Freedom at 40: When Your Yes is Yes and Your No is No


Freedom at 40: When Your Yes is Yes and Your No is NoFor some women, the ability to make a firm decision has never been an issue. They were the ones I admired in my 20s and 30s, the ones who were bold and unafraid.

I, on the other hand, said yes to things I didn’t want to do so I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings or let anyone down, or make myself look weak or incapable. I’d take on too much, keep up with friendships that weren’t healthy or reciprocal, and wear myself out in the process. I wasn’t a doormat, but I was definitely a worn-out rag. Case in point: When I was 28, I taught children’s choir for a full year, despite the fact that I can’t sing, because I didn’t have the guts to say no. 

Well, ladies, let me tell you: those days are long gone for me, and I am not alone.

A quick peruse through my text messages proves that my best girlfriends and I are sharing newfound freedom to draw a line in the sand. Over and over again I’m reading their words to me, “Yeah, I’m not doing that anymore” and “I don’t have time for that” and “I used to put up with that crap, but no longer.” To each and every one of those messages, I reply, “GOOD FOR YOU.”

What is it about crossing the threshold of 40 that breaks the chains of obligation? Is it because we are looking at mortality everywhere, with aging parents or our own unexplained diagnoses? Is it because raising teenagers is one of the hardest challenges of life and requires almost all of your mental energy? Or does our give-a-damn simply break, therefore releasing a flood of duties we no longer want to manage, sending those responsibilities downstream as we sit on the shore with a glass of wine waving them so long and farewell?

What a lovely thing it is to embrace Phoebe Buffay: “I wish I could but I don’t want to.

As easy as it has become to say no to what we don’t want, it has also become easier to yes to what we do want. For almost 15 years, I felt guilty for getting together with my friends for a weekend retreat, a day at the spa, or any amount of time away from the kids, no matter how long or short. I felt guilty about the money and hours I spent caring only for myself. Even with my husband’s support and well wishes, it would only take 2.5 seconds for me to think, “Ugh, I shouldn’t blow this money/I shouldn’t be gone this long/I should be home making sure they have dinner.”

Then, somewhere in the later 30s, I felt a shift coming. By 40, it had arrived fully and I shut down that inner critic. I embraced my choices. I choose to work from home and homeschool our kids, but I equally choose to spend an afternoon getting a massage and facial. I choose to make dinner most nights, but I also choose to wish the hubs good luck and Godspeed because I’m meeting a friend for margaritas. I choose date nights and family nights, friend nights and alone nights, and I don’t apologize for those choices anymore. 

There is a lot of scary stuff that happens in this age and stage, but there are blessings too. Clarity of mind is a long-earned gift. I see myself squarely in the mirror. Along with those extra pounds around my waist and fine lines around my eyes is a keen sense of self-awareness that I’m doing okay. I’m a grown-up now.


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