On the last day of my 40s, I’m writing a list of things I’ve learned so far. (I know, it’s not exactly original, but it is mine.) Without children, a marriage or a traditional career milestones, this birthday has snuck up on me. In some ways, I feel blindsided. And yet, here I am. Arguing with reality is a recipe for misery. But age does, as J.K. Rowling once wrote, have its compensations. Here are some things I’ve learned…and some other random thoughts:

  1. It was only in my late 40s that I realized I wasn’t in my 20s any more.
  2. I no longer think Nora Ephron was being melodramatic.
  3. My dad used to say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I get that now.
  4. We spend the first half of our lives being told we’ll understand when we’re older, and the second half going, “Ohhhhh.”
  5. Seriously, what happened to my neck?
  6. I probably should’ve lost some extra weight while I still had a full tank of estrogen, to make up for what I’ve gained recently.
  7. I do not remotely feel “older” — and I now realize that nobody does. We’re the same on the inside throughout our lives.
    What is real inside us doesn’t age.
  8. I didn’t think my breasts would look like this until I was 70. At least.
  9. But I’m glad and grateful that I still have them, and they’re healthy.
  10. Being important doesn’t matter nearly as much as being kind.
  11. I’m only just beginning to understand this human life.
  12. When I change, the world around me changes.
  13. I believe that the facts of day-to-day life are simply a distraction while we do the real work of inner growth
  14. Not everyone makes it to this age. I’m grateful to have had so much time on this planet. I hope to have as much time left.
  15. Seriously, though, with all the shit I used to put into my body, I couldn’t have taken Retin-A?
  16. Or worn a sun hat while it looked cool and youthful, instead of frumpy?
  17. Thrift shopping has a line between “retro” and “never threw it out the first time it was stylish.” I have now crossed that line.
  18. I am so glad I never followed a traditional path.
  19. I may feel time’s march, but at least I’m not looking back wishing I’d done things differently.
  20. So much peace is possible if you let go of the need to be right (hahahaha—if only I lived this every day, I’d be a Zen master. But I don’t, and I’m not.)
  21. The most challenging times truly have been the greatest teachers. 
  22. But good times have been pretty awesome, too.
  23. The same traits and insights that were once called “childish” are now considered “wise”. So really, that whole thing about “If you haven’t grown up by 50, you don’t have to” is real.
  24. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like with a child, but I don’t regret my decision not to have one.
    I wouldn’t have been ready until…oh, at least 55. So there’s that too.
  25. What dentists don’t tell you: fillings and crowns need to be replaced every 20 years. That gets expensive.
  26. I still dislike the word “lady.” Never been one, never will, even when I’m 90.
  27. I don’t feel “older,” and I don’t like having the word applied to me, except in relative terms.
  28. Even “middle-aged” rankles, though I guess I can’t deny it now.
  29. On the upside, 50 is the age at which my father met my (then 25-year-old) mother. 
  30. We need to do better by both women and men, by showing what authentic aging looks like.
  31. I am not Demi Moore. I will never be Demi Moore.
  32. I should’ve sent that manuscript to the agent.
  33. There’s no award for first book by an author who isn’t dead yet.
  34. I will never be Toni Morrison, either, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a Sarah, too.
  35. Looking for your ideal partner can keep you from finding the person who’s right for you.
  36. Life is too short for bullshit.
  37. Everything changes.
  38. Best advice I’ve ever received: Expect nothing, welcome everything. (From a homeless man with AIDS on the streets of Vancouver)
  39. Being nice is not the same as being kind. Sometimes, being nice is the opposite of being kind.
  40. If everybody said what they felt directly (with compassion), this world would have a lot more clarity.
  41. Nobody can make you feel anything. About 40% of the time, I totally get this. And then I don’t, and I react. But really, whatever I’m feeling comes from my expectations of a given situation and my thoughts about it.
  42. Other people’s reactions are about them (and their thoughts, and their expectations), not you.
  43. My ego drives me nuts. Yet what part of me is bothered by it? The ego. This pretty much sums up human existence.
  44. We don’t know anything, really.  
  45. Even positive experiences cause pain, if we expect them to last.
  46. Cats are gods in disguise. Little, furry gods. 
  47. If I don’t take care of myself first, I have nothing to offer anyone else.
  48. There is no such thing as too much time spent in nature.
  49. What goes around really does come around, though not always in the way we expect.
  50. Figure out how you want to feel, and find ways to feel that right now. Don’t put it off.

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