community, it is important that we tap into our own knowing first. That little voice deep inside that tells us when we are being true to ourselves, and when we are not.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if that shame that I felt all of those years wasn’t so much a result of not fitting in, but of betraying myself. That deep down I knew that I was abandoning who I was and with each step I took in the other direction, with each poison I ingested, and with every abuse I willingly endured, I became immersed in more shame and self-loathing. And the more I sought answers outside of myself, the more lost I became.

Now, sitting here in my kitchen, I can see that one of the biggest things worth celebrating as I approach this next birthday is my return to me. My commitment to trusting myself first, before others. And making a promise to myself that when I feel the flood of unease wash over me, it is not a sign to scramble or to please, but one to turn inward. To the knowing that has been there all along.