5 Things I Know at 50 that I Didn't Know at 40
That’s right, this old broad has hit the big five-oh. And you know what? It feels pretty damn great. I wasn’t always sure it would feel great, but it does, mostly because the big gift of half a century on this planet is the fact that you’ve seen a thing or two, and you know a thing or two.
Life just isn’t as scary as it was when I hadn't seen things and didn’t know things. So, I thought I’d share a few of those things with you.
Here we go!
How to be
I know that it’s always better to be curious than to be certain. Curiosity opens you up to possibility. Certainty shuts creativity down. And, it shuts you (and those around you) down.
I know that optimism isn’t always your friend. When we’re overly optimistic, as in we’re off in some kind of la-la land dreamworld where miracles will happen and everything will be glorious, it’s usually because we’re avoiding something. And that thing is usually an uncomfortable truth about us or the situation we find ourselves in.
Positivity on the other hand, well that’s where it’s at. When you’re positive, you know that even if the worst-case scenario happens, you’ll be able to handle it.
Optimism is belief in miracles. Positivity is belief in self. Aim for positivity.
I know that it’s better to be kind than nice. Niceness is superficial. It can be easily faked. But kindness comes from a deeper place that’s more connected with our true nature.
And most importantly, I know that we’re meant to be explorers in life. We’re meant to try and fail and try again. And we’re meant to do things that scare us from time to time. How else will we find out what we're capable of?
How to grow
I know that in some ways, we’re all a little bit ridiculous. We make silly decisions, say the wrong things in meetings, and propose unworkable solutions. Maybe you procrastinate, or you’re overly rigid or prone to impatience, defensiveness or self-distraction.
We’ve got our stuff. And that stuff can trip us up again and again.
But guess what? That's how we learn and grow.
Sometimes, our stuff leads us to make terrible mistakes. And that’s just fine. Mistakes lead to learning. And learning leads to wisdom. And that’s a good thing. So, clean up your mess. Make the apology. Take steps to prevent it from happening again. And then move on.
I know that while most of us are deeply uncomfortable with conflict and tension, they are absolutely necessary in life. Conflict draws attention to issues and problems that should not be ignored. Tension propels us toward solutions. We need them. And I would say we should even seek them in our lives. If you’re too comfortable, you’re probably missing something.
I know that a midlife crisis, with all of its pain and anxiety and uncertainty, is a beautiful thing. It’s the times that we are the most broken that we are the most capable of connecting with our true selves. And from there, just like a pupa in a cocoon, we can dissolve our current reality and rebuild it into something that supports who we really are.
This is tough stuff of course. But sometimes one just has to get on with it. When we’re down, we have one job to do, and that’s to GET UP.
The good people in your life matter. Seek to validate them, love them, support them and connect with them as often as possible. The bad people in your life don’t matter. Yes, you may still have to interact with them, but you don’t have to allow their toxicity to seep into your soul. See the poison for what it is, and don’t take it on board.
I know that remembering who you are matters. And that means understanding the qualities of life and character that are most important to you (i.e., your values) and then living them as often and as much as you can. Values about who and how you think you should be don’t matter as much as values about who and how you know you could be.
I know that how we show up for others matters. Believe it or not, you have a massive impact on those around you. You can make or break their day without even being aware of it. Psychologists call the way others feel when they’re around you your “affective presence”. Be aware of your day-to-day affect, and its effect on others.
I know that the stories we tell matter. You can talk yourself into or out of anything. You can tell yourself you’re a failure, or you can tell yourself that you just haven’t reached success yet. You can tell yourself you’re fat or old or stupid. Or you can tell yourself that you’re healthy and mature and wise. You can tell yourself that you have to stay in a bad job, relationship, marriage. Or you can tell yourself that you can go. We’re always telling stories. Just take care to tell yourself hopeful ones that inspire and empower you.
What to stop
For goodness sake, stop trying to do everything yourself. We’re here to grow and create and learn together. Besides, you my friend, most definitely do not have all the answers.
You also need to stop trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, set some damn boundaries. Saying “no” does not make you a bad person. In fact, research shows that the stronger your boundaries are, the more compassionate you’re able to be. Your job is to manage your energy so you can expend it not just willy-nilly on whoever is demanding it, but where it really matters (see above).
Stop taking things personally. The truth is, you have no idea why someone reacts positively or negatively to the things you say and do. Their thoughts about you are shaped by everything from how they were raised, the communities they’re a part of, traumas they’ve experienced, whether or not they slept well, or if they’ve had their morning coffee or not. Just do the best you can in each encounter and let the rest go.
And finally, stop clinging to inauthentic power. This is the kind of power that comes from titles and position and salaries and possessions. Believe it or not, a VP title and a closet full of 4-inch Louboutins will not make you happy. Trust me; I’ve got the banged-up feet to prove it. The thing about inauthentic power is that the more of it you have, the more of it you feel you need. And that’s because it’s empty. It’s like having cotton candy for dinner.
The point of it all
It seems to me that life, in all its messy complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity is all about courage. At least a life well lived is. Because it’s only when we are courageous that we can prioritize the truth of who we are over the comfort of inertia and conforming to the expectations of others.
And the only way to do that is to enter an expansive state. When we’re expansive, we’re grounded in solid core values and purpose, yet open to new ideas, people and situations. From this place we experience heightened energy, creativity and joy.
We become authentically powerful.
Authentic power arises internally from our expansive center. Authentically powerful people are incredibly compelling, empathetic and influential. And because of this, they are more loving, have healthier relationships, contribute more and have greater confidence.
And isn’t that really the point of it all?
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