For anyone under 50 reading this, I have some good news for you. 50 is pretty darned good!
I even surprise myself by writing this, because believe me, I never thought the day would come when I would embrace being half a century. But it has arrived, and it doesn’t stink.
Yes, yes — there are the inevitable physical changes that are quite unsettling. Things do start to droop, wrinkle and expand. Sometimes you will catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder who that middle-aged person is. On the outside, you may look like a grown-up, but on the inside it’s crazy how you still feel like you are 30. Or younger. (Ask my teenagers. They hate that about me.)
When I was in my 30’s and 40’s, I took life much more seriously.
In fact, I think I was mysteriously older then than I am now. Is that possible? When you are busy building a career, raising children, accumulating stuff, and creating a lifestyle, you are defined by that busyness. It’s serious work. You have to make money to pay for the lifestyle. Your kids need to be raised right lest they become a scourge on society and embarrass you by living in a trailer and eating bugs.
Those years are fulfilling and wonderful, but they also are fraught with upheaval and angst. Things that once didn’t matter when you were younger, like having the right cocktail napkins or winning yard of the month, somehow matter so very much. We struggle toward some kind of perfection and achievement that is ‘out there’ somewhere.
I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time trying to create the self I thought I should be. I cobbled together the perfect me made from pieces of this and that. The clothes I wear, the neighborhood we live in, the car I drive, the friends I have. It looks pretty nice from the outside. And much of it is nice on the inside too.
But I spent way, way too much time in the work of crafting myself, and far too little time just being myself.
When you are spinning your wheels to maintain this beautifully crafted life, you miss out on a whole lot of real living.
If I were able to time travel and visit my twenty or thirty-year-old self, there are some things I would really like to teach me. Since I can’t do that, hopefully you will benefit from some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last 50 years.
- 50 doesn’t feel like 50. It doesn’t feel like the age you imagined when you are in your 20’s or 30’s. For the most part, it feels the way you feel right now. But smarter and more confident. You also have more time and resources to enjoy life. So don’t fear it. Look forward to it.
- Experience life before you settle down. Whatever it is you want to do or experience, do as much of it as you can before you have children. Especially travel. Live in a hovel and drive a beat-up Dodge Dart if you have to. But go have some really great, amazing, mind-blowing experiences.
- Money and stuff are not all that important. Yes, you want enough to be comfortable and do the things you want to do. But accumulating for the sake of accumulating is so boring and empty. Feed the soul, not the ego.
- Don’t try to impress people. That’s an act that brings nothing but a momentary ego boost. Be real with people instead. Connect with fewer people on a level that is deeper and more profound.
- Let your kids fail. Your kids will be okay, even if you think they are headed for the juvie right now. Don’t come to their rescue all the time. Don’t manage every detail of their lives or over-schedule them with tao quan dao or viola lessons. Give them some boundaries, and then relax about them.
- Bad things will happen. Part of living and getting older is experiencing upheavals in life. People lose jobs, get divorced, die. When you are younger, and things have gone pretty well, this can be shocking. The bad things won’t kill you. You will learn from them if you allow it.
- Not much is worth fighting about. If you can avoid it, don’t fight. Step back from arguments with your spouse or family member or neighbor. When you feel anger surging up and you want to say that snarky thing on the tip of your tongue, just close your mouth and walk away. Let yourself calm down. You don’t have to be right or win the argument. It just doesn’t matter that much.
- Little things stick with you. So pay attention to them. Like watching your child sleep. Preparing a meal with your family. Sharing a great laugh with an old friend. That is the real stuff life is made of.
- Keep having fun. Fun is way underrated. With all of our responsibilities, fun seems like an indulgence. It shouldn’t be. It should be a requirement. Remember what you did to have fun when you were younger, and go do it again. Leave the house messy and the yard un-mowed for the weekend. You will remember the fun, not the clean house or yard. Make time for fun.
- Make things simpler. Pick the five most important things in your life now, and focus on those things. Let the other stuff go. Let go of the activities, the events, the commitments, the shopping, the to-do lists. Stop the busyness and really enjoy the important things you have right now.
- Keep your brain active. Don’t get into a mental rut. Do new things, learn new things, explore new ideas in all areas of your life. Keep challenging yourself and your mind. Be curious and interested in the world around you.
- Hang out with younger people. Stay connected with what the generation behind you is doing and thinking. Establish friendships with them. You will benefit and learn from each other. Don’t act superior, because younger people may know a whole lot more than you do!
- Keep exercising and eating healthy. You know this, but I’ll remind you anyway. The older you get, the more important a healthy lifestyle is. In my 20’s, I could shovel down a Wendy’s hamburger and fries every day and never see the difference. Now I just look at a hamburger and my butt gets bigger.
- Manage aging, but why fight it? You can spend a fortune on face creams, plastic surgery, hair growth formulas, and botox, but eventually you realize you are fighting an uphill battle. Groom yourself nicely. Stay fit. Have unsightly things removed. But accept the beauty of aging. A striking mature man or woman is much more attractive than someone who looks overly taunt, tanned or top-heavy.
- Everyone doesn’t have to like you and vice versa. One of my friends likes to say, “She’s not in my cluster.” Sometimes there are people in your life who are just not the right fit or who drain you dry. It is fine to back off from them or even let them go.
- Marriages evolve and change. The feelings you had for the man or woman you married will mutate and evolve several times over the life of a marriage. Hopefully you will evolve in the same direction or at least embrace and accept the changes in the other person. It takes work, and sometimes it takes counseling. Don’t gloss over those changes or you may wake up next to a stranger one day.
- Yes, you can still have great sex. When I was in my 20’s, I thought you stopped doing it when you were in your early 40’s. I assumed middle aged people would no longer want to disrobe in front of each other. I’m happy to inform you that this is not the case.
- Tend to your friendships. Especially your oldest friendships. These are the people who know and love you best, in spite of your flaws. Treat them like the precious gems they are.
- Stop worrying. Worry does absolutely nothing productive. In fact, it is counterproductive. The more you worry, the more you reinforce the problem or concern in your brain.
- Everything is not always black or white. Life is often very ambiguous. Sometimes there isn’t a right or wrong decision or choice. Things are not always completely clear. You may not get THE answer, so you just have to wing it.
- Take action on your dreams. If you’ve been putting things off — a new career, more education, the big trip — start taking action right now to make it happen. Don’t dream about it anymore. Start doing it.
- Don’t dwell on your wounds. Everyone has something that has caused pain and has been limiting them in some way. If you need help to deal with it, then get it right away. Don’t let the past limit your future.
- Embrace change. As uncomfortable as it is sometimes, change allows us to stretch and grow. New things feel awkward and scary at first, but those feelings go away, and you are left with something bigger and bolder in your life.
- Be vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel, to be open and authentic. Tear down any emotional brick walls you have built around yourself and feel every exquisite emotion, both good and bad. This is real life. This is how you welcome new opportunities.
- Count your blessings every day. I know, this is a refrigerator magnet line, but practice it daily anyway. There is so much good, so much beauty, so much love in your life. What more do you really need? You have so much right now, you just need to pause long enough to appreciate it.