I am just weeks away from my 40th birthday now-but it's actually not that daunting. I have an abundant life filled with everything I might have wanted by this, ahem, advanced age. Who knew?
Certainly not my younger self.
For instance, might I have actually enjoyed what seemed like the never-ending humiliations and heartbreaks of dating (interspersed with many thrills) if I knew I would eventually find my true love? Of course. Would I have felt less lost at bizarre and thankless internships and early jobs if I knew I'd find career success? Obviously.
Indeed, there are plenty of things I wish I could tell all my younger selves-about how it would all work out-but all that talk would all be disingenuous. Because by now I know that all of life's events simply have to unfold in their own time.
The younger me couldn't have known these things; it was for her to both flail and find much joy all along the meandering journey to this point. That's how life goes: It's about learning important lessons only when they're ready to be revealed.
So yes, I have much learning still to do. But here's what I know right now, with four decades (almost) in the bag.
1. Keeping your hair dry is not a priority. Get in the pool, go under the wave, get sweaty-for god's sake, woman… live!
2. Each age has its advantages and its limitations. Yearning to be younger (when you were thinner, tanner, and your skin was more elastic but you felt utterly lost) is plain folly.
3. To that end, life is short - as the cliché goes - but it's long, too, as various trials unfold. Appreciate your one life's fleeting nature… but don't feel the need to obsessively front load milestones on an arbitrary timeline.
4. Time is the greatest luxury.
5. You absolutely need new bras every year. Bodies and sizes change. As importantly, elastic stretches out, cups lose shape-and having new bras is the least expensive and invasive body-image game changer available.
6. Driving is the most dangerous thing we do in a given day-and the daily practice most likely to change all of our life's plans in an instant. The seriousness of the responsibility cannot be overstated.
7. Be nice to everyone-you don't know what people are going through, or how a tiny dose of kindness can revolutionize someone's day. That means smiling at cashiers and strangers. And in the professional realm, today's intern is tomorrow's hiring manager. People have long memories for both kindness and for snubbing.
8. Money is ephemeral. (Definitely don't stake your worth on it.)
9. That said, get a grip on your finances and line up your grown-up documents. It's freeing.
10. We are not actually in control of every part of our destiny. That's both tough to accept, and also a huge relief from the burdens we put on ourselves to make every "right" choice.
11. To that end, know that not everything happens for a reason. Especially not the all the sad things.
12. Don't wait to travel. It won't get easier or more lined up. Just go.
13. You absolutely have to wear sunscreen. (Yes, even if you live clean, and tanning is your last real vice.)
14. Sleep is the most therapeutic, healing thing you can do for your body.
15. Dressing your age is boring and also a totally arbitrary construct. (Same goes for dressing like a "mom.") Same goes for your nails.
16. You'll only regret the things you didn't do.
17. That said, regret is not binary: If you experience deep regret because of a choice you made, soothe yourself with the truth that making a different choice might have also yielded a mirror-image slate of disappointments.
18. Women who keep essential truths about their life experiences from other women harm themselves, the women in their spheres, and all of us.
19. You always feel better after a workout. Always. (For one thing, you do your best thinking on the spin bike, or in the shower after, because you've actually stepped away from your devices.)
20. Nothing is permanent. And perhaps in no realm is this as evident as with parenting. If you're thrilled with the stage you're in, live your gratitude and embrace it fully. If you're scared, sad, frustrated-know that it won't last. Relief is coming for you. Becoming a new mom to two newborns at once was no cakewalk. But, like all things with parenting as with life, that was just a fleeting phase.
21. Eschew the dominant and damaging cultural ethos that "good" motherhood means abandoning everything you personally hold dear. You're an individual-and you can be sexy, bold, adventurous, and make independent decisions. Children require many sacrifices, but renouncing the self you once loved needn't (mustn't!) be one of them.
22. Most excuses are totally bogus. Identify your top priorities and rearrange your life to accommodate them. Period. (Yes, you can.)
23. Walking is among life's greatest simple pleasures. It's both great exercise that can carry you through various phases of life (even when you're recovering from a C-section and pushing a double stroller). And it's a great mental health boost, whether you use it as a time to connect with a loved one, listen to podcasts or music, or just enjoy that blissful solo time.
24. Manifest objectivity. Don't let worry consume you. Don't waste a perfect pre-kids Palm Springs birthday weekend fretting about remarks from an insolent boss, which could so easily be identified as inconsequential by any dispassionate observer. (But if that does happen to you, use it as a self-teachable moment later, after you've figured it out).
25. To that end, interpersonal tensions often aren't about you at all. It's the boss or the daycare lady or the taco cart vendor who is going through some stuff you don't even know about. Be compassionate, if possible-but at the very least, do not assume it is personal. (It's not.)
26. Jealousy is a complete waste of energy, and usually misguided anyway. For instance, consider that…
27. Social media lies. It's a false prophet. It is varnished, curated, and cannot be trusted. Don't let it be a source of envy or self loathing. Nor should it be a key source of self worth.
28. Of course, it's not just social media that lies: It's traditional media too. (Notwithstanding what you're reading now, I promise!) That you're old after 22, and it's all downhill from there. That everyone but you is rich and skinny (and that that's what matters). That things will make you happy. That "body after baby" is a thing (never mind a thing to be achieved in a matter of weeks). Let your critical thinking, which knows better, actively guide you back from the potential harm of these dominant messages.
29. Everything is fleeting: The things you prized so highly will be easily tossed-out possessions in the garage in a few years. And it will feel really weird to not care at all as you casually pitch things you once held so dear. (There are a few highly personal exceptions: It will utterly pain you when the February 1989 issue of Sassy magazine that first ignited your excitement about journalism becomes moldy pulp in a garage flood decades later.) And that segues into this lesson:
30. Don't hoard. Keeping clutter is bad for mental health and clarity. But also deciding that a candle is too pretty to burn, or lingerie too delicate to wear? Don't hoard those things either - today's the day. Today is special and worthy because you're alive and you deserve it.
31. You won't regret the wedding china you didn't register for. If you think it's too hokey or fussy for your modern lifestyle, you're right (and you won't change your mind).
32. Appreciate your body before you look back on it and recall that last version so fondly. (Never mind how you picked it to bits when you actually lived in that skin.)
33. If you feel like you need to live in New York-or Paris, or Los Angeles, or somewhere else-go do it. Feel lonely for a few seasons. Then, you'll have no questions about what that alternate life would have been like when you later find what home means to you… and snuggle into it for the long haul.
34. If you're not sure-and the stakes are high-wear black.
35. That said, when you try to wear clothes meant to conceal what you view as your body's imperfections, you actually feel way less cute. And you look like you're hiding something under there. Instead, own it. Go for it. You'll both feel and also look better.
36. Trust that when people say "no gift," they mean it. (They really don't need the burden of writing all those thank-you notes, for one thing.)
37. Fraying relationships only become ever more irreparable as time passes. Try not to let it get to that point; often you do have a choice. (And step back for a second to assess: Is what happened to cause the rift really that bad? Likely not.)
38. Learn how to listen and give good advice. If you don't, your friends won't share their vulnerabilities, and you won't be able to help them. They won't prioritize your needs either, as a means of self protection. In short, be a good friend-both because your friends need you, and because you need them too.
39. What you think is unspeakable is not, and you must speak it: Someone has been there-or is there. You are not alone. Whatever your particular issue is-struggling with motherhood, career, relationships, illness-there are other people out there who have walked the same tight rope and who feel you. Find them, and get support. And then give it back.
40. Your younger self would actually be really freaking impressed. Life looks good-no, great-on you.
You Might Also Like