In less than 10 days, I’ll hit a milestone that officially will launch me into a brand new decade – my 40s. I will celebrate my 41st birthday on July 31.
Over 40. In my 40s. 40-something. Remember when we were kids, and that sounded so old? Yeesh.
A lot has changed for me in the past year, and all of it has been good. And most of the changes have been deliberate, which is beyond cool.
Last year’s 40th b-day was a big deal for me psychologically. Timing-wise, the second act of my marriage had just ended. The stress of that experience had literally sucked the life out of me, and I found myself at a crossroads.
I’d been taking steps to improve my mental and spiritual well-being for a few years already – which is the ONLY reason I survived the end of the aforementioned relationship without medication -- but I had been neglecting my physical health for entirely too long. I’d also been limiting myself in other areas of my life, including my career.
So on July 1st of 2012, I looked in the mirror and gave the sad, sallow 39-year-old in the reflection a stern lecture. I said, simply: “Girl, you have GOT to get your shit together.”
And so I did.
Of course, it wasn’t that easy. The actions were simple and straightforward, but putting them into practice was damn hard.
My first (and most difficult) decisive deed was quitting smoking. I figured 20 years of that garbage was enough, plus it was sagging like an albatross around my lungs, er, neck.
It stole my energy and turned my skin pallid. And socially, it made me a pariah. It was a rat bastard, and a major source of my low self-esteem. I finally had gotten to where I was tired of being beaten up by an inanimate object.
So… I put down the ciggies on the very first day of July, because from a milestone perspective, I wanted to be done with smoking BEFORE I turned 40. Unfortunately, that didn’t go off without a hitch. I hung on for three weeks before I had a relapse that lasted about 10 days. So my real, last-day-the-demon-nicotine-entered-my-body quit date is officially Aug. 7.
I used to tell people that I had quit for a year twice, most recently about five years ago. But that statement wasn’t true. In my two previous efforts, I managed to stay away from the cancer sticks for 9 months and 8 months, respectively. I rounded up because it sounded better. Sue me.
But this time, on Aug. 7, 2013, it will really, truly be a full year since I smoked. I feel as though I am required do a dance of joy on that day. (Video will be forthcoming on Facebook.)
Anyhoo, the second major get-shit-together action I undertook was to start working out. Last summer, there was a little fitness studio within walking distance from my house that offered Zumba and Pilates classes on the cheap. It has since closed down, but those classes turned out to be a great way to introduce physical activity into my weekly routine. They got me off my ass, and I am proud to say that I have been exercising three to four times a week ever since.
Starting out slow in some beginner classes taught me a few things about myself that I believe have ensured the ongoing success of my workout regimen. One, I need a class environment to keep me on track. Left to my own devices, I am not nearly as effective. In other words, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, so I need a teacher to tell me.
Two, I get bored easily and need variety. Therefore it does not make sense for me to join ANYTHING for a year. Monthly packages are the longest contracts in which I will invest.
Last fall, I started adding short runs to my routine, and I am now up to 3.25 miles. The last time I quit smoking five years ago, I ran on my treadmill at home, but I never got very far with it. (Ba-dum-bum-ching!)
My stamina would only allow me to reach the 2-mile mark, and my pace was only a few steps above a brisk walk. I told people at the time that I was really kicking ass as a runner, but it was kind of like the “I quit for a year” embellishment. I made myself sound a lot more badass than I really was.
This time, instead of trying to reach Level 10 Awesome immediately and show off my phenomenal athletic prowess (ha!), I decided to go for consistency, while respecting my own limits. I didn't want to burn out from hitting it too hard in the beginning.
During the past year, slow and steady has really helped me win this race. I have successfully built strength and endurance, and exercise has truly become a habit. If I don’t do some kind of physical activity for a few days, I start to feel actual withdrawal symptoms. Srsly. I have no doubt that exercise is the only thing standing between me and a pack of Camel Lights. One habit has replaced the other, and for that I am eternally grateful.
The last major shit-together-gettin’ action I took was to re-evaluate my career. The anniversary of starting my own business will land in September, so I will write about my wonderful, stupendous, amazing first year as a freelance writer and media consultant closer to that time.
But it is worth noting here that I began to formulate a plan for how being self-employed might look right around the same time I launched the Amy’s Better Body initiative.
Turns out that being physically healthier aligns with the health of my mental attitude and spiritual life. Go figure. Duh. It’s a trifecta in the race of life. Or something.
Yes, my world is really, really good these days, but life is not perfect. My teen-age son is somewhat of an aimless jackass. The only man I have been interested in dating since I split with my ex-husband is a self-centered jackass. I’ve had a couple of jackass clients of ill repute.
But despite all that, and other daily challenges, I can honestly say I am a happy person. I actually like myself for the first time, maybe, ever.
I set out a year ago to take positive actions that would propel me into becoming the best possible version of myself. And by God, I have succeeded on some pretty significant levels. For starters, I am in the best shape of my life.
Just like everyone else, I know I have more to do and more to learn, and I will always strive for improvement.
But just for today, I can say it loud and proud: I gots mah shit together!
And if this is how my 40s are starting out, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.