Foxy by 40 – You are a Shark!

July & August update for Operation Foxy By 40: sewing, shark mantras, cat quilts and the meaning of life.

Ziggy and her quilt

A new hobby

This year Gareth is deep into restoring a vintage motorcycle, a 1976 Honda CB750. Much of its dismembered innards are currently living under our bed in neatly labelled boxes.

I’m often called into the garage as assistant mechanic, usually when something is going wrong. He gets so cranky…

Why can’t I just learn something WITHOUT having to make fifteen mistakes first!?
Why can’t things just WORK!
Who’s bloody idea was it to buy this anyway?!
It’s going back on eBay!

And off he stomps inside to see if some other middle aged dude on YouTube knows how to fix it.

A few days later mysterious packages start arriving from David Silver Spares. Random oils and rubber rings and chunks of metal. He goes back into the garage then a few hours later there’s a triumphant, YES! Get the kettle on!

He kept asking when I’d get my own new hobby to ease his spare part shopper’s guilt. I’ve been wanting to learn to sew for ages but was wary of bringing even more stuff into the house (home brewing, cycling and motorbikes are not compact hobbies).

But then Mum visited with a half-finished quilt for Ziggy (squee!). She needed a sewing machine to finish off the border, so we decided a basic machine would be my early birthday present. Thanks Mum!

It took me a month to work up the nerve to touch it. So many levers. So many dials. So much jargon! Praise be to Tilly Walnes’ Make Friends With A Sewing Machine course. She explains things down to my level, which is the “this is the ON button” level.

I love the scary sweary newness of it. So far all I have done is sew squiggles on pieces of muslin (old Liz Earle facecloths!). But it was great fun. Especially after I realised it looked so shit because I’d neglected to put the presser foot down.

Tilly’s course has a lesson to make a basic scarf so I’ll try that next. I don’t have a particular project in mind after that. To be honest, I quite fancy just getting a really long piece of fabric and sewing down that bastard as fast as I can! Every time my foot touches the pedal, I’m overwhelmed with the urge to accelerate. It’s like being back in Canberra at the start of a Northbourne Avenue Dream Run.


Six months with the fluffy one

I found this scribbled in my morning pages notebook from January 3:

You are a shark

First of all, what the heck is You Can Do This, You Are A SHARK!  Morning brain, you crack me up.

(Edit: Thanks Julianne for remembering where this is from: the self esteem shark meme! “Super great.”)

I’m happy to report back to January 3 Shauna that yes indeed, a cat can help with anxiety. Ziggy keeps me in the here and now. I melt when we arrive home and she sprawls belly up in the hallway ready for a pat. I love the days when she decides to sit on my desk in the loaf position, alternating snoozing with a withering stare. Best of all I love her refusal to eat her dry cat food from the bowl – you have to toss it around the room, piece by piece, so she can “hunt it down”. It’s love.


Woolly thoughts

Much of July was spent in a post-Brexit existential cloud. Questioning the point and meaning and purpose of things, what I’m contributing; the state of the world in general. I’ve always been a big ponderer but this one was a doozy!

Can we have some real talk?

One of the biggest aims of Foxy By 40 is to stop hiding and of course that’s the one I’m struggling with most.

Cat in box marked fragile to represent July state of mind... snort!
Cat in box marked fragile to represent July state of mind… snort!
Writing and sharing here is how I’ve connected with the humans and made sense of things since May 2000. But many times in recent years I’ve let some old negative experiences put the frighteners on me. As a result I’ve only tended to write about deeper stuff after I’d “figured it out”, in an attempt to preempt negative outcomes. Like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, except my eyeballs are completely intact.

Life though, is messy and refuses to be tied up into neat blog posts. And of course you cannot control the response to what you put out there.

Since the binge eating situation has improved so much this past year, I’ve been flooded with all these feelings that were previously repressed and numbed. I’m restless and questioning and hungry hungry hungry for I don’t quite know what.

I do know that I crave big deep conversations. But how often do I ever bloody try to start such conversations? Not often, because I’m too busy hiding. Deary, you are knocking on the door of 40. Enough of that.

Which finally brings me to today’s question!

Has anyone else out there come to a time in their lives where you felt a little overwhelmed by the vast yawn of years ahead? Wondering what to do with them; how to fill them in a meaningful way? For example, if one doesn’t end up filling some of those years with a family, what shall one do? What’s next?

Yet simultaneously thinking:

Holy crap, we are running out of time! Life is fragile and I could get snuffed out by a bus tomorrow. So much to do while I can! So many delicious possibilities! Still so many books to read before The End!

(I’m still hoping to be talent spotted while reading a book under a tree. Oh my goodness the way your eyeballs slide across the page is exemplary! You are the Kate Moss of readers and I want to sign you up right now. You shall be handsomely paid to do nothing but read books for the rest of your life. A mix of fluff and classics, sure…)

If you’ve ever reached such a place, what did you do? How did you navigate your way through?

I feel quite okay with all this swirling around upstairs, just observing it as I sew squiggles on muslin cloths. In the spirit of unhiding I thought I’d share in case anyone else out there is pondering, too.

In the meantime I’ll keep on swimming, because apparently I am a SHARK!


P.S. Issue #2 of the Marginalia newsletter came out last Friday. Deadline success! If you’d like to have a nosy, you can sign up here and it will be zapped to your inbox. 

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

47 thoughts on “Foxy by 40 – You are a Shark!

  1. I think your morning brain was recalling the old “Self Esteem Shark” meme? (

    I’ve felt what you describe, although work and family tend to distract me from the big questions. I think a combo of enjoying the simple pleasures here & now, with some plans to look forward to (trips, etc.), and doing some good in the world in a way that feels right to you can be a good way to fill the time and make however long it is worthwhile.

    1. The shark meme!!! That’s it. Thanks julianne, it’s been been bugging me all day!

      I think you have hit on a good formula there πŸ™‚

      1. It was fun revisiting that meme. You *are* SUPER GREAT, Shauna, and I’m not just saying that so you won’t bite off my face. πŸ˜‰

        As for my “formula,” it’s only taken me 48 years to figure that one out. A columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, John Carroll, wrote something about aging that really stuck with me: “Absence of delight is the problem.” So when I’m feeling dull, I try to reconnect with things that delight me.

        (My husband could totally relate to Gareth’s motorcycle woes. One of his had a gas leak and all our laundry reeked for about a week, because the vehicle and our washing machine are both in the garage…)

        1. “Absence of delight is the problem” – love this, and love the delight approach!

          (Gassy laundry! Oh the delights of the motorbike life πŸ˜‰ )

  2. I remember turning 40 and going ‘oh well, not much left, just meander along now till old age and death’.
    Of course, that was over 10 years ago and I’m pretty sure you know roughly JUST HOW VERY WRONG I WAS.
    There’s not a magic answer I’ve worked out, but it has something to do with not settling for ordinary, unless you’re quite sure that ordinary is what you want. Which sometimes it is. Sometimes you just need to rest in place for a while, gathering thoughts and strength.
    And then sometimes you need to bust out and change.

  3. Why can’t things just WORK??!! That is hands down the top “angry” mantra in our house! I feel Gareth’s frustration but he will prevail! A sewing machine – how cool!! I took a beginners quilt making course a few years ago and have kept sewing fairly steadily since then. Mainly, I made up small quilts for charity using fabric passed on from friends and it has been so fun! And now, my machine doesn’t make me cry…haha. (see above angry mantra). I’m so glad you are writing more here and sending out Marginalia because I really enjoy your writing and feel very in tune with your thought process and any rambling you lead us on.
    I’m one year younger than The Mothership and when I allow myself to think about it I am completely freaked out by how little time I have left. While realizing that today and this moment is all that matters. It’s a big big subject.
    One thing I do (now that you’ve brought it to my attention) is continue to learn new skills, like the sewing and languages and gardening and biking. And trying to read as many books as I can.
    One last thing, I am in love with Ziggy. She looks so much like one of my favorite cats (sadly gone now), Peggy Pearl. So glad you have Ziggy in your life.

  4. Ah Shauna I relate so much to your post. I’m 41 and I have to say that I also felt the same feelings of what do I do if I don’t have a family and a kickass career. I have to say that the 40’s are great and I feel a renewed sense of energy to do what I want to do, I worry less what people think and have found my centre. As an emotional eater I’ve just recently reduced sugar and find that my food cravings have disappeared. I did have to deal with feeling so much more but meditation (I learnt TM after reading your post) and reiki have helped me to process. I think you’ll love your 40’s and really come into your own. X

    1. Thanks so much for your fab comment Suzanne, sounds like the changes you’ve made are all working together beautifully! The feelings you describe are just what I’m chasing, glad you’re feeling good πŸ™‚

    1. Yes, I completed a prof writing and editing dip part-time, doing one or two classes a week. Took 5 years. Now doing a screenwriting dip. Will take 6 years very part-time. When I feel crappy about work and other stuff, I remember I have my study and my dream of writing the next Bridesmaids. It also makes me feel superior to my annoying coworkers hahaha. There’s another writing course I might do after this one as well. I am also now in a writers group and that is a lot of fun and helpful and motivating.

      Study, cat time, TV and movies… Pretty happy to fill my time with those!

  5. I must have missed that Dream Run post first time around, that’s still my ambition including going all the way across commonwealth bridge to new parliament house! I’m staring down 60 and still feel I have new things I need to learn and do (and old things I’ve let slip to reacquaint myself with – hello 5k, I’m looking at you) though my sewing machine is firmly on a high shelf in the back of a cupboard. I’ve started writing myself a 52 week list (totally borrowed from Ganching) and had to remind myself how many things needed to be things which were achievable over the next year (i.e., not visit the pyramids). Love Ziggy and love reading everything you right with honesty, humour and insight

    1. All the way to Parliament House, you’d have to get an Order of Australia for that πŸ˜‚

      The list idea is a cracker, will look forward to reading about it en blog! And thank you πŸ™‚

  6. I think we all need to figure out what’s meaningful in life and how we define success. It’s probably different for everyone, but as an A-grade navel-gazer I’ve found that when I’m more outwardly focused I’m happier. It sounds bit corny, but for me meaning is in what small difference I can make in the world, in trying to leave things a tiny bit better than they were before I got there. After years of being miserable that I didn’t achieve a family or career, I’ve realised that success for me is knowing I’ve made someone else’s life a bit better today, whether that’s through volunteering or just helping out a family member or friend in need. I don’t admire the people I thought I wanted to become, I have greater regard for those I come across who are kind and funny and generous of spirit. I hope to always continue trying to be more like them! Also, I’ve figured out that it’s okay to be a flawed work in progress for the rest of my life, because that means I haven’t stopped growing. There’s nothing more boring than someone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out! xox

    1. “meaning is in what small difference I can make in the world, in trying to leave things a tiny bit better than they were before I got there.”

      Yes! Beautifully put!

      “I don’t admire the people I thought I wanted to become, I have greater regard for those I come across who are kind and funny and generous of spirit”

      Love this too! And the last para too! Okay the whole dang thing. Great perspective, thank you Frani! 😍

  7. I was in such a place not that long ago. For me it was defined by the absence of β€žbigβ€œ goals (either achieved or completely out of reach). So what to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t want to waste it trundling along, but also I didn’t want to β€žinventβ€œ goals just to keep me going.
    What makes life meaningful, even if it might end at any moment? My (very personal) answer: I wanted to embrace life and all the experiences it brings – the good and the bad, the absurd and the boring, the hurtful truths and the joyous moments. I’ve let life get closer to me. Hey, we’ve known each other now for such a long time, we’re like an old couple πŸ˜‰
    I may or may not achieve my goals, the little ones that come along, but in the last years I acquired a wealth of experiences and I feel wealthy indeed.
    Just my 2 cents πŸ˜‰

  8. I totally related to this post. Thank you for airing your thoughts– it’s such a service to the world! I, too, find delight from sewing (check out for fun projects) and also feel like I’m supposed to be doing something enormous and epic, like in the movies. Life is much more quiet and ordinary than in fiction, but that can be a blessed thing.

  9. I started quilting at the age of 60 when our first grandchild was on her way. It’s very therapeutic. I already knew the sewing basics but hadn’t sewn in 30 years or more. You can join all kinds of sewing classes on or look for Jenny Doan’s (Missouri Star Quilt Co.) tutorials on youtube.

  10. Sewing is so fun but also the source of most of the WHY DOESN’T ANYTHING EVER WORK???? SWEARING IN OUR HOUSE πŸ˜€ Have fun! As one who is approaching the next 0 birthday like a runaway train I don’t know what to say……. I found 40 intimidating and my 40s mostly awesome! Practising not giving a rat’s arse what people think is another good project. Finally getting my finances in order has made me feel the most adult I ever have!! As for how to fill the ‘remaining years’ in a meaningful way…I reckon it’s about appreciating life – getting joy out of every day – and you’re good at that πŸ˜€ Meaningful things don’t have to be grand goals. Sometimes it’s about making grand gestures and achieving grand things, and sometimes it’s about looking at the little vase of spring flowers you just put on your nice clean kitchen bench and feeling happy and satisfied. You can’t get it wrong, darl πŸ˜€

  11. Your cat is beautiful, and if this “get paid to read things” job pans out please consider hiring me as your assistant in reading things, and also going to libraries and used book stores to fetch books~

  12. This may sound trite, but the times in my life when I’ve felt like that – What Should I Do? – I’ve found it most rewarding to stop focusing on myself and put my attention onto helping others. Because you just can’t go wrong with that; no matter what else happens, you’re able to think, “At least I did such-and-such to make the world a better place.”

    You know I’m no goody two-shoes, no Mother Teresa, so please don’t ascribe any pious arrogance to the suggestion. It’s simply practice advice to get over those periods of existential doubt.

    1. Not trite or arrogant at all, excellent advice! There’s no better feeling I reckon. And gets one out of ones head πŸ™‚

  13. I can relate to your comments and questions – I just turned 50 and am finding “what’s next?” and “what have I done?” to be unsettling questions. I recently started volunteering at a community kitchen and that is helping me find meaning. I think the answer for me will be identifying the way I want to feel / what I consider to be valuable, and then doing things to give me those feelings and sense of satisfaction. The trick will be getting out of my own way.

  14. I completely relate to this. Thank you for sharing. I am 11 months away from the big 4Ohhhhhh . I find that about 4 times a day I do a head check which goes something like : Are you sure you are OK with not having children? What will happen when you get old and have no children? Its exhausting. Every time I answer, yes I’m OK with it and everything will work out fine, but somehow I still need to keep asking. Anyway sewing – yes! I am a novice sewer too but this year I put on my 2016 resolutions that I would make a dress and I just did it – and its fabulous! Its actually inspired by a site you put me onto – frocks and frou frou – it was really simple – well what I mean to say was I figured it out and didn’t swear too much and even though I’m not the most accurate sewer it worked out! I would recommend it as a very satisfying and wearable project for a beginner.

    1. “Every time I answer, yes I’m OK with it and everything will work out fine, but somehow I still need to keep asking” – I feel you! Thanks for your comment Rosie, so reassuring to know I’m not alone with this. Sounds like you are kicking butt with the sewing, Lilli is a legend!

  15. I’m just so glad I’m not the only woman feeling this way! Those thoughts hit me at 40 and have continued, periodically, to 45. Lots of practical advice already given (like helping others, focusing outward instead of inward, etc.) but I would add focus on the little things that bring you joy and DO THEM. I stopped admiring the flowers in the grocery store and actually buy a bunch for my office from time to time. I stopped trying on fabulous hats for fun and actually bought a couple that I ROCK on occasion. When I see someone with a lovely outfit or nice smile (or anything really), I compliment the person instead of letting the thought pass unspoken. I try to worry less and live in the moment more, appreciating little joys instead of waiting for something big and amazing to make me happy. The small joys are no less joyous!! I definitely don’t mean to give the impression that I’ve got anything figured out, and I do have moments where I’m overwhelmed with doubt and anxiety as to my purpose, but I’m working on it a bit at a time, which makes it less daunting.

    1. Ahh Bernie, bloody love all this! You are so right, the joy is in the doing! And you’ve inspired me to buy some flowers πŸ™‚

  16. Thank you for asking the question out loud! As you know I’ve entered the big 4-0 this year. It kinda blindsided me. All of a sudden it was there! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I really enjoyed my birthday party. Mostly because I only invited those people who make me feel good about the world. And I love baking -and feeding people- cake. So I guess that would be my advice, celebrate! (and cake πŸ˜‰
    I’m still struggling with ‘what to do now the party is over’ so I’m really grateful for all the brilliant advice above <3
    Oh and I totally recommend sewing duvet covers. Zooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom! (pin stuff first)

    ps: could you resend your newsletter to me? I'm not sure what happened but I can't find it anywhere?

    1. You can’t go wrong with cake, fo’ sure πŸ™‚

      Bloody brilliant advice above, isn’t it? I was on a high all weekend πŸ™‚

      DUVET COVERS!!! You are genius!

      Mailchimp said you weren’t on the list but I’ve added you now. Thank you for wanting to get your eyeballs on it! πŸ™‚

    1. Oh my goodness I had forgotten about this site! I love that she’s still going and it’s clearly still hilarious πŸ™‚ Thanks, GZ!

  17. The eternal conundrum: entry upon middle age makes one very aware that one is now on the downhill slope of life, and that time is in a very real sense running out; but at the same time, it can seem SO EFFING LONG to the end! Especially when there is not a plan to insert appropriate amounts of fun, recreation, and harmless misbehavior into the years.

    I will turn 51 this fall and can reasonably expect 30 more healthy years. At least ten of them, more likely fifteen, will be consumed by full-time work as the past 25 have been. I will not be able to repeat many of the fun things I’ve done up to now, so I have a running list of things I would like to try for the first time, or for the second time. I also have a list of completely self-important projects with short, medium, and long timelines, so that I can pick and choose what to work on when I have free time.

    A few things I’ve learned:

    It is necessary to put a value on what I do in my free time – what I do solely to please myself. Holding down a full-time job + managing a household and a full-time relationship = work. Not necessarily unpleasant, but still work. It is important to find the good in work, but it is also important to do things that are NOT WORK.

    It is possible to continue learning new things, and it is advisable to not let too much time elapse in between relatively-structured learning experiences. I took a paralegal certificate course last year and really had to re-learn how to *study* properly. Before that, my most recent study experience was a personal-training certificate course that I finished in 2008. So seven years is the outside, and I ought to plan another study experience within the next five years. The great thing is that I can study any damn thing I want, since I don’t plan to change what I do for a living.

    It is possible to get stronger and more fit despite aging. The truth is that for most people – including me – you have to do just a little more every year, as you get older, in order to maintain the same fitness level. But adding just a little more to the little more can have significant and surprisingly rapid good effects.

    People pay a little less attention to middle-aged women than they do to young women. This is actually a good thing. The pressure to conform starts to come off, and unwelcome attention from dickheads starts to fall off. It is still, I hasten to note, completely possible to elicit welcome attention from non-dickheads through the joyous application of flirting.

    Time runs out when we don’t have a plan. An effective plan requires a goal; a strategy; and tactics. A wish is not the same thing as a goal, and an idea is not the same thing as a strategy, and random efforts are not the same thing as tactics.

    Certain goals require an approach that dictates a minimum investment of time, but often investing more time has diminishing returns. Unless you are a surgeon or a rocket designer, done is better than perfect.

    It is important to avoid overthinking or overplanning. If, for example, the goal is to self-publish a book written in longhand back in college, the first thing to do is not to spend time designing a cover or planning a social-media marketing campaign; it’s to type up the bloody book.

    Middle age is when you get to stop caring what other people think. I recommend it.

    1. I’ll have to get him a leather jacket, hehe

      Thank you, Jen! I read BM and love the whole “follow your curiosity” approach!

  18. Just wanted to congratulate you on your sewing machine acquisition. As someone who only really started sewing for herself about 8 years ago, at the age of 42, I hope you get as much satisfaction out of making things as I do. Sewing isn’t all that hard – if you can Google, you can sew. Seriously. I’ve learned so much by being online, following sewing blogs, checking out sites like Pattern Review, taking a few Craftsy classes. As long as you don’t get too disheartened by the wadders (trust me, there will be wadders), you will have a ball dreaming up things you want to wear, and making them a reality! I would caution against giving in to the urge to put the presser foot down too often. As with cars, the result sometimes isn’t pretty.

    1. cheers for the info Paola! I have read your blog for YONKS and always in awe of your skillz! I will go easy on the accelerator πŸ™‚

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