Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life

When I was 38, I decided to skip my 20-year high school reunion. Back then, I was simply too afraid to show up empty-handed, with no husband on my arm, nor pictures of kiddies to flaunt.

I was approaching the big 4-0 and felt I had nothing to show for myself.

Man, was I being silly. First of all, I was acting like a hypocrite. There I was, encouraging clients in my counseling practice to “sally forth” and face life with confidence and curiosity as I sat in the metaphorical corner with my hands over my eyes.

What’s more, I found myself sharing my clients’ concerns in more than just the usual ‘empathetic therapist’ way. I’d often lay awake at night, my mind riddled with worries about what lay ahead in my personal and professional life.

It got me wondering: Why was it that so many women—including myself—had such an aversion to turning 40? I began examining psychological research and popular writings and found no one had really explored the anxiety women feel as they approach their forties.

So at 38, I decided to find out, and in the course of my research, facilitated discussion groups in cities and towns literally across America and also interviewed individual women from all walks of life, whether they were Ivy Leaguers or recovering crack addicts, stay-at-home moms or those longing to birth children, victims of abuse, breast cancer survivors or high-powered executives.

I also talked to women over 50 who’ve successfully hurdled so many of the obstacles we seem to encounter in life, and the matriarchs among us who’ve led the way for all women.

While all of these individuals came from wildly different backgrounds (whether their age, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status), they were all drawn to five clear values which emerged as constants.

I call them the Five Core Values: Grace, Connectedness, Accomplishment, Adventure and Spirituality. Through each of these values, the women I encountered were able to greet life’s challenges with fortitude rather than fear.

And it only made sense that these five values would comprise what I call Fortytude: a way to look at life through the lens of curiosity and confidence rather than the lens of fear and regret.

Understanding your ‘sparkling moments’

Another important factor of Fortytude is what I call a sparkling moment. Often when relaying to me what’s going on in their lives, my clients refer to the root of the matter as a “problem,” a term that stimulates negativity and causes them stress.

Instead, I suggest they label their situation a “sparkling moment,” to see and thus perceive the issue in a more positive light. Having a sparkling moment simply means you’re experiencing something that while perhaps challenging, is also an opportunity to change and experiment. A sparkling moment is an opportunity to grow.

In fact, sparkling moments can even bring relief in that when you no longer feel pressured to fix something or suffer from the negative energy attached to “problems,” you gain the mental space to make informed and empowered decisions.

And when it comes to embodying and living a life of Fortytude, self-empowerment is key.

Throughout my book, Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life — through the 40s, 50s and Beyond, I share the stories of 40 incredible, inspiring women, and relate how they’ve experienced their own sparkling moments and lived the five core values.

My hope is that when reading my book, and by approaching problems as sparkling moments and embracing the five core values, readers too can develop the mental and emotional framework that empowers all of us to be our most authentic—and actualized—selves.

Fortytude at its heart is the special strength it takes to approach aging and life with a healthy blend of courage, realism and hope, so we can remove our hands from our eyes and face our fears—and moreover, transcend them.

The Five Ways of Fortytude: The Five Core Values

  • Grace: Live with integrity, capitalizing on your own strengths while admiring the strengths of others.
  • Connectedness: Allow yourself to experience satisfaction in being connected with others, whether in person, on the phone or virtually. Connectedness can impact you in many ways.
  • Accomplishment: This is defined as the sense of realizing goals and getting things done. It’s even more necessary in today’s world, when women are expected to cram 48 hours of living in to every 24-hour day. Yet, it’s possible to find satisfaction in even small accomplishments and the key is recognizing them.
  • Adventure: This is your willingness to seek challenges outside your typical comfort zone. What challenges you? What excites you? Pushing your boundaries can provide room for growth—not to mention a wealth of experience.
  • Spirituality: At its heart, spirituality is your personal approach to religion, and the understanding that life has meaning beyond the day-to-day details.

About the Author

author image

Sarah Brokaw is the author of the New York Times bestseller Fortytude: Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life—through the 40s, 50s and Beyond, and a licensed therapist specializing in relational dynamics. Her involvement with the wellness community is complemented by her engagement with the world at large. She is a psychotherapist and philanthropist skilled at helping people on an individual, as well as a communal basis. Sarah’s belief that education is a lifelong pursuit within and outside the classroom has led her to achieve some of the highest accolades in her profession. Sarah graduated from Duke University and earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University. She then received specialized training in working with families and couples from the esteemed Ackerman Institute.  

Read more from Sarah Brokaw

Sign Up for's Weekly Must-Read

More Posts from Architects of Change