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I have a few friends turning 40 this year, and if I’m being totally honest, I’m a little jealous. I’ve got two years left in this decade of 30-something, and I’m ready to shed it like a snakeskin. I feel like I’ve outgrown this decade. Like it doesn’t fit. It’s too tight. Itchy. An ill-fitting wool sweater making me scratch and sweat.

And I know, getting older certainly has its drawbacks. Crows feet and smile lines. Sun damage. Belly fat. Crepey skin where my arms meet my shoulders. I mean, how can it even be possible for armpits to wrinkle? Somehow it is. How demoralizing.

My morning runs are slower and my knees are telling me it might be time to start walking instead. My left hip hollers at me now and again for some unknown infraction. No amount of apology seems to subdue it. Excess weight comes on like a freight train and falls off only with the utmost intense focus and drive. It’s all such a pain in the neck. Literally.

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But when I consider the wide scope of my lens on life, these sacrifices are worth it. Because you know what else aging has brought to my doorstep? Confidence. I know who I am and what I want from this life I’m creating minute by minute, hour by hour, day to day and year to year. Strength. Not the physical kind, but the kind that lives and breathes inside your heart and mind. The kind that tells you to keep going when a decade ago you might have stopped.

I’ve seen things now. Not all the things, but a lot more of them than I expected by now. I’ve seen death and life, growth and change. I’ve seen taking and giving, and I’ve learned how to examine people and accept them for everything they are. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Both are okay. Both are important. I’ve seen relationships and friendships bloom into bounty and I’ve seen them wither on the vine. I’ve seen that people are, well, just exactly that. People are people.

We threw a party at our house recently. As the adults mingled inside, about 20-some kids wound up in our backyard, running, playing, jumping, laughing, and hooting. And I noticed, after about 45 minutes or so, they had broken into two distinct factions. I have no idea why or how, but they did. They’d divided themselves, and what’s more is, that they’d fashioned tools out of toys, sticks, rocks, old pieces of brick. They’d identified what they deemed bases, safe spaces, and battle zones. And they entered into the play of all-out war.

It was madness. But it was also telling. From our earliest ages, there has been something in each of us, something driving us toward staking our claim in this life. Even at play, we devolve into our baser selves. Grasping at some illusion of power. Of glory. Of legacy. Even if all you’ve got is a broken badminton racquet and a water balloon as weaponry. A trashcan lid as armor.

We do this later, as adults, in business. Proving ourselves to one another, or attempting to, through success or wealth. We do this later, as adults, in parenting. Proving ourselves to one another, or attempting to, through PTA positions and well-dressed children. We do this later, as adults, through friendships. Proving ourselves, to one another, or attempting to, through the unspoken social hierarchies of our neighborhoods or our tennis clubs or our charity board memberships. How exhausting. How imaginary.

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What I’ve learned in this third decade is that all of it, every last moment, is exactly as imaginary as the theatrics put on by the kids in my backyard. And that slowly, with time and yes, with age, you learn to shed your weapons. What once was a broken badminton racquet became perhaps a college admission to boast, then a degree to hang on your wall, a career to chase. Next, airbrushed family photos to post on social media. Coordinating attire of course. Maybe even next, far-flung vacations to casually mention. And of course, a home to appoint with all manner of finery. Designer wallpapers. Custom kitchen by someone whose name matters in certain circles.

Those weapons, these things we carry with usthey are useless in the face of time and age. And with that aging comes comforting knowledge. The unimportance of it all. Your armor is new now and it’s simply the years that have passed. You’re no longer fumbling with things or distractions. Instead, you’re steadily grasping a self-assuredness that defeats everything else. Your gaze is steadfastly positioned on the horizon of your life. Your worth and your legacy are no longer defined by staking claim to anything more than who you are and the strength of character you’ve instilled in those you’ll one day leave behind.

So, I’ll take my wrinkled armpits and my sun spots and my laugh lines. I’ll take my creaky knees and that stiff spot on my lower back. I won’t even complain about my soft belly. Well, much at least. Because what I’m aiming for, what I’m holding on to, what I hope to find more of with each passing year is the glittering armor of perspective. I can laugh at the flimsy chain mail of my youth and look forward to acquiring the forged steel of time. It’s awfully heavy, that armor. It does not come easy. But it’s strong. And so am I.

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Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is a former PR pro having worked for global firms and niche national associations. She currently resides in Richmond, VA with her husband and 5-year-old son, both of whom give her purpose, unconditional love, and mounds of sports-related laundry. Today Lauren picks up part-time freelance or contract work as a writer, strategist, and storyteller in between carpool lines, soccer games, and Target runs.

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