The Inevitable Existential Crisis of Birthday Cake


me in blue Shannon Cerny
My birthday is two months from today, my 40th birthday and I am overwhelmed with shame. I am ashamed that I am divorced, without children and with each passing day, feel more dread and anxiety about my stupid, goddamn birthday. Pardon my French. Put that on my cake.

All I can think is how did I get here?

I subscribe to the school of thinking that everyone has the exact life they choose – that you are in control of your destiny in both little ways and big – but now here I am seemingly having made good choices and bad, honest choices that have led me to this in-between that is neither where I have been nor where I would like to go.

For the first time in my entire life, I do not know what to do.

Frankly, it is hard not to make a spreadsheet or a list, to develop a power point that chronicles this journey and my plan to get back on track towards the family and job and husband and body and lifestyle and, and, and that I envisioned. That I dreamt of. Perhaps I could wear my best suit and present my plan at some imaginary corporate stockholders meeting in my grandparent’s living room – that would be easy, more comfortable even, than turning 40.

Years of therapy tell me to lean in, to really explore what I am afraid of, to sit quietly and feel. I hate that plan. I am driven by action – the double-edged sword of my success and perhaps undoing. Unraveling at the thought of being alone because now at almost 40 years old, I cannot avoid that this is my second act, the latter half of my story.

I wonder if I am alone in this.

I tell myself this is what it means to be human, to be an aging woman in America, a single middle-aged female – I am no Susan Sarandon driving off the cliff. But there is this sense that time has gotten away from me and that terrifies me to my core.

And yet I know all too well that this aging is a luxury that is not afforded to all. That great people, young people, historic and familial of every type and age and religion and color and affiliation, do not get to turn 40 and to celebrate their birthdays. And I am humbled that I have made it, tripping and kicking and fumbling to this milestone.

I do not have a bow to put on this, my moment of truth. But I will start with my truth that I am scared and struggling and human and flawed… and trust that each day I will work, wonder, and wage my way to whatever destiny is my own to claim.


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