Two and a half weeks ago, I passed a big birthday milestone. Or so they told me.
I felt like it should be a big deal, that I should feel more adult — be more of an adult. I felt like I should be standing on a precipice about to dive into mid-life, leaving the best years behind me. Game over. But how can it feel like a big deal when you don’t feel like you thought you should at this age?
Instead, I feel like I’m standing at the edge of an open meadow. Tall green grass growing and wild flowers dancing their way across the swish-swaying expanse. Rays of sun stream through the canopy of leaves and separate out into distinct rays that dance on the tips of the blades of grass, light-footed. And there’s the awe of the sight opening up before you.
That’s how it feels for me to turn 40. Tickled about what’s ahead. Confident about what’s ahead.
And it’s largely because, in my 30s, I’ve shed many insecurities and have slipped into the comfort of my own skin. That’s not to say that everything is hunky dory all the time, but 80% of the time is better than 0% of the time.
Here’s what I learned about how to be more confident in your 30s:
1. I found my type.
Growing up, I was described as shy so often that I assumed it wasn’t a good character trait. It became a thing that I wanted to scrub off and away me. Now, I recognize that my preference for one-on-one conversations and my need for alone time wasn’t because I was shy or feared social situations. It was because I am an introvert. Once I grasped the difference between shyness and introversion, I realized there’s nothing wrong with me and I felt more empowered to embrace my personality.
2. I stopped saying just.
My sentences used to be littered with the word just. I inserted it when I didn’t want to bother someone with a request or my opinion (“I just wanted to check in on…”, “I just wanted to say…”) — or felt the need to qualify a statement (“It was just a half marathon…”). But by saying “just”, I was really asking permission or apologizing for my question, opinion and even running a half marathon!
Now, I catch myself before I let the word slip out of my mouth and I edit my emails to remove all traces of the J word before clicking send. I know that my opinion and time counts as much as anyone else’s and I don’t need to apologize for that.
3. I say I’m sorry.
I come from a long line of stubborn hard-heads. I realized I didn’t like saying the S word because I wasn’t confident in my own skills and abilities, that admitting my mistake (or need for help) unveil a major character flaw or inexperience and would send co-workers, friends and loved ones running. And it became a defense mechanism to protect myself from criticism and a way to hide my own vulnerability. While my husband may beg to differ, I’ve learned to apologize which has helped me stand behind my actions, words and opinions confidently.
4. I set boundaries.
With my family, boundaries don’t exist. Everyone’s business is your business. We call each other at all hours, stop by unannounced and ask for favors all the time. My younger self wouldn’t dare stand up for myself and draw a line with family, not to mention friends or co-workers. But it made it also made me a perfect rug to be walked all over. Now, I realize it’s important for my emotional and mental health, and ultimately the health of my relationships, to set boundaries.
5. I don’t starve my body.
In high school and college, I stood in front of mirrors and tore my body apart piece by piece — stomach too round, arms too flabby, calves too thick and shoulders too broad — and tried to punish my body into submission. As I became more serious about fitness, I started to appreciate all the amazing things my body has enabled me to do and the adventures we’ve been on together. I started to see food as fuel, not just something to reward or deprive my body of. And let’s be real — we all feel better and more confident when we’re not starving.
6. I wear a bikini.
You would never catch me in a bikini in my teens or 20s. I didn’t think I had the right body for a bikini. I preferred discrete one-piece suits that covered my belly and did nothing to accentuate my thighs. After spending time on the beaches of Hawaii, I saw women (and men) of all shapes and sizes, laughing and playing with family and friends. They weren’t worried about their appearance. That wasn’t what was important. And I wore a bikini every damn day. There were more important things to worry about than how I looked in a swimsuit, things like running after my kids, swimming and surfing.
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