40 realistic Things to do before you turn 40

At the end of this year I will cross a threshold of achievement called my 40th birthday. Like most women my age, I started thinking about turning 40 sometime after turning 30. These thoughts started to get even louder as every year passed. This year, my 39th, I have done nothing to embrace my actual age. Instead I have been building my cocoon in preparation for the butterfly version of myself I am hoping will emerge when I turn 40.

We have been conditioned to be afraid of turning 40. Remember Sally’s meltdown in When Harry Met Sally?

Sally: [Crying hysterically] And I’m going to be 40!
Harry: When?
Sally: Someday!
Harry: In eight years!
Sally: But it’s there! It’s like a big dead end!

Only it can’t be the end. I’m not dreading turning 40. Not at all. I am running towards it at warp speed. I would be perfectly fine to fast-forward through my 30s because they have been a mess. I’d love to start fresh with this new decade. I’d really love to find some deep pockets of confidence and self-awareness.

I wondered if I should create a bucket list for myself. Tick-tock, just over 6 months to do some big stuff! Who doesn’t love an inspiring checklist of things to do or try? I looked online for some ideas and immediately laughed. These goals are certainly not anything I could achieve with the time I have before I turn 40! The first list I read was Business Insider’s “Experiences to Have Before You Turn 40.”

With suggestions like, “compete in the Ironman Triathlon,” “travel across Europe by train on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express,” and “go yachting in Monaco or St-Tropez,” I was clearly holding the wrong-shaped bucket for my list.

Cosmopolitan magazine took it up a notch and created a list of 50 Things Every Woman Should Do Before She Dies. (!!) Since most of the ideas have a “Just go for it, lady!” tone I actually enjoyed this list. I mean who doesn’t need a nudge to eat dessert for breakfast?!

Clearly I needed to create my OWN list, a practical list, a manageable list, a list just right for a busy mom without an unlimited budget and private jet. After all, who wants to feel like a failure on the cusp of 40?!

40 (Realistic) Things to Do Before You Turn 40

1. Unrealistic Goal: Travel to all seven continents
Realistic Goal: Put my feet in the ocean

Put my feet in the ocean

2. Unrealistic Goal: Pay off all my debt
Realistic Goal: Continue to pay down my credit card every month

3. Unrealistic Goal: See a gynecologist, dermatologist, and primary care doctor
Realistic Goal: Oh yes, I absolutely should do this

4. Unrealistic Goal: Have teeth professionally whitened
Realistic Goal: Have a cleaning at the dentist

5. Unrealistic Goal: Completely change my look
Realistic Goal: Get a new haircut and maybe splurge for a fancy salon

6. Unrealistic Goal: Swim with the sharks
Realistic Goal: Go to the aquarium

7. Unrealistic Goal: Try something new
Realistic Goal: Actually, I can do this — I kind of want to try floating

8. Unrealistic Goal: Have a heart-pumping adventure like skydiving or walking on glass
Realistic Goal: Get a tattoo

Get a tattoo
Get a tattoo

9. Unrealistic Goal: Hold a tarantula (NOPE)
Realistic Goal: Go to the zoo

10. Unrealistic Goal: Get married (ha ha ha ha)
Realistic Goal: Go on a date

11. Unrealistic Goal: Join the Peace Corps
Realistic Goal: Volunteer locally

12. Unrealistic Goal: Make something creative with my hands
Realistic Goal: I can do this! I have wanted to re-learn how to knit or cross-stitch

Realistic Goal: Wow — I doubt I can replace, but I could certainly drink tea in the afternoon

14. Unrealistic Goal: Run a marathon — ha
Realistic Goal: Get myself a bike and gear (oh, and ride it)

15. Unrealistic Goal: Go to a performance at the Met
Realistic Goal: It’s been a while since I have seen live music. I should see a band!

16. Unrealistic Goal: See a show on Broadway
Realistic Goal: It would be awesome to swing a trip to NYC for a show, but we ARE going to see The Lion King on tour when it comes to Philadelphia (YAY!)

The Lion King on tour when it comes to Philadelphia (YAY!)

17. Unrealistic Goal: Get a Ph.D..
Realistic Goal: Easy now! I AM going back to school. Baby steps!

18. Unrealistic Goal: Invest in gold or the stock market
Realistic Goal: I’d rather invest in my kid right now; I need to properly set up his savings

19. Unrealistic Goal: Go on a romantic picnic or road-trip
Realistic Goal: I’d love to go on a solo drive — windows down, music playing

20. Unrealistic Goal: Drink an expensive bottle of alcohol
Realistic Goal: Drink a glass of really nice wine

21. Unrealistic Goal: Become a CEO
Realistic Goal: Sure! Bring it!

22. Unrealistic Goal: Eat rare food
Realistic Goal: Make more exotic food

Make more exotic food

23. Unrealistic Goal: Be part of a flashmob or group event
Realistic Goal: Eagerly sing Happy Birthday whenever I hear it begin

24. Unrealistic Goal: Go geocaching
Realistic Goal: Ooooh! I want to do this

25. Unrealistic Goal: Have a nude portrait taken
Realistic Goal: Have a non-selfie, professional portrait taken

26. Unrealistic Goal: Create a font
Realistic Goal: I would love to do this

27. Unrealistic Goal: Read 100 books
Realistic Goal: I am aiming for 50 books

28. Unrealistic Goal: Spend all day at a spa
Realistic Goal: Get a massage

Get a massage

29. Unrealistic Goal: Have a professional makeup lesson
Realistic Goal: Learn how to master smokey eyes from YouTube tutorials

30. Unrealistic Goal: Go to Vegas and play the slots
Realistic Goal: Buy a scratcher lottery ticket at the grocery store

31. Unrealistic Goal: Buy luxury bedding
Realistic Goal: Buy a new duvet cover

32. Unrealistic Goal: Hire a housekeeper
Realistic Goal: Have a service come the week of my birthday to clean the house

33. Unrealistic Goal: Bake and eat only your own bread
Realistic Goal: Learn how to make bread

Learn how to make bread

34. Unrealistic Goal: Cook every dish from your favorite cookbook
Realistic Goal: Cook my grandmother’s recipes

35. Unrealistic Goal: Hunt for truffles
Realistic Goal: Buy some truffle oil and figure out what to do with it

36. Unrealistic Goal: Apply to be on a reality TV show
Realistic Goal: Wait … I did this!

37. Unrealistic Goal: Go to a drive-in movie
Realistic Goal: Set up a backyard movie theater

38. Unrealistic Goal: Attend a major gallery opening
Realistic Goal: Go to an art museum

Go to an art museum

39. Unrealistic Goal: Name a star
Realistic Goal: Stargaze or go to a planetarium

40. Unrealistic Goal: Take part in an archaeological dig
Realistic Goal: Introduce my son to Indiana Jones movies

Turning 40 isn’t a fantasy, and that is what so many of these bucket lists feel like. I’m not upset about it or mourning for a different sort of life or a road less-traveled.

I’m now realizing the thing I want most when I turn 40 is to shut up about turning 40.

That should be the only thing on my bucket list for the day: turn 40 and stop making it such a big deal. All of the noise and the overtures, the preparation and trepidation, it has done nothing for me. If turning 40 isn’t such a big deal to me, why have I made the countdown so grand? Ooooooh, deep thought!

I don’t want to wake up 40 and feel like I didn’t embrace every moment. It’s easy to be passive in life and sometimes (for me) it feels helpful to make a list of fun and doable action items. Of course I can’t go to all of the continents of the world before the end of the year, but the Atlantic Ocean is just a quick drive away. I CAN make that a priority and savor the moment.

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