Turning 40. What?!?

Cat Li Stevenson
5 min readFeb 10, 2023

Our neighbor’s daughter, Alice, who was a senior in high school at the time interviewed me for a creative non-fiction essay she was writing for her senior class. I hadn’t seen Alice in a few years, since the interview, as she went off to college shortly after.

Last week, Alice came home from NYC for winter break, and she stopped by our apartment to drop off some money for Maya (our daughter) who had helped with the newspaper and mail collection “job”, while their family had been out of town. Alice and I started chatting and she reminded me that she never did share the essay she had written a few years ago.

She sent it to me that night.

In anticipation and with much curiosity, I read the essay out loud to my friend and daughter. As it was on a tender topic on my grief journey with my dad, I really wanted their support in reading her writing.

As I read aloud, I start cracking up.

Alice had written a line in there that said something along the lines of, “I hesitated to interview a grown adult woman I barely knew on such a personal topic.”

I scrunched my nose at those words grown adult woman. My friend looked at me and with a teasing voice and laughter said,“You’re a grown adult woman!”

We both started laughing very hard.

Maya had a blank stare on her face, unaware of why we were so entertained at this sentiment.

Yesterday, after school as our girls had a car playdate (yes, literally, playing in the car), I chatted with my mama friend about my birthday plans coming up and how I “don’t feel 40.” She smiled, lovingly, nodding, right there with me. And then said, “Our spirit always stay young, and our bodies get older and fall apart.”

I felt my insides light up, as she said those words and feeling revitalized by the truth that “age is just a number.”

I don’t think any of us ever feel like our age. Age 40, when I was young, was definitely “old” and “boring” and “out-of-touch”. It became apparent in reading Alice’s essay that while inside I still feel like I’m somewhere between the age of 16 and 25 — depending on the day — to a young 20 something like Alice, though, I was no longer this age.

It is our spirit, our connection to ourselves at this deeper, soulful level that never ages. And so, as I cross over the threshold of 40, I am putting onto paper what it means to me right now. These are the supportive inquiries that have been bubbling up, as I enter this new decade:

What am I cultivating in myself, in a daily practice and commitment, as I walk in the world?

How am I nurturing my community and relationships?

What am I deepening into?

This last fall, all of a sudden the coasting I was doing in my last year of my 30’s seemed to be quickly coming to an end. It’s like I felt a door shutting behind me, and yet I had no idea what I was walking into. I remember frantically googling “what it means to be 40 as a woman”, turning outwards to figure out how I was suppose to be orienting inwards. I was curious what the collective felt about turning 40 and what there was to learn in this decade. I don’t remember finding any insights that really spoke to me. The only thing I do remember reading is that the 40–50 decade has a general decline in happiness, and that this was due to the stresses of child-rearing and aging parents. None of that felt useful or inspiring.

Unable to find what I wanted out in cyber space, I went on an inner listening journey to see what was here for me. Here is what came from the reflections:

✨ The turning inward to reflect on a new turn of a decade prompted me to begin prioritizing my well-being. I began to realize that I really needed a — daily way (underline and bold “DAILY”)— of caring for myself to truly be thriving and showing up fully. Attending retreats once a year or taking myself to the Kabuki baths once-a-month or walking or running or doing yoga “when I felt like it” or sleeping in once-a-week to make up for the sleep deprivation the rest of the week—none of this was allowing me to function above a survival mode.

I began prioritizing consistent sleep— going to bed and waking up at relatively the same time every single day. I hired a writing mentor who had an awareness-based approach to support me in writing and meditating on a daily basis. I started exercising 5–6 times a week. I purchased a used Oura ring on FB Marketplace, which I have absolutely loved, to bring more awareness to my sleep and exercise data, so I didn’t have to do the tracking myself.

✨ With much more energy by being above my survival baseline, I was able to tap into greater awareness around my habit patterns. I could more easily see when I became activated (versus, historically, this activation being clumped into a sea of general survival overwhelm) and the times when I slipped into being “off” mentally.

I could more clearly see the survival mechanisms I operate from — that are so invisible, due to conditioned patterns, but were ready now to be illuminated. Like, how much I act from striving, performing and “wanting to do things right” (as if there was a one “right”!) . And, seeing now, there are deeper choices available beyond the knee-jerk reflexes of the mechanisms I had adopted from childhood.

As I write now, I smile at the irony, that perhaps I truly am a grown adult woman now. As the patterns that are being revealed, recently, are childhood ones that are no longer necessary in this new decade.

So, this is 40, from where I sit today. I take a deep breath and relax into my own inner knowing. A relationship of being connected to this self in a way that invites listening with curiosity, trusting in the mystery, trusting in love, on this wild and precious adventure of life. No matter what age.

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Cat Li Stevenson

SF via AZ. Explorer of the human journey, and waking up in Mamahood. I write about healing, mothering, grief, & love.✨