I thought I was tracking along okay with this zenish-yogaesque “age is an arbitrary thing.” But then I turned 39 and had a total meltdown. Tears and fears—the whole existential crisis shebang.
I was nipping the heels of 40s and it felt like an important life checkpoint. A time when I should have been weighing in with accomplishment, done everything I ever said I was going to do, not f*cked up so many times… I should have been a wise grown-up by now, surely?
Frankly, I was disappointed with myself.
In the final days of my 30s I was on guard for the possibility of completely losing my chips. I was like a nervous fawn sniffing the air, poised to flee at any sign of danger.
Instead, as I woke up on the morning of my 40th year, I felt calm… and surprised. No freak-out. Just some new wisdom.
Here’s what I realised:
1. Stop being so f*cking hard on yourself.
Last year my internal monologue was like a bitchy schoolgirl. “You’re old, you messed up, and you’re good at nothing blah, blah.”
We are our own bullies. It’s no wonder we struggle with self-esteem from time to time.
This year that bossy voice was not invited. Instead, I honestly found the wherewithal to feel happy and acknowledging of all the many really cool things in my sphere.
Disappointment and overwhelm were replaced by a determined bring it on furrow in my brow.
I guess life truly does start at 40 if that’s when we stop being so fucking hard on ourselves.
2. Life just sucks sometimes.
The world seems choked with courses, books, workshops, retreats, podcasts, e-books and 12-step programs on how to create your perfect life and manifest anything your heart desires. I’m not denying the power of a positive attitude and personal accountability, but the flip side of seeking perfection is disappointment and feelings of inadequacy.
Shitty challenging moments are coming at us whether we like it or not. And that’s a fact.
Tenzin Palmo, who describes herself as that Buddhist nun who got famous for sitting in a cave for a really long time, says the problem with life is that we believe there should be no problems. Problems, she says, are solutions waiting to happen.
The Rolling Stones got it right too:
“You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need!”
3. Talk less, listen more.
My big mouth has landed me in a pickle many times over, but being chatty isn’t all bad. It’s a great quality for writers.
Take for example the difference between my little sis and I.
If you ask her how her day was she’ll say something like “Good.” Her grounded approach to life has helped her become an incredible nurse. If there’s a crisis—your internal organs are dangling out of your abdomen and you’re going into cardiac arrest—call my sister. She’ll stuff them back in, sew you up, calm you down and stabilise your pulse without so much as breaking a sweat.
Definitely don’t call me if you have a bloody medical emergency. However if you’d like someone to write your biography, I’m your woman. I’ll question you until you regret calling me, and write about it in all its sordid, intimate detail.
That being said, when it comes to life, the getting of wisdom and peaceful relationships, learning to shut up once in a while can be hugely beneficial.
The three conflict types:
I believe there are three types of people in the world:
The first type love conflict (I’d say this is the smallest group.) The second loathe it, and do whatever they can to avoid it. The third group also can’t stand it, but attempt to resolve it by diving headlong into it.
This is the group I belong to. If there’s conflict, I will push headlong into it. Not because I like it or want to fuel the fire, but because I can’t stand it and want it to be gone asap. Learning to stay quiet and observe the world once in a while, without feeling the need to react or interact has been a revelation. To my surprise I’m enjoying the peace and stillness… And I’m still writing stories!
4. Smooth, crack-free heels are totally possible.
I’m a heel stalker—if you’re walking in front of me and I can see your heels, know that I’m checking them out. If you’ve got smooth, pink, crack-free heels I’m envious, and frankly mystified.
When I turned 40 I figured it was high time to have my first pedicure.
I’d always looked at those nail salons with their rows of massage chairs and foot baths and thought it seemed a bit gross to pay someone to rasp off your dead skin and clip back your cuticles. But then there’s colonics. So I guess pedicures aren’t so gross after all.
I was a little nervous at first. I felt uncomfortable sitting in a big chair with someone at my feet. I looked around mystified that no one else seemed to batter an eyelid.
I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the whole experience, but maybe a story for some other time. For now, I’ll just say that I walked out of that place with lovely shiny red toenails, and… Drumroll… Smooth, pink, crack-free heels! A revelation if ever there was one.
A little bit older, a little bit wiser…
Each ride around the sun may play havoc with our crow’s feet and heels, but the very cool tradeoff is that we get a little bit wiser with each circuit.
We learn to be kinder to ourselves, to not care so much what other people think and get better at recognizing the things that really matter. We dive deeper into our experience of life, love and the general mystery of it all.
Let’s face it, we become more interesting.
Author: Leonie Orton
Editor: Katarina Tavčar