Holding up a cupcakes with 40 candles on my 40th birthday.

So I guess I’m 40.

On the day that I turned thirty I invited all of my friends over for a big party. There was punch with orange sherbet and a hot chocolate bar with Kahlúa and marshmallows and three kinds of pudding shots and sprinkled and frosted cupcakes and balloons hanging from the ceiling and pin the tail on the donkey taped to the wall.

At some point in the night, in the middle of it all, I stood up on a chair and announced to the room that that year I was going to quit my job and travel around the world.

And I did it.

Six months later I boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to Berlin and I didn’t return until fourteen months later. And then I left again. And again. And again.


Making an announcement that I am going to quit my job and travel.

This week I turned forty. Alone. In my apartment. With my cats and a busted knee. I spent the day in sweatpants watching ten-year-old cooking shows on Discovery Plus and watching Cloverfield movies on Amazon and Netflix and ordering all the takeout food I could eat. Because if you can’t do anything else on your birthday, you can at least eat your feelings.

And let me tell you, I had feelings.

It wasn’t exactly how I imagined my fortieth birthday would go down. But, then again, not many things right now are how I imagined they would be.

I haven’t traveled in what seems like forever and I have no travel planned ahead. I’ve barely even left my apartment in a year. My hair hasn’t been cut in nearly two years. I’m very single. I’m very stuck in my career. I’m very stuck in Chicago. My body feels broken down. Everything feels messy. And most of the time I’m just tired. And sad.

I went into my thirties banging with so many incredible plans for my amazing future and went out of them crying on my couch terrified that there is no future to even plan for. And that this, this is all I will ever have.

I often feel like time is barreling forward while I am slipping backwards. And, honestly, I can’t even blame that on the pandemic. Because I was already feeling that way way before the world shut down.

I wasn’t really looking forward to turning forty this year. And I know that in reality it really is just an arbitrary number. That there is no difference between 39 and 40. But also, there is no difference between 39 and 40. And that scares me too because what I really need right now is change. A whole lot of fucking change.

But I have no lesson here. I have no words of wisdom to neatly tie this all up. I have no inspirational quotes. I have no game plan to get everything on track in my next decade No new bucket lists or challenges or mantras for myself.

I just have an annual tradition of sitting down and writing about my birthday.

And a whole lot of cupcakes to get through.

Cupcakes from Sweet Mandy B's with forty birthday candles.

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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2 Comments
  • Ali
    January 24, 2021at1:55 pm

    OMG I’m right there with you. Ok I’m not single, but everything else…covid killed my career and my biggest hobby/passion. We barely leave the apartment. Germany is in a strict lockdown again, now requiring medical masks (no more fabric masks) to go into stores or transport. And I feel like there is no end in sight. Sure, there’s a vaccine, but they’re going so slow here, I have no idea when I’m eligible. And that doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal. It truly feels like there’s nothing to plan for and we’re all stuck in this awful, sad, scary, monotony. I have panic attacks on a regular basis. I don’t sleep much. I’m just over it all, and yet I feel like I need to settle in for the long haul because this isn’t ending anytime soon.

  • Ash
    January 4, 2024at4:08 am

    I just randomly came across this after looking at your 30 before 30 bucket list. I just want you to know that there is hope in God. He is the only thing that gives true purpose and meaning. Looking up John 3:16 if you want to know more and go from there. God bless.

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