Few events are as unnerving as thinking about that fortieth candle on the birthday cake. I first began to observe anxiety about the “big four-oh” several years ago among the 30- to 50-year-old clientele who frequented my Manhattan therapy practice. I was in my late 30s, and found myself sharing their concerns in more than the usual “empathetic therapist” way. I often stayed awake at night riddled with worries about what lay ahead in my personal and professional life.

It got me wondering: why is it that so many of us have such a powerful aversion to reaching 40? I began examining the psychological research, as well as popular writing on the subject. Someone must have explored the anxiety that the fifth-decade triggers for women and have offered guidance, I thought. But no one had. That is why, in my thirty-eighth year, I decided to write Fortytude, and why I followed up with the Shared Secrets podcast series.

The purpose of the book and the podcast series are to help us remove our hands from our eyes and face our fears—and moreover, to transcend them. The truth is that our 40s can be a decade of loss, but those years also hold the potential to be a time of tremendous gain.

In the course of researching and writing Fortytude, I facilitated discussion groups across America. I also conducted individual interviews with women from all different walks of life: from single mothers struggling to make ends meet to high-powered executives; from recovering crack addicts to Ivy Leaguers; from surfers to social workers to stay-at-home moms. It soon became clear that the women—regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status—all were powerfully drawn to living an authentic, connected life, and to facing their fears head-on.

I have continued my discussions with brave-hearted men and women from across the country in the Shared Secrets podcast series. I hope that the book and the podcasts serve as a reminder that by facing our fears, we can live more authentic and more fulfilling lives.