At the end of this year I will cross a threshold of achievement called my 40th birthday. Like most women my age, I started thinking about turning 40 sometime after turning 30. These thoughts started to get even louder as every year passed. This year, my 39th, I have done nothing to embrace my actual age. Instead I have been building my cocoon in preparation for the butterfly version of myself I am hoping will emerge when I turn 40.
We have been conditioned to be afraid of turning 40. Remember Sally’s meltdown in When Harry Met Sally?
Sally: [Crying hysterically] And I’m going to be 40!
Harry: In eight years!
Sally: But it’s there! It’s like a big dead end!
Only it can’t be the end. I’m not dreading turning 40. Not at all. I am running towards it at warp speed. I would be perfectly fine to fast-forward through my 30s because they have been a mess. I’d love to start fresh with this new decade. I’d really love to find some deep pockets of confidence and self-awareness.
I wondered if I should create a bucket list for myself. Tick-tock, just over 6 months to do some big stuff! Who doesn’t love an inspiring checklist of things to do or try? I looked online for some ideas and immediately laughed. These goals are certainly not anything I could achieve with the time I have before I turn 40! The first list I read was Business Insider’s “Experiences to Have Before You Turn 40.”
With suggestions like, “compete in the Ironman Triathlon,” “travel across Europe by train on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express,” and “go yachting in Monaco or St-Tropez,” I was clearly holding the wrong-shaped bucket for my list.
Cosmopolitan magazine took it up a notch and created a list of 50 Things Every Woman Should Do Before She Dies. (!!) Since most of the ideas have a “Just go for it, lady!” tone I actually enjoyed this list. I mean who doesn’t need a nudge to eat dessert for breakfast?!
Clearly I needed to create my OWN list, a practical list, a manageable list, a list just right for a busy mom without an unlimited budget and private jet. After all, who wants to feel like a failure on the cusp of 40?!
40 (Realistic) Things to Do Before You Turn 40
1. Unrealistic Goal: Travel to all seven continents
Realistic Goal: Put my feet in the ocean
2. Unrealistic Goal: Pay off all my debt
Realistic Goal: Continue to pay down my credit card every month
3. Unrealistic Goal: See a gynecologist, dermatologist, and primary care doctor
Realistic Goal: Oh yes, I absolutely should do this
4. Unrealistic Goal: Have teeth professionally whitened
Realistic Goal: Have a cleaning at the dentist
5. Unrealistic Goal: Completely change my look
Realistic Goal: Get a new haircut and maybe splurge for a fancy salon
6. Unrealistic Goal: Swim with the sharks
Realistic Goal: Go to the aquarium
7. Unrealistic Goal: Try something new
Realistic Goal: Actually, I can do this — I kind of want to try floating
8. Unrealistic Goal: Have a heart-pumping adventure like skydiving or walking on glass
Realistic Goal: Get a tattoo
9. Unrealistic Goal: Hold a tarantula (NOPE)
Realistic Goal: Go to the zoo
10. Unrealistic Goal: Get married (ha ha ha ha)
Realistic Goal: Go on a date
11. Unrealistic Goal: Join the Peace Corps
Realistic Goal: Volunteer locally
12. Unrealistic Goal: Make something creative with my hands
Realistic Goal: I can do this! I have wanted to re-learn how to knit or cross-stitch
13. Unrealistic Goal: REPLACE COFFEE WITH GREEN TEA
Realistic Goal: Wow — I doubt I can replace, but I could certainly drink tea in the afternoon
14. Unrealistic Goal: Run a marathon — ha
Realistic Goal: Get myself a bike and gear (oh, and ride it)
15. Unrealistic Goal: Go to a performance at the Met
Realistic Goal: It’s been a while since I have seen live music. I should see a band!
16. Unrealistic Goal: See a show on Broadway
Realistic Goal: It would be awesome to swing a trip to NYC for a show, but we ARE going to see The Lion King on tour when it comes to Philadelphia (YAY!)
17. Unrealistic Goal: Get a Ph.D..
Realistic Goal: Easy now! I AM going back to school. Baby steps!
18. Unrealistic Goal: Invest in gold or the stock market
Realistic Goal: I’d rather invest in my kid right now; I need to properly set up his savings
19. Unrealistic Goal: Go on a romantic picnic or road-trip
Realistic Goal: I’d love to go on a solo drive — windows down, music playing
20. Unrealistic Goal: Drink an expensive bottle of alcohol
Realistic Goal: Drink a glass of really nice wine
21. Unrealistic Goal: Become a CEO
Realistic Goal: Sure! Bring it!
22. Unrealistic Goal: Eat rare food
Realistic Goal: Make more exotic food
23. Unrealistic Goal: Be part of a flashmob or group event
Realistic Goal: Eagerly sing Happy Birthday whenever I hear it begin
24. Unrealistic Goal: Go geocaching
Realistic Goal: Ooooh! I want to do this
25. Unrealistic Goal: Have a nude portrait taken
Realistic Goal: Have a non-selfie, professional portrait taken
26. Unrealistic Goal: Create a font
Realistic Goal: I would love to do this
27. Unrealistic Goal: Read 100 books
Realistic Goal: I am aiming for 50 books
28. Unrealistic Goal: Spend all day at a spa
Realistic Goal: Get a massage
29. Unrealistic Goal: Have a professional makeup lesson
Realistic Goal: Learn how to master smokey eyes from YouTube tutorials
30. Unrealistic Goal: Go to Vegas and play the slots
Realistic Goal: Buy a scratcher lottery ticket at the grocery store
31. Unrealistic Goal: Buy luxury bedding
Realistic Goal: Buy a new duvet cover
32. Unrealistic Goal: Hire a housekeeper
Realistic Goal: Have a service come the week of my birthday to clean the house
33. Unrealistic Goal: Bake and eat only your own bread
Realistic Goal: Learn how to make bread
34. Unrealistic Goal: Cook every dish from your favorite cookbook
Realistic Goal: Cook my grandmother’s recipes
35. Unrealistic Goal: Hunt for truffles
Realistic Goal: Buy some truffle oil and figure out what to do with it
36. Unrealistic Goal: Apply to be on a reality TV show
Realistic Goal: Wait … I did this!
37. Unrealistic Goal: Go to a drive-in movie
Realistic Goal: Set up a backyard movie theater
38. Unrealistic Goal: Attend a major gallery opening
Realistic Goal: Go to an art museum
39. Unrealistic Goal: Name a star
Realistic Goal: Stargaze or go to a planetarium
40. Unrealistic Goal: Take part in an archaeological dig
Realistic Goal: Introduce my son to Indiana Jones movies
Turning 40 isn’t a fantasy, and that is what so many of these bucket lists feel like. I’m not upset about it or mourning for a different sort of life or a road less-traveled.
I’m now realizing the thing I want most when I turn 40 is to shut up about turning 40.
That should be the only thing on my bucket list for the day: turn 40 and stop making it such a big deal. All of the noise and the overtures, the preparation and trepidation, it has done nothing for me. If turning 40 isn’t such a big deal to me, why have I made the countdown so grand? Ooooooh, deep thought!
I don’t want to wake up 40 and feel like I didn’t embrace every moment. It’s easy to be passive in life and sometimes (for me) it feels helpful to make a list of fun and doable action items. Of course I can’t go to all of the continents of the world before the end of the year, but the Atlantic Ocean is just a quick drive away. I CAN make that a priority and savor the moment.