When I turned 40 last year, my aunt and uncle sent me a card that read, “we’ll never mention the Big 4-0—but Happy 40th!” They’d each felt unnerved when they’d reached this age. I told them not to worry. I wanted to embrace the advent of my fifth decade. This was my time for a reboot, darn it! But then, at some point during that first month into being 40, I experienced an imperceptible shift. Or rather, a realization: I am officially middle-aged. So what does that mean? For one, it revealed there are things about being 40—or being in my forties—that scare me.
In full honesty, I don’t want to admit this. I want to lean into this period with nothing but confidence, clarity, and an unabashed wit. Being 40 and every year after is a privilege, after all. Yet still, as a millennial who rejects any classic model of what it means to be a mature grown-up, I lack a map for navigating this stage of life.
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So I’ll say it aloud: I am scared about getting older. But I’ve come to learn two things: I’m not alone in my fears. And like so many things, embracing what I know to be true, shifting my mindset, and leaning on sage counsel always help quell my fears. Plus, openly talking about trepidation is a salve like any other—which I aim to do here.
The following are 7 things about being in my forties—and getting older—that scare me and the shifts I’m making to see my way through each. I’d love to know: What scares you about growing older?
7 Things That Scare Me About Getting Older
Fear #1: That I’ll Lose My Relevancy
I’ve long wondered: As I age, will people still care about what I say? Will my words matter? Will my place at the proverbial table remain? Leaning into this, I’ve realized that these are mired in external expectations. The truth is, those “people” I refer to are societal ideals. They’re not the meaningful souls in my life. Those who care for me, and for whom I care, will listen and save my place. Maria Shriver nailed this in an essay. She wrote, “Don’t ever forget that the people closest to you don’t care what job you do or how many followers you have. They want to connect. They want to know how they can help and if you need anything.”
How I’m tackling this fear: I’m putting even more love, trust, and energy into my relationships. When I do this, the fear of irrelevancy becomes not only a fallacy but a distant thought.
Fear #2: That I’ll Look Older
Fact: I will start to look older. (That was hard to write!) But then, how cool? When I look at photos of me today versus pictures of me 10 years ago, I see a woman who is more grounded and in tune with who she is. With this comes a face that has matured—and with that comes wisdom. Furthermore, every day lived is another opportunity to take better care of my skin, body, and mind.
Fear #3: That Sex Won’t Be Good
How great would it be to dismiss middle-aged stereotypes of sex and eroticism? For all these years leading up to my 40s, I viewed sex in binary, contrived ways. I saw it as something to conquer and to do to please another. Naturally, this has led me to fear what will happen when my “appeal” starts to shift.
How I’m tackling this fear: I am flipping the fear that sex will wane its head. These days, I’m paying attention to deeper pleasure and connection, both with myself and with my partner. Sex isn’t about conquering but rather about exploration. I’ve learned that sex can be, to quote sex therapist Cyndi Darnell, “a course of desire and eroticism that brings you meaning, joy, and ease.”
Fear #4: That My Body Will Change
This fear stems from the above. It’s also rooted in worrying what others think rather than looking within. My body will change. That’s inevitable. So what’s my role in this? To keep it as vibrant, healthy, and able as I can. That’s one of the most amazing things we can all do for ourselves.
How I’m tackling this fear: The brilliant therapist Dr. Marcy Cole has a great reframe. Instead of worrying about our attractiveness to others as we age, accept the fact that we are all changing and growing older—so embrace “the gift of your body as it is right now,” Cole writes. It’s like worrying about others in yoga class. They’re worrying about their Utkatasana, not yours. So I’m honoring my body for what it can do for me.
Fear #5: That Joy and Fun Will Wane
Why is it that folly and good times are often partnered with being young? An eternal goof-off, I loathe the idea that silliness and joy are not for adults. It’s a scarcity-minded idea instilled in me from witnessing too many grown-ups trade freedom and laughter for suits and “safety.” Thankfully, this is shifting today and I’m seeing more people embrace what makes them laugh every decade.
How I’m tackling this fear: I go bold and let my goofiness and fun (and big-time vulnerability) fly. Also, I have been leaning into the life-shifting practice of daily rituals, which wellness and meditation practitioner Kate Waitzkin says helps to reveal greater joy.
Fear #6: That I’ll Lose My Confidence
In her recent Breathing Space newsletter, Camille touched on one of my biggest fears: that women of a certain age often feel invisible. I struggle with this, ultimately letting it interfere with my confidence. If society doesn’t choose me, how can I, and why should I, be confident and in charge?
How I’m tackling this fear: I am choosing me. With this conviction comes a quieting of my inner critic. When I think discouraging things about myself, I envision pushing—literally pushing—those thoughts out of my mind. This allows space for confidence, warm ideas, and light. As Camille wrote, “The stories we tell ourselves are powerful. They infiltrate the way we carry ourselves through the world. I’m choosing one that says I’m not invisible, irrelevant, or past my prime. It really doesn’t matter who sees me or doesn’t see me, it’s about how I choose to see myself.”
Fear #7: That My Fears Won’t Go Away
My fears about growing older will never go away. They’ll also likely change. This scares me to admit, but it also makes me appreciate the gift of being alive. Because fear is an inevitable part of the human experience.
Fear gets a bad reputation. But if we didn’t have it, we’d miss out on a lot, including the worthwhile feat of acknowledging what scares us and moving through it.
How I’m tackling this fear: A brilliant healer, Katherine Petrullo, taught me about the impact of emotional release. It’s as simple as it is profound: Allow yourself the time and space to fully feel what you are feeling. One way to do this is to create an intentional playlist of songs that evoke various emotions. Listen to each song and allow yourself to go deep into every felt emotion. When I do this fear, I prove that I always come out the other end stronger, deeper, and even happier to be exactly where I am.
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