The dreaded time has finally arrived, I officially turn forty this month.
I never used to be bothered by age, but I have to admit that I started this year feeling slightly apprehensive about how I would react to this milestone. I remember a friend telling me over lunch how he cried at the prospect of turning forty, but I’d really rather not to go down this route, as my eyes get swollen and puffy, and I would not make a very pretty forty year old.
I do however need to find a way to embrace this with elegance. While I am seemingly quite composed and sometimes can be mistaken as aloof due to my introversion, I am in fact incredibly immature. Not in a shave-my-friend’s-eyebrows-when-asleep way, but in how I see myself. I do not consider myself an adult by any means, nor do adult activities such as serious conversations about the stock market or world politics appeal. I would much rather sit around exchanging unknown reggae song titles and imitating Russell Peters YouTube videos than partake in adult conversation. I would also rather be dancing the night away in a club than having a civilised dinner with wine and age-appropriate company.
My quandary is not in turning forty per se, but how I am supposed to act. Essentially, finding the balance between not caring what people think and maintaining some semblance of pride, if not for myself then at least for my parents. With age comes a certain confidence, which is not necessarily a good thing. It is a confidence in being yourself, in the decisions you make, following your instincts, saying what is on your mind and not giving a toss what others think. And in line with this, I think the biggest struggle with turning forty is in finding the balance.
With some thought I have drawn up a list of guiding principles that I would like to move forward with. It is not that I do not already apply these, but I fear that with forty comes the onset of degenerating mental clarity or at worst case outright memory loss, and therefore this list may come in useful one day. So here it is.
Live Life To The Fullest.
Turning forty means I am more or less halfway through life; well hopefully less than halfway, depending on how lucky I am. While I feel like I have seen what I want to see, I am finding that life just gets better and better, but you need to allow it to. Having lived through the years of trying to please others, it is time to do things for myself. This means chalking up as much adventure, happiness and peace as possible before you are unable to do so. However, I have learnt that none of this comes strategised or planned, but rather in the form of sliding doors which are actually everywhere you look. With age comes a certain confidence in the decisions you make, and it is therefore time to seize opportunities to engage and explore when they present themselves, because they are otherwise gone forever.
Say No To Fomo.
On the flip side, the best fortieth birthday present that nature gives you is gut instinct, and you must listen to it. In recent years, I have found an innate peace in refraining from things that I may otherwise have indulged in just because I did not want to miss out. It is like I have developed an inexplicable sixth sense that whispers guidance on when to say yes or no, much like the call-a-friend lifeline in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, except that this friend is always on point. And with this, I have become comfortable with saying no, because there is always tomorrow, which believe it or not, generally turns out better than today.
Engage with your heart and not your mind.
People love to say that life is short and time is limited. While one of my pet peeves is the use of motherhood statements, I have to admit that when you internalise these particular ones, decision-making reaches a whole new level. In short, I find it increasingly important to only give time to those who matter. And by this I mean those who enrich your life because of how they make you feel, rather than what they can do for you. Life is best when driven by pure unadulterated happiness, and this can hit you when you least expect it and from the most unlikely of sources. But that does not matter, because with age comes a confidence in just following your heart rather than doing what is necessary or right in the traditional sense of the word; and when your heart is happy, nothing else seems to matter.
Reconnect With Old Friends.
Taking the above one step further, I think it is time to consider old friends. As we move through life, friendships blossom and wither. But being someone who has always gravitated towards a small circle of close and old friends, I realise it is time to let go of grudges and reconnect with those who you spent your childhood with. There are so many memories buried and it is such a waste to let them fade away, when it should be a time to celebrate the past and create more memories with those who once mattered to you.
Stop trying to conquer the world and enjoy the moment.
I used to spend my time planning how to conquer the world, but I now realise that I am just too old to do so. While some say it is never too late, I believe in this case it is, because in focusing on the goal, you miss the subtle pleasures that smile shyly at you along the way. It is instead time to simply seek joy in the small moments. This could be in the form of a gesture of gratitude from a stranger whom you let pass on the road while en route to an “important” meeting, or a random giggle with a friend while getting ready for a “big” night out. In both cases, the seemingly small moments on the journey are more heart-warming and memorable than the destination itself.
Embrace what is to come.
Having said the above so boldly, I must qualify that we should never lose faith in what the future holds, because in hindsight, life keeps serving the aces when you would have thought it no longer possible. While I think that we are somewhat in charge of our destiny, I do not believe that our paths are written in stone for us. I subscribe to there being some rough sketch of a route map, because I would have never imagined that I am where I am today, but I am convinced that we are presented with choices which when made sensibly, lead to better things no matter how doubtful you were when making the decision. Of course, it certainly never hurts to adorn yourself with rabbit tails, horse shoes or Dzi beads to sweeten the journey, but once sufficiently laden with good luck charms, we should just sit back and enjoy the ride as life slaps us with pleasant surprises at each and every turn.
Be kind always.
It is of course important to be mindful at all times. And by this I do not mean watching your every step for fear of tripping, but rather ensuring that our actions are never unkind to others. My biggest fear in life, even more than sharks and ghosts, is simply regret. I would not want to find myself by and large content with my life but suffering a nagging regret from something that has been left to fester way past its expiry date. And in assuming that most people are good-hearted, this is most likely to come in the form of a small incident that went unnoticed or assumed to be inconsequential at the time. A moment taken to say a seemingly casual thank you or sorry could in fact have huge consequences on the recipient without us even realising, and I would like to know that I have always scattered kindness in my wake.
With the above control in place, I plan to be myself. Many ‘turning forty’ articles speak of this, and I fully subscribe to it. I think I can say with certainty that I did not really know who “myself” was until the last few years, but now that I have figured it out, I plan to make sure everyone knows about it. Not in the literal sense, as being an INFJ this is physically impossible, but rather that I have outgrown trying to be someone else. With age comes a confidence in being yourself, but more importantly a grand wisdom that there is simply no point in trying to put your best fake foot forward, because everyone else has issues, and is simply as dysfunctional and problematic in their own way.
Don’t Wear Shorts.
Unfortunately, the only undeniable forty-driven problem that I am aware of, is degenerating looks. The sagging eyes, flabby arms and greying hairs are the more generic problems that everyone faces, but I have two personal crises – my left knee, and my right knee. I remember a balmy friend commenting on women’s knees many years ago, and I laughed, because I was so unaffected and oblivious to this looming problem. Perhaps I laughed too loudly, because much to my dismay, he may have been onto something – I have started notice the onset of dreaded wrinkles around the knees. The concern will probably grow like an unwanted wart, to become the full-fledged disaster of my year; and while I continue to unsuccessfully google cures and treatments for wrinkly knees, I can only but sadly add this as the last guiding principle to my list – that is at forty, to not under any circumstances, wear shorts.
And so a new chapter has begun, one which many people proclaim is the true start of life. I seem to concur, as I suddenly find myself armed with the experience, confidence, sensibility and compassion to enjoy life in a way which I did not think possible. I still do not see myself as a forty year old, god forbid, and I have my inherent immaturity to thank for that, without which I would just be another boring “adult” in a substandard floral dress and flats.
They say the forties are fabulous, and I for one cannot wait to see what happens. My only wish is that I could do so in shorts.