I once read an article in which a wedding coordinator said that planning the big day for a couple of 40-year-olds is very different than planning one for 20-somethings. Twenty-somethings want to party, the coordinator explained, and 40-somethings want to celebrate. That’s a generalization, to be sure, but that observation has stuck with me.
When I got married at 27, my overall world view was one of innocence. I expected things to work out, for life to be the smooth ride it had almost always been. Then the next 13 years happened, and my perspective changed.
My friends and I threw ourselves into this thing called life–marriage, motherhood, careers, mortgages. And now, as I approach 41, I’m looking back at the young women we were at those bridal showers and bachelorette parties like a mother looking at her child’s baby photos.
By 40, life has likely thrown us all some curve balls: infertility, miscarriages, traumatic births, infidelity, divorces, jobs lost, pride wounded, loved ones no longer with us. Some things have gone accordingly to plan, but many, many other things have not.
If bell curves are to be believed, the 40s are the bottom of the barrel. Our youth is slipping away. Family and financial pressures are high, we begin to recognize that many of our childhood dreams may never be realized. There is sadness in accepting that, and freedom, too.
Like a present I am slowly unwrapping, 40 has gifted me with insights that would have made no sense to my younger self: an understanding that the seemingly endless possibility of youth is both beautiful and burdensome, the recognition that so many of the big things in life are beyond my control, and a deep, ever-expanding gratitude for my parents.
At 40, the days that I spend time questioning my worth, comparing myself to others, and striving for perfection are fewer and farther between. Have I achieved everything I hoped for when I was younger? No. I have achieved some of it, some of it I no longer want, and some things I have abandoned either for the time being or forever.
The passing years have made it abundantly clear that life doesn’t always follow the script we thought it would or should when we were young. Sometimes you work hard and get promoted, and sometimes you work hard and get restructured out of a job. Sometimes you strive to be the perfect parent and your kid grows up to be the valedictorian and captain of the sports team, and sometimes you try to be the perfect parent and your child still struggles.
These days my to-do list is longer, but my goals are simpler. To be more present. To appreciate the ups and make it through the downs. To let my children know it’s OK to fail or to not achieve it all, so long as they show up for the ride.
When I look back at the innocent young bride I once was, I am overwhelmed with affection for her—for her naiveté, her beauty, her hope and her faith. In some strange way, in spite of growing up and growing older, in spite of the downs or maybe because of them, my faith has strengthened through the years. From this side of 40, I would tell that young bride to celebrate it all, because life is messy and unpredictable and full of blessings she can only imagine.