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July 12, 2017

This is Forty.

PHOTOS // Eliesa Johnson 

No, really. This is it, y’all. I’m 40. I keep repeating it to myself because I still don’t believe it. There’s been a delusional thirtysomething in there who thought this day would never come. Even as I watched my friends reach this milestone I thought somehow I could keep it at bay, like the lines between my brows. But while a shot of Dysport does do wonders to smooth my furrow, it won’t stop time. And when I reflect on the past four decades, I’m not sure I want it to. What lies ahead is going to be so much more beautiful because of the lessons I take with me. They were hard-won. They were messy and heart-breaking but brilliant in their grace. One of my soul-sisters says 40 is a rebirth. I feel that. In many ways, 40 is just the beginning, with the benefit of hindsight. Here’s what I learned in the first half of my life, and the wisdom I’ll be taking with me into the next…Thank you to everyone who has held space for me along the way. I love you. –Elizabeth

1. There is nothing wrong with you. Nothing. Are you perfect? No. Do you have work to do in this lifetime? Yes. But you’re not broken. You don’t need what someone else has. Your gifts are more than enough and the world needs them. So stop making excuses and go be yourself.

2. Yours is the only approval that matters. Early on we are taught that our parents, teachers, church, the popular girls know better. But they’re only human, just like us. Only you know what’s best for you. What kind of job or relationship or Saturday night that makes your heart sing. If you keep trying to please other people, you’ll make them more comfortable, you might feel loved and accepted for a time, but eventually you’ll wake up an realize you have no idea who you are or what you care about.

3. Depression and anxiety are symptoms, not shameful. I spent most of my life at least mildly depressed. I managed it like a functioning alcoholic, the idea of falling down on my grades or my career was far more frightening than giving into the grief. If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve talked to a professional to understand why I was sad instead of thinking I was a failure BECAUSE I was sad. Our society frowns upon negative emotions—anger, fear, sadness—when in fact they are our heart’s way of telling us that we are out of alignment.

4. Breakdowns lead to breakthroughs. This I know for sure. Almost to the point that I get excited when there’s a conflict or when a change I’ve been resisting comes to a head. Because on the other side is always freedom from whatever fear created the breakdown. Life gets better with each breakdown. The sooner you allow yourself to have one, the sooner you get to the good stuff.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Yes, that cheesy little coffee table book you got as a graduation gift has become my bible. The perfectionist in me wasted years stressing about every detail, from finding the perfect throw pillows to being the best at every single thing I did. It’s exhausting and, more importantly, it never ends until you put a stop to it. If I have choice to be happy in the moment or stress over the details, I choose happiness.

6. The Universe has your back. A therapist once had me make a list of the best things that had ever happened to me. My dog. My sister-in-law-turned-BFF. Trips around the world. Meeting the love of my life at 38. Guess what? I didn’t plan on or seek out any of them. They were surprises from the Universe, dropped in my lap. I just unwrapped them. Likewise, when I look back on the most difficult times in my life, the Universe came through every single time. When we try so desperately to control every corner of our lives we don’t open ourselves up to the grace and gifts available to us.

7. Chase happiness. I can’t define for you what it means to be happy; it’s different for everyone. But l do know that it’s available to us all and it’s worth fighting for. When we settle in life, or give up on our dreams, we turn our backs on ourselves. It’s a crime against your soul, against the Universe, and against the many lives who made yours possible.

8. Baths. Lots of baths. I take them when I’m stressed, when I’m anxious, when I want a drink or feel like crying. They are a balm for my soul with zero side-effects. Find a healthy outlet for those moments when you’ve reached your limit—exercise, cooking up a storm, a beach book—and you’re less likely to numb yourself with something you’ll regret later.

9. There is no “there”. No day when you’ll wake up and everything will finally be in its place. Partly because there is no one thing that’s going to solve all of your problems or make your life perfect. But also because we are constantly evolving. When you do reach point A, you’ll be looking ahead to point B. Once I accepted this, I started living more in the now and life became so much more enjoyable.

10. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. I was a workaholic for years. If the activity didn’t add to the bottom line, I didn’t see the value. Productivity trumped creativity. Journey be damed. I would start my life when I had achieved something! Or when I crashed so hard I had no choice but to sleep for days or binge on Netflix. It’s still doesn’t come naturally to me, doing something purely because I enjoy it, but I have a feeling doing so is the key to the next 40 years.

  • Elizabeth Dehn
    ABOUT ELIZABETH
    Born and raised in Minnesota by surprisingly low-maintenance parents, beauty writer and lifestyle editor Elizabeth Dehn (aka Bets) spent her awkward years buying Mood lipstick and whipping up DIY face masks before founding Beauty Bets in 2009.
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