I’m 40 this month. In many ways 30 doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, yet a great deal has happened in 10 years.
I’m OK with 40. I joke a bit about being “really old” but in all honesty I feel more comfortable with myself now at 40 than I’ve felt in a very long time. I think I have a lot more clarity about life in general these days, I know exactly who I am, what I still want to achieve and equally what I don’t want and I’m getting much better at being unapologetic about these choices.
It helps that I was asked for ID the other week for the first time in over 15 years! I laughed, as clearly I thought Shirley in Sainsbury’s was joking. She wasn’t – I actually had to show her my driving licence to buy a bottle of wine, which I still find hilarious…Shirley may need to go to Specsavers.
So what have I learnt in my 40 years? So much, but here are a few things:
1. Bad things happen but it helps to have perspective
Bad things happen. Yes, bad things even happen to good people – all the time. Life doesn’t seem to care how ‘good’ you are, bad things happen. Once you accept this, you can work out what your reaction is going to be. It’s the reaction to the bad things that’s the important bit. I’m not talking about the initial reaction, of course it’s OK to cry and shout and scream. I’m talking long term. I’m talking about making a conscious decision to accept that these things happen and focus on how you respond long term. The people in life I have the greatest respect for are those who have been through horrible things and chosen to not be defeated.
2. The world is full of t*ats
Sad but true I’m afraid. You can’t change people, only your reaction to them. I’ve learnt not to waste time being mad or trying to right someone else’s wrong. You do have to accept that some people will just always lack that level of self-awareness but that shouldn’t affect how you do you!
3. Fear is best confronted head on
I was terrified of snakes until a couple of years ago, paralysingly terrified. I decided enough was enough and whilst at a festival asked a chap with a huge python named Betty to put her around my neck. He did. It was hugely impulsive and out of character for me, but I am no longer terrified of snakes. I can look at them, I can hold them and I no longer dream about them!
When I was 10 years old we were in a tornado. We had to abandon our caravan and run for shelter at a nearby house. The fact that I still remember that like is was yesterday, after 30 years, tells me how deeply that has affected me. I used to think every storm was a tornado coming again, last year we had some huge storms in Florida and I felt more in control of that fear than ever before.
4. Look after your body, you don’t get a spare
Sounds so simple, but you really don’t. I try really hard to do this. I spent years feeling my body was inadequate in some way. Now I’m just so grateful it carried, birthed and fed my babies and that it works. I’m always researching how I can improve it but that comes from a health and fitness perspective these days, not a desperate search for ‘perfection’.
5. Lift weights
Something I wish I’d done a long time ago was lift heavy weights. Pre-children, when I had hours free to spend at the gym every week, the advice was small weights, lots of reps. At 40, I know that’s rubbish and now I lift heavy weights and see so many benefits. I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt and I can feel the good it does my body.
6. Big knickers are the way forward
As a teenager I loved a thong, even well into my twenties I was all about the thong. Since having my first child 13 years ago, I can safely say I’ve only worn a thong a handful of times. I just don’t see the appeal anymore. A girl needs a decent pair of big black knickers in her life if she’s going to take on the world, no time for thongs here.
7. Never leave home without mascara
My mum used to say to me she felt bald if she wasn’t wearing mascara. I never really understood what she meant when I was a child, but interestingly, since I began wearing make up as a teenager, mascara is the one thing I won’t manage without. I never leave the house without mascara. For some people it’s lipstick or concealer, for me, it’s always been mascara. I love it and it makes me feel like I’m dressed and ready to go.
8. Never stop learning
I remember thinking at school and then at university that one day I’d be done studying and I wouldn’t have to learn anymore and I could relax – it makes me laugh now when I think about how naive that was.
We all see people who think they know it all, who don’t think they can learn anything from the world, who think they have all the answers.
These days I’m so keen to learn new things. I love that that is an option. You don’t have to study to learn new things, you just have to look around you, read things and talk to people.
9. Develop your character over your status
When I was younger I remember feeling as if there was a lot of focus on developing status. That status was important. That didn’t come from my parents, yet it was something I was aware of.
Pre-children, I remember there being a lot of focus amongst people of my age about how much everyone was earning. Who had the ‘best’ job, who was making the ‘most’ money and who had the most important-sounding job title. I still see this today and I’m still very aware of how important status is to lots of people I know. What’s changed is that I’m less impressed by it.
Status doesn’t impress me, a person’s character impresses me. I like people who remain principled even when no one is looking.
10. Stay in awe of the world
I love to travel. I love a beautiful view. I love the mountains. I love discovering amazing people and places. I am most certainly in awe of the world. I find some places breathtakingly beautiful and some situations breathtaking in themselves – I never want that to stop. The amount of people I meet who just think that things are ‘OK’ – it’s frustrating. Don’t you think that everything is incredible? The change in the world in my lifetime alone is crazy. No it’s not always for the better but the world is still incredible.
As a child I used to have these mini episodes of reflection when I was about to go to sleep. It happened once a month maybe and I would think “how am I even here?” Now I tell my children they are incredible because the chance of them being created was so small and they made it – which makes them strong and determined and courageous. I hope they remain in awe of the world.
11. A few awesome friends is better than tons of mediocre ones
Oh how true this is. After I left university Facebook was the new thing. Everyone was getting a Facebook account and there was this new weird obsession with how many ‘friends’ people had. I found the numbers thing a little odd if I’m honest – I mean how many of people’s Facebook friends are actual friends.
The people I call my friends these days are people I could call on in a crisis, and people I’d happily drop everything for. They are people I care deeply about and they are not just numbers. Some are friends I’ve known a long time, some are friends I’ve met since having children – but they all share one thing, they are all awesome.
12. You are stronger than you think
When I was a child and also during my teens, my mum spent quite a bit of time in hospital for various reasons. Each time I was terrified. I would go to bed and chant to myself “please don’t die, please don’t die, I can’t live without you”. She didn’t. I was 37 when she died, and 39 when my dad died. Life can be sh*t. Horrible things happen, but horrible things are happening to people all of the time. People loose loved ones every day and ultimately you have to make a choice to keep going or not. I didn’t think I was strong enough back then, now I know I am, just like all the other people that get up and carry on every day.
13. Kindness costs nothing
Just. Be. Kind.
I don’t know why more people can’t do this. It really does cost nothing to be kind. One day you might need that same kindness.
14. Happiness is a choice
Happiness is sometimes mistaken as a destination. When I …. I will be happy. It’s not a destination. There is no one way to be happy and there certainly isn’t a formula.
I understand much more these days how responsible we are for our own happiness. Even in the darkest times, the ability to find that spark of happiness is so important, that leads to greater happiness and so on. It’s not complicated but it does take practice.
15. Be a badass
We hear the word badass everywhere these days. It’s one of my favourite words. My favourite badass woman was my grandmother. Unapologetic, confident, not afraid to challenge the norm and able to pick herself up after getting knocked down.
For me, being a badass is about knowing what you want and going after it. It’s being able to take a beating and come out the other side stronger and more determined than ever. It’s about finding a way to overcome frustrations, challenging norms and expectations and blazing your own path rather than a pre-defined one.
16. Wake up early
I have always been a morning person but since having children each morning I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. It’s a reality many parents face, but for me it’s less about the lack of sleep and more about the overwhelm that comes with taking on multiple roles in life.
One way to get back in control is to get up early. When you are breastfeeding through the night this is a no go – and if you’ve been up since 3 am with a toddler, clearly you shouldn’t be getting up any earlier.
However, the days when this has been possible are always the days I feel the most organised, in control and productive – getting up early works.
17. Check in with your mindset
I never understood mindset when I was younger, but when I think about it I was largely surrounded by people with positive mindsets as a child. My grandmother was very much a mind over matter person and my dad would always find something optimistic to focus on, even if things seemed hopeless.
I think I’ve always had this but I lost it for a while. In the last couple of years I’ve become very aware of how the focus of my mindset can impact on my ability to create positive change.
18. If you don’t like it, change it
Simple right? Too simplistic some might argue, but I’ve learned this is so important. Even if it seems impossible, break it down into smaller steps – you will get there.
19. What other people think of you is none of your business
It’s taken me far too long to realise this but it’s very liberating when you accept it. I used to worry what people would think about what I wore, what I thought or said. What I’ve realised is just how crippling that can be and there’s no need for it.
You can’t stop people thinking things about you, but you can stop caring about it. It means you can be authentic.
20. If it isn’t providing a function or filling you with joy don’t do it
I’ve applied this to my wardrobe recently and it is so liberating! Yes, it’s dramatically reduced the size of it, but I’m OK with that. Of course you can apply this to other areas of life too.
21. Be yourself
How many times have we tried to be something else, for someone else? It’s really common and sometimes it even happens without you realising. One day you don’t even recognise yourself anymore.
No one can do you better than you and only you know what that is.
22. Different is good
Coco Chanel once said “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Different is so often regarded as wrong somehow. I think things have changed in my 40 years (for the better) but still you see examples all around of people being mocked for being different in some way. Why on earth would you want to be the same as someone else is what I tell my children. Different is good. Different is brave and different stands out from the croud – there are enough sheep.
23. Live by your own rules not someone else’s
We’ve all been on the receiving end of unwanted advice. I became very aware of the extent to which this happens when I became a parent. EVERYONE has an opinion. EVERYONE wants to tell you what to do and how to do it. EVERYONE thinks they know best.
Life shouldn’t be a slow, cautious walk to the finish line, making sure you remain in the confines of what others consider normal. I’m learning that life is about working out what you absolutely don’t want and making a vision of what you do want a reality – never mind what everyone else thinks.
24. Be grateful
Gratitude has become a bit cliche with the introduction of hashtags. You see a lot of #gratitude around these days. I feel like this means it is thrown about quite a bit, but stopping to be truly grateful is so important.
The modern world brings a great deal of complaining from everyone – we all do it, none of us are exempt from complaining about trivial things. I just feel that we should balance this with being grateful. However bad things are, there is always something so be grateful for. I remember after my dad died suddenly last year someone said to me “it’s not fair is it?” – I didn’t think fair came into it in all honesty. I was sad. So sad. I still am. Shocked, yes, but I also feel very grateful to have had a dad like mine. Even if it wasn’t for long enough, it was longer than so many other people and the impact he made will be felt for generations to come.
Being grateful shifts your focus. Gratitude can change your life because it makes you appreciate what you have rather than what you don’t have.
25. Systems are essential
I’m a systems person. I have a system for pretty much everything, and as a parent I find it’s the only way to survive. I learnt this from my dad. As a teenager I spent my summer holidays helping my parents build their house in France. My dad had a system for everything. For getting concrete into tricky spaces, for getting massive rocks out of the ground, for moving building materials from one place to another – there was always a system. Systems make the seemingly impossible, possible.
26. Don’t take yourself too seriously
At 40 the people I find myself gravitating towards are those with a good sense of humour who don’t take themselves too seriously. We live in a world where people snigger at other people’s mistakes or misfortunes – this, I detest, but when someone can laugh at themselves, their own mistakes and you can share a giggle at errors you’ve both made, that I find endearing.
My parents were both quite good at this themselves, my mum would say “you have to laugh”.
27. Narcissistic people should be avoided at all costs
With narcissism being so prevalent in society, there is a good chance that you have encountered one or many in your life. They can of course be hard to spot because of their ability to mask the more malevolent aspects of their personality. They often come across as quite charming and friendly people. That being said, if you want to avoid getting tangled up with a narcissist; if you want to dodge the mental, emotional, and physical harm that comes from dealing with one, then you have no choice but to refuse to engage with them on any level.
28. Drink lots of water
Simple but important. Don’t wait until 40 to be good at this.
29. Value older people, they won’t be around forever
I’ve always found older people fascinating. I can’t help be constantly think about all the different periods of time they have lived through. Three of my grandparents had died by the time I was 10 years old and the final one died when I was 18. Since 18 I’ve ‘adopted’ any one else’s grandparents I’ve had contact with and made a point of engaging with older people in public. I find it quite upsetting when people my age and younger complain about their grandparents. Grandparents are such a wealth of knowledge and information and they have so much to offer our generation and that of our children.
30. Entitlement is ugly
We all know people who walk through life with a sense of entitlement. It’s awful. It’s one of the characteristics I loathe the most in people. The truth is that the world doesn’t owe you a single thing. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. No one is deserving of unearned privileges.
31. Set goals, then knock them out of the park
In my 20s I had a goal. My goal was to manage to run one marathon in my life. Back then that seemed so huge. I didn’t doubt I could do it, but I saw that as my limit. Now, age 40 I’ve just signed up for my 21st marathon. My goal for my 40s – to complete an Ultra Challenge. It’s amazing what the body and mind can do and I intend to fully test that.
32. Volunteer your time
Do you volunteer your time? The standard response people give to this is “I’d love to but I don’t have time”. Imagine if that was what everyone said? There are so many ways you can volunteer your time. Maybe you have skills that can help someone else? Maybe you can help coach your child’s sports team? Maybe you can help fundraise for something locally? Maybe you could be a school governor?
The thing about volunteering is that as well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ well-being too. It’s human nature to feel good after helping someone out. Volunteering can also help you gain valuable new skills and experiences, and boost your confidence.
33. Donate to charity
Some people have so little in life, why wouldn’t you want to help make that a little bit better? Whether it’s donating old clothes, buying a couple of extra items in your shopping to donate to the food bank, taking uniform that’s no longer needed into school so it can be given to a family who are struggling, or making a regular financial contribution, I feel very strongly that we should give where we can.
The thing that so many people seem to miss is that circumstances in people’s lives can change so quickly and anyone could potentially find themselves in a situation where they are struggling.
34. Be an advocate for change
Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”. If you bring about change in the areas you have control over, you can model what the world you want to see would be like, and help to bring it about in one small corner of the world.
I try to apply this to life. For me it’s about modelling things for my children and for others. As an example, I’ve been making regular trips to Liverpool for meetings this year and there is always a homeless person sat outside a bakery I pass by. Every time I go, I go into the bakery, buy a cup of tea and a hot sausage roll and give it to whoever is sat there. My youngest child has been with me, so it gave us a chance to talk about what I had done and why. Also, the last time I did this a lady stopped me and asked me what the homeless man had said to me. Looking a tad puzzled I replied “he said thank you very much and have a lovely day” – she seemed shocked but said that was great.
I saw her on my way back talking to another homeless person – she was giving them bananas from her bag. That day two homeless people ate something.
There are some many ways we can be advocates for change – don’t waste the opportunities.
35. Challenge when warranted
Have you ever witnessed someone come under fire and thought that was unfair? Did you ever think to challenge? When I was younger I’d see and hear all sorts of things and think “that was mean” or unfair, or rude, when it was unwarranted.
These days I’ve reached a point in life where I will challenge people where I feel it’s warranted. I’m not going to be walked over and I’m not going to sit back and watch others be either.
37. Understand that everyone has a story
My first full time job after university was working for the NHS as a substance misuse worker. I loved every second of that job. I loved the people I worked with, the people I worked for and I am very grateful for the experiences the job gave me.
Something I became very aware of very quickly was the extent to which people judge other people. I became very acutely aware of the derogatory views that some people hold of others they deem to be ‘less than’ them in some way – it’s ugly.
One thing I’ve always understood is that everyone has a story, but I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to convey that to as many other people as I can. Don’t make assumptions about people you know nothing about. Don’t apply the victim-blaming attitude to everyone who doesn’t quite match your own high moral standards. Understand that the bulk of the time a person’s situation can be traced back to a particular situation, incident or, history – a little more compassion would make the world a nicer place to be.
38. Don’t over-wash your hair
Until I had my second child I washed my hair every day. It was then I discovered dry shampoo – where had this been all my life? Now, if you have short hair washing it every day might be no big deal. Mine has been passed my bottom for most of my life – clearly washing it every day was a tad bonkers. Now it’s a once a week job, and my hair is actually much better for it.
What’s that saying? It’s much more effort to frown than smile? Smiling makes you feel good, but it also makes other people feel good too.
A smile to someone else can change their whole day. Smile and the world smiles with you and all that – give it a go!
40. Remember that life is not a dress rehearsal
I can’t stress this enough. How many times do you say or hear others saying that they are waiting for one thing before they do something else? That something is not the right time? That they will do it in a few years? When the kids are older? We’ve all said these things. The truth is that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. You aren’t practising for another life in the future, this is it.