Let me start by saying that, at 40, I’m an embryo compared with where I hope to wind up. (Centenarian yogi with long grey locks, a tribe of animals and aged hippies, my home full of records and dream catchers; channelling Titania but rocking Catweazle? Bring it.)
I don’t feel adulty – at least not like serious, adulty adults who have real jobs and kids and an interest in the stock market. But my friends have all those things and they’re not adulty either; which just goes to reinforce the adage that age is a state of mind. (One of my Mum’s finest qualities is her playfulness; she recently made me an Easter card, complete with a bright yellow felt-tip chick that a 4 year old would be proud of – and I mean that in the very best possible way!)
But there’s no denying that, by 40, change is afoot. Maybe glasses are needed for reading or driving; maybe the odd bodily feature is not quite where you left it 20 years ago. And boy, doesn’t the mass-media just love to capitalise on that! The media drive to cling to youth at all costs is big business, resulting in some odd looking faces and unhappy people trapped in resisting being themselves.
I’m not saying roll over, give up and stop caring about your appearance. I’m totally into being the best, most alive version of you at every age, on every level. But Buddha had it right with his Noble Truths: that suffering arises from clinging to impermanent states, and that suffering ceases when you accept what is. And ironically, it’s only once you accept yourself as you are, that you can can cultivate a sense of friendliness to yourself, and elicit genuine change, should you so wish.
I understand that advanced old age isn’t for sissies. I realise that I know nothing, Jon Snow, of what it is to be beset with dementia, or arthritis, or other degenerative conditions.
But I do wish some factions would stop capitalising on this horror of no longer looking like a bloody 20 year old. Because what about all the other aspects of being human? There’s an absolute wealth of brilliant things about getting older that I wouldn’t trade you for all the uncreaky knees in the world.
So with a nod to a certain beauty cream which promises to ‘combat the 7 signs of ageing’, here they are. The REAL 7 signs of ageing – which I don’t want combating, thanks very much!
1 – Failure to give a damn.
‘We wouldn’t worry so much what others think of us, if we realised how seldom they do.’ Oh, how true. And how much time wasted feeling self-conscious, trying to please others and conform to their idea of how we should be – whether that’s being railroaded into a job that makes your soul wilt, blindly following fashions because everyone else is, or having your creativity stifled by some jealous lover who feels threatened by your spreading wings. Getting older brings a sense of comfort in your own skin. With age comes the confidence to be yourself and the realisation that you can’t please everyone (you are not, after all, pizza) so you might as well please yourself!
2 – Being taken seriously
In the first flush of youth we’re like newly crafted vases, barely set and ready to be filled up with life’s experiences. But that lack of experience means you have a hard time being taken seriously by the grown-ups you meet in the workplace and through friends. The ones who you feel intimidated by, who know SO much more than you. The ones you kind of hope you might be like someday. Fast forward and you start having that odd experience of no longer being the youngest in a group; then of being the oldest. Slowly the truth dawns on you – you are now one of the grown-ups! And people seem to be seeking your opinion and advice, and actually listening to what you have to say. Heck, you’re pretty much a wise village elder!
3 – Learning to trust yourself
By early middle age, you’ve been around the block enough times to know which choices work for you and which don’t. You’ve fallen over many times, picked up some impressive battle scars and spent a good few evenings wondering what the hell you were thinking. Life is a process of trial and error, and it’s a process through which we start to trust our own intuition. I wouldn’t trade that for all the tea in China.
4 – Claiming your life
Some of us realise that ‘No’ is a complete sentence in our 30s. Others might take longer, and taking ownership of your life is a whole lot trickier when kids and bosses are involved. But kids and bosses are a choice too, and owning your decisions becomes a whole lot easier as you get older and realise that (whisper it) you’re not actually going to live forever. Don’t like the way your life is headed? Change it. By 40 you’ve hopefully realised that you’re the only one who can.
5 – No more pretending
Oh the sweet, sweet joy of admitting that I don’t like staying up all night and I can’t stand nightclubs. (Not rock clubs you understand – that’s different. I mean doof doof clubs, you know the ones.) And if someone thinks that makes me a party pooper? I refer them to my first point.
4 – Knowing what you’re good at…
…and what you’re not; and learning to play to your strengths, rather than bemoaning the fact you’re not brilliant at everything. Newsflash – no-one is. I’m dreadful at tennis and drawing, but no matter, for my soups would make Andy Murray and Picasso cry.
5 – Grabbing life by the cojones
So you’ve realised that, at some point, it’ll be your turn to leave the party. But as George Eliot said, ‘It’s never too late to be what you might have become’. Ok, it’s unlikely I’m going to become a fighter pilot at this stage – and as a pacifist with a horrible sense of direction, that was probably not my finest plan anyway. (I was 10 and very impressionable when Top Gun came out, what can I say.) But what did that desire have behind it? It was all about excitement, freedom, adventure – and those, I can have at any age.
6 – Greater financial security
Oh sure, most of us would like to be richer. But by mid-life, you know what your earning capacity is and can plan accordingly. To quote Dickens, ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result: happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty and six, result: misery.’
7 – Appreciation of the simple things
Getting older can elicit a slow and gentle acceptance of how life is, and help us to look around at life’s true riches, which have nothing to do with money – a sunny day, a smile from a stranger, the trees in their colourful blossom. It’s immensely heartening that studies show that human happiness reaches its full potential between the ages of 65 and 80. Of course good health plays a big part in that, but stress is such a major contributor to illness that it’s worth remembering, when life seems like an uphill struggle, this simple truth – that the best is yet to come.