Today, on my 42nd birthday, I woke up at 4 a.m. Maybe it was excitement, maybe it was hormones. Whatever the reason, I got out of bed and grabbed my journal, keen to enjoy a few hours of quiet before the rest of the family is awake and the day turns to details like making lunches and getting the kids off to school.
As I often do, I found myself writing about the year that has passed and dreaming into the year that lays ahead. The passage of time is accelerated- days, weeks and months vanishing in what feels like a split second. Sometimes I feel panicked, wondering where all those moments went, what opportunities I’ve missed and whether or not there are things that I’ll never get to experience in this lifetime. Mostly, though, what I feel is a deep knowing and a delicious appreciation for growing older and I found myself thinking this morning about what I would say to my 13 year old self if I had the chance, and then realising it’s a stupid way to phrase the question because that young woman would never have believed what I would tell her.
At 13, I never could have imagined this level of self-acceptance, of self-love. I never could have believed that I would be OK with my flaws- celebrating them even, or that I would eventually realise that all those things I thought were “wrong” with me were not. It was just that my Bigness was too much in a world that likes to keep it simple, with rules and predictions. My complexity was a threat to the formula, which looks something like this: never believe you are good enough; seek out every flaw and fix it with our expensive pills and potions; stay small and keep your voice down; don’t ask questions and, for God’s sake, if you love yourself as you are you’re delusional or too lazy to do the work of making yourself better than you are now.
At 42, my success and happiness (despite the absence of “must haves” like home ownership and a lean stomach) are an anomaly to some, who said I couldn’t get here without X-Y-Z, yet here I am, an absolute shitshow of a human being, and totally OK with that.
But at 13, I just felt different and it was lonely. A great, dark void inside of me that I thought could never be filled. Now, of course, I know that I was never alone at all. There were millions- BILLIONS- of young women just like me. Girls who knew how fucking smart they were, who raced to tear off their pantyhose after church so they could climb trees, girls who actually loved their bodies, how they moved, how it felt when we touched ourselves. Girls who refused to be confined by what we were told to expect. Girls who asked questions, even when we were punished for it.
Girls who knew their power.
But at 13, we didn’t have the confidence to go with this wisdom and so we hid it for decades until now when we find ourselves learning to recognise each other- the Women Who Are Too Much. We find each other everywhere we go- drawn by our loud laughs, our public displays of emotion, the easy way we set boundaries, the clear way we demand more, how we always ask “Why?” when we’re told “That’s just how it is.”
And this is why I don’t fear growing older. With each year that passes, the core of who I am expands and become more firmly rooted, and my non-negotiables become clearer, accompanied by a voice who knows how to express them without shame. When you become unshakeable in your values, you become unstoppable and when you become brave enough to share this version of you, you will discover that you are far from alone and there are a great many radical women eager to run with your pack.
This took time and maturity to understand, though, and my 13 year old self wouldn’t listen anyway if I tried to explain it all to her. She was much too committed to the idea that if only she got the right shoes/hairstyle/boyfriend, everything would be fine. That she would be enough when she changed everything that makes her who she is. If I held her face in my hands now and said “Just love yourself.” she would cry in anger and frustration and wail, “But I can’t. Don’t you see? I’m just all wrong.”
So she wouldn’t listen and would still make the same shitty choices for decades, feeling unworthy of even the small crumbs she allowed herself to accept. Until one day, she would wake up at 42 and realise that she loves herself after all, and she loves her friends and they love her and her birthday will start to feel like a huge, unopened gift: “Ooh, what will the year ahead bring?”
And she’ll know that the box may be full of shit and nothing she’s ever asked for, not once, but she’ll also know she can handle it. It could also be everything she’s ever wanted, which actually feels scarier, but she’ll finally believe that she deserves it all. So she’ll get up early and ask herself what she wants, and she’ll eat cake for breakfast and drink too much coffee and spend some time writing because it’s what she loves to do. And in those early hours, she’ll sit alone at the kitchen table, and grieve a bit for the years that are behind her now, but this grief will be eclipsed by anticipation; a rabid curiosity to see what will happen next, now that she is whole. And she’ll eat more cake, and enjoy every single bite, and then she’ll put her hand on her heart and smile, knowing that this life is good and she’s enough. In fact, she’s more than enough. She’s still too much, but her aim now is not to be smaller; to take up less space. It’s to leverage this complexity to challenge the formula, to show others what magic awaits when you live honestly from where you are.