It might have been her divorce, or the need for some me-time after five years as a full-time working mom. By the time Pam Gould Rashid's 40th birthday approached, she knew she had to do something big.
"It seemed like there were things I wanted to do and I hadn't gotten to do them yet," says Rashid of Wilmette. "The last couple years, I had been making decisions to do things that were related to other people. I felt the need to do something I'd never done before."
So Rashid took a trip to Miami, where she ran her first half-marathon, went skydiving and partied on South Beach.
"My ex-husband was terrified of jumping out of a plane, so it was kind of my way of proving I could do anything I wanted," Rashid says. "Sometimes you just forget about all the stuff you dreamed about when you were 25."
Tiffany Allen of Flossmoor experienced a similar longing.
To celebrate turning 40 this year, Allen plans to run 40 races, which will include a handful of half-marathons. She will probably run two or more races every weekend from April until December.
For Lisa Way of Evanston, a mom of two boys, it was about proving she still was fit by running a marathon.
"I did not want to turn 40. I still don't want to turn 40," Way says. "But this was a way to prove something to myself."
Turning 40 seems to be a turning point. There's something about it that makes people want to do something special, different or meaningful.
To celebrate, people want to accomplish something. There are the marathoners, bungee jumpers, sky divers, the world travelers, and the ones who mark their birthday with a tattoo. Then, there are the do-gooders, those people who set out to change the world in some way.
Despite the infinite possibilities for making the big 4-0 special, there is a similar yearning people experience as they approach a milestone birthday.
'I've seen the 40th be more of a monumental kind of celebration or milestone for my patients," says Deborah Barile, licensed clinical professional counselor and life coach in Chicago. "40 means being grown up, I guess."
As people approach 40, especially those with children, they often wonder what they have accomplished and how they could have lived differently, Barile says.
The reality of their situation isn't as wonderful as they hoped, and they might feel empty. In turn, they feel a need to fill that hollowness with goals.
Reaching the goal, however, isn't nearly as important as setting and working toward it, says Karolyn Howard, a life coach in Bolingbrook. "It's the journey, not the goal. We need to enjoy the journey along the way."
As Barile says: "40 is just part of the adventure. It's a part of the journey. It's not the end. It's the beginning of a different phase of your life."
Thinking about doing something big for your next milestone birthday? These are Chicago Parent's top 10 picks:
1 Finish a big athletic event. Whether it's a marathon, triathlon, Ironman or something different altogether, the feeling of crossing that finish line is so sweet.
2 Do something adventurous. Everyone's idea of adventure is different, whether it's skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, hiking parts of the Appalachian or Pacific Coast Trail or scuba diving.
3 Travel. Whether you want to relax on a tropical island, set off on an African safari or tour the Irish countryside, travel is a great way to celebrate a big birthday.
4 Write a book. Thanks to online publishing companies, getting published isn't nearly as difficult or costly as it used to be. Many online services, such as CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, allow people to publish their books for free. The books are then immediately available on Amazon.
5 Get inked. What better way to commemorate turning 40 than with a tattoo? At least that's what John Cronin, a 40-year-old father of two, thinks. Cronin, a tattoo artist at Metamorph Tattoo Studio in Chicago, says customers often get inked on their birthdays. "It's a really good marker of that year," Cronin says.
6 Learn a new skill. Turning 40 might be considered "mid-life," but that doesn't mean you're too old to learn something new-like guitar, piano, tennis, golf or photography.
7 Do something for others. A fad emerged in recent years in which people turning 40 perform 40 random acts of kindness 40 days before their birthday. Though it's uncertain how it all came about, Robyn Bomar of Destin, Fla., launched a website to help people think of nice things to do for other people. Bomar says she and her family often try to help others on their birthdays, but a few years ago, the Birthday Project took on a life of its own. After writing about the Birthday Project on her blog, people around the world hounded her for more ideas and information. "I've been very humbled and very touched by the response," says Bomar. "There's something about being more kind to people. It's kind of fun. You're like a Santa or something."
8 Reach a career or education goal. This could be finishing a bachelor's degree or working toward a doctorate. Or maybe it's scoring a promotion or finishing an ambitious project. This could even mean a career change-open a shop on Etsy, take classes at a cooking school or art studio.
9 Be sentimental. Document your 40th year. Keep a diary, start a blog or take one picture every day of your 40th year.
10 Conquer a fear. If you're terrified of heights, ride in a hot air balloon or go parasailing. If the water freaks you out, take swimming or scuba diving lessons or go for a boat ride. Maybe you want to overcome your fear of animals or speaking in public. Whatever it is, give it a shot. 40 can be a new beginning.