Been thinking ten wise things I've learned from turning fifty.
Yesterday was one of those big birthdays—you know, the ones where people do retrospective slide shows or big parties or go on a cruise to see the Dalai Lama. I chose to go back to some of my roots, on the North Shore of Oahu. We moved there in 1967 when I was two, and my parents rented a beach cottage right on Rocky Point where we lived until I was five and moved to Kaua`i. Besides being my birthday, I was here for book research for two major projects: my memoir, which will be overhauled in a Cheryl Strayed workshop in March, and Rip Tides, Lei Crime #9.
In the course of being here and having an amazing fiftieth birthday, I’ve been thinking of some of the gifts and insights middle age has brought.
- Make peace with your past. One of the major things I wanted to do on this trip was find that beach cottage we lived in, and see if the memories I had of being here, in this splendid primeval place where surf, sand and sea collide so spectacularly, was anything like reality. I found the cottage, and my memories were verified by the setting and the energy of the place I remembered starting life with. Sometimes you have to revisit the past to move forward.
- Health is your biggest investment. Around forty you start realizing that old age is going to happen to you, but only if you are lucky enough. I’ve been taking my health very seriously for the last five or so years, and I feel like I’m setting up for the future now. You are never too young to start positive habits that will pay off now, and later.
- There’s no time to waste and no one to blame for your life. I realize I’m in my last half or, more likely, two thirds of life. If something isn’t working, I need to change it. No one else can do that for me, not my husband, parents, children or friends. I’m no longer willing to life with compromises that make me sad, angry, or unhealthy and that goes for relationships, jobs, and situations.
- If you have a passion, do it now. I hope I have another twenty years or more of good health, energy, and passion to do what I was put on this earth for. It makes life sweeter to know it’s finite.
- Stuff isn’t as important. I never was a big clutter hoarder, but I grew up hippie without a lot of money or things, so I spent a lot of time through my twenties, thirties and forties amassing things that represented security, were beautiful, or that filled some remaining void of wishing and dreaming. Now, as I enter my fifties, I want to pare down to just the essentials and focus on having experiences. Things no longer appeal the way they did.
- You can cultivate the feelings you want to have. I believe happiness, or more realistically contentment, is a habit and a choice and is not about circumstances. I choose my mental state by the things I focus on and do. Gratitude is the secret of having more of those positive feelings in life.
- You can’t take it with you. Mike and I are coming late to the retirement game, and as we deal with situations with our aging parents, we realize the greatest gift we can give our children is to be healthy and independent. If we don’t leave them anything, it’s okay. It might take all our efforts just to deal with our own ageing process so we aren’t a burden to them.
- You can have great sex in midlife. When you decide to get over hang-ups, body issues, shyness, projections and mind games, new things can happen with older bodies.
- Make small positive changes and apply them consistently. I’ve been studying the power of habits as part of my counseling practice, and as a personal experiment, a year ago I decided to start the habit of doing five yoga sun salutations every morning to work on flexibility and hopefully, heal my chronic low back pain (not helped by sitting in the writing chair for hours at a time.) Happy to report my back is much better, my flexibility is better, and this small addition to my life has also brought increased self acceptance and body celebration. The new habit I’m adding this year is brushing and flossing after meals.
- Build in margins. As part of my cultivation of more happiness, I am not over scheduling myself any more. I make sure there is plenty of time to get places, that I don’t have too many activities crammed into a day, and mainly that my life is structured around making time for writing. This way, chances are good I can cruise through a day unruffled, even if things don’t go as planned.
What are some of your insights from life?