I’ve wanted to be 40 since I was 15. Back then, 40 seemed really, really old...but being old didn’t bother me. At 15 I wasn’t certain where I wanted to go in life and I sure as hell didn’t know how I would get there. So I looked to the future, to a me who existed 25 years the future and had everything sorted. I was banking on becoming a 40 year-old Nadine with a killer career, happy home and probably a baller car. I also assumed that by 40, I’d stop caring what people thought. Because 40 was the age of zero fucks.
I gave a lot of fucks when I was 15. I estimate somewhere around 7 trillion. I spent my day tied in knots, trying to be the person my parents, my peers, the media and society wanted me to be. It was a perpetual battle that I could never win. Pleasing one person meant letting down another. Any choice I made could be seen as a success or a failure, depending on who was watching. I lived in constant fear of retribution, rejection or both. I tried to soothe those fears by convincing myself that somehow I could make everybody happy. But, of course, I couldn’t.
And now here I am. I’m 40. And I still give a lot of fucks. I still care what people think. It’s kind of embarrassing. By this point I’m supposed to have silenced all fearful chatter in my brain. I’m supposed to be grooving through life to the beat of my own drum, unaffected by praise or criticism. Instead I’m still affected - sometimes deeply - by other people’s opinions of me, both good and bad.
When I was little, I was convinced that my survival depended on the approval of others. There was the racial trauma inherited from my parents who both grew up under the heel of brutal racism and perpetuated by a white culture that reminded me that my blackness was something I had to transcend in order to fit in. There were the social pressures of being a girl in society that was constantly telling me that there were right and wrong ways of expressing my gender. And there was the thing about being a human, wired with all of the tribal, social, pack-animal instincts our species have. Even when I wanted to tell everyone to get lost, my little-kid/reptilian brain would warn me “Do people want, ‘else you’re gonna get thrown out of the cave and left in a snowdrift to die!”
But that was then. What of my life now? I’m a grown-ass woman. I have my own cave/house with central heating. I capable of foraging/going to the Superstore to get my own food. I have all the basic survival skills. So why don’t I just give folks the middle finger and get on with my life?
Being older, I do understand myself a little better than I did as a teenager. I understand that I am and always have been an intensely emotional person. I came into the world hardwired for feelings...about virtually everything. I’m emotional about my family, politics, weather, the colour of the walls, clothing, music, television, hamburgers, writing this post. The only time I don’t feel all the feels is when I’m experiencing depression. Indifference tells me my brain isn’t doing so well. When mind is active with elation, fear, love, sorrow...and even rage, I know I’m functioning at full capacity.
But therein lies my paradox. “Giving zero fucks” is just another way of saying “be who YOU are, not who others want you to be”. Who I am is an emotionally sensitive person, who feels a lot of feelings when I’m around other humans. Who I am IS a person who gives a fuck. If I stopped caring what others thought, I would have to stop being being me.
So here I am. I’m 40, I still care what you think. I will probably always care what you think. But it’s not all bad. I have managed to pick up a few life lessons that I can take with me into the second half of my life:
15-year-old me would be pretty bummed to learn that she didn’t grow up to be an IDGAF badass. But 40-year-old me understands that I didn’t really like myself as a teen. My hopes about what 40 would be weren’t so much about growing-up, as they were about becoming someone else. I can’t be my fantasy version of 40. But can I keep learning how to love and accept the real me, which feels pretty good sometimes.
I interact with all sorts of people. I feel things about them and they feel things about me. I can and do care about how I affect folks around me - especially folks I like, love and/or respect. But that doesn’t make me responsible for their emotions. And I definitely, I don’t have to compromise my own values, desires or needs to make other folks more comfortable.
My life is not a test. I’m not being graded. No one is going to walk in and say, “You had forty years to figure this out! Time’s up!” There are still a lot of things I don’t have sorted out yet. And at this point, I’m reasonably certain I’ll never have my life entirely in order. But that also means that as long as I’m alive, there will always be something new to learn about myself. Which keeps it interesting. And that’s pretty cool.
So here I am: forty, still giving fucks and still trying to sort it out. So tell me - what about you? Now that you’re forty are you still affected by other people and what they think of you? Are you who you expected to be by this point in your life? What parts of yourself are you still working on?