At a recent breakfast conference, the dynamic young woman sitting next to me asked me my age. We had been talking all morning on a whole manner of topics, ranging from how many calories there are in a gin and tonic to how the Australian government should provide paid child care.
I knew she was young -- early thirties I had suspected and as I listened to her speak with such passion and knowledge.
I have never understood why age is such a sensitive question to ask, and with the amount of people using cosmetic procedures these days, it's pretty hard to guess.
When I told her I was 46 a look of immediate shock appeared as she gasped, "no way, you're kidding me". Initially I wondered if I had overdone it at my last visit to the botox doctor, a guilty pleasure I always fess up to. But then I got it - she see's 46 as being an age much older than I feel.
I will admit that there have been many times that I have had the wind knocked out of me by the reality of my age. My response is not tied up in any fear of getting old or irrelevant, but more about how quickly these years have passed.
It's not a sense of sadness, nor is it regret, but it gives me pause to reflect on the woman I once was and the woman I have now become and I ask myself: Would I like to return to my younger self? Would I turn back the clock 10 years if I could?
The answer is no.
I loved the energy on the table that morning, with women younger than me sharing their stories filled with enthusiasm and hope. At their age I can recall believing that there was no wall too high to climb, nor an obstacle I couldn't navigate.
But as the years passed I realised that walls can be steep and painful and that my sense of direction can sometimes lead me to take the wrong turn. But now I can reflect and embrace that the struggle to get myself back on the right track provided me with the greatest lessons life could offer.
Turning 40, and the years in which I have been living in this decade, have been vastly different from any other decade I have experienced. I have always been the type of girl that was all systems go, moving forward at rapid speeds, not really sure of where I would end up. Everything had a sense of urgency, and getting to the finishing line first, regardless of my mental or physical state, was paramount.
But now, while my life is certainly going forward, it is done so with mindfulness and reflection, drawing on the wisdom that I have collected along the way. I have already written at least half the story of my life and it is now time to think about the legacy that I want to leave and what I have to do in order to achieve this. Most importantly, I have learned to own my own story to this point, regardless of the opinions of others, because my self worth is wrapped up inside of it.
There have been many occasions when people have tried to change the plot to my story or influence it in a way that suited their script. And more times than I care to admit, I have allowed this to happen. The approval of those around me seemed paramount when I was younger as I sought external validation and acceptance to determine my own currency. By doing this I relinquished my control by placing it into the hands of others. I learned the hard way that creating a space where our self worth is contingent on the approval of others is a very dangerous way to live.
Moving with the crowd and not speaking our truth robs us of the pathway we were put on this earth to take. It is easy to get caught up in the breeze where we float through life but it's never that simple or easy forever.
I believe the forties is the time when we are catapulted back to reality like a lightening bolt as we reclaim the person we were meant to be. My forties introduced me to two members of my character that I had yet to meet. They were called courage and conviction. These skills are now part of my arsenal that I carry daily empowering and guiding me through life.
The younger version of me was definitely easier. I felt safer as I lived an ignorant life void of the hard realities. I had parents that took care of and protected me. Most of my friends were healthy and kicking their own personal goals. There was no a lot to worry about. But now, the environment is different. Marriages are ending, people are becoming unwell, businesses are failing and our parent's generation is dying. I have my own children now looking to me for guidance and this can only be sincerely provided through the wisdom of time.
Many times I have been told that 40 is the new 30 but I choose to debunk this theory. We have worked darn hard to make it thus far and I want to own every scar, every sun mark, every anxiety attack and every cringeworthy memory I have, because with it comes a beautiful wisdom.
This is something that cannot be acquired, it has to be lived to be earned. It is our congratulatory gift from the universe for making it this far still filled with hope and optimism. We set the trajectory for our lives and the only direction that we should choose is up.