If someone asked I always told them that I’d been 39 for years!
Until my now 16 year old son told me that I would have to raise that number to something closer to the truth, as it started to become quite embarrassing and blatantly untrue. (Want to hear uncomfortable truths? Ask a teenager!)
For a while I toyed with the idea of saying that I was 43 instead. However, I’ve come round to the idea that I am turning 50 this summer, and feel surprisingly OK about that!
‘Why?’ I can hear you ask. Isn’t this supposed to be the time when you become invisible? Trying to look after your not-quite-grown-up children and worrying about ageing parents? Whilst doing a full-time job? And trying to stay sane even though your hormones are making you go up and down like a yo-yo in your sprint towards the menopause?
The way I am feeling right now, at almost 50, is better than I have done for, well, ever!
And whilst this is hard to believe when you are 39 and turning 40 seems like a milestone to you, turning 50 is opening up a whole new world of opportunities!
At 50 you will feel much better in your skin. You know who you are and don’t feel the need to pretend, apologise or hide any more! You are entering a new stage of your life in which you can look up, look around and consider what you want to do next.
So what are my six lessons for my younger self?
1. Look after yourself
Yep, as suspected, your body will slowly start to fall to bits.
First you’ll start wondering what the hell is wrong with you, only to find that from now on hormones will try to rule how you’re feeling. And that will carry on for the next ten years (think PMS on steroids). Magnesium tablets and grapefruits. Just saying ...
Next an innocent little injury will take years to heal and in the meantime will cause other issues elsewhere in your body.
And then, finally, sitting at your computer, with the accompanying bad posture, for hours on end, will catch up with you and will start playing havoc with your lower and upper back. You will become uncomfortably acquainted with medical terms like sciatica and peroneal tendonitis and the chiropractor and physiotherapist will also no longer be strangers to you.
So, my lesson here? Despite my deep-rooted suspicion of any physical exercise, I have had to admit that even I (who will always - always! - choose a book over exercise) now understand the absolute necessity of engaging in some sort of exercise!
Take care of yourself (because if you don’t, who will?)
2. You are part of a team
Your life works, because the ‘team’ at home works. And you play a vital part in this team.
As with any team your team at home needs attention and can never be taken for granted! Communications - as always - is key! Take time to communicate and connect. And this becomes even more important in times of change.
If you are on a journey to change and you want your partner to come along you need to communicate. You need to tell him what is going on in your mind. You need to explain why you want to make a change. You need him to buy in and support the vision that you have for your life and for your life together. And you need him to support you. And you need to support him too!
This stuff is not easy. Don’t be tempted to postpone talking until such time that your plans are completely clear. Your partner will know that you’re thinking about something anyway. Better to talk early and bring him along on the journey!
3. Set your boundaries
Be clear about your boundaries. Not sure what they are? Well, pay a lot of attention to when you feel angry or irritated. Don’t bury these feelings but examine them, understand why you’re irritated and articulate what is and what isn’t acceptable to you.
And it doesn’t stop there! You have to speak up. Contrary to what you might think people can not and will not read your mind. If you want something you need to say it. If you don’t want something you need to be clear about that too.
Crucially you also need to be clear to yourself about your own boundaries and live by your own values. If you value your health, why are you eating crappy food? And if you want a healthy work-life balance why are you making long hours in the office?
4. Accept all of you
Libraries and second hand bookshops are filled with books that promise that you only have to find that one passion to never do a day’s work again. That you only have to look hard and you’ll find ‘your thing’. And that you should really do that thing that you were ‘born to do’.
I should know, I’ve read them all!
Until you wake up and realise that there is no such thing. There is not one passion that will keep you occupied for your entire life. You’re much more interesting than that! You have different skills and strengths, there are lots of things you are interested in and causes you feel strongly about. It is too much to expect that you will be able to use all these different aspects of you in one single job and be deliriously happy for the rest of your life.
The relief was immense when I realised that. It wasn’t me! It was just that my expectations about my job were unrealistically high.
At this age I am finally able to embrace all the different aspects of me and am finding new ways to express them!
5. Face your fears
Mine was safety. I wanted to be safe. I still do. But my definition of safety has changed dramatically.
Before, I felt safe if I had a permanent job. Until I was made redundant. And when the second redundancy in two years was announced I decided that permanent jobs were not safe after all! And that I was better off being in charge of my own career.
Sometimes you need an event like a redundancy to make you confront your fears. And really unpick what you are afraid of. When you know what you’re afraid of you can address it. Hiding from your fear only makes it bigger and gives it more power.
6. Choose to be happy
Now this was a big one. I was always the cynic. Until I realised that all this cynicism wasn’t actually making me very happy!
I started - what else - to read and read some more. About positive psychology. About emotions. And about how happiness is a choice. And how - once you know that you can control your emotions - you can choose to practice more positive emotions, gradually displacing the more negative emotions that came with being cynical.
You have emotions. There’s no getting away from that. But you have a choice on how to deal with your emotions. And you can choose to be more positive and be happier.
And why wouldn’t you?
So, there you have it! My six key lessons. I had to turn 50 to get here.
What lessons have you learned?