5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40

Image Copyright Brian Robertson

Last month, I hit the big 4-0. While I don’t go in much for chronological age meaning anything, there are tremendous cultural tropes around what it means to turn 20, to turn 30, to turn 40. 40 always seems more momentous, perhaps because, in this day and age when we are living longer and delaying things like marriage and child-rearing more and more, 40 is still an undeniable start of mid-life: fertility drops precipitously, you’re out of the coveted youth target demographic, and magazines start to tell you what you should and should not do at your advanced age.

I am undergoing a lot of changes around this milestone, personally and professionally, and it is definitely a journey. But my transition to 40 wouldn’t be complete without my giving you, my readers, some unsolicited advice in the form of a listicle.

5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40

1. Let other people tell you what you should and should not wear. Magazines and online lists love to tell “women over 35” or whatever (as if we were a monolith) what we should wear. Respectfully, I say: f— that. If you want to wear leopard capris and gladiator sandals, go for it. If you want to show off your cleavage, or wear skinny jeans, or bedeck your arms in a bunch of bangles, strut your stuff! If you like high-necked tops, if you feel best in your sweatpants, if you’re a guy who wants to wear skirts or a woman who wants to wear a suit, if you want to go out in the street looking like Bozo the Clown, it is absolutely none of my business, nor that of any media outlet. Wear what makes you feel awesome, no matter your age!

2. Hate your own body. Many of us spend our teen years, 20s, 30s, hell, our entire lives – hating their bodies. Turning 40 turned me on to a number of things, but one of them was letting go of the idea of perfection. This is my body. I live in it. The best I can do is take care of it, be kind to it, move it around a lot, and listen to its song. Cursing myself for having stretch marks (since I was 13!) or cellulite or too big a butt or too small breasts or whatever is a waste of time and emotional energy. With each passing year I keep getting stronger, more graceful, more aware of myself in space, and the more I love my body the more it gives back.

3. Lie about your age. Being forever 29 is not a virtue; it’s a way of buying into the dominant culture’s obsession with remaining young forever. It’s true that you are as young as you feel, and lying about your age doesn’t make you seem wiser for your years: it makes you seem shallow. Age, after all, is where we learn who we are, and what things about ourselves we can and cannot change. In this process we can refine our energies and choose what we spend our time on more wisely. I choose to spend more time being who I am, where and when I am.

4. Be a grown-up. 40 is an age where it’s easy to imagine that you should have learned everything by now, that you have no more growing to do, that you should Be An Adult, Dammit, And No More Screwing Around. While responsible adulthood is a good thing to aspire to, being 40 doesn’t mean you no longer get to play, learn, evolve, change your mind radically, or take up a new hobby or life-threatening sport. Behaving youthfully has been shown to actually keep you young, and a flexible, open mind and active body tend to be self-perpetuating.

5. Believe You Should Have Arrived By Now. Some people are late bloomers. My favorite example is Grandma Moses, who only started painting in earnest at age 78 and became an icon of American art. One of my major anxieties about hitting 40 is this notion that I Haven’t Done Anything Yet: I haven’t published a novel, or started a family, or Built a Career. (Notice all of these things in Initial Caps, and how seriously I take them. 🙂 But I’ve done many things that other people haven’t: run a small business, directed several plays, acted in several others, sung at Symphony Hall. I’ve had an adventurous life so far, and it’s been a winding path with no clear destination. It’s my belief that all lives are basically like that: there is no arrival. Wherever you go, there you are. 40 is a milestone, but not a millstone. Don’t worry about whether you’ve arrived. You’re still on the journey.

What things do you want to keep in mind as you get older?

 

5 Things Not to Do If You're Over 40

Image Copyright Brian Robertson

Last month, I hit the big 4-0. While I don’t go in much for chronological age meaning anything, there are tremendous cultural tropes around what it means to turn 20, to turn 30, to turn 40. 40 always seems more momentous, perhaps because, in this day and age when we are living longer and delaying things like marriage and child-rearing more and more, 40 is still an undeniable start of mid-life: fertility drops precipitously, you’re out of the coveted youth target demographic, and magazines start to tell you what you should and should not do at your advanced age.

I am undergoing a lot of changes around this milestone, personally and professionally, and it is definitely a journey. But my transition to 40 wouldn’t be complete without my giving you, my readers, some unsolicited advice in the form of a listicle.

5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40

1. Let other people tell you what you should and should not wear. Magazines and online lists love to tell “women over 35” or whatever (as if we were a monolith) what we should wear. Respectfully, I say: f— that. If you want to wear leopard capris and gladiator sandals, go for it. If you want to show off your cleavage, or wear skinny jeans, or bedeck your arms in a bunch of bangles, strut your stuff! If you like high-necked tops, if you feel best in your sweatpants, if you’re a guy who wants to wear skirts or a woman who wants to wear a suit, if you want to go out in the street looking like Bozo the Clown, it is absolutely none of my business, nor that of any media outlet. Wear what makes you feel awesome, no matter your age!

2. Hate your own body. Many of us spend our teen years, 20s, 30s, hell, our entire lives – hating their bodies. Turning 40 turned me on to a number of things, but one of them was letting go of the idea of perfection. This is my body. I live in it. The best I can do is take care of it, be kind to it, move it around a lot, and listen to its song. Cursing myself for having stretch marks (since I was 13!) or cellulite or too big a butt or too small breasts or whatever is a waste of time and emotional energy. With each passing year I keep getting stronger, more graceful, more aware of myself in space, and the more I love my body the more it gives back.

3. Lie about your age. Being forever 29 is not a virtue; it’s a way of buying into the dominant culture’s obsession with remaining young forever. It’s true that you are as young as you feel, and lying about your age doesn’t make you seem wiser for your years: it makes you seem shallow. Age, after all, is where we learn who we are, and what things about ourselves we can and cannot change. In this process we can refine our energies and choose what we spend our time on more wisely. I choose to spend more time being who I am, where and when I am.

4. Be a grown-up. 40 is an age where it’s easy to imagine that you should have learned everything by now, that you have no more growing to do, that you should Be An Adult, Dammit, And No More Screwing Around. While responsible adulthood is a good thing to aspire to, being 40 doesn’t mean you no longer get to play, learn, evolve, change your mind radically, or take up a new hobby or life-threatening sport. Behaving youthfully has been shown to actually keep you young, and a flexible, open mind and active body tend to be self-perpetuating.

5. Believe You Should Have Arrived By Now. Some people are late bloomers. My favorite example is Grandma Moses, who only started painting in earnest at age 78 and became an icon of American art. One of my major anxieties about hitting 40 is this notion that I Haven’t Done Anything Yet: I haven’t published a novel, or started a family, or Built a Career. (Notice all of these things in Initial Caps, and how seriously I take them. 🙂 But I’ve done many things that other people haven’t: run a small business, directed several plays, acted in several others, sung at Symphony Hall. I’ve had an adventurous life so far, and it’s been a winding path with no clear destination. It’s my belief that all lives are basically like that: there is no arrival. Wherever you go, there you are. 40 is a milestone, but not a millstone. Don’t worry about whether you’ve arrived. You’re still on the journey.

What things do you want to keep in mind as you get older?

 

How to get high on life. No, seriously.

Black trunks

This week I dug this post by Mark Sisson, ex-marathoner and current loud advocate of what he calls a Primal lifestyle. While his dietary recommendations only somewhat work for me, I really love his attitude, writing style and sense of humor, and keep returning to his blog for inspiration.

Getting “high on life” may sound like a cliched holdover from the “Just Say No” generation, but I find it really valuable as a concept because I place a very high value on pleasure and ecstasy for optimal health and happiness.  While Sisson jokes around a bit (“If that sounds like it involves a shaman, some cactus cuttings, and monotonous chanting over a fire, I don’t blame you”), I do see and respect the spiritual benefits of meditation, chanting, ecstatic dance, and even the responsible use of substances to achieve ecstatic states and commune with whatever divine you jibe with. (For some people, those in recovery from addictions, for example, substances are out of the question: I highly recommend this great series called The Dance of Pagan Recovery.)

Sisson’s post, though, is more about that deep evolutionary drive we all have to experience pleasure. Pleasure, he says, 

is the carrot dangled by the body to get us to do the things we need to survive and prosper. It helps us reach important survival goals. But we’re not ascetics. Experiencing and appreciating pleasure as its own entity is necessary for true happiness and life contentment. Our genes expect us to feel good, not just do the tasks that feeling good compels us to complete.

The rest of his post tells us why things like different kinds of exercise, controlled risk, sex, nature, spicy food, music, and laughter help activate the pleasure centers in the brain. He classically does a ton of research, so there’s lots of juicy studies and links in there, too.

Even without studies, though, I recommend that this weekend, you put on some of your favorite music, have some juicy sex (solo or with a partner), and then go dance in the rain.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Heroic helplessness

Image courtesy of Mme Scherzo

I was taken with David Kanigan’s post the other day, quoting Florida Scott-Maxwell on aging, and including this beautiful photograph of I-know-not-whom, but surely one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen of any age.

I include the entirely of the quotation he included here, because it is worthwhile:

Age is truly a time of heroic helplessness. One is confronted by one’s own incorrigibility. I am always saying to myself, “Look at you, and after a lifetime of trying.” I still have the vices that I have known and struggled with— well it seems like since birth. Many of them are modified, but not much. I can neither order nor command the hubbub of my mind. Or is it my nervous sensibility? This is not the effect of age; age only defines one’s boundaries. Life has changed me greatly, it has improved me greatly, but it has also left me practically the same. I cannot spell, I am over critical, egocentric and vulnerable. I cannot be simple. In my effort to be clear I become complicated. I know my faults so well that I pay them small heed. They are stronger than I am. They are me.

~ Florida Scott-Maxwell, Measure of My Days 

As I crest 40, and go through massive changes in my own life and subtler ones in my own body, I consider what it means to age.  I came across another quotation I loved just the other day, from my man Carl Jung: “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then you are just doing research.”  As I see my first wrinkles, my first grey hairs start to set up shop in the streets of my skin, I consider what my research has led me to thus far.  Research slowly becomes knowledge, but it seems to take much of a lifetime.  And as Maxwell says, over time, those things we know – and perhaps dislike – most about ourselves can become what defines us, even as experience leads us to better choices and more settled lives.

I am overly sensitive and at times gullible (one of my loved ones is kind enough to call it “credulous”). I cannot resist a good argument. I love to sleep and enjoy wine. I cannot express things in an uncomplicated way (In my effort to be clear I become complicated).  I would always rather be doing something creative and different, at times to the foolish exclusion of the mundane. I am in love with love.

What are the faults which define you?  How can you grow to love them more?

Thanksgiving week: How gratitude can change your life

thanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving this week. The holiday has always been a favorite for me, and not just because I love to eat. I also love the thoroughly secular opportunity that it gives Americans to express gratitude.

Gratitude is an emotion that we’re not in contact with a lot of the time. Life is hard, and even though it’s also beautiful, we’re far more likely to notice the hard bits. After all, when you feel well, you don’t tend to think about it all that much. When you fall ill is when you notice: my head hurts, my nose is running, I’m so tired, and so on. It’s only human to notice the bad more acutely than the good, especially when the good is not Peak Good. Not every day can be college graduation, your wedding day, Christmas, or winning the lottery. But when you stop to notice is, most days are pretty okay. Some of them are even deeply beautiful.

I’m not even talking about noticing the sunset, or hearing the joy in a child’s laughter, though those cliched things are important. I’m talking about simple stuff. Notice the way a fork fits in your hand, and is the perfect tool for the job. Smell how truly great coffee is when you’re stumbling down the stairs in the morning. Take a moment when you turn the key in the ignition of your car to recognize that you have a car, and can drive it anyplace you want. If you’re about to drive it to your job, take a breath of thanks that you have a job.

These little pieces of gratitude can have a dramatic effect. The science is mounting: gratitude, besides just feeling good, is wonderful for our health. It improves optimism, increases exercise, moves us toward our goals, and enhances our connection with others.

But more even than that: it connects us to ourselves, and our deepest truths. After all, what says more about what you value, about who you are, than what you are truly thankful for?

Try this, starting on Thanksgiving and going through Christmas – classically, one of the most stressful times of the year. Get a journal, if you don’t already keep one, and take two minutes each day to record something that you’re grateful for. When it is especially hard to find something, pay special attention. Give thanks for your breath. Or your feet. Or your warm bed. Or even your pain. Your sorrow. Your many-times broken heart.

Starting this Thanksgiving, see what happens to you when you open yourself to gratitude. And if you’re ready to come home to yourself, find your true desire, and transform your life, contact me for a free phone consult.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Gardening, or, Doing What Makes You Happy

Yesterday, I spent a few hours out on the patio around the old, drained pool that accompanies my house.  Slowly, and in as cost-effective a way as possible (read: free), we’re filling the pool to make it into a garden bed.  Until then, though, we’re managing a bunch of containers, and yesterday was the first real chance I got to get out there and deal with them.  I pulled countless cosmos, morning glory, and maple seedlings, as well as other unnamed weeds.  I stirred up and amended the soil with compost from the past year.  I swept the concrete patio and threw everything into the empty pool.  And I planted lettuce, peas, cucumbers, carrots, and beans.

It only took a moment of pulling weeds and putting my hands in the rich soil to be reminded of how much I love doing this, how fulfilling I find growing things, eating things I’ve grown, and just playing in the dirt.  It grounds me, works my body, focuses my mind and nourishes my spirit – similar to rock climbing, really.  I’ve written elsewhere about akrasia, or the tendency to do things that don’t serve you, and avoid things that do, even though you know what’s going to make you feel good.  I’m not sure why it took so long for me to get out into the garden, in spite of all the good weather we’ve had: somehow, other things always seemed more important.

In any case, I got out there, I did some work, I got some sun, and I felt really good.  What have you done in the past few days that makes your body and spirit thank you for it?

 

Feeling and dealing

I’m going through a bunch of personal stuff these past couple of weeks, so forgive me if I’m lacking in the deep profound posts department.  Keeping my head above water has been my first priority, while tending to the other things in my life that need tending to the degree possible.

The title of this post refers to some shorthand about attachment theory: it is the preferred type of attachment pattern for a caregiver to have with a child.  Showing empathy for what a child is feeling rather than dismissing it (feeling), then offering comfort and safety (dealing).  Sadly one or both of these are often missing from childhood experience, and the resultant adult tends to unconsciously mimic the same patterns in relationships through his or her life.

At the moment, I’m trying not to: I’m trying to be there, trying to keep an open heart, and manage the practical realities at the same time.  It’s a tightrope, especially for someone who didn’t have models for it.  But I’m working on it.

More on this topic when there’s more in me to give.  For now: tell me about you?

[Re-run] “Open your eyes, and be surprised that you have eyes to open.”

My mentor Joan shared this video this morning, and I watched it all the way through until the tears flowed. I recommend the same to each of you.  It is a sublime meditation on gratitude, replete with gorgeous time-lapse photography, some of the most interesting and beautiful faces I’ve ever seen, and the gentle, liltingly accented voice of a plainly spectacular gentleman.

Make this day a good day, everyone.  And as always – I welcome your comments.  There was a lot of traffic the other day, but nobody said anything!  Please, engage me!

[Re-run] "Open your eyes, and be surprised that you have eyes to open."

My mentor Joan shared this video this morning, and I watched it all the way through until the tears flowed. I recommend the same to each of you.  It is a sublime meditation on gratitude, replete with gorgeous time-lapse photography, some of the most interesting and beautiful faces I’ve ever seen, and the gentle, liltingly accented voice of a plainly spectacular gentleman.

Make this day a good day, everyone.  And as always – I welcome your comments.  There was a lot of traffic the other day, but nobody said anything!  Please, engage me!

Battening down, and fierce gratitude

Those of you on the East Coast – and others who enjoy paying attention to weather in places where they’re not (I’m looking at you, California…) – know that there’s presently a blizzard bearing down on Boston and other cities up and down the coast.  At the moment it’s mostly snowing gently, blowing a little bit, barely even sticking yet.  But we’re told to expect between 1-3 feet of snow.  (Yes, that was feet.)

My household spent yesterday running around like you do before such events: clearing our shopping list, laying in extra supplies, debating over buying a snowblower, running around to three different stores as they all sold out of shovels.  We still have bottles filled with water from Sandy, where they weren’t needed; we have flashlights and batteries and crank radios and candles.

I’m weirdly looking forward to this evening, when we plan to take shoveling shifts, clearing the snow as it falls, taking nips of bourbon in-between.  A blizzard party, with my family.

And I’m incredibly grateful that I can experience a storm like this in this way.  In a warm, sturdy old house, with loved ones, safe and warm and sound.  I’ll probably bake cookies at some point.

Last weekend, I participated in a read/sing-through of a new musical called Fire and Ice, in which the environmental apocalypse happens, the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt stops, and the eastern seaboard freezes over, forcing a typical American family on a Grapes of Wrath-like journey across the continent.  With weather predictors calling Nemo historic, I can’t help but reflect on that play as I look out of my office window, watch the snow intensify, and hear the wind begin its unearthly howling.

I don’t think the world is going to end tonight – neither in fire nor in ice – but it still occurs to me to be thankful.  May everyone reading this be safe and warm tonight, in the company of loved ones.