Dec. 5 is my birthday. And you’d think by 43, I’d have this thing called life completely wired.
But as this crazy year has shown me, I don’t.
I’m still my own worst enemy and harshest critic.
Some days, I really hate my body.
And about once a month, I have a giant existential panic. I’m not a mom or a Kindle millionaire or climbing Mount Everest. So WTF is the point of me?
So no, turning 40 hasn’t graced me with instant bliss and enlightenment.
On the other hand, there are some parts of life after 40 that totally kick ass.
After my 40th birthday, a lot of the noise started to fall away. I stopped worrying so much about being liked by everyone. This gave me more freedom to speak my mind, be myself, and take foolish chances that (sometimes) paid off.
So here are a few things I’ve learned about kicking ass in my 43 years on this planet. I hope you other over-forties will comment and add your own!
Photos: Hiking after 40 at Rosalie Peak, Mount Eolus, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Pequeno Alpamayo (Bolivia)
It’s better to be a cult classic than a blockbuster
All through my 30s, I was painfully careful what I posted to Facebook.
(And I’m not talking about some drunken 3 a.m. photo with a boob falling out.)
My online dating profile was just as bland. God forbid I scare off guys by actually looking real!
Then around 40, I realized I was bored to death with myself.
Because the quest to be popular eventually sucks the life, authenticity, and creativity out of you. (And after all that, some people still won’t like you.)
The best way to find and bond with your tribe — the people who will unconditionally love the shit out of you — is to militantly be yourself.
To this end, I started making Facebook posts that reflected my deepest values — and watched gleefully to see who would unfriend and unfollow. (A few people did.)
But I also had some of the best online conversations I’ve had in years. I even discovered a few soul friends hiding in plain sight.
So screw being the feel-good summer blockbuster that everyone forgets by Thanksgiving.
Be a cult classic.
Be so winning and original that arthouse theaters still run midnight showings 40 years later. (And your true fans show up in costumes.)
It’s easier, it’s more fun, and it will bring the right people into your life.
Be painfully human
Last year, I traveled to Mexico with four friends. All through the week, I was amazed with how well-behaved they were.
They rarely complained or seemed angry or annoyed or sad.
I figured they were just more mature than me. Because I’m one big ball of emotions. I find it totally impossible to hold in strong feelings.
But you now what? That’s OK too.
Because if I learned anything from 20 cycles of ANTM, it’s that showing your humanity is beautiful.
Being real about your emotions (even they get kinda messy) gives other people permission to do the same. Because let’s face it, nothing good comes from swallowing down feelings.
So never apologize for showing anger, bursting into tears, hating something, or making a mistake. Consider it a service to yourself and others.
And if you need permission, just come travel with me.
Enjoy your body
In 2017, I had a massive relapse of body angst.
Seriously, it reminded me of being back in college, where I felt compelled to work out on the Stair Master for two hours a day and live on Garden Burgers and carrot sticks.
Part of it was having huge training goals. And spending time in the hyper-competitive high-altitude mountaineering community didn’t really help.
All through the year, I felt like my body was letting me down. I set out to get in the best shape of my life. But after 11 months, I only got about 75 percent of the way there — all while gaining 10 pounds.
(Never mind that I was working three jobs, taking a yearlong intensive business course, and prepping for three huge trips at the same time. I blamed my body 100 percent.)
It was a crushing disappointment. But the truth is, body hatred gets you nowhere.
Sometimes you just need to love your body and thank it for all it does for you.
So if you catch yourself hating your body and whipping it to go faster, harder, skinnier, or whatever … STOP.
Take a week off from rigid training and eating regiments. I know it’s hard when you already feel like you’re failing. But sometimes less is more.
Instead, take time to enjoy your body. Treat it with compassion.
Sleep in. Get a massage. Eat delicious food with people you love.
Do things you suck at because you love them
Another tough thing about the past few years has been surrounding myself with these incredibly talented mountaineers for whom everything comes easy (or so it appears).
When we were getting ready for Mount Rainier in 2017, a few of us went out every weekend and climbed with 50-lb. packs. We did 20-mile traverses on 14ers. Everything was “to the pain.”
A few days before we left for Washington, we all got together for a barbecue. That’s where one of the assistant instructors (who is an amazing athlete) said:
“Oh, I didn’t actually train that much. I didn’t even hike with weight. Relax, everyone will be fine!”
(She was totally trying to reassure us. But can you see my head exploding from there?)
So yeah, it’s hard when you’re not naturally gifted at things you love. It sucks to have to work harder than everyone else and have less to show for it.
But so what?
You don’t have to be the best to have fun. You can totally be the worst climber on the mountain and have the most fun. It’s really up to you.
It’s true in other areas of life, too. You don’t have to be at the top of the class or an office superstar or a perfect partner or parent. You just have to do whatever you do with your whole heart.
And remember, everyone roots for the underdog. People relate to struggle more than brilliance. You might just end up being someone’s unlikely hero.
Last November in Mexico, the conditions were really icy on Orizaba. Out of 30 people who made an attempt, only five summited. So down at the climbers hut, there was a lot of disappointment.
I overheard one young climber say wistfully,
That’s the first mountain I set out to climb that I didn’t summit.
Which immediately made me think, She hasn’t been doing this long.
Hey, no one likes to fail. But failure is the big red badge of actually giving a shit and trying.
Awhile ago, some freelance writers in one of my online groups started a contest to see who could rack up the most rejections. It may sound self-defeating, but it was actually a brilliant idea.
In freelancing, persistence is your best weapon. The writers who rack up the most rejections usually make the most sales. Each rejection is bringing you one step closer to the payoff.
So if you must fail, do it like an erupting volcano or an atomic bomb. Because this requires doing great things.
Don’t let your failed effort be a tiny, half-assed fart that gets lost in the noise of the universe.
Don’t wait forever to tell you story
So back to Orizaba: one of the people who actually summited on the ice was my friend and favorite training partner who’s in her sixties. (And she’s only been doing technical mountaineering for a couple of years!)
Later that week, she said, “I think I want to write about that. Maybe it will inspire other women.”
So I totally love the idea that she’s going to blog or Instagram this.
But I also hope she doesn’t stop there.
Because you don’t need to do some huge, momentous thing before you can help and inspire others.
(I know, because I’ve actually been inspired by her for years! I’m constantly telling her story to other people, so I’m thrilled that now we can all hear it in her own words.)
Some of the most inspiring women in my life are online creatives sharing their truth and everyday wisdom. People like Angie Lee, Sam Skelly, Amanda Bucci, Ashley Stahl, and Brooke Castillo have really touched my life. It’s definitely my favorite part of the Internet age.
If you think you maybe, might, kinda have a worthwhile story to tell — chances are that you do. Sometimes you don’t fully understand it yourself until you start talking (or writing). Please give it a try!
Be good to yourself
So last year right before my birthday, I didn’t make it up Orizaba, and I didn’t handle it very well.
I’d been working really hard at the self-compassion thing. But let’s face it. It’s heartbreaking to train for something for 11 months and blow the main event.
Despite the fact that I was supposed to be a mature human who was turning 42 (at the time), here are a few of the thoughts that went through my mind:
- You’re so fat and gross (often my first default thought when this shit happens)
- You’re getting old
- Your body failed you
- You didn’t try hard enough
- Everyone is annoyed with how slow you are
- No one will ever take you seriously as an outdoor or fitness blogger again
- You should just quit this mountaineering shit, ’cause you suck at it
Seriously, if I talked to my friends the way I talk to myself sometimes, I would have zero friends.
So after a few days of wallowing in it (and being generally snappy and unpleasant), I decided to think about it differently.
Because I can choose to look at this as a forever failure. Or I can treat it like a temporary setback.
Orizaba day just wasn’t my day.
Everyone has bad days in mountaineering.
I learned a ton of lessons that will help me on the second attempt.
I get to come back to Mexico (yay!) and climb it in more pleasant conditions. (Snow instead of ice.)
Wow, that already feels better. I think I’ll stick with those thoughts.
So there you have it. All the wisdom of my 40s (so far).
I feel like there should be more. But I can definitely say that life after 40 has been a really exciting time of letting go of what other people think and becoming who I really am. It’s powerful to finally live according to my deepest values.
So here’s to making the most of 40 and beyond! (And on Wednesday, be sure to have a cupcake for me.)
How do you kick ass after 40? (Or, 50, 60, or 70?) Comment to share your wisdom!
Originally published Dec. 4, 2017. Last updated Nov. 28, 2018.