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Understanding what it means to be 40

Huntington Beach High alum travels the world to talk to women her age. Country of birth, she says, can 'dictate your destiny.'

April 17, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Aimee Cebulski, a Huntington Beach High School alumna and author of "The Finding 40 Project."
Aimee Cebulski, a Huntington Beach High School alumna…

Aimee Cebulski recalled chatting with Simona, a sommelier in Brescia, Italy, a stone's throw from a church.

The topic at hand? Why it is such a big deal to be a 40-year-old unmarried woman without children.

"[We were] wondering if it was a sin or something — when right on cue, the large bell at the church next door began to toll loudly," Cebulski said. "We both cracked up and said someone must have been listening!"

Italy was a pit stop for Cebulski on a two-year journey to complete her first book, "The Finding 40 Project."

Wanderlust led the 41-year-old San Diego resident to 10 countries, including Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, France, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates. She also traversed the United States and Skyped with women from India and Pakistan in an effort to peel back what it means to be 40 years old within the framework of different cultures.

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"I tried to pick places that were different — geographically, politically and sociologically," said the Huntington Beach High School alum. "[I went] where I was interested in getting to know a new culture or a place where I thought women would have interesting things to say or I could find women in a short amount of time. There was no criteria other than they needed to be 40 or about to be 40."

The idea was sparked by Cebulski's best friend's 40th birthday two years ago, when her counterparts asked how she would celebrate her milestone year. Realizing how much turning 40 meant to her, she thought it would be interesting to investigate the role of that specific birth year in the lives of other women.

She then spent the following two years traveling, interviewing 35 subjects — with the help of translators where necessary — and wrapping up the project a fortnight before turning 41 in February this year.

Cebulski's work devotes a chapter to each woman, who is identified by her first name and city, state, country or province. The women, while identified by a signature photograph, were not asked to disclose their full names in the hope that it would embolden them to speak more freely, she said.

These women were discovered through friends, social media and Cebulski's work with a San Diego-based nonprofit called Project Concern International, as well as "hitting the pavement and being a detective."

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