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40 by 40

Today is my birthday. I’m 39.

My best friend growing up (who turned 39 in August) posted a picture on instagram earlier this summer about creating a list of 50 things she wanted to do before she turned 40. I loved the idea so much that I decided to follow her lead (but change it to 40 things because 50 seemed hard to come up with!).

I’ve been on a really beautiful / freeing / difficult / life-giving journey this past year of understanding myself more.  One thing I’ve discovered is that I am not good at knowing what I want. I’m great at being flexible and going with everyone else’s ideas and desires, but I rarely speak up for myself or even feel aware of what I want.

(P.S. if you are into the enneagram, you’ll recognize this as being a typical 9 behavior. The enneagram has been such a life-changing tool these past few months and has put words to things I saw in myself but never could have defined. If you’re new to the enneagram, listen to this for a great overview.)

When Joanna posted about her list of things she wanted to do before she turned 40, it sparked something in me. This feels like the perfect time for me to write a list FOR ME.

Because part of becoming a better, more whole version of myself (which I so desperately desire for the sake of setting an example to my kids, being a more settled and confident wife and friend and living out of a rooted, deep faith) means practicing the act of figuring out and stating what I want.

God has been so kind to me in this season. I am tender and deeply reflective. When I’m tempted to quit everything so I can just make all the uncomfortable feelings go away, I’m reminded that this wrestling and pressing in is what will ultimately lead to real peace.

This small, seemingly inconsequential practice of defining what things I want to do in this next year feels like one little step in the right direction. My plan is to actually DO all the things on the list, but I think the simple act of DEFINING them is just as important.

And so, on this my 39th birthday, I’ve put together a list of things I want to do before I turn 40.

40 by 40 list Some are deep and lasting; some light-hearted and trivial. I didn’t let the list focus on projects in our house or my business or anyone else’s desires for me. This is just a list of things I want to do this year. Things that will bring life and gratitude and joy.

Here they are … my list of 40 by 40.


make sourdough bread
get a Le Creuset
make apple fritters
feel good in a swimsuit
go to Nashville
write a children’s book
plan 40th birthday trip with Ryan (to Italy? England?)
see a whale
decorate our bedroom
intentional date with Ethan
intentional date with Brady
intentional date with Mason
intentional date with Audrey
heal my gut
host girls craft night in studio
plant dahlias + anemones
frame road trip photos
look into invisalign
whiten my teeth
re-read The Kitchen House
re-read The Red Tent
take a photography class
back-up both computers
visit K.C. in Flagstaff
Get iphone 7
volunteer in the nursery
attend a Barre3 class
go to Enneagram coaching
wear earrings
start on road trip book
get a mammogram
write 1 handwritten note per month
put up Christmas lights
weekend with Ellie
have grandma’s ring fixed
make a macrame hanging
update JDC about page
go paddle boarding
practice daily silence + solitude
buy a new pair of great jeans


I’m excited about the year ahead.

64 Responses to 40 by 40

  1. Vanessa October 10, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    Hi Emily, HB! I am suddenly motivated to write a short list myself, I won’t do 57 before I turn 57 but my marriage is transitioning and I should be prepared for that change with some personal changes as well. Also, and this is just an observation, not a criticism, it will be hard to fix a leaky gut with bread on your list. Although I do miss pie crust still after six years of following a paleo-ish diet I know that it makes all the difference to my alimentary health. I still have a nibble but never a serving.

  2. Sarah October 9, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

    Great list! As a fellow “9” I know how uncomfortable and painful it can be to even think about what you want and need let alone declare it to others. Bravo to you for being brave enough to do the hard work of becoming more fully who you were made to be!

  3. The Handmade Home October 9, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    Happy birthday! Here’s hoping your cross everything off your list!

  4. JILL October 8, 2017 at 8:30 am #

    You seem very happy and alive (from the sound of your list), so thanks for sharing it with us. God bless and many many many more happy birthdays to you!

  5. Carla October 8, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    Happy birthday! Love your list ! You post inspires me to make my own list. I turn 55 at the end of the month so it is a good time to start working on it. Hope your birthday is extra special!

  6. Kris October 7, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    You are so generous, brave and honest. Thank you for and being your true self. You are an inspiration to those older and younger than yourself. Happy birthday wonderful Emily.

    • emily October 11, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

      Thank you so much, Kris!

  7. Nicola October 6, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

    What a fabulous list! You have inspired me to write a 50 before I’m 50 list. It is hard to work and fight and strive for what you want if you don’t know what that is. As a role model for children is an amazing reason…this isyain’t motivation!

  8. Ann October 6, 2017 at 8:32 pm #

    Please add “get a colonoscopy” to your list. You are not too young. If insurance doesn’t cover it ask for one as a gift. It just may save your life.

    • emily October 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

      Checked that one off my list a few years ago :)

  9. Mickir October 6, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

    Happiest of birthdays! Your list is really doable and will reap great rewards because of your thoughtful intentions!

  10. Lori October 6, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Happy birthday! Love this ❤️

  11. Gina October 6, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    I love your list of 40 things in your 40th year. My birthday was last week – 49 so I hope you don’t mind me copying you and doing 50 by 50. I like your mix of little and bigger. I hope you will keep us updated. Love reading your posts.

  12. Nicole October 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    I am certain that we would be great friends if we lived in the same area! We have so many things in common. My 39th birthday is on Tuesday. When you posted something about 40 before 40 on instagram, I was so inspired to do the same and was looking forward to seeing this post. When you said in this post that you are not good at knowing what you want, it was like you were reading my thoughts. I’ve also recognized this about myself this year. I plan on using this next year to figure out what I really do want. Thanks for everything you share bc I am so inspired. And maybe one day we’ll actually meet 😉

  13. Lily Lee October 6, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    Happy Birthday Emily! God bless you. Thank you for all your lovely sharing.

  14. Michele October 6, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

    What a great list! I may adapt to myself—at 51!!

  15. Jessica October 6, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    Happy Birthday Emily! I have been a long time blog reader. Thank you for this positive little corner of the internet you have created! I love this list like other readers have said and I hope you will keep us updated on what you accomplish. Do you have any ideas on what you are going to do to feel good in a swim suit? This has been something I have been working on for a long time and sometimes I think I’ve got it, just in time to learn I am having another baby! I love my babies so much though it is worth it! Baby # 5 is on its way now!

  16. Ann October 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

    A friend/former student published her “60 Things To Do Before 60” list. She accomplished every single one. I was very impressed and have thought about what I would capture. The two of you are inspiring me!

    Posted by Diane Friend…
    Finished my list of “60 things to do before 60”! I told everyone I would post them when I accomplished them all. So here they are:

    Go to a late movie in P.J.s, Learn to play chess, Read a classic book, Lose 6.0 pounds, Learn 60 Spanish words, Go dancing, Master a gourmet cooking technique, Ride a bicycle 6.0 miles, Paint a picture, Grow hair 6.0 inches, Learn to crochet, Make a special memory with a child, Become Mother Goose for a day, Clean a closet, Give away a treasured item, Write your life story, Where a hat to a formal event, Put $ in a hidden spot for someone to find and keep- anonymously, Send a card to a friend for no reason, Try a new sport, Wear thong for a day, Play a game you’ve never played before, Write a thank-you note long overdo, Sing in front of an audience, Study for a test, Visit a National Park-never before seen, Embroidery a picture, Take a class to learn a new skill, See a Broadway show, Visit a Presidential Library, Build something for others, Take a road trip, Make a new friend, Memorize a poem, Send a surprise package to someone, Forgive someone, Face a fear, Visit a museum never been to before, Attend a concert, Ride a horse, Submit a letter to the editor, Thank a teacher who made a difference in your life, Host a game night, Scholarship a student, Wear 2 different socks in public, Drink champagne for no special occasion, Buy yourself perfume, Visit a historic spot, Research a topic and share the knowledge, Attend a different church, Update your will, Plan a trip-anywhere, Restore something old, Write a children’s story, Take a cooking class, Honor a veteran, Find something from 1957, Submit application for Ph.D. program!

    Yea-I completed them all!

  17. Lorie October 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    On a different topic – I just read your post on Books you read this Summer and I have a recommendation for you. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist. We recently read this for book club and all loved it, kind of life changing really. And none of us drink wine. But that’s ok, because it’s not really about Wine or Bread but about gathering loved ones and friends and being comfortable in your home and life. At least take a look at it, I think it will speak to you. Cause you are just that type of person…

  18. Susie October 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    Happy birthday! I turn 39 in January. I should make a list like this too! I have been making sourdough rye bread, I got my recipe from the Trim Healthy Mama cook book. It’s super simple for me. I know others I follow on their Facebook page have not had as much success on it but I have it everyday. It is a very Finnish rye bread and I love it .

  19. Kathy October 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    Happy 39th Birthday! I turned 39 in March and wish I had thought of this idea then. I have less than 6 months, but I’m going to make my own 40 by 40 list – and give myself some grace.

  20. Shirley October 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    Happy Birthday! I love your list.
    You should definetly write a book about your road trip. Your posts were so interesting about it. And go to Nashville or Italy or England or all 3!
    Getting a mammogram is important as is a Pap test.
    Love Sourdough bread.

  21. Nanette October 6, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Happy birthday!!

    Love your list! It’s truly inspiring. It’s inspired me to think about writing my own list. Now to go google what enneagram is!!

  22. Amy K October 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    I love this idea and I love it even more that you’re doing it at 40. I think making a list like this makes everything in your life more intentional. I wish I had done this long ago, but it’s never too late right? I will be turning 62 in the Spring of next year. It’s frightening to me. Retiring?? Traveling?? Being home after all these years? It’s all terrifying to me. But in looking at your list and thinking that if I make my own to help me get through this – it might help me get over the hump and fear. I don’t know what an enneagram is but there is always room to grow and know yourself more at any age.

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

      For sure! You don’t have to come up with 60 things, but even taking the time to think about what would bring you life in this next year is such a good practice.

  23. Christy B. October 6, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    I Love the idea about making list like that. I should do that to myself soon. I just got myself a new iPhone 8 Plus last week. This was my first plus after owning regular iphone for many years. it is much difference is size but love their Portrait mode. Hope you have a great Birthday!

  24. Kaley October 6, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    Happy birthday, Emily! I love this idea. I have recently been studying the Enneagram too, so I love that you’ve been mentioning it. I am a Type 9, and I HEAR YOU. I have no idea what I want either and I have been thinking about enneagram coaching to help me figure that out, too.

    Type 9’s unite :-) Can’t wait to see what you discover!

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

      I start my first coaching next week :) Can’t wait!

      • Jennie October 6, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

        How did you find Enneagram coaching in your area?

  25. Chrissy October 6, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    What a great list!! Many happy returns and many happy adventures ahead :-) I finally splurged on a huge Staub pot, I’ve wanted one for like 10 years, and it is EVERYTHING I HOPED FOR. So worth it!

  26. Deb Wostmann October 6, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Happiest of days to you on your birthday. I love Wit and Wisdom jeans from Nordstrom as do several of my friends.

  27. Stacie October 6, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    Happiest of Birthday’s Emily!! Be sure to post about that new pair of great jeans!! I haven’t found the perfect pair yet…..hopefully soon though:)
    Blessings!

  28. Maria October 6, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    This is really inspirational! I’m turning 50 next year and while that sounds so “old” I’m really quite excited about it! I’ve been trying to think of achieving some sort of milestone by then but trying to think of one big thing is a bit overwhelming! I like your list of more doable items. And I guess since I’m turning 50 I should make a list of 50!

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

      Oh, please do! It was a little hard to come up with 40 things, but like you said, they don’t have to be big!

  29. Bethany October 6, 2017 at 10:59 am #

    Happy Birthday, Emily!! I love your list! My husband and I recently discovered the enneagram (maybe six months ago) and I SO relate to that journey of self discovery you’re talking about!! We are constantly trying to get all our friends into the enneagram now bc we love it so much. 😂😂 He’s a 9 and I’m a 1 by the way. It’s been transformative for our relationship!!

  30. Aviva October 6, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    I love so many of these things! I’m also in the process of healing my gut with a functional practitioner, currently taking a boatload of supplements, but am already feeling better and healing my auto immune issues after only one month, with at least three more months to go. I would love to hear more about your journey with this. Good luck this year!

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

      I’ve been on the naturopathic train for just about a year. My doctor has me on a daily supplement regimen and once I started feeling better, I eased up on taking them regularly. Of course all of my symptoms came back :| So now I’m at it again.

      • Aviva October 9, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

        It’s great to hear you’ve found what works for you! I can’t tell you how many people I just want to shout at “you have leaky gut! Go to a functional practitioner!” Like my MIL who has been suffering with auto immune diseases her whole life. But I love that the natural path is catching on with so many others. It’s just a matter of time before it becomes more widely known. Good luck to you in your journey!

  31. Jo Jo October 6, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Happy Birthday to you! 🎂. Sounds like a great list! Youngo, Girl!

    • Carrie October 8, 2017 at 7:29 am #

      I hope your birthday was wonderful! Love the list idea and I may just do one next b-day even though it’s not a milestone. Best of luck on healing the gut. I’ve been on that train for seventeen years. Just when I’m all healthy and doing well…bam..it hits again!

  32. JA October 6, 2017 at 10:27 am #

    Happy Birthday!! I found your list to be inspiring, & although my Birthday was last month I’m going to start a list of my own today.

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

      Hey, there’s no timeline! Go for it!

  33. Dobrosia October 6, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    Beautiful! Happy Birthday Emily!

  34. Erica Ramirez October 6, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    We are the same age and I am also a 9, and have been thinking about how difficult it is for me to know what i want. Thank you for these reflections! I will be making a list of my own soon.

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

      Isn’t it the strangest thing? I’m pretty easy-going and it hasn’t been much of an issue for me until more recently and now it seems like just understanding my inability and fear of expressing my own desires has freed me up in so many ways. Praying for continued growth for you, too!

  35. Tisha October 6, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    Happy birthday, Emily! I hope that it’s your best one yet! 🌸

  36. Melanie A. October 6, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    Happy happy birthday! What a cool idea; love your list. I got a King Arthur sourdough starter a few years ago and it’s super forgiving; comes back to life even if I forget it a month in the fridge! This recipe (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/extra-tangy-sourdough-bread-recipe) is very easy with minimal ingredients and no kneading if you use a stand mixer. Plus only uses the starter for the rise so you feel like a real artisan ;) . Takes a long time but we make it every couple weeks! Delish!

  37. Melissa October 6, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Happy Birthday to YOU! Absolutely love this idea! I can truly relate to what you are saying on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this. I am going to do this myself!

  38. Paulette October 6, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    Oh, Em, we are almost birthday twins; I’m 10-4, but way past 40! Are you surprised to know that you have older women efriends!?

    WOW, you’ve already done somethings on the list, so you are well on your way! I like that the items on the list are short term and doable, and that they are about you, not the house and business so much. And some of the items are things that I have done, so I could mentally cross mine off of your list!

    I also plan to investigate enneagram a little deeper. I’m in the middle of Reading People (Anne Bogel) and finding it to be such a good refresher of important things that I’d kind of neglected.

    My more extrovert friends don’t agree, but I know that knowing who we really are leads to peace and not pretending. You are the real deal!!

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

      I ADORE having older e-friends!

      I have Anne’s new book and haven’t started it yet … must do!

  39. Dana October 6, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    Happy Birthday! This was fun and a good idea.

  40. Tammy Thiele October 6, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    This could could be the start of a wonderful tradition! I love it. And the happiest of birthdays to you!

  41. Beth October 6, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    Happy Birthday!! I turned 35 this year and have been on a similar journey – so much of what you share rings so true in my life and inspires me to live the best life I can, for me and my family, not for others. Thank you, thank you for all you do!

  42. Buffy October 6, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    Don’t settle for an iphone 7, get an iphone 8. You deserve it girl!

    • emily October 6, 2017 at 9:37 am #

      When I wrote that one on the list the 8 wasn’t out yet … I’ll have to check out the new features :)

  43. Courtney M October 6, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    I love SO many things on that list – come on down to Nashville, we’d love to have you! I’ve very recently become and enneagram convert and in true 8 fashion, I can’t help myself from telling EVERYONE about it. As a nursery worker coordinator, my favorite is that you put volunteer in the nursery on there!

    Happy Birthday! Looks like you’ll have a great year!

  44. Lisa October 6, 2017 at 7:00 am #

    Happy birthday to you! Your list is so inspiring and encouraging – I love the mix of practical and meaningful. Wishing you all the best in this new year!

  45. Emily October 6, 2017 at 5:59 am #

    This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing and happy birthday!

  46. Ashley October 6, 2017 at 3:38 am #

    I love this. You’ve inspired me to create my own list. :)

  47. Zoe October 6, 2017 at 1:02 am #

    All the best to you for the coming year!

  48. Laura October 5, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    Happy Birthday to you!!

    You inspire me in so many ways. I don’t even know you, but I can tell that your beautiful spirit shines through in everything you do.

    Love this list! Get to it. :-)

  49. Cheryl October 5, 2017 at 5:57 pm #

    Many blessings to you on your birthday! Have a great year! Love the idea, thanks for sharing.

  50. Theresa October 5, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

    Love this list! I’m 36… if I start now I might be able to complete a list like this by 40 😂 Thank you not only for the idea, but also for sharing the heartfelt sentiments behind it. You seem gracious, kind & lovely in every way. Happy 39th!!

  51. Susan October 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

    You go girl! This is awesome. I love that you’ve interspersed some wants (Le Creuset) with more deep stuff like the enneagram coaching.

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