Turning 40 Around the World: A Conversation with Author Aimee Cebulski
Thankfully, more people—more women—understand that most of the time the things we fear about our “0” birthdays are not as bad as we make them out to be. They will bring their own share of laughter, joy, sadness, travel, living, loving, and life. As author Aimee Cebulski demonstrates in her book, The Finding 40 Project, women everywhere are coming to their 40s with renewed energy and an openness to opportunities, whether they realize it or not.
With the ups and downs of your own journey to 40, what has struck you the most through this process of hearing the journey of other women around the world?
This entire process definitely reinforced my appreciation for how lucky I am to have been born in and live in the United States when it comes to my opportunities and rights as a woman, especially an unmarried woman.
When you think back to your post-divorce trips and increasing love of photography, what images have stuck with you?
The year after my divorce was final, I took a solo trip to Australia. This was huge in a lot of ways, not only solidifying my confidence in the fact that I had beaten my fear of flying but that I could create any life I wanted. I explored locations, took photos of any images I wanted and arranged excursions that specifically put me in places I wanted to see and capture. Sunrise at Uluru in the Outback was one of those moments; the photo still hangs on my wall today.
You can’t sit at the Long Bar and have a classic Singapore Sling at the Raffles without getting on a plane; you can’t picnic in Hyde Park with lunch from the Harrod’s food hall in London without a flight. The thought of denying myself those experiences helped me push [through my fear of flying].
Of the places you’ve visited so far, if you could go back and spend some (more) time, where would you go, and why?
I really enjoy Latin America. Ecuador and Peru were just a little taste of South America and I’m anxious to see more of that continent, especially Argentina and Chile.
What tips would you send to your 20-year-old self?
Stop trying so hard to make everyone else happy. It’s one of my main struggles even now. I’m so focused on being a “people pleaser” that I often put my own wishes last.
What piece of advice do you wish you could tell to all 20-somethings unsettled about turning 30?
If you are debating what path to take or nervous about taking a risk, just go for it! I continue to always remember the advice my dad gave me when I decided to leave a secure full-time job and start a PR consulting firm at age 26: “Go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always do something else.”
I think often the biggest struggle when it comes to going for a dream is that most people just need someone behind them saying, “You can do it!”
What advice would you give to 30-somethings struggling with the idea of turning 40?
Think about what things in your life give you the most joy: travel? friends? family? volunteering? Whatever it is, try and structure your life so you can have more of that in your everyday life. I’m a big believer in “retiring a little bit every year,” meaning that I consciously try to do something traditionally thought of a retirement activity like traveling or volunteering, instead of holding it all back for some date in the future. The 40s are a great time to really focus on this.
What are you looking forward to during this decade and the following decade?
Health! Earlier this year I faced the fact that my worthless right hip (destroyed by congenital hip dysplasia) was never going to get better on its own and I had to face the fact I needed a total hip replacement—in my early 40s! Once I got over that concept, I embraced my new bionic self and now I am happier, healthier, and more active than I have been in years. I can’t wait to keep pushing this body further and further!
In an earlier interview, you included the quote, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” Do you remember when you first agreed with that quote?
Pretty early on. Even in my 20s, I was never big on acquiring lots of possessions or things like brand-name clothes or luxury items. I remember planning a simple trip to Las Vegas and evaluating whether or not I needed a new purse: I looked at it and thought, “That could easily be a night or two exploring somewhere new,” and I put it back. Now, pretty much every major purchase is evaluated against what experience I could buy with that money instead.
Did that idea that “travel makes you rich” help push you through your fears and start traveling again?
Yes, but really what pushed me forward was the knowledge that if I didn’t figure out how to manage these fears, there were countless things I would never see with my own eyes. You can’t sit at the Long Bar and have a classic Singapore Sling at the Raffles without getting on a plane; you can’t picnic in Hyde Park with lunch from the Harrod’s food hall in London without a flight. The thought of denying myself those experiences helped me push on.
How important is it to you to encourage women struggling with something to move forward with their dreams?
It’s one of my greatest passions! Every time a friend shares something they dream of doing, I am their biggest cheerleader, helping to figure out ways to overcome potential obstacles. I think often the biggest struggle when it comes to going for a dream is that most people just need someone behind them saying, “You can do it!”
Photo credit: Lizzie Guilbert