I am not who I thought I’d be. And I like it that way.

When you were twenty, what was the image you had in your head of what your 40-year-old self would look like?

My twenty-year-old vision of my forty-year-old self was all biz.

Never wanted to get married. Or, if I got married, I’d definitely wear black (Seriously! I was certifiable). And kids? Absolutely, positively no kids. Ever. Too much important work to be done! Too many mountains to climb.

This was going to be me at 40 (except for the red hair, pixie nose, blue eyes, of course) – just generally kicking butt & taking names in a chic, gray pinstripe suit.
My vision of myself at 40 was of someone who was all business

But then, this charmer, with his hint ‘o mischief smile, got me to eat my words on marriage by the ripe old age of 27.
My husband, Gar, charmed with his hint of mischeif and blue, blue eyes

I totally wore white (and loved every minute of it).
Sarah and Gar get married

He also had the courage and the grace to put his desire for children on the back burner for a few years while I grappled with the idea of upending our life.

When I’d panic and think, “there’s no way!” he’d just smile and calmly say, “If and when you’re ready, you’re going to make a great mom.”

And now, here we are. Two kids later…
Our two boys

..loving it so much we’re contemplating a puppy.

While still working, I’m doing it well outside the structured environment of corporate America. It definitely feels a little wacky some days. Technically, I think the actual description for what I’m doing is “Leaning Out.” Maybe even aggressively.

At least that’s what the 20-year-old-version-of-my-40-year-old-self thinks I’m doing. And she is deeply, deeply uncomfortable with it all.

My actual 40-year-old self is just fine thankyouverymuch. First of all, she begs to differ with her 20-year-old-version when it comes to the leaning out description. Um hello? Since when did sixty hours of work (even if you put them in at non-standard times) count as slacking?

As for marriage, kids, suburbia, and the unconventional job?

I chose them. Actively, willingly, excitedly, with arms-wide-open.

I want to be exactly where I am. Doing what I am doing. Downshifting, side- shifting, upshifting…whatever the current moment calls for.

So Miss. 20-year-old-version-of-my-40-year-old-self, it’s time for you to stand down.

I realized in a blinding flash over over our Fourth of July holiday just how much havoc you were wreaking on my psyche. YOU have been the primary source of my anxiety. Of that nagging feeling I wasn’t living up to my full potential. You were the image flashing in my head that I have been trying to live up to – and beating myself up over because my current reality is so far from it.

I’m so over that. I’m so over YOU.

You served a purpose in my 20s, to be sure – but you don’t belong here, now. You think in a way that is entirely too linear. You lack nuance. Your edges are too hard. Your a slave to the tyranny of either/or thinking.

Between the ages of 20-40 I learned first-hand just how cyclical life is. I learned that soft is more resilient than hard. Shades of gray are infinitely more useful and, frankly, a heck of a lot more interesting than black and white. And that when you open yourself up to the possibility of yes/and, incredible things happen.

So apparition-of-me-at-40, I am going to stop confusing you with the actual-me-at-40 now.

Whew. Feels better around here already.

Does your current self ever “do battle” with a younger you’s vision of who you should be now? Have you ever wondered what the heck fuels the image you have in your head of living up to your full potential? What would you say to your younger you?

  • susiecq425 .

    Thank you for this!!!
    I am 37, two kids (15 year old and 12 year old) and I fight with the younger version of my self all the time. Time flies but I would not trade my kids for anything in the world. They are the best. I just like you am coming to terms with the 37 year old me. Thank Goodness I don’t feel 37 and at times I don’t like to act 37 but I do like that I am coming into a place that I feel comfortable with the wisdom that I have gained in the last 18 years or so. I feel like I am living more now than I did then. Probably because I care less what others think and do more for my family and me! I heard or read somewhere recently that the best years of our lives are between 40-60, cant wait to see if this is true!!

  • Laurie

    Great post! I have recently been saying that anyone who knew me before kids and marriage would not recognize me now. Even though I am not who I thought I would be, I am so much better!

  • SarahButtonedUp

    “I feel like I am living more now than I did then. Probably because I care less what others think…” YES! That is the key for sure.

    1 year in to the 40s and I’d say they are great so far! But then, I’m definitely hope every year is my best year yet. 🙂

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Too funny how that happens, isn’t it Laurie!? Life is quite a journey.

  • In a new place…

    I love this post!
    However…I feel VEERY different at almost-45 than I did at almost 40.
    I no longer mourn the person that I thought that I was going to be. At 40, accepted my accomplishments and life for what it was and I was so thankful – even though they didn’t turn out as I imagined they would.
    At 45, however, I feel restless. My children are older and they are starting to become more self-sufficient. I’m feeling that I haven’t done what I’m supposed to do — or better said I don’t have a PLAN for what’s next – the next 20 productive years of my life.
    I’m okay that some of my friends have published awesome books (yup – more than one) or have the big corporate job that I imagined that I would have…but the question now is “who am I?” and “how am I going to contribute to society now that my kids are working on figuring out themselves?”

  • SarahButtonedUp

    So interesting to get that perspective – thanks for sharing!

    Sounds like a great series of questions to ponder. I say, get a pretty journal and start scribbling!!

    For what it’s worth, I look at my mom’s life. She kicked behinds and took names in med school & during her internships & residency. Then practiced solo for 25 years as she raised us – definitely “leaning out” more than in. But between 45-70 she was ON. FIRE.

    This career thing isn’t linear. Just the fact that you’re pondering the things you are means great things are ahead. Keep us posted!


  • Kelly

    Thanks for the interesting post. My 20-year-old self was actually looking forward to a life centered at home as a wife and stay-at-home mom of a large family rather than pursuing a profession. Instead, I have spent most of the last 18 years as a single mother, trying to balance raising two daughters with finishing a college degree and filling the role of primary provider. Adjusting course from the life path I envisioned wasn’t easy. I will always have regrets that I wasn’t able to spend as much time with children as I wanted to. But age brings perspective and I have made peace with myself that I did the best I could. My experiences also revealed a resiliency and depth of determination within myself that II may not have discovered along another path. Sometimes letting go of old dreams helps us see the true bounty of our lives and to feel immensely grateful.

  • sisncj

    My 20-year-old self was pretty much the opposite. I wanted to live in suburbia, have three kids, and stay at home with them. I’m not to 40 yet, but I also didn’t get married till I was 30. First baby came at age 33, and we just finished building our house in the country AND, I’m still commuting to work 4 days a week. But since baby gets to spend my work days alternating between both sets of grandparents, we all win in ways I couldn’t have planned for.

  • judy

    What about when life repeats itself at 50? I raised my kids and am now raising a grandchild. Not saying it is the wrong thing to do, but I always thought when in my 20s that in my 50s I could pursue my own dreams and interests. Anyone out there who can relate to this???

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Oof. That’s a tough one.

    I really like what Kelly said earlier – “My experiences also revealed a resiliency and depth of determination within myself that I may not have discovered along another path. Sometimes letting go of old dreams helps us see the true bounty of our lives and to feel immensely grateful.”

    Such wisdom in that statement.

  • Mary Dickhaus Bellian

    I don’t have any grandchildren yet but I can relate to not being able to pursue your own dreams like you thought you would be able to at 50 after you raised your children. My husband and I were married young and we felt when others started having children we would be done and concentrating on ourselves. Well it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. We are still helping our children out due to the bad economy and we haven’t had time for our own dreams. My husband keeps postponing us because we are always needed to help our children out. Our own finances are a mess due to helping our children fulfill their dreams. I think its time to start being selfish and do what you want. Start small with one thing you wanted for yourself. A vacation, a new look wardrobe and hair,or a new hobby. I think you can still fulfill some of your dreams and raise your grandchild. Its just doing things differently than you did them the first time around. Don’t spoil the child but give them the necessities and love but take time for yourself hire a babysitter to fulfill some of your dreams.

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