I'm almost 40 and I think I'm finally going through puberty.
Ok fine. Not like ACTUAL puberty. I’ve had my period since I was 14. My breasts haven’t quite got the message yet, but here’s hoping these saggy suckers get the moment they deserve one day (plastic surgery, I’m looking at you).
I’m talking about life puberty, a term that I’m coining to represent the time in a woman’s life where she is finally becoming the person she was meant to be. I’m going through it now and the process has been just as complicated and awkward as the first time I asked my mom if I could shave my legs (aka it’s involved a lot of crying and even the occasional blood shed). Life puberty is scary, confusing, exciting, and involves a lot of changes in ourselves that leave us with burning questions – just like actual puberty. We just don’t smell as bad this time.
What is she going on about? Ok fine. Let’s start at the beginning.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with my therapist lately – she may be one of the smartest and most badass women I’ve ever met. And this is coming from a chick who has seen her fair share of mental health experts - between teenage angst, postpartum depression and a bipolar diagnosis, I’ve got a bunch of people on speed dial. But this magical unicorn? 5-star Yelp review to the max. She’s a keeper. And she has helped me understand the changes going on in my life so profoundly that I thought I’d share. Because maybe you’re going through this too, you just don’t have a name for it.
Life puberty. Trust me. It will be trending by next week.
Ladies, contemplate this… To be considered a successful woman in our society, our life path is predestined for us from a very young age. Or it was for me, at least:
Go to school. Have a Bat Mitzvah at the age of 12 like every good Jewish girl (“Congrats you’re a woman now!”). Go to high school. Go to university. Choose your career path. Get a post graduate degree. Find a career. Get a husband. All the while don’t forget to act lady-like. Don’t wait too long to have a child – your biological clock is ticking. Put your career on hold to raise a baby. Make it look easy because, after all, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world. Have another baby because having kids is one of the major ways a woman is supposed to define themselves. Put your career on hold again. Focus on your husband and your family. Continue indefinitely.
Sound familiar to you?
That had been my life for almost 40 years. And I never questioned it. I went through the motions, did what I had to do, performed the functions I was expected to – that I thought I was SUPPOSED to do – following life’s prescribed map. And I’m crazy. So trust me when I say I followed those damn directions for each and every destination. Yet, I could never quite figure out why I always felt so lost.
Then something happened one day that changed my life – changed my family’s life – in the most philosophical and literal senses (Disclaimer: There has been so much therapy to reach this realization so trust me when I say it was a slow burn and not a discovery I made on my own). I came to the point in my life where I had done everything I was supposed to do. Education? Check. Husband? Check times a billion because I landed a good one. Two kids? Check (but don’t ask me about the comments I received from good Samaritans when I originally insisted that we stop at one). Respected career that allowed for me to still be a “good” mother? Check. So, what happens when you realize you’ve come to the end of your predestined runway? What happens when there’s no X marks the spot left on the life map? I’ll tell you what:
The biggest motherfucking moment of your life, that’s what.
The moment in your life where you finally get to ask yourself the four most beautiful, scary, meaningful words that you will ever speak: “What do I want?” That’s it. What do I want?
If you haven’t done it yet, say these words aloud to yourself right now. “What do I want?” Outside of your children who you have sacrificed your bodies, minds, and careers for. Outside of your marriage where you have made concessions and compromises. What do I want? Who do I want to be outside of the defined roles in my life?
And so, at 40 years old, we enter the onset of life puberty. And it’s the hardest, most intense, and most empowering time you will come across in your life. Because for the first time, you will live for YOU. Not for your parents. Not for your friends. Not for your children or for your husband. You will start to make decisions around what is good for YOU.
And THAT, my friends, will excite you. And will reinvigorate you.
And make you feel guilt like you could never imagine.
For me, this came in the form of a career change – one that had me working all hours of the day, traveling once a month, late nights of dinners and drinks, leaving me with far less time to be a mostly at-home mother and wife. It was a career that asked for significantly more independence from my husband and children. When I asked myself “What do I want?” my answers pointed me down a road leading to a career that would push me well outside my comfort zone, force me to build a large network, get comfortable with speaking in front of a room full of people, and travel to parts of the country I had never seen. Asking “What do I want?” allowed me to start flexing new parts of my personality, gave me permission to take risks, and showed me that I could be far more than I ever thought I could.
But it has come with its bumps. How do you explain to your husband that you’re not fulfilled in an objectively perfect life? How do you contend with comments from your children that “mommy is always working?” How do you explain to family and friends the profound changes in your actions, behaviours and outlook? It takes time. It takes communication. It takes understanding. But mostly, it takes you giving yourself permission to do these things despite the inner voice that is screaming at you that you’re being selfish. Because that voice is lying. At 40 years old it is ok to finally figure out what YOU want.
Life puberty is happening to every woman in your inner circle right now if you are at this stage of life. And it will look different for everyone. But just like everything else, we don’t talk about it. We feel alone in our longing for more out of life. We feel selfish for asking for something that is just for ourselves. We feel judged by those who don’t understand the decisions we’re making.
We have to normalize this. We have to acknowledge that to start pursuing your own dreams and choose a path of self discovery is not selfish. That when we sacrifice so much of our lives for others – others’ needs or others’ expectations, it’s ok to stop at some point and ask the question, “What do I want?”
Life puberty. It’s a thing. Just happens to be much closer to menopause this time.