I am turning 35 next month. I tend to think about mortality more than most people because my mother died of a rare autoimmune disease at the age of 47. Hopefully, the same thing won’t happen to me. Even so, I have reached a certain turning point along the road of life that has me thinking about how I plan to live the rest of my years. Based on the experience I’ve gained from my first 35 trips around the sun, I’ve decided to give my older self some advice from my younger self.
1) Do not listen to clueless people.
I used to think it was incredibly unkind to call anyone stupid, and I still do, in practice. However, at this point in my life, I have come to believe that some people are just…well, clueless. Some people are so self-centered that they become like black holes, trying to draw the light from everyone else to satisfy their voracious appetites for making others miserable. My Achilles heel is that I want everyone to like me, so I tend to bend and adjust to far too many people who do not have my best interests in mind. In the next 35 years, I am going to make a habit of listening to smart people and politely ignoring clueless people. I’ll wait until I’m 70 to start telling them what to go do with themselves.
2) Don’t worry so much about money.
Naturally, I want to be responsible with my finances. However, the desire to achieve a certain socioeconomic status led me down many destructive paths in my youth. I completely sacrificed my creative life in order to meet some strange standard of productivity and financial security that I had set for myself. For the next 35 years, I will focus on doing well with what I have instead of worrying about planting myself among the landed gentry.
3) Live with purpose.
We are only given a limited amount of days in this life. Since my life is approximately half over, I need to make the remaining years count. When I think about what matters to me, I think about my marriage, my children, family and friends, and my creative and intellectual life. Other things may matter to other people, but those are the things that matter most to me. If some task doesn’t fall into one of those categories, then I’m not going to do it. And guess what? You can’t make me.
4) Reconnect with extended family.
I tend to be extremely lazy about maintaining my family connections. I really love my mother’s family and my husband’s family, for instance, but I have grown lazy about contacting them. I’m taking a trip to Arkansas this summer and am looking forward to the chance to reconnect with my Arkansas family. I’ve changed a great deal since I came to New England, but as my mother used to say, blood is thicker than water. In the next 35 years, I’m going to enjoy positive family connections and ignore the ones that make me miserable (see Piece of Advice Number One).
5) Find a way to have fun with my kids.
One of the first things I’m going to do this new year is to put my youngest son in daycare. Sound antithetical? Let me explain. I work at home with my son, and my workload has grown to the point that he watches far too many DVDs and plays with far too few other children. Also, I am too busy to waitress all day, which is essentially what I seem to do. Instead of resenting every minute I have with him, I am going to enjoy the time that I have with him, and he is going to enjoy playing with other kids.
I tend to have a fun side and a regimented side, and my kids see far too little of the fun side. I’m going to save regimentation for my work and expend more joy when I’m with my boys. They won’t remember a picture perfect childhood, but they’ll remember family as something joyous. Hopefully, that will last through their adult years.
6) Become incrementally fabulous
I tend to push myself really hard to get into productive routines involving cleaning, exercising, etc., and they always backfire on me. Instead of trying to be fabulous all at once, I am going to spend my time becoming fabulous gradually. Maybe I’ll pick one goal a month to increase my fabulousness quotient, as long as the pace is relaxed. I think that over the next 35 years changes will stick better if they are slow and easy. By the time I’m 80, I will be unstoppable.
7) Save money for travel
Since I only have one opportunity to spend time on this globe, I need to see the globe. I’m definitely North America-centric in my travel, but I would also love to see Europe, some of the Middle East and Southern Asia. Even if traveling means taking my family to an inn for a weekend, I’m going to budget for giving them memorable experiences. As I get older, I want to give myself and my family experiences rather than things.
So here’s to getting older and better with each passing year. I look forward to many more trips around the sun with all of you!