The one secret delight of life in your 40s

By Anna Brech

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Victor Hugo called it “the old age of youth”. Here’s why being in your 40s is the best – and it all comes down to inner belief

When you hit your 20s, with that first giddy taste of freedom, you assume you’ve reached your confidence peak. But in fact, the opposite is true. As you travel through life, you realise that what you thought of as self-belief in your younger years was actually all a front.

Real confidence, like a fine wine, takes time and patience to mature. You can’t rush it, anymore than you can swipe a bottle from the cellar before it’s ready and hope that the flavours have somehow come good. And while some experts would say you should “fake it til you make it”, really you must fake it til you become it  – refining that inner conviction through age and experience, up to the point when self-belief is second nature.

So when exactly does that crossover to a steadfast, bone-deep conviction kick in? According to Cameron Diaz, it all happens in your 40s.

“You know, I think the 40s are the best decade,” the My Best Friend’s Wedding star tells InStyle magazine in an interview this month. “You just get to be real with yourself, and you can also make necessary changes because you have the experience of looking back on four decades. Looking at patterns and seeing what things really work. You get to let go of giving a s– about anything. You’re done! Don’t care. I really don’t. It’s such a relief.”

Diaz isn’t the only one to feel this way. Earlier this year, fellow Hollywood luminary Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she felt she’d found her mojo – for a very similar reason. “I am no longer in my 20s and 30s, I am 46 and I love being in my 40s,” the Oscar-winning actor told an audience at the SXSW conference in Texas. “I think there is this incredible freedom that comes with a woman in her 40s and understanding that this is who I am and I’ve stopped worrying so much about what people think of me.”

It may be, then, that your 40s represents that all-powerful shift from basing your self-worth on what others think of you to what you think of yourself. At the same time, you become more aware through experience of who you are and what you’re about. So you can better draw boundaries – and care less how others react to you doing that.

This then makes the world around you a more settled place, because you’re drawing from within not externally. As comedian Amy Poehler says in her excellent YouTube series,  “you attract the right things when you have a sense of who you are”; and while this is tough to figure out “at 15 [or] 41”, the latter at least equips you with years of awareness and experience.

Read more: The truth about being single in your 40s

“In your 40s, you kind of know how things are likely to go and you’re better at saying: You know what? That just doesn’t suit me,” says Pamela Druckerman, author of There Are No Grown-Ups: A Mid-Life Coming-of-Age Story.

“[…] You sort of have enough distance from your life and from your family and from your friends to see patterns and to kind of rise above it a little bit and understand yourself more.” Druckerman tells NPR. “I think it was [philosopher Arthur] Schopenhauer who said the first 40 years provide the text and the next 30 provide the commentary. I feel like I had entered, in a way, the commentary phase and that made life a lot more interesting.”

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Why is this 40-something perk a “secret”? Well, it’s a transient process. You don’t just get that solid sense of self-assurance overnight, the minute you hit 40. It’s just more likely to happen in that decade, when the weight of life experience – coupled with a marked decrease in self-consciousness –  kicks in.

Gradually, you care less – spurred on by the fact that you really, truly accept yourself and recognise the behaviours of those around you. But you can’t plan for this moment, or anticipate it with an asterisk in your calendar. You don’t know that it’s missing; you only know it when it’s there.

It’s not just an anecdotal thing, either. A 2016 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology decried the myth of a mid-life crisis, showing that people are generally happier in their early 40s than they were aged 18 or in their early 20s.

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Lead researcher Nancy Galambos speculates that, whether it’s struggling to find a job or grappling with identity, life is generally more difficult for young adults – whereas the 40s heralds in a time of stability. “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” she says. “But by middle age, a lot of people have worked that out.”

Another study by the MIT Sloan School of Management found that the 40s is the most successful age for entrepreneurs launching a startup business. Researchers examined US Census Bureau data and IRS records behind nearly three million startup enterprises. They discovered that 42 is the average age for founders who go onto hire at least one employee; while the biggest growth performance was enjoyed by entrepreneurs with an average age of 45. Meanwhile, less than 1% of high-performing startups in the category analysed were launched by 20-year-olds.

Bottom line? In your 40s, you’re more experienced, but you also know yourself better – and simultaneously pay less heed to what others think. This, in turn, is a potent recipe for personal and professional happiness.

We’ll leave the final word with Diaz herself – amen to this:

Images: Unsplash, Instagram

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