As I write this, I have exactly 72 hours of experience as a 40-year-old. My birthday was a true celebration because I can't believe I've made it this far. There were periods of intense hardship when I prayed that the earth would literally open up and swallow me. There were occasions when I felt incredible joy, and there were times when I felt lost and devoid of direction and purpose.
My personal journey to this milestone has been fraught with hardship. An eating disorder marred my teenage years, and recovery taught me much about myself. I found an inner strength that buoyed me through the many tough times that were to come; I was going to need it. Adversity has touched my life in many forms; I watched my parents fight cancer and survive, only to lose a close friend who was far too young to die. I fell in love in my early 20s, and although I married for life, the relationship didn't go the distance. As a result I suffered through the heartache of separation and divorce and found myself thrust into the confusing and lonely world of single parenthood.
Interestingly, adversity has led me to the work I do helping others find their way through hardship, and this is reflected in the books I have authored, such as "It Will Get Better," and my coaching program, Turnaround. Turning pain into positives through helping others do the same has been my goal so far. It has been a dynamic and adventuresome journey, and for me personally, turning 40 is an achievement in itself.
Recently I was invited to take part in a program called "Being 40." As I sat in the studio for the pre-recording, which aired on "SBS Insight," it underlined the fact that we all face adversity in some form. No one is immune to life's pain. The person next to me was a single dad who had come through a painful divorce and was in the process of rebuilding his life. A woman on the other side of the set had serious fertility issues despite a desperate urge to become a mother. A couple shared how at 40, having been married for 20 years, their relationship was stronger than ever because, after having borne witness to the marriage breakdown of many friends, they realised how rare it was to find a true love connection.
Then there are the people in unhappy marriages staying together "for the children," or because financially, a divorce would bring greater hardship; 40-year-old orphans; those left behind after losing a spouse to cancer or a heart attack; and those who have had to bury a child.
One of the things I will never understand is why life brings so much pain.
The dreams we hold close to our hearts as teenagers seem to evaporate as we grow toward middle age. The reality is that we don't have control over the random events that happen to us. The only thing we can control is how we react and whether we choose to learn and grow through the pain -- or try to resist it by taking on unhealthy behaviours.
Despite the societal "white picket fence" expectation, statistics tell us that in Australia every third marriage will end in divorce, and one in four of today's 40-year-old women will have no children in their lifetime.
"So many celebrities are having babies in their 40s, such as Kelly Preston, Marcia Cross, Brooke Shields and Mariah Carey, so that sets the expectation that it must be okay to wait that long," says Sarah. "When I started trying at 39 to start a family and discovered that I was unable to fall pregnant because I'd waited too long, I felt completely devastated."
Then there are the women who have the courage to go it alone. "I'm going to the sperm bank because I don't want to miss out on motherhood," announced Clare. Desperation or inspiration? Perhaps a combination.
As one of five, Anna always wanted a big family. "Growing up, I had this vision of being married and sitting around a dining table with my husband and grown-up children enjoying a Sunday afternoon roast. But I met my husband at 32 and was divorced by 38. I'm turning 40 next year and haven't met anyone new, so my chances of having a child are limited. People in their late 20s think, 'I've got plenty of time,' but the reality is you never really know what's around the corner."
Despite hardship and adversity, my personal belief is that nothing can replace the life experience and wisdom of 40 years on the planet. I am a big believer in the cliché that "life begins at 40." I'm sure there will be more adversity in the future, but the wonderful thing is that for each challenge we endure, we become more resilient.
Forty is about having the freedom to choose how we "do" life. It's about self-love and self-belief and this comes from within. At 40 we are at a whole new level; there are so many possibilities and opportunities yet to unfold. Of course there will be adversity, too, but hey, we've survived the challenges of our 20s and 30s, and because of this, we know how to stay true to who we are and what we hold dear. And that's something worth celebrating.
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