*Article by Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia:
When I was younger- 40 seemed like the end of the line. I imagined it would be a time when I could ‘hit the cruise control button’ and live out the remainder of my years. This was at a time when birthdays were the best day of the year. From the themed birthday cake to the party and the array of presents, I thought birthdays couldn’t get better than they were in the first decade of my life. Why? Because when I was young I was literally living in the moment and every day was an adventure.
Fast forward to my teenage years and birthdays started feeling a bit different. It wasn’t so much about that special day anymore, it was about the number and what it allowed me to do. Each year added time to my curfew, driving privileges, the right to vote, and a lot more freedom. Then came my 20s. I felt an urgency to get everything done. I worked through the checklist handed down to me from my culture and society of all the things a person should do. I checked off finishing college, getting the ‘right’ career, earning good money and getting engaged. By the time I was in my 30s the goals were to work further down the checklist: be in good health, get the right job, meet the right man, have the right number of children, live in the right house and establish the right relationships. I imagined that by the time I was 40 I would have checked everything off and I could relax and live the rest of my years out in the castles I built in the earlier decades.
I am now in my 40s and, I have to say, everything I thought as a child and young adult about how my 40s would be is not so. It is not ‘downhill from here’, how could it be? I feel like I just got the hang of life. I must admit that a part of me is dreading the appearing wrinkles and the greying hair; but the bigger part of me is actually looking forward with excitement and anticipation. I am pleased to be in the mystical and magical 40s.
Another realization as I entered my 40s is that my soul doesn’t sit silent and dormant anymore. It appears as a voice that has always been there, but was quietened by the “checklist” of life. Now the voice is loud and clear. I have started to hear it in the most random of places. It might be at a coffee morning where it starts to speak and tell me to get up and go live out my life’s purpose. I hear it during a long work day, when it reminds me that what really matters to me is my family and I haven’t given any time or effort to those relationships recently. Questions such as ‘whose life have I been living? Whose values have directed my decisions?” are part of my days, in waiting rooms as I wait for my appointments or in grocery stores in the cereal aisle. This voice is forcing me to take a good, hard look at my life and my decisions. Every decision is being stress tested to see if it is consistent with who I am and with the life I want to live. It’s a scary process to have to assess all the decisions I have made up to this point, but it is also a beautiful process. I know this voice will guide me, and engaging with it is the only way home to my true self.
So as I entered my 40s, I made a commitment to set aside time to quieten my mind and really listen to myself. I am prepared to ask myself the tough questions. And I am also prepared to summon the courage to make the difficult decisions and to start life all over again.
I guess if I could go back and speak to my younger self, I would tell her that 40 isn’t the end of any line and it is no time to be hitting the cruise control. 40 is actually where the line begins and creation beckons. I think Carl Jung was right when he said life begins at 35 and that the most magical years of our lives are between 35 and 70. I look forward to aging. Actually, I can’t wait.