Aging, or maturing, as I like to refer to it, is a bittersweet process. As we gain more knowledge and become more established in life, our bodies begin to betray us. Thankfully, with that refined sense of maturity, our insecurities are less likely to get the better of us than they would have in our younger years. Early this year I turned 40. At that same time I had come across an article where a woman wrote a letter to her 20-year-old self on her 40th birthday. It seemed a beautiful trip down memory lane; one that resulted in highlighting all the good, the bad and the ugliness that brought her to where she is today…..a successful, happy and imperfect person, without regret. Her letter resonated with and inspired me to write my own. It helped to put many things into perspective. If I remember to do so and am able to at the time, I think I will repeat this process in another 20 years.
Dear 20-year-old Me,
I am writing to you from 20 years in your future, in the midst of what seems like the most extreme summer in my (and your) existence. However, now that I think about you, and it is twenty years hence, it likely only feels that way. I now remember how hot it was then too, and how many thunder storms there were, and how buggy it could be, so I (we) are just becoming less tolerant to it is all. Anyway, on this year of our 40th birthday, I want to share some thoughts with you.
At age 20, you still didn’t know exactly what you want to be. It was your intent out of high school to pursue a law degree. You and I both know we were accepted to our dream schools, including McGill in Montreal and St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. Keep your mind open, because you will take a very different path in life. More than one different path, in fact. By age 40, you will be on a second career and possibly on your way to a third. You made a rather whimsical decision mid way through your twentieth year to abandon the Universities of your dreams and to apply to a small Nursing school. You graduated from that and worked in that field for a short, but cherished time. You soon after transitioned to the field of municipal administration and worked your way to a successful career in public service. Yes, public service. You find it difficult at times to manage the stress, and all that comes with a public, politically oriented profession, but you remind yourself to focus on the positive changes that you have the power to implement. In your spare time you are now embarking on new educational pursuit, and have completed over 1/3 of an Accounting program at McMaster University.
Your love of writing continues. You will have authored a novel, unpublished (there is still time), and have already started another. As well, you now write regularly in a new medium that you love; a blog.
You will fail at things that are important to you. You will be scared, even terrified, about your future. It will be OK, because you are strong, a hard worker, highly adaptive to change and you will make new opportunities.
You need to learn to talk less and listen more, which you will begin to realize in your thirties, and are still working on.
Your stomach is not flat at age 40. Yes, it is true. You will choose to eat good food with your family and friends instead staying hungry and depriving yourself on the sidelines. You will learn that food is part of the celebration that is life, and you will become completely okay with that. It may come as a surprise to you now, but you abandoned your vegetarian lifestyle in your later twenties.
Even with some padding and a few lines around the eyes, you will look surprisingly similar at age forty to how you look at age twenty. You are not terrified of aging, just aggravated by it. Life is too short to spend time fighting a losing battle with a natural organic process. You have witnessed the loss of those who die too soon, and you prefer the privilege of growing older to the tragedy of remaining forever young. Aside from the added pounds, wrinkles and the grey hairs you disguise with regular hair colouring treatments, there is very little difference in your appearance at forty from your younger self at twenty.
At twenty, you have not met the man you are going to marry, but I assure you, you will. You will meet him many years from now and after a long-term relationship with a man you thought you would marry, and in fact he did ask you to. It was painful to say goodbye to that person and that life, but it will be the best decision you ever make in your life, including the choosing of the particular man to which you are now married. You don’t suffer regret, as every person we meet and every experience we have teaches us something. It does take some time for you to realize this, but you will.
You will make some insincere friends over the years, and you will have been a marginal friend yourself. You will come to recognize both of these facts. You will learn that it is much scarier to stay with the false friends than to walk alone until you find the true confidants. You will also recognize what it takes to be a good and reciprocal friend in return. At age forty, the people in your life are incredible, the people every woman needs and deserves, and you are blessed for the abundance of love and affection in your relationships with friends and family alike. Your closeness with your friends, sisters and parents is unparalleled at age forty.
You haven’t had children. You won’t seem surprised by this, as at twenty you never thought you would. As time passes, however, it is something you will come to want. But, circumstances and choices you make get in the way. While it isn’t impossible to think you still might, you know that the chances of conception post-40 are drastically reduced. You are okay with this though, as you can’t change the past and you don’t want to anyway. You are happy with the choices you have made.
You will suffer a few health scares along the way. And, you will live with some conditions, but as of yet, they don’t affect your activities of daily life. You are healthy and active, and, yes, you are still a runner. Though, not as overzealous now as you have been.
At age twenty, you honestly don’t give much thought to being forty. Your life at twenty is exciting, full of possibilities. You don’t have time to worry about your life at forty.
But here you are. Forty. It seems like it happened quickly, but don’t worry, you won’t feel like that until now. Now that we are here, we know who we are. We are so happy to be here and we are looking forward to seeing what happens next.