Where has the time gone?
Updated: Nov 14
Content by Eve Toomey
4 Things I Did in My 40s
To give this post some historical anchor, I started to research general life advice people used to give women about what they should have achieved by the time they hit the ripe old age of 40. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that all the advice I could find up until the last 30-ish years is generally about how to keep your husband happy and silent on the subject of achievements. In a nutshell, it goes like this: agree with everything he says, look young if you can’t stay young, and support him in achieving his goals because that's what's important.
Most expectations for women’s achievements until us Gen Xers came along were directly linked to how women related to men - as wives, mothers or hopeless spinsters. Their husband's/father's/children’s achievements were their achievements.
In a funny kind of way, I was delighted that I had forgotten how it used to be. Advice for women striding into their 40s that is focused on their achievements, their goals, their aspirations is now the norm
A quick google search shows that if you have chosen to work or not work, there’s tons of advice, pathways and guidance for everyone. We’ve come a long way, baby!
I particularly like this list from Business Insider which focuses on the simple things that generally make us well-rounded, well-adjusted, functioning adults. It’s all very achievable and comforting to know that in a work context if you can wrangle all this adulting stuff, you’re going to be OK. What a relief to discover I didn’t have to have climbed Mount Everest, been to space, become a billionaire, or biked around the world by the time I was 40 (how exhausting!).
Even so, looking back through the haze it was a big decade. Here are the four big things I did in my forties.
We survived the school years
Like many modern women, I mostly spent my forties with one eye on the family and one eye on my career. Mentally trying to juggle both is taxing, to say the least, and isn’t exactly a recipe for good sleep or a clutter-free home nor having time for regular exercise or hobbies as our friends at Business Insider recommend. However, I was lucky enough to live in Seattle, Washington for most of my forties where my stay-at-home husband and I managed to get our young children through junior and middle school.
It may not seem like a big achievement, but it was. It’s a world away from my mother’s generation of housewives who were dedicated to running the family and shepherded us through school during their twenties and thirties. Their husbands were not expected to participate. Many older men have told me over the years that they wish it had been different in their time; they would have wanted to be the stay-at-home dad but that was not an option for them. As modern, working mums we also attend Parent-Teacher evenings, bake cakes at 5 a.m. (luckily that only happened once…), make Halloween costumes and dioramas, film erupting baking soda volcanoes (that one was fun!), help with homework, and do all sorts of other things to help the kids get through school. Even if we freely choose it, we still should recognize that juggling all those different responsibilities is an achievement in itself. We all made it through school!
Moving house is stressful enough, try moving countries
When you live in a foreign country, you can never escape the inevitable question: can I or do I want to stay here forever? Either the country pushes you to decide - become a citizen or leave - or your feet start to get itchy. Depending on how happy or settled you are, the question seems to arise every ten years (give or take). In my twenties, I left snowy Canada for the bright lights of London. In my thirties, we left the grind of London for the mountains, ocean, and fresh air of Seattle. After nearly ten years, our time was up and in my late forties, we came “home” to England.
We gave ourselves a year to tackle the huge physical and emotional task of shedding or keeping our accumulated possessions, packing, shipping, and saying goodbye to our friends and expat life. We had left the UK when the kids were too little to remember life here and it was a bumpy reentry. We had changed, England had changed and we all had to get to know one another anew.
...And then try buying a house
If it isn’t stressful enough moving halfway across the planet, try buying a house within the next 12 months when you’re nearly 50 and have been out of the country for a very long time. The stress of it…..I shudder to remember it.
Buying when you’re nearly 50 means you’re seen as a higher risk and you can’t afford what you think you can afford unless you want to work forever. So, after a very bitter dose of reality and a protracted buying process, we said goodbye to our large rented house and squeezed ourselves and the dog into our lovely new-to-us teeny house.
...And then go freelance
The end of my forties was the end of full-time work. My role was made redundant when I turned 49 and for the first time in over 20 years, I had the time and the means to step back and think about what I wanted to do next. It’s no fun, believe me, to have your job made redundant, but it forced me to stop, look around, and decide if another 20+ years of commuting two hours each way, long stressful days, lots of business travel away from home, and having most of my mental energy focused on work 24/7 was still what I wanted.
It turns out that my focus and values had shifted while I wasn’t looking. I was actually more energized by the idea of working fewer hours, of doing other things than just working all the time, and of working on one-off projects where I could share my knowledge and expertise with more than one organization. For the first time in my working life, I felt able to step into the unpredictable world of freelance work and set up my own consultancy. So, I did.