I just finished reading Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life – through the 40s, 50s, and Beyond by Sarah Brokaw (Hyperion, 2011).

Brokaw, the daughter of legendary newsman Tom Brokaw, holds a Master’s degree in social work from New York University and is a licensed therapist with a practice in Beverly Hills, California.  Through work at her practice as well as discussion groups around the country, Sarah has discovered the core values of women who navigate throught midlife with the most success and termed it, “fortytude.”

Having recently turned forty myself, the book immediately caught my eye when it came across my desk.

According to Brokaw, it starts when we’re thirty-five.  We can no longer deny that we are aging.  I think I was just shy of thirty-five when I first started noticing changes.  Just days after my youngest son Liam was born, I looked closely at my skin in the mirror and noticed what I would describe as crepiness when I smiled.  At first I thought I was imagining it.  I kept smiling at myself, turning from side to side with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It was unnerving to say the least.  So I started slapping on the eye cream at night.


Good times with good friends.

It wasn’t long before I noticed the varicose veins that seemed to appear overnight, the extra thirty pounds (I’d been working on that for a couple of years), then the graying hair.  Losing both of my parents in my thirties was a game-changer too.  I was next in line.  All of these things added to my anxiety about turning forty.

The night before I turned forty, I couldn’t go to sleep.  I remembered my mother at forty.  Her early forties were probably some of the most difficult years of her life.  Her father died when she was forty-two.  Her mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, moved in with us.  Then we watched the slow decline of her health.  It was all kind of depressing.  But then I realized…I was beyond all that.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

I woke up the next morning and was relieved that I didn’t feel any different.  Or maybe I did…

I’m a little bit sassier.  I don’t censor myself as much anymore.  If you don’t like it, too bad.  I also won’t compromise on integrity and I’m not afraid to speak up for what’s right.  I also like to think I still have a little playfulness left in me.  Most recently, my 7-year-old talked me into getting on a water slide at Disney.  It was a horrible experience.  It was way too fast and when I hit the pool my sunglass flew off my face and I was treated to the worst wedgie ever.  I can tell you right now, my mother would never have gotten on that slide at forty – but my son loved it!

In her practice, Brokaw identified five core values in women who flourish during their middle age years:

  • Grace – Living with integrity.  Helping others.
  • Connectedness – Experiencing satisfying relationships.
  • Accomplishment – Making goals and getting things done.
  • Adventure – Demonstrating a willingness to try new things.
  • Spirituality – Understanding that life has meaning beyond the daily grind.

I saw all of these values in my mother, especially during her fifties, to different degrees.  Grace and spirituality really stand out in my mind when I think of her.   She always said she enjoyed her fifties the most.

Just recently I’ve tried to prioritize my life more.  What’s more important – an extra hour at the gym or getting home to my kids before they are in bed?  Over-volunteering to the point of exhaustion, or spending a day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden with my family?  I’m trying to find some balance.


My idea of a good time.

I’m looking forward to new opportunities and new experiences.  Maybe I’ll finish that book I’ve been working on for years.  Maybe I’ll finally take that trip to Israel.

How did turning forty change you?  How do you show your “fortytude”?

Jill Prouty

Jill is a reader, writer, and professional librarian who enjoys spending her free time with her husband of twelve years and their two sons. She has an MSLS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.