It seems like just yesterday I turned 20, celebrating with a double-layer chocolate cake, some vodka-laced Jello shots and my five college roommates. We fought almost constantly back then, about stupid things that meant the world in those days but would hardly matter to any of us now: who ate whose spaghetti, whose turn it was to wash the dishes, whether we would go to a hockey game or a fraternity party on Saturday night. But a birthday was a reason to put our differences aside, just for a day — or at least an evening.
In reality, that was two decades ago, and as I sit here on the precipice of turning 40, I feel the duality of wondering where the time went and marveling at how much has changed since that birthday.
20 was lovely. I was effortlessly svelte, with naturally blonde hair, long eyelashes and smooth skin. I carried a tennis racket with me everywhere that year, because that’s how carefree my life was. I skipped class for an impromptu match with friends, or to just stay home and watch soaps or work on my tan. I didn’t worry about sun spots or kidney stones, cholesterol levels or mammograms. My biggest concern was getting my bangs to lie flat.
Two decades later, my former roommates and I are spread across the country. We have families of our own and jobs that require commitment. These days, we spend our Saturdays at youth hockey games, swimming lessons and matinees, and we load the dishwasher on our way out the door. We have a lot to juggle and a lot to think about; some days we actually manage to get through it all.
Despite all that has changed, I would never want to be 20 again. Sure, I was thinner, with loads of energy and free time. Here at 40, I have more responsibilities, more wrinkles and more drooping body parts, but I also have three things I didn’t have back then: self-awareness, confidence and a really awesome kid.
So, to celebrate my passage into this fifth decade, here’s a list of 40 things I can do now that I couldn’t do then.
1. Cook a decent meal.
2. Make a killer cup of coffee.
3. Tell the truth.
4. Have a healthy relationship.
5. Look past a person’s flaws.
6. Look past my own flaws.
7. Stay home on New Years Eve.
8. Pay my bills.
9. Go out without makeup on.
10. Go to the gynecologist without being embarrassed.
11. Go to a therapist without feeling ashamed.
12. Speak to a group of strangers.
13. Buy the good wine.
14. Handle rejection.
15. Read Didion instead of Cosmo.
16. Be happy for other people, instead of jealous.
17. Ignore the trends (skinny jeans included) and wear what looks good on my body.
18. Ignore the Kardashians, Rihanna and every other celebrity du jour.
19. Ignore people’s nasty comments.
20. Ignore my ex.
21. Stand up for myself.
22. Stand up for people I love.
23. Sit at a concert.
24. Take a cab home instead of insisting I’m OK to drive.
25. Wear a hat when it’s cold.
26. Stop worrying about whether people like me or think I’m pretty.
27. Be my kid’s hero.
28. Show her what independence looks like.
29. Show her what real beauty is.
30. Drive the speed limit.
31. Drop that toxic friend.
32. Avoid the drama.
33. Swear in front of my mom.
34. Swap the tanning lotion for eye cream.
35. Focus on the smart guy instead of the handsome guy.
36. Say “no” to stuff.
37. Skip the gym and go for a walk outside.
38. Stop trying to be perfect.
39. Let go of expectation.
40. Adjust to changes.
And one to grow on: Understand that the best is yet to come.