I spent a large portion of my life living inside my own head. I could be in a room full of people and be “all alone.” Lo and behold, I discovered although I’m perfectly fine with being classified as weird, I’m actually an introvert. My introversion and creativity allow me to approach the world in a different from outgoing extroverts’ way. I need to observe and process before acting. However, I recently turned 40, and something about turning that age has given me this amazing sense of clarity and a take-no-prisoners attitude that has affected my outlook in many positive ways.

Take my love life for example. I have a new approach to my interactions with men. While I always had standards, in the past I noticed I had a tendency to relax them in favor of my being a caregiver and a nurturer. This, of course, made the guy feel appreciated and supported, but it often left me both mentally and physically exhausted. I realized that the common denominator in my relationships was me, so if change was going to happen, I needed to take a look in the mirror.

Knowing that happiness was the goal, I needed to fully express my wants and needs instead of compromising to the point of settling. I began a nonjudgmental cutting and pasting party to create a vision board consisting of words and images that appealed to me. If it made me smile, it was added, no further thought required. The result was a clear synopsis of my life and relationship goals. I now have a mental image to relate to when I interact with others. If the situation doesn’t fit the goal, there’s no need to force it.

In the past, I often felt more like a motivational speaker than a girlfriend. I spent so much time investing in men with unrealized potential that I often lost part of myself (and my dreams) to the struggle. I’ve learned to take a deep breath, share my concerns, and provide a brief opportunity for reflection or correction. My line in the sand is a firm one. I show people the utmost in kindness and respect, but I expect the same in return. If they can’t or won’t reciprocate, that’s fine. I’m not going to try to change them. I’m just going to walk away.

In all interactions, whether personal or work related, I am increasingly clear about my role and the level to which I choose to engage. I have grown to understand that after a moment of reflection, “because I don’t want to” is a perfectly acceptable response to certain requests from loved ones. I feel that this marks a difficult transition not just for me but for womankind in general. We are in many ways programmed to be agreeable to a fault, both in reality and in works of fiction. We are expected to continue on this path even when it becomes detrimental to our own well-being. I realized at age 40 that I don’t owe anyone my serenity. Some may call my stance selfish, but I call it self-preservation.