What a blessing, what an honour to turn 40. Forty years old! It’s a big number yet not even middle age (by God’s grace!). Even harder than believing that I’ve been on this earth for 40 years is believing that my parents have a 40-year-old—imagine! I feel much more like a child than my parents were at 40; maybe because they had four children by my age!
I thank God for keeping and sustaining me (and my family) for all these years. I thank Him for who I am, flaws and all, and who I’m becoming. Speaking of…
I had a picture of who I wanted to be by 40: someone who knows what she wants and lives in a way that’s congruent with those things (for example, wanting to be a full-time entrepreneur means working on my business every day, period, and for me, it means waking up earlier because evenings don’t work as well as they used to). I want to be the friend who brings out the best in others (I was better at this when I was younger) and I want to surround myself with friends who do the same for me. I want to be positive and not let fears, anxious thoughts, and a negative mindset hold me back.
There were things that I wanted to accomplish by my fortieth birthday, long-held dreams that I had, like having triplets (for real!???), and I remember being disappointed when I realized that Sayo’s papers wouldn’t be processed in time. I want to be a full-time entrepreneur, but I also remember not doing the work needed to get there, despite “running” a mastermind of supportive and encouraging women for over three-and-a-half years (and counting!?♀️). And my oldest dream of losing weight—which is no longer a priority as long as I remain healthy—is on the list out of habit.
I had big plans for my fortieth birthday: a prop-filled photo shoot with all these meaningful details, a huge, fabulous party, a special gift (a purse, because my current one is falling apart) to mark the new decade that I’m entering, a solo trip that combines being in the Caribbean (a first!) with an educational component (business retreat, maybe) but over the past few months that I’ve been thinking about all this, the only thing that happened is the photo shoot, and let me tell you about it.
I had been thinking about it for months. I booked a photographer a month in advance and sent her access to my Pinterest inspiration board and a description of what I wanted. Even before booking the photo shoot, I spent weeks ordering outfits online (and buying in store), trying them on, and returning the ones that wouldn’t work. I debated making a pink tutu and wearing a tiara (for real!?). When I realized that I was getting carried away, I decided on the elements that were “me” and focused on including those things.
One of the important props for the shoot was a tall cake. I wanted it to be about a foot tall, four to six inches in diameter, and I wanted it on a pink cake stand. Months before I decided on having a cake in my shoot, everyone and their dog were selling pink cake stands. Do you think I could find a pink stand three weeks before the photo shoot? Of course not—the closest that I found looked more like a bird bath! I bought four potential cake stands in the process; settling on a white one with a ruffled edge (I’ll be returning the ones that I didn’t use). I tried to order a cake but when the average quote was $50 for a cake half the height of what I wanted, I told myself I could make my own cake for less than that, thank you very much.
I borrowed the perfect cake pans from Ves and absorbed her best tips for smoothing the icing to the perfection that I saw in my inspiration pictures. She also gave me pretty much all tools that I needed to achieve the perfectly iced cake, including the link to a great video. Two days before the shoot, I baked the cakes, making a rookie mistake that I had never made before: I baked the cakes on the wrong rack, so far from the heat source that by the time the timer went off, the cake was like pudding. I realized my mistake near the end of the baking time and opened the oven (a no-no) to move the cakes to the proper location in the oven. Then I broke part of two of the cakes while releasing them from the cake pan. I remember my frustration over those errors; little did I know I’d be crying over another aspect of the cake: the icing!
The night before the photo shoot, I began icing the cake. First you have to do the crumb coat, where you cover the cake with a light layer of icing, before the real icing. It went relatively well, but it wasn’t perfect, so I started fixing it. Sayo came and we tried to work together, with one turning the turntable/lazy Susan and the other holding the smoothing implement. Then we tried a different smoothing implement. Things were going well but my attempts to make it perfect made it worse as the icing began to dry. The tears began. Sayo tried to console me but I was a mess: the cake wasn’t going to be perfect and I was embarrassed to have it in my photo shoot. I tried to cover up the imperfect icing job by adding sprinkles but my sprinkles didn’t stick (because the icing was dry), and the sprinkles that I pressed into the icing looked awful (like sand; so much for sparkling gold!); it looked like a kid’s project!
Sayo kept working on the cake and I told him to give up while I worked feverishly on the poster. Poster? Oh yes: one of the props for the shoot was a poster that was supposed to be an “all about me” summary. After going to countless stores looking for the huge frame (which I finally scored for $11 at a second-hand store), I had writer’s block and I hated everything that I wrote. As I tried to figure out the poster, Sayo kept working on the cake. I told him I hated the cake, that it was hideous—but that it wasn’t his fault. I told him that I couldn’t pose with the cake because it was embarrassing. He ignored me and kept working on the cake. At 6:01am (yup, I didn’t sleep overnight), I sent a message to one of the potential bakers to report on the progress of the icing (she had encouraged me to DIY and asked me to update her) and she offered to make me a cake. It was hours before the shoot but I still couldn’t bring myself to pay the $60 she wanted, even after all my struggle and tears. I accepted that I wouldn’t have a cake.
By this point, I was mentally done, most likely due to sleep deprivation. I was ready to abandon the poster, and even abandon the photo shoot. I told Sayo I was going to sleep for two hours then come back to it; when I got upstairs I burst into tears and Sayo came up, gave me a pep-talk and nudged me back downstairs. I cried a couple more times as I finalized what to me was the most boring poster and sent it off to be printed at 8:30am. Then I slept for an hour and a half.
I had two medical appointments on photo shoot day; in fact, I deliberately scheduled the photo shoot for that day because I wasn’t going to work so I would have lots of time—hah! Of course, I didn’t factor in a sleepless night. By the time we got to the second appointment, it was clear that given how late the doctor was running, we wouldn’t get to the printer’s place before they closed. Sayo decided to go and pick up the poster while I arranged for my mom (who was going to do my makeup) to pick me up from the doctor’s office (my parents are ALWAYS there for me, though I’m often reluctant to ask). My mom gave me a pep-talk as she drove me to their house about how nothing is perfect and I should stop being so hard on myself. When I saw my sister I started crying, talking about how tired I was of my plans never working out. My niece was startled; she thought I was fake crying! I had left my makeup in the car with Sayo, but my mom made the makeup that she had work. Sayo picked me up and we headed home to pick up my outfits and the props we needed for the photo shoot, stopping along the way to pick up the balloons. It was clear that we were going to be late for the photo shoot so I let the photographer know.
Once we had everything packed, we headed to the site, along with the cake—Sayo had refused to leave it at home. We arrived 45 MINUTES LATE to a two-hour photo shoot! A shoot I had paid for, in a room I had rented—oh yes, I rented a space for the shoot—because I was convinced that there wasn’t enough light in our house for the shoot and because I liked the look of the brick wall in the rental space. The shoot was downtown and as we rushed upstairs with our props—including a bench—the valet in front of the building beside us told us that he would call someone to impound our car if we didn’t move it. We had 15 minutes left of the room rental (the rest of the shoot was to be outdoors). I rushed to change into my outfit and we snapped a few pictures indoors before heading out for the outdoors portion. The only problem with being outside is there wasn’t anywhere to change discreetly. The photographer and I were on foot (because we would be stopping along the way) and Sayo met us at our final destination with the balloons.
Between the rush to get to the venue, the hurried photos in the space, the walking around downtown Ottawa (worth it, but exhausting because of the shoes and other things that I was carrying), I was exhausted. When Sayo picked me up we were DONE. We got home at almost 9:00pm, and one of the first things that Sayo did was cut into the cake and we devoured it; we had barely eaten all day.
So, why did I just spend an eternity sharing all of this? Not because I want you to feel sorry for me, and not because I want you to think “Gosh, Jummy has issues: all this stress over a photo shoot?” (though I’d understand if that’s what you’re thinking!). I shared it because I know I’m not the only one who feels discouraged when things don’t work out, be it a photo shoot or your plans for your 40th (or 20th, or 30th) year. Despite the stress and the disappointments, there are good lessons that I’m taking with me into my fortieth year.
- Know what you want. I knew what I wanted for the photo shoot, which was great, but there are other aspects of my life where I’m less sure. I need to keep asking the question, doing what I think is best in the moment, and adjusting when things change.
- Stop aiming for perfection; instead, do your best and be satisfied with that. I had never tried to ice a cake like that before and I wasn’t familiar with the tools. I shouldn’t have expected a flawless result, when I’m not a professional baker. I should have been proud of what I achieved, given the facts.
- Be realistic. I was optimistic because baking comes naturally to me, but I’m not skilled in decorating and I knew this. Watching a YouTube video a couple of times without practicing is not enough. There’s a reason that they say “practice makes perfect”.
- Look at the big picture. I’ve received compliments on the photo shoot pictures and because I know what the vision was, I want to point out the errors, or share what my actual vision was, but no one else knows what was in my head and they’re liking the pictures for what they are. I’m detail-oriented but I accomplished my end goal which was to have pictures marking my special day and that’s what matters.
- Thinking about something isn’t the same as executing it—you probably need more time than you think. This is one of the things that trips with every project: I need about three times the amount of time that I give myself; if I don’t give myself the time that I need, then I shouldn’t be disappointed with poor execution. Imagine if I had the poster done a week or more before the shoot. How about if we had packed the car with everything before we went to the medical appointments? It would have been a very different day. I didn’t set myself up to win and I left no room for anything going wrong. And why was I making my t-shirt at the very last minute when it was part of the plan from the beginning?
- Time is more precious than money—this is a hard one for me. Imagine if I had ordered a cake from the beginning and arranged to pick it up on the way to the venue? Imagine if I had also paid someone to design the poster. I would have been much happier and enjoyed myself more, even if minor setbacks happened.
- Be positive. Sayo is convinced that this shoot wasn’t everything that I dreamed of because about a week before the shoot, I started saying that I didn’t think it would work out. Words are powerful and I got exactly what I had spoken into existence. All along the way, including as Sayo continued to work on the cake, and then pack it, I said it was ugly and that I wouldn’t use it. I called myself all sorts of awful names as things fell apart that morning and evening and with that attitude, is it any wonder that the day wasn’t a dream?
- Lean on your people. My parents, sister, and Ves all know me and they could have predicted what would happen would happen…too bad I didn’t give them the details until the last minute. If they had known earlier, they would have helped me see the potential things that could go wrong (i.e., everything). You’d think I’d know this by now, but sometimes you can’t see something because you’re too close to it, and Sayo is still learning what I’m like in person.
- You can begin again. When the photo shoot ended and I expressed disappointment with how things went to my sister, she reminded me that I could set up another shoot if I wanted. Sure, it would cost money but wouldn’t it be worth it to get what I wanted? I tend get fixated on getting it right (I blame my fixed mindset) and I was reminded that I can have a do-over.
- Dreams don’t have a deadline: I’m still alive, all that I wish can still come true. Those triplets are coming! I will still work for myself. I can still travel and lose weight if I want. These goals will still be amazing achievements to be proud of, even if they happen after 40.
- Things aren’t always what they seem. From these pictures, you wouldn’t have guessed what was going on behind the scenes and I didn’t look stressed. The cake was yummy, despite looking a mess.
I haven’t shared everything I wanted to share but I need to bring this to an end so I can go out for my birthday dinner. Despite the stress of the day, this experience made my love for Sayo grow. He showed up for me in ways that I never expected (decorating a cake, what?!). He was my rock and support, and my encourager. Before the plans got underway, he had warned me about the importance of a positive attitude; I agreed, only to display the exact opposite attitude. But he didn’t abandon me; he was there for me despite having a sprained ankle. He was the unseen reason that the day appeared successful and he shared a few of the lessons above with me as we went through this project.
Forty is here and I will rise to the occasion: a new decade deserves new behaviour. I will be kind to myself and keep my goals top-of-mind. I will make the changes and sacrifices necessary to be who I want to be (and do what I want to do) and I’ll remind myself of my goals by asking myself what I want. Fear won’t limit me. The journey won’t be perfect because I’m doing things I’ve never done before, but I will rise up to meet it with grace and faith. Amen!