As I neared my 40s, so many of the women around me who were already 40 were proclaiming a newfound sense of self.

They spoke about how they didn’t care what others thought of them anymoresharing that it was as if some sort of epiphany suddenly released them from the burdensome weight of other people’s opinions once they reached the magical age of 40.

Hallelujah! Bring on 40! That sounds fabulous!

But, here I am, already 16 months into my 40s, and I can’t find the promised life-changing insight anywhere. There were no epiphanies that greeted me on my 40th birthday. There has been no increase in self-confidence. None of the magic I was promised has kicked in. 

This isn’t how 40 was supposed to be.

I expected to roll up to my 40s, throw on some fabulous shades, and be able to let all the crap others might sling my way simply roll off my shoulders. At least, that’s the idea I was sold by so many of the women around me.

I want my money back.

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Even at the age of 41, I am still crushed to the core by other’s negative opinions of me. Essentially, I am still the 14-year-old version of me. Yes, behind the wrinkles in my forehead, the crow’s feet around my eyes, and the sparkly grey hairs that frame my face is a girl who just wants everyone to understand she is a good person. She doesn’t need everyone to like her, approve of her, or even want to spend time with her, but man, does she need others to believe she is a good person — one who does not lie, steal, cheat, or deliberately hurt others.

Surely those insecurities were supposed to fade once I hit the age of 40, right? But, they are still there, sometimes louder than ever.

I keep telling that teenager inside my brain to ask herself So what if someone misunderstands you, talks about you negatively behind your back, accuses you of something you simply did not do, or even posts completely false information about you online? But my inner teenager always rolls her eyes at me, sighs, and gets stuck. She gets stuck on wondering if there is anything she can do to convince people of who she really is or to convince them the information they received about her is wrong. She gets stuck wondering how many other people believe she isn’t a good person. 

This isn’t how 40 was supposed to be.

Life was supposed to change drastically for the better, leaving a fresher and more confident version of myself, poised to tackle my 40s like a boss. But, it really doesn’t feel much different here in my 40s, aside from increased joint pain and needing to cover my greys more frequently. 

This can’t be it. There must be more. I must be missing something or doing my 40s all wrong.

I watch in awe as my youngest son navigates the world with confidence, able to brush off other people’s views of him swiftly and effortlessly. It’s an ability I thought I would find for myself once I turned 40. Somehow he has already mastered what it means to be 40 at the ripe old age of 11. He lives fully, without holding back. He is who he is and if people don’t like it, he doesn’t care. 

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I thought the theme of my 40s would be pretty similar to how my 11-year-old lives his life: I am who I am and if people don’t like it, I don’t care. How can I make that my mantra? How can I find for myself the changes I thought would come with last year’s birthday? 

Perhaps my 40s haven’t gone the way I thought they would because I’m still holding back. Maybe I am still holding back who I really am, afraid to just let the real me be free for all to see. Perhaps I am holding back what I really want to say, do, or even be. Could I be holding back pieces of myself so there is less of me to be unfairly judged? 

I’ve had 41 years to figure all this out, and I suppose if I want my 40s to be the way I envisioned them, it’s up to me to do something about it.

I have to be more like my 11-year-old and less like my inner 14-year-old. I have to stop holding back. I have to put the real me out there and learn to be a fabulous version of myself who just lets negativity roll off me. After all, the people who matter are the people who know me, the people who have my back, the people who see the real me, and the people who believe in me. If others choose to misunderstand me, that’s on them.

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So, today I’ll go buy some fabulous shades, toss my sparkly hair back, and begin facing the world like the 40-something-year-old boss I know I can be. 

Watch out world, I’m in my 40s now, and I’m going to start living my life for me.

Jenni Brennan

Jenni Brennan, LICSW is an author, podcaster, college professor, therapist, and mother. Her work centers around the topics of grief, health and wellness, relationships, and parenting.