Here's to us

So, I turn forty this week. I have to practice saying this as it feels unreal, like a punch line to a slightly cheesy joke. As much as I am hyper aware of the privilege of getting to this milestone when so many I knew growing up have not, it still bears the sort of weighty significance of an age I feel woefully under qualified for. Pamela Druckerman summed it up when she wrote of turning forty ‘I fear I have been promoted beyond my competence’. It’s a kind of age related imposter syndrome. I have no intention of having a tacky midlife crisis, a kind of Thelma and Louise without the cliff type ordeal, but I did expect to feel more sorted by now. Whatever that means. When is it we feel we have really nailed this whole ‘adult’ thing anyway?

I look at my friends, my tribe of rock star women, and I am so very proud of each and every one of them. Some are former urban dwellers who married farmers and now are capable farmers themselves. There are those that have started their own businesses, taken up new careers, some are fabulous teachers, others dedicated nurses, while some have stayed at home and raised their kids as full time Mothers, because that’s what fulfils them. They are all experts at juggling, and like all of us, have some pretty intense challenges and heartaches running in the back ground of this success, but I watch them rise like the warriors they are with courage and tenacity. We are living in an interesting era, where we are re-writing what it means to be a mother, a wife, a working woman and even a forty-year-old. Men are under pressure too. Their roles have changed, and I watch my husband and my male friends add domesticity to their work loads, being brilliant hands-on fathers, as they champion their wives and partners to help them chase their dreams while still resolutely following their own. This is unchartered territory, we are all simultaneously making and breaking the rules. We all have an intense load of responsibility and commitment, and sometimes that load is too heavy, and we fall down. That’s when resilience becomes important. Because resilience doesn’t mean not falling down. It simply means that when you fall, you get back up: The Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight’. It’s easy to be in control when things are going well. It’s when the storm hits that your emotional moorings are really tested. That’s kind of what bothers me though: so many people tell me that at forty they feel wise, comfortable in their own skin, masters of their own destiny. Moorings firmly tied, anchors set. Meanwhile, although I am happy in every sense, I still feel like I’m winging it most of the time, drifting with the current, and I still fall down (sometimes catastrophically), and often feel like I learn a valuable lesson only to realise that lesson isn’t always applicable: truth is rarely blanket and hardly ever universal (fun adult fact).

Maybe the secret to all of this is not to feel sorted, but to embrace the fact that you are not. To forgive yourself when you do fall down: Maybe the falling down is a sign that at least you were standing up for something in the first place. After all life is not supposed to be ordered and linear, but full and achingly, chaotically messy. Maybe if you have it all sorted at forty, if you have learned all there is to know, then what would be the point of the next forty years, if life is all about growth and change? Maybe the most important thing is to just try and be the best version of yourself, to just ‘do the next right thing’ as Glennon Doyle says. To show up again and again for your family, your friends, your community. Every day is a blank slate and a new chance. So, as I celebrate my 40th birthday with my tribe of wickedly brave, trail blazing friends on the day of Meghan and Harrys wedding, raise a glass with me to the messy chaos of life, and to the next forty years of adventure. Here’s to all of us.

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© 2016 Claire Inkson. All photographs copyright Claire Inkson

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