Rethinking forty.

Margot and Barbara blog: self portrait

I shall be forty in June.

You know this already, of course, because I’ve been rattling on about turning forty, since I turned–ooh, I don’t know–about thirty-five. And I talk about forty as though it is ninety. OHMYGODFORTY. Like that. All the time. And it’s got nothing to do with my bad back, or my wrinkles or even how cross I get with skincare companies about how they try to make us feel about getting older. Getting older is a privilege, not something we should be made to feel bad about. (I’m dealing with that particular crossness by making–and soon, fingers crossed, selling–my own botanical skincare.) So, I feel like I should explain …

Turning thirty, my last landmark birthday, happened in a bit of a haze. I was pregnant and it was no big deal. Being pregnant pushed all of the other thoughts out of my mind, if I’m honest. I’m not sure they’ve ever recovered. But forty was always a big date to me. This is because, when I was sixteen, maybe even younger, I wrote a list. One side of A4 paper, with one giant ‘Things I Will Do In My Life’ list on it. Needless to say, it was a ridiculous list, which–even without a full time job and lots more money–I’d have struggled to fit into ten lives, never mind one. I used to carry it around with me, the creases worn from being unfolded to re-read many, many times and then re-folded. I swore that I’d make it all happen; all my dreams would come true.

When I left agricultural college at 24, realising how impossible it was, I re-wrote it. I took out all the stuff about owning a top flight competition horse, writing a bestseller and simultaneously joining CID (Scanner for life) and my shopping wish-list, which was basically Chanel and Land Rovers. Oh, and chickens. And goats. And a big house in the country. Did I mention it was a ridiculous list? This time around, I gave myself real goals. Made them a lot more realistic. And I gave myself a deadline.

My fortieth birthday.

Of course, I’ve lost the list now. I know that it had stuff on about getting married, having kids, owning a house. So, ticks all round there. It didn’t say anything about getting divorced, losing my house and starting again at forty. I forget the rest of the things on it, but I suppose that in my head, the date of my fortieth birthday has somehow seeped into my being. It’s always been there, ticking away, counting down. I wanted to be accomplished by forty. To have done some things that mattered; to count for something good.

And I’m not sure if I’ve made it. If even it matters. Or what being accomplished even means to me now anyway. I remember reading a lot of Jane Austen when I wrote it. For all I know, I meant being excellent at sewing, taking strolls around the garden and a dab hand on the pianoforte.

But I do know this. I’ve done some great stuff. I even listed much of it on this blog when I was thinking about this the last time, months ago. I told you, it’s in my bones. I’ll be glad to be forty, because to tell you the truth, I have utterly no idea what comes next. I’ve been so focused on what I’ll do before I get there, the potential for the second half of my adulthood remains a complete mystery. One that I can make what I want. And that feels quite fun. Exciting. I might move to Paris,  practise my terrible French and take to wearing hats. Or write a book. Or buy a woodland and live in a yurt, with some chickens. And I might just buy that old Land Rover and convert it to biofuel.  I just don’t know.

But, overwhelmingly, if there is one thing I have learnt over the past few years, it is this. It really doesn’t matter if you have a list or not. If you’re a planner or if you’re if you’re the kind of person who likes to take life as it comes. So many things are outside of your control and you may not be the same person in a few years’ time, regardless.  So, yes, if it makes you happy, write that plan. But be prepared to change it–often–and without lots of prior warning. Change has a way of sneaking up on you when you’re not expecting it. You can run away from it all you like, but it’ll get you in the end.

Recent events have made me wary of over-planning. For the first time in my whole life, I have NO big plan. None. No carefully crafted list of things to accomplish. Just two pretty vague things: ‘see as much of the world as I can and share it with my kids’ and ‘have a little business that makes lovely botanical skincare’. That’s it.

So, do hurry up, forty. I’ve got a lot of the unknown to look forward to …


PS: Did you read this post? It’s my 40 by 40 list with a twist.

PPS: Even though I’m settling into being single, I’m going on a date soon. An actual date! I know, I know. But to borrow from Walt Whitman… “Do I contract myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

8 Responses to Rethinking forty.

  1. Annie says:

    I have had a similar moment surrounding my 40th. The whole ‘what have I got to show for 40 years?’ ‘where am I going?’ and my ongoing ‘why do I not have a plan?’ issues but as you say, it really doesn’t matter. If we are ticking along even semi-content then that’s all that really counts 🙂

    I will be emailing you for the date goss….
    Annie recently posted…127. HDYGG – Dahlias in the Trials Field, RHS WisleyMy Profile

    • Elizabeth says:

      I knew you’d get it. We seem to be kindred spirits in all of this stuff so often, Annie. But we’re both doing really well in all the stuff that truly matters. Will update you after the weekend!! 😉

  2. Ben says:

    It must be a very strange feeling having focused on that milestone for so long but not know what lies beyond it. When I was on paternity leave last year I realised that if I woke up on my 40th birthday and was still doing the same or similar job then I would regret it. Few years left yet and I have a plan but even so it does also feel like a major milestone for me. Is it because it’s the age we think we have to grow up?!
    Ben recently posted…5 words of wisdom for 5 years of bloggingMy Profile

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hello! I think it might be – there’s something about 40 that feels like a really ‘grown up’ age. But I don’t feel like I’m going to be any more grown up than I was at 18! Your plans sound exciting – I hope they all work out for you! 🙂

  3. Love this. You write superbly.
    Thanks for sharing. I’m 45 in a month and I’ve no.idea what tomorrow will bring and I.kinda like it that way 😉 x

  4. Kathryn says:

    Well I’m just over a week into my forties and so far I’ve survived. Of course, it feels no different. But I do know why you feel the way you do. I think there’s a growing sense of urgency to get on, get things done. The whole you only live once YOLO thing. I spent my thirties in a baby blur too and I’m really looking forward to my forties being a little more clear-sighted, forward-thinking, more doing, less over-thinking. I think our time is coming Elizabeth and we both need to grab it with both hands. K xx

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hello lovely! I think you may be right. Our forties might well be ‘our’ time… I do hope so. It’ll be exciting to see what might be coming our way! xx

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