Today is my 41st birthday.

Yes, shock and awe, I told you how old I am. Actually, if you’ve been paying attention, I told you how old I was a long time ago.

“How old I am.”

There shouldn’t be anything inherently off-putting about that phrase. After all, we start aging the minute we are born (not to mention we start dying the minute we are born, but it’s Saturday and I don’t want to bum you out).

But there is, isn’t there?

When you’re a kid, and someone asks you how old you are, you tell them your age quite proudly. If you’re like me, you are very specific, e.g. “Four and a HALF!” “ALMOST 15!”

(My husband finds it most amusing that I still do this. I can’t help it. I like to be specific.)

As we grow older, we might not be so forthcoming with our age.

Especially women.

We see this all the time, right?

For instance, you might see a greeting like this on a Facebook friend’s wall: “Happy birthday, so and so, ’29’ looks great on you! <nudge nudge wink wink>.”

In fact, one of my good friends, who’s a scant 11 months younger than me, takes every opportunity to remind me that I’m the “old” one.

Hoo boy.

As I wrote this post, I tried to recall if there were times I shied away from my age.

You bet. I grew up in what I think is probably still a very ageist society, particularly when it comes to the workplace.

Job postings – regular jobs, the kind you and I would apply for – often include a cut-off age, which you have to be below in order to even apply.

You have to retire at a certain age. Even if you are quite capable of working beyond it.

Even after I moved to the U.S., I was leery of talking about my age. After all, I work in an industry populated by Bright Young Things, and I was worried about being considered an old fogy if they actually knew how old I was.

Might there be a perception that I was not “with it,” not able to keep up with trends enough, not able to have the energy to do my job, because I was “older”?

Over the last few years, though, I came to care less and less about whether anyone knew how old I was.

To the point where I announced it quite proudly last year.

The impetus was a Facebook birthday fundraiser, where I tried to get folks to donate the equivalent of my age to my cause of choice.

How would they be able to do that if they didn’t know how old I was?

I took every opportunity to tell people how old I was, and why I was telling them.

One memory in particular stands out. I was opening the IABC/DC Metro January 2010 chapter meeting, and after I talked about why this was a milestone year for me, many many women – older women – came up and thanked me for sharing that.

It empowered them that someone would share something so personal, so potentially “depressing,” so openly.

I’ve been liberated from my age.

Yes, I get older with every passing year, and I suppose technically, I’m now middle-aged.

But if I look at it another way, I’m getting better with every passing year, and my skin fits me more comfortably than it ever did before.

Almost all the women I grew up admiring, and admire today, are over 40… sometimes well over 40.

My own mother – an absolutely remarkable woman – celebrated her birthday a couple of days ago.

While I don’t presume to know how she felt as she grew older, I can tell you that, in many ways, her life – at least her professional life – took off after 40.

In fact, she went back to school (she decided against school to get married and start a family; I was born when she was just 21) and graduated at the age of 40 – at the same time I was graduating from college myself.

And OMG, once she started, there was no stopping her. She earned not one but three degrees, rose through the ranks of one of India’s best schools to become a senior administrator, and has authored I don’t know how many textbooks for school children in India.

Certainly, there are things I can’t do any more.

I can’t dance through the night, not sleep and manage to still go to work, for instance.

I can’t eat everything I like without it showing. Ahem. You know what I’m talking about.

I can’t recover as easily as I used to from bruises, cuts and scrapes.

But that’s ok. I don’t need to.

What I can do much better now is to be more in charge of my life, say “no” when I need to with greater confidence, and revel in how much “more” I am than I used to be.

If that (top pic) is what 40 looked like, can you imagine how much better 41 is going to be?

I hope you enjoy this little slideshow of “Shonali through the years” I put together. I had fun going down memory lane. And there’s so much more to look forward to.

[cincopa AAKAyaqUPjMw]