wavy pattern

How to grow up: in which I turn 40, have a wobble, find some peace and let you read my journal

So, as happens to all of us at some point or another (usually every ten years, apart from the odd deviation of 18 and 21), I recently (BC = Before Covid) reached a milestone birthday.

- Posted byHannah Miller

So, as happens to all of us at some point or another (usually every ten years, apart from the odd deviation of 18 and 21), I recently reached a milestone birthday.

I didn’t imagine the big 4-0 to really matter too much to me. I’m not even a massive birthday person, which is convenient when you share your birthday with your son, for whom birthdays are a big deal. My husband will say otherwise – he says I like to have a ‘birthday month’. But actually, all that really matters to me on my birthday is to be remembered, to be thought about in some way by those that love me the most. However, this birthday did, unexpectedly, involve some soul searching in its preparation. At the risk of sounding incredibly smug, the ‘tier one’ life goals for me have been met. Meet the love of my life, tick, have children, tick, enjoy my work, tick, follow my faith. Tick. Which is why I thought passing over the decade mark would be no big deal.

I caught myself catching myself (yes, I know that’s an odd phrase) in the mirror way more regularly than usual. Scrutinising my face right down to the individual pore, my body, my wrinkles, my wobbly bits. And it wasn’t just my appearance. This impending decade-day caused me to hold that mirror up to my very being. Over-analysing my contributions at work or with friends. Shining a rather unforgiving torchlight on all my shortcomings. Shouldn’t I have sorted these out by now? Am I really still so insecure and needy? Do I really want to take all this ‘stuff’ through to this next season? Here I was, standing on the precipice of destination “End-Of-First-Half-Welcome-To-The-Second-Half” and found myself feeling pretty wanting.

My journal over these months is all over the place and really quite a funny read. I’m obviously not letting you read it all (because lots of reasons) but as promised, it’s only fair I share a bit I suppose. Here are some honest, unfiltered snippets of my processing.

“I’ve been with my mom these past few days. Her frailty is scary – I am so scared of ageing. I think this is why people obsess over staying young-looking, almost to pretend it isn’t happening. 

I feel very distracted. I just did some mindfulness for the first time in ages. Found it really hard. I don’t like my thought-life right now, or my preoccupation with others and my needing to make myself do better, be better. I feel trapped at times in a comparison race and I just don’t like it. It doesn’t even propel me forward – it just causes me to stagnate.

I’m coming to terms with how average I am. I don’t like this. I feel aware of my age, my limitations, tiredness. I have much maturing to do. At almost forty have I grown as much as I should have? Am I being unfair or harsh on myself? Can I accept I may well plod along, living a good but average kind of life?

These are some of my unfiltered, and indeed pretty unbalanced reflections from the last few months. Classic mid-life contemplations. I share them because it’s selfishly quite freeing to do so. And because I really don’t think they are that unusual and that maybe you have had had some similar thoughts yourself. So hearing someone else say it out loud might be a relief to you. You are not alone in sometimes comparing. You are not alone in sometimes thinking you are pretty average. You are not alone in feeling irritated with your humanity. You are not alone in being scared of getting older. You are not alone in finding yourself feeling increasingly invisible.

Most of us have these thoughts in some way, shape or form.

So, after a few months of pondering, panicking, and processing, I’ve got a few suggestions on how to turn the page to the next decade well. I hope that these truths on how to do the middle of life might help you. And if you’re not there yet, as someone once said – you’re never too young to think about what kind of an old person you want to be – because every day you are growing into that old person whether you like it or not.

I hope that these truths on how to do the middle of life might help you:

1. Being average is OK, but there’s no such thing as average anyway

You are running your own race, so how can you be average in a race of one? It’s also OK to have not hit your peak yet – there’s not an age and stage monitor we need to check in with, so why do we feel we are behind, or ahead even? We are all building the blocks of our life in a different order, in a different way, at a different pace.

2. Be child-like sometimes (indeed as much of the time as you can manage)

Taking ourselves so seriously needs to be a banished activity. Approach life and living with the heart, eyes, and mind of a child. Love more freely. See the gift and be grateful. Ask the questions and be curious.

3. Be honest with yourself – no more, no less

It seems to me that us humans have a tendency to down play and over play. Sometimes we act as if we are more than we are, mainly to get accepted, to win the role, justify, validate, compensate. Other times we dumb down who we are for fear of stepping beyond our remit, treading on toes or reaching beyond our station. If we could find that wonderful place, of all we are, nothing more and nothing less, a sense of stride, purpose and freedom would be a reward. It takes guts to find this space. I am what I am, this is me, with all the abilities and limitations that accompany me.

4. Nobody has it together

We are all just doing our best with what we have.  I have moments of triumph and victory and moments of utter failure and shame. You have days of real joy and purpose and days when you wonder what you are here for. Your friend has a life filled with beauty at times, with all her ducks in a row, then at other times (that you may or may not see), her ducks are absent without leave or caught swimming with their arse in the air and life feels ugly and out of control. We can be doing brilliantly and finding other things tough in equal measure. Sometimes the measures aren’t bloody equal and you are drinking the dregs of past hopes. It’s ok. This is actually what real life looks like, so let’s help each other navigate failure and celebrate the progress.

5. Say what needs to be said

Take the risk with your thoughts and feelings and say them out loud.  Say I love you. Say I like you. Say I can’t do this. Say I can do this. Say I need you. Say I am struggling. Be vulnerable with those around you and take the lead with your words. It may not be reciprocated or understood but really, what have you got to lose? You have so much more to gain.

6. Be kind. To yourself, to others

Appreciate the beauty in others and celebrate it. Notice the strength in you and cultivate it. Continually holding up a measuring stick to yourself and those around you gets someone poked in the eye. Be kinder. Much kinder. Celebrate that wrinkle and celebrate that grey hair.

Indeed, recognise that our character forever remains under construction and work to bring change. But do it kindly.

7. Say yes to everything that scares you. Say no when it’s easier to say yes

A few years ago I made a decision to start saying yes to opportunities that scared me. Every single one (OK full disclosure not totally true I am not ready to do scary things involving heights really although I did cliff jump in France which was a step in that direction). I said yes to speaking at conferences with big impressive names. I said yes to facilitating groups of leaders with big impressive careers. I said yes to leaving my job. I said yes to rebranding my company.  I also started saying no when I was saying yes for the wrong reasons. I had heard someone say, “only say yes when it’s a hell yes”. This can be misunderstood as selfish and only saying yes when it suits your agenda and preferences. But actually it can still be a ‘hell yes’ because you want to serve someone, because you want to provide for your family, because you want to do something that would benefit someone else or change their life even. But if it is a reluctant yes or an obligated yes or a belligerent yes or a people pleasing yes or a FOMO yes then make it a no. It’s not good for you or for the people you are saying yes to. Your heart is in the wrong place and so it’s best all round you say no. Honestly.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” Eleanor Roosevelt.

8. Give it away

The more time passes, it seems we start clinging harder to what we have. We wonder if there will be enough to go around. If I share what I have, will there be enough for me? Here’s what I am learning. The more we give, the more we have. It makes no sense, but this principle has never ever failed me. When you want to hold it tight and keep it, let it go and watch it return. Be generous to a fault. Be more generous than makes sense. Not just with money – that’s easy. With your time, your possessions, your lessons learned, your mind, your life. Nothing will fulfil you more than giving it away.

9. Pass it on

 At every stage of my life, I have craved the input and mentoring of those that have more experience than I, those that I respect. I have wanted to pick their brains, learn from them and also to simply be encouraged and cheered on by them. I wonder whether you can think of people who have played that role in your life? Perhaps you feel as grateful as I do for their time and wisdom, perhaps you didn’t have the role models you were hoping for. How am I playing this role now? Who do I develop, cheer on, champion and serve? Who do you pass it on to? Let’s mentor and be mentored. Let’s give those that are younger than us in either age or experience our time and our energy. Let’s love and lead with all we’ve got. Let’s hope for more for them than we will ever see, no strings attached.

10. Bring the light, follow the Light

This is simply the goal of my life. Bring light into the room, into the moment, into the season, into someone’s life. And I can only do that by following the Light.