Why I won’t be making a “40 before 40” bucket list (and what I’m doing instead.)


When I first saw When Harry Met Sally, I was a teenager, and the space between 32 – Sally’s age during that pivotal scene – and 40 didn’t seem like much to quibble over. “Yeah, you’re gonna be 40, Sally, but let’s be honest here…you’re already old,” quipped my insufferably youthful mind.

Needless to say, when I myself turned 32, that eight-year distance seemed a lot more meaningful. I had plenty of time to be ‘in my 30s,’ I figured…and yes, in some ways, that was true. Still, in the chaos of raising young children and growing my career, my early 30s went by in a blur. And even though my life has calmed down immeasurably since getting that last “baby” firmly out of the diapers-and-tantrums stages, the passage of time doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. I just celebrated my 37th birthday and now I’m over halfway to my 38th.

The message is clear: I’m gonna be 40.

When, you ask, Harry?

Well, sooner than I can likely imagine.

I’m not in mourning over the milestone, by the way. I’ve been getting steadily older long enough to have gotten used to those “big” dates and to realize how meaningless they really are in the end. Plus, in a lot of ways I feel younger than I did in my 20s, when I was in the early stages of having babies and chasing toddlers. Crow’s feet notwithstanding, I think I even even look younger than I did back then, mired in an unfortunate blend of up-and-down pregnancy weight gain, bad “mom” haircuts, baggy postpartum wardrobes and unflattering glasses.

Still, there’s something about 40 that feels particularly momentous, especially since it’s the first decade of adulthood in which I will not only not have more babies, but will, in fact, send all five of mine off to their adult lives. My 40s seem ripe for second-act career opportunities, adventure, and lots of self-discovery.

A few years ago I became aware of a trend of posting “40 before 40” lists – bucket lists of sorts that list 40 things that person wants to do by the age of 40. And while I love the idea of setting goals and dreaming big, something about it has never sat right with me.

In the first place, the closer I get to 40 the more I realize that some of the goals I might have set at 30 or 35 are increasingly unlikely to happen by 40. Foreign travel? I’m all over Canada, but Asia or Europe…well, unless something drastically changes in our budget, that money is much more likely to go toward braces and college funds. Two years ago, we were tentatively planning a year-long family adventure in South America. Then, I unexpectedly needed surgery and spent the next year paying off the $10K+ out of pocket portion of the hospital bill.

Result? That dream has been deferred. It happens. Life happens.

And the truth is, as much as I’d like plan two-and-a-half years of adventure on a global scale, for this mom of five, the adventures are likely to happen a lot closer to home, in smaller, less exotic ways.

But isn’t that how it is for most of us? As exciting and possible as those 40-before-40 lists might seem when we’re in our early 30s, and as much as we might all like to go on an African safari or a spiritual journey in India or yachting in Monaco before we hit the big 4-0, for regular, optimistic-but-limited-by-reality humans, life, money, career, kids, or (fill in the blank) often shape a new reality.

Still. Even those of us whose worlds are a little smaller than we might like can live big lives. (Tweet This.)

We can make ourselves open to moments of adventure, wherever and whenever they’re found, and embrace them when they pop up. We can be generous and appreciative and open to new ideas. We can surround ourselves with people who bring out the best in us. We can work hard to bring out the best in ourselves.

And maybe that’s what’s bothered me all this time about those “40 before 40” lists: they put all the focus on what we do and not enough on what we learn – about ourselves, others, and the world – along the way. Things that we can choose to learn, whether we have those big, bucket-list experiences or not.

I created the tagline for this blog – Write A Bigger Story – before I had really decided what exactly I wanted to focus on here. I know I wanted to blog about writing and living a creative life, and the tagline popped into my head and just spoke to me. But I’m now realizing that for me, writing a bigger story also means focusing on the lessons I’m learning about life and love and work and play and human-ness as I careen in slow motion toward my fifth (holy cow FIFTH?) decade of life.

So no. I won’t be writing a 40-before-40 bucket list. But I will be sharing, over the next weeks and months and years, some of the lessons I’ve learned about life as I edge closer to turning a big chapter, and some of the ways I want to create, embrace, and write a bigger story, even if I’m more likely to be doing it from the produce department at the grocery store than a vineyard in Italy.

I hope you’ll follow along as I write my own version of a “40 before 40” list – focusing not on items I can check off my to-do list, but lessons I’ve learned and am learning about life, love, creativity and the art of being human. Look here for new posts a few times a month, and if you’d like to hear from me via email every week or so, just enter your information below. 

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  • I’m turning 37 this year. I can’t believe how close we are, but it’s just another number. I can’t wait to follow along.

  • I love this. I turned 40 last August and the worst part about it was the anticipation. Of course. And I love what you say about living a big life even if you stay put. xox

  • Cindy_deRosier

    I turned 40 in 2012. I spent the year trying 40 new-to-me things. Nothing big – all inexpensive, little things that I’d never done. I adopted the motto, “Small adventures are still adventures.” It was an absolutely amazing experience. You can see my list here if you’re interested: http://www.cindyderosier.com/p/40-things-during-my-40th-year.html

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