A former boss said years ago: when a woman turns 40, an upgrade happens. It struck me when she said this. I’d operated under the idea that once you hit a certain age, life starts to slip… downward. I was clinging to my thirties at the time, desperate to petrify the minutes to keep me from inching closer to the next birthday that ended with a zero. (And I would be cryptic about my birth year. Still to this day, some of my friends don’t know my age because of my societal fear of being judged.) Well, that birthday came—this year. I turned 40. And indeed, something shifted. A clarify revealed itself. Maybe, dare I even call it, an awakening. Whatever it is, my former boss was apt in what she fervently said: turning 40 really is the ultimate upgrade.
It’s taken me about six months into being 40 to allow this life-shifting idea to permeate my mind. Our constricted, binary views of age have to do with our hard-wiring—and that hard-wiring comes from being steeped in a culture where ageism is rampant. Yes, rampant. Thanks to social media and a host of societal expectations, narratives still abound claiming a woman is “over” after she hits this [enter subjective number here] age. It’s deeply harmful. It’s also wildly untrue. Because I’m here to say, things get better as we get older.
There’s science to support my anecdotal claims. In her new book The Upgrade: How the Female Brain Gets Stronger and Better Midlife and Beyond, neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louanne Brizendine writes that as women age, our brains reshape for the better. We begin to embrace our innate power, authenticity, and purpose. We also get happier.
Now I’m fully operating from this place of self-assuredness and understanding. I admit: it’s complex and surreal. It’s also damn refreshing, which is why I’m sharing the following 6 truths. (My apologies to any ex-boyfriends I disappoint!) While I have no regrets, I do wish I’d known a decade ago what I feel today at 40.
So, no matter how young you are, I hope the following serves. Here’s to having the bravery to face 40—and 60 and 100!—with a reckless abandonment of fear and a total commitment to who you are.
These are the most transformative life lessons I’ve learned from turning 40.
#1: Age Is Only an Arbitrary Number
I want to scream this. There is no overarching rule that states we must feel or look a certain way according to the number of birthdays we’ve been lucky to have. Numbers quantify things—time, distance, measurement—not people. When it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing, our age should never mandate our outlook. Just ask Norma Kamali.
#2: When You Respect Yourself, Others Will Too
This one came hard for me. I’ve spent my adult life yearning for more respect. This is a woman’s strife, but we can change this by respecting ourselves first. Bathing ourselves in self-appreciation bolsters our self-worth and shows others how to treat us. Once I started doing this, the “disrespecters” melted away.
#3: Our Friendships Deserve Commitment (and Sometimes a Good Audit)
That parenthetical may sound cold, but it’s really life-changing. In How to Break Up with Your Friends, Erin Falconer writes that we need to be more intentional about our friendships. In short: We go to therapy for family and intimate relationships, but not for our friendships. Falconer challenges this by positing that when we consider who we call our friends and the needs they each fill, we get more from these relationships in return.
Also, sometimes we need to evaluate whether a friendship is worth holding. If a connection feels extractive, re-evaluate your commitment to that person. You can love someone and part ways from them.
#4: Don’t Fake Orgasms. Ever.
I have faked 95 percent of the orgasms I’ve “had” with other people—up until now. I will never do this again. Firstly, it builds resentment and breaks down communication. Secondly, it’s just not fun. Opening yourself up and being so insanely, unequivocally vulnerable during these intimate times is the hottest thing ever. So please: slow down and get real. Even if you don’t orgasm, the act of not faking one is a leap toward deeper satisfaction. (And if you buy one product for yourself, make it this oil. My life has catapulted toward greatness because of this stuff.)
#5: Making More Money Helps the Greater Good
It took me until 40 to realize that a.) I’ve been radically underpaid my entire career, and b.) making more money isn’t about greed, it’s about health and the greater good. Research shows that when women make more money, it boosts economic development, including diversification and income equality. Women are also innately better at investing. I want this on a t-shirt.
So the next time you’re hesitant to ask for a pay increase, think of the greater good. The money you’re not earning is likely going to a man. Grab it for yourself and the more inclusive world you want to create.
#6: Know Your Life Is Amazing
I shiver thinking about it—all the nights I spent feeling like I was missing out on something because I was staying in. Or all those times I was headed somewhere against my will, going out only because I felt I should be. I spent swaths of my social time pushed and pulled by others. Never again. I now fully do what I want, whether or not it’s deemed cool. I do laundry on Fridays. I go to bed with my boyfriend at 8 p.m. on Saturdays (I mean… sometimes). Heck, sometimes I eat dinner at 4 p.m. And it all feels great.
With that said, here’s what I want you to know: your life is amazing. It is. There is no other being like you, living a life like yours—with all its sunlight and hardship. This is pretty remarkable. Know this, treat yourself well, and consider every minute. In doing this, you’ll squeeze more out of life—whatever age you may be.