09 Jul What to Know About Turning 40

Natalie Tysdal climbing for her 40th.

At every age, I have been a bit proud of the year under my belt. But this one is different. My 40thbirthday arrives this week and I have become a wreck. I want a party. I don’t want a party. I am sad. I am hysterical. I have everything I have always wanted. I just want to crawl under the covers.

I am often accused of being that woman – the one that appears to have it all together. Whose Facebook page looks like a highlight reel, whose kids look at the camera in synch for the holiday photo, but at the end of the day, we are all busy fighting our own struggles and assuming others’ don’t exist. And I find that working moms especially, worry in silos. We don’t think we have time to compare notes so we struggle alone, feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed.

So instead of bottling my 40-phobia away, I decided to contact some friends and mentors (who I have always thought of as having it all!) and seeing how 40 looked from their pedestals. Given what I do, they are a group of women with careers in the media. I am grateful for their refreshingly candid reflections and thrilled to share them with you:

Suzy Welch, 52, author of 10-10-10

“At 39, I was a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, working 40-plus hours a week and loving it very much indeed, but also holding down the fort at home with four kids aged 10, 9, 7, and 5. My life in that period was so frantic, and the logistics were so complicated, that I used a color-coded calendar to make it through the days without missing a meeting or leaving a kid at soccer practice. As I saw 40 looming, my thoughts were not very profound, I’m afraid to say, as daily survival, as a professional and as a mother, was my main objective. Basically, I wouldn’t go back there again if you paid me a billion dollars.

In my 40s, I discovered that huge debacles in life, say, like being fired in a highly public brouhaha, do not actually kill you. It is OK to fall down. It is OK to make mistakes, It is OK to take risks. You will live another day and you will be fine. Your 40s are when you start seeing glimmers of what will become your wisdom. In your 30s, you’re having a lot of varied experiences. You’re scrambling. You’re putting pieces in place. In your 40s, those pieces start to coalesce into knowledge about who you are and how life works.”

Natalie Tysdal, 41, TV Anchor

“40 hit me hard. I had my third and final baby the year before after two miscarriages and I think it was the first birthday where I didn’t feel invincible. A few gray hairs, a few wrinkles and a few more pounds. I felt like I was slowing down. I didn’t like that feeling so I did something about it.

I climbed my first 14er, a mountain that I was not going to let define my age. I’m not a climber or even an expert athlete. It was the hardest thing outside of childbirth I have ever done. The conditions for climbing were extreme and I wanted to quit a hundred times. I kept telling myself, just one more stretch up the mountain, just one more rock. And when we reached the top I cried like a baby. I couldn’t believe I made it.

Being over 40 makes me feel ‘seasoned.’ I may hide a few wrinkles and grey hair but I’ll never hide my age. Never!”

Lee Woodruff, 52, Author of In an Instant

“I absolutely loved turning 40– it didn’t feel awful to me- it felt like coming into my own.  I was in great health, we were moving to England and my twins had just been born. For the first (and probably only) time in my life we threw a massive going away/twins born/turning 40 party in our backyard. I cooked most of the food and strung tea lights in the trees. I remember thinking that I felt as if 40 meant I was finally wise enough to give advice and be taken seriously but still young enough that the world offered the upward trajectory of possibility.”

Tory Johnson, 41, Founder, Spark and Hustle

“In the year leading up to it, I wanted a big party, but as the month approached, I decided to have a very low key celebration with my immediately family despite my husband’s protest. He thought I deserved a big bash. I refused. So he bought me an over-the-top diamond bangle from Tiffany’s (my only jewelry from there!) to mark the occasion. I wear it every day as a symbol of moving into a new decade.

Perhaps that’s a benefit of 40 — better jewelry, which is ironic, since jewelry and other material things mean so much less to me as I get older. I loved my 30s and wasn’t sure how I’d feel turning 40, but I’m more confident and comfortable at 41.  My kids, 15 year old twins who were born when I was 26, still think I’m a ‘young mom,’ which sounds cool to me.”

Liz Lange, 43, Designer

“40 definitely felt like a big milestone and I was annoyed at myself for not having felt younger in my 30s as it’s only once you are about to turn 40 that you realize how young your 30s really are. I love being in my 40s and for me it is a new chapter, I am divorced and starting new businesses. My 30s were all about founding and building Liz Lange Maternity and having my children. My 40s are all about the next phase.”

Gretchen Rubin, 46, Author, The Happiness Project

“It felt like a big milestone and a bit intimidating. I remember reading somewhere that ‘The forties are the old age of youth, and the youth of old age,’ and that seems true to me. Though I expected that turning forty would make me feel more like a real “grown-up” at last, in fact, I didn’t feel anymore adult. I still don’t. My father told me he was almost sixty before he felt like a true grown-up.

It was a very busy time, so I didn’t do anything special. My husband knew that I admired a particular watch, so he bought it for me for no reason, but because it was near my birthday, we decided after the fact to treat it as a fortieth-birthday gift. I was more touched that he’d bought it for no reason than I would have been if he’d picked it out for my birthday! I still wear it every day, so it was a perfect milestone gift.

As I’ve gotten older, and since I’ve spent so much time thinking about happiness, I’ve done a much better job about shaping my life to reflect my own nature, interests, and values. I try to ‘Be Gretchen’ and not worry about what I think ought to be true or what other people expect or value.”

Naomi Wolf, 49, Founder of DailyCloudt.com

“I was pretty happy and definitely in the thick of it — small children, busy career, helping to run a family. I never felt that worried about turning forty because my mother is vibrant, radiant and youthful in her outlook, so age always seemed like a number.

Still, it freaked me out — I do recall after the big birthday I was surprised that I didn’t feel at all like a grownup, but just the same. I also felt some relief that I had worked so hard in my twenties and thirties because I definitely did not feel like I had gotten nothing done and time was passing. I did also feel a wish to reevaluate and make sure that everything in my life was there for a good reason. Time didn’t seem endless anymore.

I definitely feel more in charge of my life now; I have a better understanding I think of how the world works. I enjoy other people in this decade more, they are more ready to be on a quest and less status-oriented and less striving — those were the thirties, in NY and DC anyway, socially, and I found that tiresome.

People in their forties have a greater sense of self, for better or worse. Superficial people are more clear that that is what they are and deep people are easier to spot too. I love every stage of being a mom but it is so great to have older kids with wonderful ideas to discuss.”

Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author, media personality and speaker, passionate about helping working moms to design a successful and happy lifestyle. Share your experiences of turning 40 with her at samantha@samanthaettus.com or @samanthaettus.

To read this article on Forbes, please click here.

Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author & corporate speaker. The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction will be released in September.