Forty. Fucking. Nine.

George Orwell said that by the time we turn 50, we have the faces we deserve.

Orwell didn’t have a doctor like the one I’ve had for the past 12 years who’s helped me look less like I deserve and more like I always have.

I can’t give Dr. Fancy (my pet name for him) all the credit. He and I have discussed the role that genetics plays in aging.  The fact that I’ve avoided the sun since I was in my early 20’s – my attempt to undo the damage that being a lifeguard at the Jersey shore and working in a tanning salon in my teens undoubtedly caused – probably helped things. Also quitting smoking in my 20’s. And again, in my 30’s. Like most things, my face is undoubtedly the cumulative result of lots of small decisions I’ve made throughout my life.  

My body’s a different story.

I had an inexplicable weight gain when I turned 40 that took 4 years and 3 doctors to fix. When the weight finally came off, things didn’t bounce back as they had the other times in my life when I’d lost weight. I think that had less to do with my age and more to do with the amount of time it took to shed the weight. Things jiggled. I had some cellulite. Most of it’s gone now. Which is something to remember when people tell you that you can’t improve your body after a certain age.

I want to tell you that I feel exactly the same. Physically, I mean. I still train as a dancer with pros and aspiring pros a few times a week. I can do everything I was ever able to do – actually more – so it seems I haven’t plateaued in my physical abilities.

But I feel a little different.

My energy’s not what it used to be. I have to work harder to keep up with my friends in dance class.  And I’m destroyed after class for a good 10 minutes. Like, can’t breathe, trying-not-to-puke, destroyed.

And when I wake up, I’m a little achy.

I have to choose to be active in my downtime. When I was younger I naturally opted to walk to work over taking a cab. I regularly ice skated and rode horses for fun. Today I have to decide to do those things. I’m lucky that I’m physically able to make those choices. I know that some people can’t.

Emotionally – and here’s where it gets good - I wouldn’t go back 12 months, a dozen years, or two decades, even if you offered me a few million dollars. No. Fucking. Way. OK – maybe 12 months. But that’s all.

With each passing year, I breathe a little easier in my skin.

I find compassion is less of a decision and more of an organic response to another’s pain. Even if that person has caused me pain. Or if that person still wishes pain on me.

I can see drama coming before it’s choking me, and I mostly sidestep it. Doing that doesn’t make me feel like a sucker or a punk or like I’m letting someone take advantage of me. It makes me feel like I have a superpower because I no longer rely on others to feel peace. At least not all others.

I’m still human. People piss me off. Steph can push my buttons like no one else. And now I have a fake kid (real person – unofficially mine) who’s getting pretty good at it too.

But I can take a step back today in a way that I couldn’t even a few years ago.

I can walk away from a problem, take time to think about it, and come back with a clear head that’s capable of problem-solving and that no longer reacts instinctively.

And I can hear feedback [read: criticism] today. I can check my ego, keeping my eye on the longer-term goal, which allows me to meet the needs of those I care about and love, quickly.

Vulnerability is also something I can now engage in without white knuckles. My fists are still clenched, but what used to require a grip so tight that my fingers went from white to blue, today’s grip allows for blood to flow through my hands.  

Still, parts of me remain under construction:

Faith is something I wish I was better connected to. Belief that everything will work out. Trust that I will be OK regardless of how hard I work, or how much is in my bank account.

I can reason for and against faith endlessly if I allow myself. I’ve stopped indulging in that debate recently because it just crystalizes my uncertainty, which makes me want to control things more, and trust things less. I suppose the ability to bypass that rabbit hole in and of itself may confirm that I’m moving towards having more faith - presuming faith is less of a destination and more of a process.

Overall, I step into the last year of my 40’s feeling grateful, hopeful, and humble. I threw myself a different kind of birthday party this year – a gymnastics party – partly because it seemed like fun and partly as a middle finger to the notion that I should act my age. Some highlights are below.

Here’s to facing 50.

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