Sometimes life sneaks up on you, and then you’re left wondering, How did I get here? I thought I was supposed to be better at everything by now! So for everyone that needs a reality check, I’m sharing a bit of what I’ve learned from turning 40.
1. Aging Isn’t All Bad
There are losses, for sure, but the gains of turning 40? They’re huge. The gains outpace the losses ten to one. I love being 40 because of how I feel in my own skin, how I feel in my own brain, how I feel in my own marriage, and how I feel in my own place and my own calling. I know me now. I know what God has made me to do. I know what I am gifted at. At this point I can say, I know that I am good at X, Y, Z and terrible at A, B, C. And that’s okay. Ten years ago I wanted to be good at everything, and now I am just more sure about what I’m here for, and I’m more comfortable running my race in confidence without issuing apologies and regrets all the time.
And all my relationships are better. All of them. They’re all deeper. My marriage is deeper, and my friendships are deeper. I have friendships that have spanned 20–25 years. They are so rich, and there is so much goodness. My relationship with my parents is as good as it’s ever been. I love being a grownup kid of my parents. My siblings and I have weathered 20 years of adulthood together. So I look across the landscape of my relationships at 40, and I think, These are so rich and so good because of all of these years that I have within them. So if this is how I feel at 40, I cannot wait to see how I feel about all my people at 60.
2. Quit Trying to “Fix” Others
Brandon and I got married—brace yourself—at 19 and 21. Every time I say it out loud I just could fall down because it’s obviously outrageous. We were so young, and in my early years of marriage I spent so much time and energy wanting to change real fundamental things about Brandon. For example, I’m spontaneous. I could wake up and say, “Everybody get in the car, we’re throwing out our plans today and we’re going to the lake.” My husband is the exact opposite. He is a planner. There is nothing in the universe that would change him into a spontaneous non-planner. But I attempted that for a good decade. I tried to get him to lighten up all the time: “Hey, just let it go, just be loose, just be free.” What a waste of time! That is never going to happen just like I am never going to start planning more than a day ahead. Bless our hearts.
This same pattern began to occur when I had my kids and they were little. I very much wanted to control their childhood, to craft certain outcomes. Some of it was behavioral, and some of it was personality driven. But I thought I want this to be a certain way because I wanted it to look the way I’d imagined or the way I’d envisioned or the way I’d observed elsewhere. I really wanted to chart our course in this idealistic family setting. I don’t even know where I got these ideas. I think some of them have been outsourced to me, some were just internal that I invented, and some were just wishes. But it stole a lot of joy and presence and energy away from my earlier years. I was unable to enjoy what I had because I was trying to reach so hard for what I didn’t. So at 40, now I’ve just learned that this is who we are fundamentally. Those personalities I tried to obsessively mold and change? That’s the way my kids are; God made us all, and I should have accepted that sooner in my family relationships. So at this point I am much more comfortable letting my people be who they are.
3. Love Who You Are
In my early adulthood, I would not have labeled myself as very self-aware. I wasn’t a good self-examiner, so rather than thinking about where my responses came from, I only noticed that I had “weird” reactions to stuff. Not until four years ago did I learn that what I have always called quirks or weird social habits primarily stem from being introverted. I never considered myself an introvert—never—because I love people and I thought introversion contradicted community. But now I understand it is more about how I recharge, and realizing this was freeing to me. It helped me love all of my quirks instead of resenting them.
And if you have strange little habits or tendencies too, it’s okay. There really is no social norm, but that’s what I thought for the longest time—that there’s this normal way to behave. And really, that’s not true at all. So when it comes to analyzing the way we respond and the environments we thrive in, I have a message for women: Lighten up on yourself. If you don’t like something, don’t go. If you hate loud, wild, crowded parties, don’t go. There’s freedom in really and sincerely operating in our wheelhouses, which involves a lot of things: what we’re good at, what our gifts are, what our tendencies are, and what our weaknesses are. Just be you because there is no normal here.
4. Don’t Let Insecurity Rule Your Life
So much of our culture is aimed specifically at making women feel less than, not enough, or guilty, and these messages are dangerously pervasive. The standards that are typically leveled at women in our generation are so unattainable and outrageous, and it has really crafted this guilty way of living. Most women I know walk around with a low simmering guilt at all times, completely convinced that they are not enough. They are not doing enough, they are not serving enough, or they are not mothering well enough.
This guilt is really debilitating—it’s taking us out of our game. And at the end of the day, it’s also eating away at our relationships. When we feel so much pressure to be so good at every single thing, we end up transferring that pressure to our people. Moms end up putting their kids in a pressure cooker to perform, succeed, and to get to the certain outcome that the mom is hoping for. We outsource it to our spouses, and we give it to our friends. We definitely end up putting that pressure on our churches and our faith communities since we want this perfectly developed Christian life. It really hurts us all. It’s not just an internal struggle anymore—it ends up being external. I still have this war within myself, but I’m committed for the rest of my days to battle against it.
5. Be Willing to Be Vulnerable
Being perfect is exhausting. As I lead a pretty big community, I have found that vulnerability and truth telling and transparency is absolutely, 100 percent the most powerful thing I have to offer. Way more than pretty words or even intelligent communication, when I lead with truth, even that paints me in a bad light or makes me seem unsure or afraid or in conflict, it is so incredibly powerful and contagious. Truth telling lends courage. Leading with vulnerability is our number one weapon against perfectionism because perfectionism is the absolute opposite. It’s not telling the truth—it’s reaching for something that is not real.
Truth also conquers lies in our community. Suddenly we are creating a new narrative, a new normal, a new way to be with one another, a new way to be in community. It’s really, really powerful. It’s also really, really scary. Because it’s very exposed to live like that. It’s very tender to put your real or most raw place in front of people for their evaluation, possibly for their criticism or disdain. But I have found 95 percent of the time people are gentle and tender with raw vulnerability, because everyone is craving somebody to tell the truth. We’d all love to live a real life in front of each other, but we just need someone to go first.
6. Show Up for Your Own Life
I have a tendency to want to show up for another person’s life, someone that I like or admire or am trying to emulate. But there’s real power in telling women, “Hey, you know what? Show up for your life—where you live, where you’re planted, with your family, in your own skin.”
Rather than waiting around for everything to get perfect, or your church to do everything for you, or your husband to finally get his act together, just show up for the life that you have. There’s a lot of joy in that. If we can shove off some of the wishing and the striving and the controlling and the longing for something different, and rather just stand up strong on the two feet we’ve been given in the place that we’ve been given to stand, we finally step into our purpose.
Jen Hatmaker is the author of several books and Bible studies, including For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards. She speaks all over the United States. She and her husband, Brandon, lead Austin New Church in Texas where they are raising their five kids—three the old-fashioned way and two adopted from Ethiopia. Follow her ministry and blog at JenHatmaker.com.
Copyright © 2015 by Jen Hatmaker and Christianity Today