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Michelle Turnberg, Published July 14 2012

Turnberg: Discovering life could start at age 40

This is it. My first column as a 40-year-old.

As the day approached I had a mixed sense of dread and excitement.

I discovered my first grey hair two months ago, my reflection shows a few more laugh lines, and recovery from either a run or too much fun takes much longer than it once did.

Our culture has conditioned us to believe that turning 40 is the beginning of the end. I think as women we deal with the double standard of aging. Women get old, while men become “distinguished.” Gray hair looks attractive on men, while it makes women look old. It’s irritating and unfair, but also inspires me to buck the trend. I’ve also hit a milestone, where others’ opinions carry very little weight.

When we hit age milestones, it’s common to evaluate our lives and the paths we have chosen. Sometimes our reflections hit us with a jolt. This happened to me last summer. I had just hit the big 3-9, and I realized that in less than a year I would be 40. Though I had been saying that today’s 40 is yesterday’s 30, I was still a bit shocked at the prospect that I would soon be joining the ranks of “middle aged.”

One problem I have with the concept of aging is that I never “feel” my age. After all, wasn’t I just in college? I have a preconceived notion about what a person should be feeling or doing at a given age, but I am always surprised that I never quite match up with that expectation.

Maybe it’s a natural extension of the concept that no one really wants to be their real age. If I ask my kids how old they are they always want to round up. My son is 9-and-a-half, and my daughter, who turns 8 next month, already considers herself 8. Teenagers try everything to look older. Then once we hit 21 or so, something happens and we start to feel like we should begin shaving years to extend our youth.

So now I’m 40, and I’ve started to think about what that really means to me. And it seems Oprah had it right when she said, it all comes down to this: At 40, something magical happens to you –something liberating and rejuvenating and exhilarating. You acquire a healthy disregard for what other people think. You gain the confidence to define yourself boldly and on your own terms. You don’t accept anyone else’s judgments but your own. In short, you stop living your life for other people and start living it for yourself. The force is with you because, at long last, it is in you.

Taking the burden of other people’s expectations off yourself and going after your own dream is a lovely, liberating, life-changing lesson that, as Oprah said, “You just don’t get when you’re 28,” but, at 40, you see with crystal clarity. And she was right. If life really begins at 40, it’s likely because that’s when we finally start to get it.

Another wise woman, Ann Landers, once offered this perspective: “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.