I am now over 40 years of age.
For a while there I felt desolate because I had reached 40 and my life did not look like what I thought a person’s life should look like at the age of 40. I even completely forgot what I had achieved and what I did have to be proud of.
Luckily I did some reading online and discovered that I most certainly was not the first human being in history to have felt like this. It turns out that there is a well-known happiness U curve phenomena that has been observed in a range of different countries which causes human beings to experience a distinct dint in their happiness levels around mid-life. Johnathon Rauch describes this in his excellent article, “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis” in The Atlantic. To summarise, the article discusses the fact that people in mid-life are commonly not only unsatisfied with their life, they also expect that their lives aren’t going to improve in the future. This does change however as people move through the U curve, from the bottom of the valley once again up to the top of the slope.
In my case finally recognising that I probably wasn’t going to get around to being the President of the United States during this lifetime actually turned out to be fine. Considering that I’m not even an American citizen, I’d probably have difficulty meeting the nomination criteria anyway. Seriously though, I realised that some of the things I thought I wanted I didn’t really want anyway. The things I really did want I could still achieve, so when I look back I’m not sure why I wasted so much time feeling like a pathetic loser in my younger years and around the 40 mark.
Aside from coming out the other side of the U curve, below are 10 other reasons I love being on the other side of 40.
1. Less Down Moments
I remember even as I moved into my 20’s from my teens that swings in my mood either way became less severe. This trend has continued, and I feel increasingly less affected when something negative happens. Nowadays it takes a combination of negative factors to make me feel harangued, and when this happens I’ve realised I’ve got to take a good hard look at myself and change something because quite obviously something is not working and a positive strategy or combination of strategies are required to deal with the situation.
2. I’ve Learnt
I love the fact that I’ve lived through a few experiences now. By this I mean that I have been exposed to life, had to deal with different people, seen projects completed and seen problems solved in a number of ways. I’ve also learnt from such experiences. In addition I know that while I muddled through the situations that were thrown at me and worked out how to deal with them on my feet, everyone else was doing exactly the same thing. As one of my fantastic bosses said, “fake it till you make it.” I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I honestly try not to make those mistakes again.
3. Life is Short
As a result of the fact that I’m now over 40 I’ve also realised that life is indeed short and that I need to make the most of it. While others often recognise this at a much younger age, for me it took getting to 40 to become highly aware of this. I love being conscious of the fact that I only have a very limited amount of time, so I might as well do what I enjoy doing, manage stress when it happens and try to take the shit that gets thrown at me in my stride.
4. I Still Have Potentially Half of My Life Left
I have also realised that while life is short and I am over 40, I still have a few years of life left. In addition, what I do with those years is entirely up to me. I am also still young enough to do whatever I might set my heart on doing.
5. I’m Not Such a Bitch
I’ve got to a much better place in my relationship. It took me a number of years and lots of trying things that didn’t work to get to a calmer and happier relationship.
I think everyone comes to a point in their relationship when they have to decide if they are going to make a lifelong commitment to it or if they are going to knock the relationship on the head, so to speak. Making the decision to make a lifelong commitment to it had huge benefits for me in that I automatically became kinder, I stopped feeling insecure about my present and my future and the man in the relationship magically became kinder and nicer too.
6. I Will Survive
I now realise that I will survive future unpleasant situations in the same way that I have survived the variety of unpleasant situations that I have already lived through. Every situation or problem resolves in one way or another. Indeed sometimes negative situations evaporate all by themselves. I’ve had an irate client make a serious complaint about a work related matter, and then seen this problem instantly evaporate when the irate client realised that the issue had nothing to do with myself or the organisation I worked for at the time. In general though, when something negative happens I know I will get through it, even if I have to calmly go away and think about it or ask around before I can come up with a way to make things better.
7. I’m More Careful About Committing
I choose more carefully how I spend my time these days. I have found that signing up for jobs that I was really not suited to was a waste of both my time and my employer’s time. I’ve realised that it is my responsibility and my responsibility only to carefully assess every single aspect of any proposition I am either offered or wish to explore before I go anywhere near agreeing or asking for anything. I only promise to do something that I honestly believe I can deliver. I will also only commit to something that I honestly feel I am suited to and that I can make a commitment to.
8. No One Gives a Rat’s Arse
I’ve also realised that no one really gives a shit about me and what I’m doing. People truly are so tied up in their own lives that they don’t care about what anyone else is doing. Even if I do something insanely outrageous this will only flicker on other people’s radar for a brief moment before they are back thinking about their own problems, planning their weekend or wondering how they can get that hot chick in the sack with them. I realised this after many years in the workforce when I noticed that people didn’t care if I was miserable doing a job or happy doing a job. It follows that if I attempt something that has been a lifelong dream of mine and I fail spectacularly, no one is going to give a shit. At least I will however have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave my lifelong dream a shot. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her brilliant book, Big Magic, “People don’t have time to worry about what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, because they’re all caught up in their own dramas . . . you are free, because everyone is too busy fussing over themselves.”
Looking back I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me long before now, because I know that personally I am way too tied up in my own problems to give a shit about what anyone else is doing. It’s strange that we human beings seem to carry around a stupid double standard when we are younger; believing that while I’ve got too many problems to worry about anyone other than myself, apparently everyone else has no problems and wants to spend every waking minute thinking about me. It’s ridiculous and completely contradictory.
9. I Can Deal With Shit
I’ve got more problem solving skills and more stress management skills. When I was younger I thought being busy and important meant that I was supposed to be stressed out at work. I’ve since realised that no employer is actually paying you to feel horrendous at work or to kill yourself with stress, they are only paying you to do a job. No employer will sit by your side when you die of a heart attack due to a build up of plaque in your arteries as a result of stress. Getting stressed out at work also severely hampers your ability to find solutions to the very problems that are generating the work related stress.
I was also previously guilty of often bringing home stress that I wasn’t managing at work and as a result I screwed my home life as well as my work life. None of the jobs I’ve done have paid me well enough to justify doing this. Actually, even if they had paid me a million dollars a year, they still would not have paid me well enough to justify ruining my health and my home life.
Now I find it easier to take a deep breath and focus on solving the problem that is creating the stress. I’ve also learnt to let things go when I have done all I can and fixing a problem is now someone else’s problem and responsibility. In addition, I’ve learnt that often I have to actually change myself in order to deal with stress effectively and that sometimes you do have to continuously find yet another way to deal with a recurring difficulty in order to find its solution.
In addition, I’ve got more problem solving strategies under my belt. I’ve learnt that if time permits sometimes the best way to handle a problem is to place it on hold and then go away and calmly work out how to solve it later on. I’ve learnt that it’s important to look at every problem in its broader context so that it’s solution works on a micro and macro level. I’ve also realised that looking at a problem another way often gives you its solution, or indeed sometimes removing a problem component altogether eradicates both the problem and the redundant component.
10. How Other People Behave is Nothing to Do With Me
I don’t take things personally anymore. I’ve realised that what other people do and how they behave toward you is a reflection of them, not a reflection of you. I remember first noticing this when I worked in a call centre 15 years ago. Occasionally I would land a customer who was grumpy, sarcastic and eager to take out their bad mood on whoever was on the other end of the phone, regardless of how kind and professional I was. Often it turned out that they were going through a divorce or a major trauma of some kind or other, and some of these people would soften by the end of the call. Sometimes though, it was clear that the person was simply an unhappy person who wanted to vent their unhappiness.
I’ve realised that every human being is responsible for their own behaviour. I’m happy to let the behaviour of someone who shows a certain level of rudeness to wash over me because I realise that the person is telling their own story and possibly they are in a bad place at that particular moment. I am only responsible for how I respond to the situation and for my own behaviour.
© Annemaree Jensen 2017