Ambivalent Advice from a 40 Year Old

Here I am, I am 40. This didn’t happen today but a few weeks ago. I had fully intended, in the days leading up to my July birthday, to write a brilliantly insightful post about getting older, imparting all the wonderful wisdom of my 40 years. Ha! Staring at the screen in defeat, I was forced to admit that I was more confused than ever. The weeks leading up to my birthday were somewhat trying for many reasons, both professional and personal, and these tiny nagging problems all put together served to shake my confidence and make me question whether I knew what I was doing at all.

I find myself a couple of months later with my left foot elevated and iced, not able to walk very much or without pain, and I am reminded that life moves at its own pace regardless of our ridiculous plans and timelines. Long story short — on a beautiful early autumn morning, I took my ass outside for some fresh air exercise. As I sprinted across our vast lawn in the dim dawn light, I heard a crunch and I went down. Even through the pain, I felt like a complete idiot! Trying to get up and back into the house with a maybe broken foot in the semi-darkness at 6 AM on a Wednesday at the age of 40 after literally falling down trying to do something good for myself made me cry. And then laugh.

The cover of Chatelaine from the month of my birth featuring our current Prime Minister, age 4!

The cover of Chatelaine from the month of my birth featuring our current Prime Minister, age 4!

Even though I have plans, and work, and stuff I want to do, right now, I can only sit here. Right then! If life wants me to contemplate (and to stick to floor exercises with no jumping), that’s what I’ll do. Maybe I do have a few nuggets I can share after all…

Things I maybe definitely learned by the time I turned 40

  1. Everything does happen for a reason, in a way: I’m not saying wars and children starving are all for the greater good- no. I’m talking about the more mundane things we strive for. Without fail, when I haven’t gotten the something, or the someone, I wanted, eventually a better one of those has come along. It might not all be part of some master plan, yet setbacks inevitably make us learn about ourselves. They forcibly point us toward that which is more suitable. It’s only looking back years on that the sequence of events becomes clear. The path is mysterious, grasshopper, so have faith. It’s like that Sliding Doors movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, you know? (Yeah, that’s the kind of reference that proves my advanced age.)
  2. We need people, except the ones we don’t: As an introvert, I often have to force myself to initiate contact with others, but rarely do I regret having done so. Though it’s cozy to be snuggled at home with warm kittens, partners, and Netflix, reaching out makes life better. Connecting is full of surprises — a casual comment can lead to unexpected discoveries (plus, you too can positively impact others, which feels darned good). But beware: if the idea of talking to, or meeting up with, a specific person stresses you every time, that’s a sign. An awesome benefit of aging is having no patience for those that drain your life force. No drama required, just keep them at a distance.
  3. Just be you… but not ALL of you: This may be a generational thing, but that’s why I’m here. I’M OLD SO LISTEN TO ME. I have noticed a propensity in the young ones for oversharing. While being yourself is important, as in — not pretending to know things when you don’t, or not trying to fit in so much that you lose yourself — there is a time and place for telling others all about yourself. A business transaction is not usually one of these occasions. Be personable, but shush, don’t disclose. A little mystery, please.

    Sliding Doors (1998)- Everything happens for a reason, maybe

    Sliding Doors (1998) – Everything happens for a reason, maybe

  4. You are a special rainbow unicorn, so are we all: There has been a backlash against millennials because the perception is that they think they are such precious creatures that the world will immediately recognize them by making allowances so that their specialness may shine upon us. My stance is this — you are SO special, and I fart rainbows, dammit! For real, we all have talents and unique gifts. The glitch is that, at 20, we’re still too inexperienced to know how to use our powers for good. That’s why you have to bow to the wisdom of the older unicorns and play their silly old greying unicorn games for a while until you’re ready to activate your special glow. We sometimes call it “paying your dues,” but really it’s more “learning how not to be a dumbass.”
  5. Play the long game, but treat yourself right now: I really wish I’d had some kind of financial planning lesson early on. I thought that because I was poor, there was no point in being smart about money (because I didn’t have any… flawed logic, no doubt). Strangely, these days, being frugal is all the rage. I could spend all day reading blogs about saving, investing, retiring at 28 (oops, missed that boat), and living in a tiny house in Guatemala while raking in all the passive incomes. At the heart of all these is the same message: you don’t need fancy cars, a giant house, and a big fat spendy wedding to be happy. That said, for crying out loud, if you want to eat in a top restaurant from time to time, do it! Not every day. But treating yourself is important. What’s that they say — You can’t take it with you when you die? Life is happening now.
  6. Ask for advice! Then follow your own path: Once in a while in life, a mentor appears. This is a great feeling. Hey, this older, much more accomplished person has taken an interest in me and wants to see me advancing. Wonderful. I have also noticed, however, that not all of the advice I receive is helpful. Along with the insights come suggestions that perhaps worked for other people, but are completely wrong for me. Asking for guidance is a great idea; it makes others feel helpful, and it provides you with options you may not have considered. When you get advice, say “thank you.” Then do what is best based on your self-knowledge and gut feeling.
  7. Be nice and stand up for yourself: An idea I adopted in the years I worked in customer service, and also during years of dating, is that you really never know what folks are going through. When someone is being a jerk, assume that they had to clean a ton of dog poop this morning, then they spilled coffee on their white shirt… and then got an emotional, yet cryptic, email from the one who broke their heart and whom they thought they were finally over. Just be the nice person. On the other hand, no one has a right to hurdle abuse at another person. When it comes to self-preservation, fuck nice. When I was a kid, there were ads that went: “Say NO, then GO, and TELL someone you trust.” Great advice, still.

    Strolling along at 40 trying not to fall on my face, again

    Strolling along at 40 trying not to fall on my face, again

  8. Listen to your body, unless it’s asking for doritos all the time: This is a hard one. My body has been telling me things, so many things, for years. I might have decoded some of it… like, hey Brenda, too much anxiety. So thanks for that, body. But, for example, how can you tell whether you really need rest or if you’re just being lazy? It takes mindfulness (yes, that dreaded meditation) to figure these things out. And it takes time. I’m listening, body, don’t give up on me.

Clearly, I’m not out of woods yet. Probably by the time I reach 45, I will know all. Heh. What life lessons have you taken in?



  1. […] Event — Turning 40: My birthday falls at the half-way point in the year and, for me, the first half of 2016 was not […]

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