Some women dread turning 40, and some insist that it just doesn't matter to them, they're totally over it. Well, I am neither indifferent nor depressed about this birthday. But it means a lot to me.
I can't help it. As a consummate planner and dreamer, I have spent my life thinking about the milestones to come, and what my life would look like as I reached each of these big round decades in turn. I'm sure that all that planning and anticipating can be a recipe for disaster, but I think I am old enough now to admit that I am not going to change my ways. I am going to plan and dream and be disappointed when the plans don't turn out the way I wanted them to.
But today matters to me because it is a day when I see clearly how so many of my dreams and plans have actually materialized, and I can't help but reflect in what has made that possible and a few vivid memories of pivotal moments and people in my life to date. I remember when my father gave me a magazine article about women business leaders during a camping trip. I sat on some warm rock in the middle of a sparkling reservoir and looked at these women that appeared to me as giants in their suits, and I knew that my father gave me the magazine because he knew I could be one of them.
I remember when my mother taught me that no matter how much I loved a man I should never depend on anyone, and how she dreamed that I would get an MBA. At 16 I told her I would never never never need an MBA to do what I wanted to do with my life. I was so determined to go my own way, right up until I poured my heart into applying for an MBA almost 10 years later, and decided I would lose nothing and gain everything by making her proud.
I remember my brother, who took the long way through college, focusing less on milestones, and more on friendships and experiences. I used to give him advice on how to focus more, while he reminded me to slow down and enjoy life. We were so good for each other. And until the moment I lost him eight years ago, we were always reminding each other to step outside of our respective comfort zones.
I remember when Charles McGlashan hired me because I spoke Spanish and was willing to get on a plane to Mexico City with nothing more than a six inch thick binder full of systems and protocols, and a deep curiosity about what auto plants looked like from the inside. I learned from him how powerful it is to take a chance on someone, and am still learning how to do the same for others.
And I remember when I met my husband, who saw through all my bluster, and also became my number one fan and advocate. He's been challenging me ever since, and putting his back into helping me achieve every dream I've had since we met, providing physical and emotional support through births and deaths and worldwide adventures.
Today means a lot to me because of all the people who have shown me at every twist and turn what was possible. I thought I would make a list of 40 people, but then I realized that the actual list was far longer than that. Many of the people on that list don't know how they've shaped the course of my life, and that's just wrong. Because some of the most important people on that list aren't here anymore to encourage me, or dare me to dream.
I won't say that now that I'm 40 I know what's important, that I don't care about the small petty things I used to care about. I am not enlightened. Far from it. I'm just grateful. To be here, and to have so many amazing people in my life, in some form or another, reminding me that it is still ok to dream. That it is, in fact, essential, at any age. I used to want to be "precocious at 40." You basically have to the President or a Nobel Prize winner or CEO of a major corporation to be precocious at 40. Why would I set myself such a ridiculous goal?
Now that I am 40, and realize that my last chance to be precocious passed when I was 25 years old, and that I'm not going to make it onto any "Under 40" Lists, it is dawning on me that not all of my dreams and milestones made sense. So what are the right milestones? I suppose it's the same at 40 as it was at 30 and will be at 50 -- to get to this age and still know my dreams and have the courage to live them.
Some of the milestones that I dreamed up years ago still matter to me -- some meaningful, some superficial. I feel complete when I look at my children, think of the impact I've helped create through my work. But I also love my brand new Ferragamos, and being told I'm someone's role model. My ego is not shrinking as I get older. But all that being said, on this particular birthday, it is more clear to me than ever that the privilege I have had to discover and live my dreams has less to do with me, and much more to do with the incredible people who have guided and challenged and shaped me along the way. So, as I sit here waiting for my flight to London to take off, drinking champagne in economy (because somebody let it slip that she was celebrating her 40th birthday) I toast to all of you on that lengthy list of people who have helped light the way to this place where I find myself -- so full of gratitude, wonder and curiosity about what's next.