Not getting older, getting better
January 1, 2014 3:24 PM   Subscribe

What, in your experience, is the bright side of getting older?

A friend is about to hit a "milestone" birthday and is feeling a little down about it. She has asked us all to come to her party with examples and stories of the ways life can be better "on the other side of the hill." She's also interested in hearing about people who have accomplished great things, especially in new fields, after 40 and beyond.
posted by rpfields to Human Relations (63 answers total) 173 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 48 and I recently stopped giving f*cks what anyone thinks of me/my opinions/my hair/my singing.
posted by headnsouth at 3:27 PM on January 1, 2014 [73 favorites]

I know it's a) a cliche and b) perhaps not linear or inevitable with age, but - wisdom. I look back on things I did in my 20s and 30s with amazement at how utterly stupid I was. I'm finally turning the corner on controlling my time, my schedule, and channeling my energies into productive outlets instead of wastes of time. As a result, I'm more financially and emotionally stable. I look back on most of the dramas of my younger years as utterly unnecessary.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:34 PM on January 1, 2014 [17 favorites]

My mum always says, "The older I get, the less of a shit I give."

[eta] You might also look at famous writers. Lots of people don't start writing until late in their lifespans, and go on to accomplish excellent things.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:42 PM on January 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was going to say something similar to headnsouth. As I get older (I'm 44), I've started to realize two things:

1. People aren't defined by their taste in films/bands/phone operating systems/anything else that can be purchased or consumed
2. I know a shit-ton less than I thought I did, and that's a really good thing.

The thing about age is that it helps you filter out the unimportant from the important. Not that everything one thinks or does over, in my case, 40 is imbued with The Wisdom Of All Things - I'm writing this while watching the Happy Endings marathon on VH1 - but you start to realize that you can live your own life in your own way and chart your own path, not worrying about what other people are doing.
posted by pdb at 3:44 PM on January 1, 2014 [14 favorites]

I stopped worrying about whether or not I could handle many different things. I now have enough experience under my belt to realize that things generally work out, and if they don't, I can most likely find a way of dealing with whatever happens.
posted by xingcat at 3:45 PM on January 1, 2014 [18 favorites]

Perspective, for sure - mine, at least, was very narrow when I was young. I came from a small town that few ever really escape. Age and travel has broadened my perspective far beyond what I ever imagined.
posted by ersatzkat at 3:48 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

What headnsouth said but age also helps with speaking authoritatively. This is something I have specifically worked on but I think ageing helps. However I am concerned from observation that there may come a point when you are old enough that people dismiss your opinion for age and I am not sure when that cuts in.
posted by biffa at 3:59 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

At least for me it was (a) losing any delusions about "someday I'll ..." and (b) realizing there are many people who spend an amazing amount of their their time posing { creatively, politically, through purchases, .. } and what a waste of time they are.
posted by rr at 4:04 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's easier to get up early in the morning, even if I haven't had enough sleep.

My hair is turning a really attractive silver color, what's left of it. (Or maybe it's just the lights over the sink in the bathroom that make it look that good.)
posted by Bruce H. at 4:04 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

My father started his career at age 39 (with an internship!) and wound up being very successful and having some amazing professional successes and experiences. He just retired last year and people still come to him as an expert in his field. Now he gets to divide his time between consulting projects he chooses and immersing himself in his hobbies. Makes getting older look pretty great.
posted by lunasol at 4:06 PM on January 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

For me, it was no longer giving a fuck about anyone's approval, opinion, except for my own. I don't know if that's a great accomplishment, but it considerably improved my day-to-day life. I wasn't a big people-pleaser but I did agonize about how I was coming off, if I was effective, and so on. Now, I figure if I like it, I'm happy.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:08 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

My 40s have been pretty great compared to other decades. I feel like I know who I am in a lot of ways and so can have more certainty in the things that I am doing. Doesn't mean I always do the sensible or "correct" thing but I have a better sense of consequences and am less often surprised by outcomes. More things go the way I expect them to and I feel more able to help make things go well--social interactions, workplace interactions, transactional interactions. I am better at setting boundaries for myself which means I am less often trapped in terrible "Crap I HATE THIS" types of situations because I am better at planning, anticipating and gently deflecting things I really don't want to do. I am okay with myself as a person and don't let other people treat me poorly. I've developed more empathy for my parents as they've aged which has helped me get over some unpleasantish things from my childhood.

I have had some friends now for over 30 years and those are friendships I really treasure. I am able to be a better partner in my relationship thanks to this self knowledge and stable base and feel like I'm a better daughter/sister/niece in a lot of ways as well. I am also at the point where I've had to face some of the things I thought I always wanted (having a dog, for example) and being able to be reflective on why some of the things I thought I wanted weren't things that happened (I love to travel and felt that would be unfair to a pet) and found ways to balance those things (I walk friends dogs, I petsit for people who go away, etc).

Mostly it's been about balance, finding my own place in the world I want to be in and not just feeling like others were bulldozing over me or that I would have to bulldoze over others to get what I wanted. And also, relatedly, being more realistic about what I actually wanted and being able to be happy with more modest goals.
posted by jessamyn at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2014 [25 favorites]

Personally, I always feel like I'm becoming a better person every year. Challenge yourself whenever you can. You'll see the progress and you'll feel a lot better about growing older. It's never too late to try something new.

Also this quote helps too: Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many
posted by MeaninglessMisfortune at 4:14 PM on January 1, 2014 [18 favorites]

My neighbor is my aging idol. She gave up smoking and started exercising for the first time at age 40. She got into marathons and triathlons. Now she's 78 and no joke, she can out run, out bike, out swim any young person I know and does a combination of all three EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you see her from a distance, you would think she's in her 30s - she moves like a young adult not a senior citizen. When I first met her 2 years ago, her face lit up and she excitedly asked if I rollerbladed because she didn't have anyone to go with. I want to be her now and forward into my later years! She is the embodiment of "use it or lose it".
posted by cecic at 4:25 PM on January 1, 2014 [34 favorites]

1. Nthing you stop giving a shit what people think of you, for the most part. I was terribly insecure most of my youth, about my looks, my taste, was I cool enough (not by a long shot), how and where did I "fit in". The older I get, the less I care. You learn that sort of thing really doesn't matter that much to your life happiness.

2. Once I hit 40 or so I just suddenly felt like I grew into myself. I started feeling confident in who I was, I didn't feel such a need to define myself by my taste in music or fashion or whatever. I learned it is ok to be a weird, eclectic soul who doesn't really have a "tribe" or a posse or whatever. You can start relating to other people as individuals more, and can better appreciate and tolerate those who are different than you.

3. I'm less impressed by other people who seem to have their lives together. After a certain age you have been observing other people's lives for a long time, and you've seen that these "golden people" stumble and fall and get back up (or don't) just like everyone else. You begin to realize that charmed lives don't really exist, everyone is hiding some pain and crazy behind their public game face.

3. I became much more easy-going. After you have gone through some stuff over the years, recovered, and realized you are not that much worse for the wear, you inevitably learn to distinguish between what sorts of things are worth worrying about and what things are not.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:31 PM on January 1, 2014 [12 favorites]

Much more perspective and mental clarity than I ever had when I was younger. Less getting bent out of shape over things that don't deserve it. Less anxiety, fear and craziness.

And no periods.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:31 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is my observation of people who are/were far older than me, and I reflect on this when I get too worried about getting older. As a reference, I'm in my forties and I am often petrified of the physiological changes that my come with age.

Several yrs ago I went on a cycling trip between Seattle and a town in California and it required riding about 50-80 miles a day. When I got to the place to meet the other people who would be riding, the average age of the other riders was probably 60 years old. I was certain that based on age alone (at the time I was in my 30s), I would out ride them all in speed and distance.

Let me tell you that the average person was faster and stronger and me because they had the time to In fact, the slowest riders in that group were the people in their 30s.

I had a hard time completing the ride each day and was fatigued and tired and sore (and whining).

Every day there was a man on this ride who was in his 80s (Will). Each day, as I was slowly going up a hill or sitting next a hill, Will would ride by and stop and chat.He would take pictures and talk about how much he was enjoying the ride. Then he could continue onward on the route and pass me. Not only that but he would take a voluntary 20-mile or so extension, so he was riding at least 100 miles every day and he finished the ride for the day hours before I did.

If I could be in half the shape that he was at in his 80s, I would be ecstatic.

But I remind myself of this when I think that I will get slower and weaker and whatever. Some of it is life style choice and I should try to make some of those changes now.

Because wouldn't it be fun to ride up a hill and pass people who are half your age?
posted by Wolfster at 4:35 PM on January 1, 2014 [38 favorites]

I think experience has made it easier to gravitate toward people who will bring good things to the table, and to avoid wasting time with those who won't.

Realizing that it's less important to be right than to resolve the issue saves a lot of frustration.

Giving less of a crap about being judged is absolutely freeing.

It has gotten much easier to discern what will really matter later on down the road, and to act accordingly.

Having the resources to have a dog is the best! They are awesome.
posted by bunji at 4:40 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I found that the 40s have been a great ride. I got divorced, hooked up with some interesting guys, one a complete disaster, found this place, transitioned into a new career and then another, and have traveled to places that I have wanted to go to for a long time. I learned that traveling solo is an awesome thing, and that it's ok to realize that I want to do a thing and then just goddamn do it, whether it's buy a car or start running again or learn to crochet. It may be a total middle-aged lady thing, but I love different vibrant colors, including purple. I am also totally fine with wearing a swimsuit in public.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:43 PM on January 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have some great answers here. Just wanted to add: I will turn 40 in February, so your question has been one that I have been pondering for a while. It was a bit of a shock to realize that growing older didn't bother me as much as I'd been conditioned to think it would. I am grateful for the life I have led, and the sense that my life is unfolding into MY life has been tremendously empowering. We are told in so many ways, subtle and not so subtle that we should be and want and do things a certain way. To look back over an increasing span of years and realize that my life adds up to something that matters, something that, in my small corner of the world has been a force for good makes me feel happy, and optimistic, and energized. I feel neither young nor old. I feel like myself. I say this not to minimize what your friend is feeling, but sometimes we really do hurt ourselves by looking to what others have done as it can make us feel inadequate more than inspired. But to look at how far we have come and know that we have the chance to do more? I choose to believe that is cause for celebration at any age!
posted by scairdy chicken at 4:51 PM on January 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

George Eliot didn't start writing fiction until she was 40. So there. Your friend still has time to be one of the greatest novelists of the English language.
posted by alms at 4:59 PM on January 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

Much closer to sixty than forty here, but it's only been in the past ten years or so that I've come to fully recognize and accept all of my weaknesses and imperfections, as well as my strengths and talents. They are all part of who I am and IMO make me more interesting than if I were perfect.
posted by DrGail at 5:07 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm 30, but I think:

-You stop caring what people think or worrying about impressing people.
-You have way more money to spend and can buy yourself nice things when you really want.
-Apparently the science community says women can achieve orgasm more easily the older they get.
-Studies show people get happier when they get older (although that might apply to 60+ territory, I'd double check).

Also, my primary care physician went to medical school and became a doctor in her 40s. She's great at it. She genuinely cares about her patients and takes care of them. Before that, she had been a high school phys ed teacher.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:12 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

65 here....

The upside:

Every day becomes more cherished and valuable.
You learn to shed the crap.
You discover more about yourself.
As mentioned upstream, it's great to no longer care what people think.
As Jess' mentioned, you come to terms with those things you'll never have.
Grand children! (my first one just last year!)
Watching your children succeed (I got to watch my kid give the commencement keynote at his alma mater two weeks ago!)
You can take some chances. I entered a new profession recently, there was no feeling of making a bad decision that I have to live with for 50 years.
posted by HuronBob at 5:13 PM on January 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

8 years ago at age 38 I quit my awful full-time dead-end job that I hated and moved to another city to start a part-time PhD. I self-funded that by working part-time and got my Doctorate 2 years ago. Now I'm teaching post-grads and supervising PhD students of my own, as well as doing a part-time job that fits me and my skills much better than what I spent my 20s and 30s doing.

That's not to say that life is always a bowl of cherries, but I feel much more happy and confident in my ability to deal with stuff than I did when I was younger. When I turned 30 I found that a huge relief, and turning 40 was more of the same. Over the past 10 years I've found that I'm capable of much more than I thought I was, personally, professionally and creatively, and I'm also much more aware, as a result of experience, that one way or another, you can usually find a way to deal with the problems that come up.
posted by Chairboy at 5:19 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

1) Each "milestone" birthday becomes less 'something to dread' and more 'something to celebrate';

2) The older I get, the less sleep I need.

3) People-in-general now entertain me more. (When I was younger, people (in the abstract) just used to irritate me.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:34 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Acceptance of life and my own history. I have become much calmer as I have gotten older. This summer, I met up with someone I had been carrying a serious grudge against for 20-odd years, and we had a long talk, she apologized for all the damage she'd done, and I forgave her. It would have been better if I could have done that a decade ago, but I don't think I could have. And it was a relief to give that grudge up.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just turned 58. Yesterday I submitted my first novel to be read by an agent.

I sent out holiday cards thanking my closest friends and family and my kids for the best year I've had in many -- and not too much has materially changed: I'm still single, still worried about breast cancer recurrence, still live in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, at the same job. But last NYE, I just flipped a switch in my head and decided to re-frame everything, absolutely everything, and just wrap my arms around what I have and who I love and who loves me, right now! I hauled out the fancy china and the silver and the good glasses, and I'm using 'em. No more waiting. And also, to apply myself to the one thing I'd always wanted to do: write a novel. And I did!!!

Nothing I'm doing is anything like I pictured it when I was younger, but honestly, it's so damn sweet and so funny and crazy and delightful to just bop around and not care one bit who thinks what about me, to revel in long friendships, to flirt first, to be the wise one, to be totally comfortable with sex and my body, and to be OK with whatever's coming next, for however long.

Kinda having a ball.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:38 PM on January 1, 2014 [56 favorites]

When I turned 40, I was bummed. When I turned 50, I looked back at that and thought, "I'd love to look and feel the way I did at 40!" Now I'm 56, and I realize that I've adopted the attitude, "I'm younger now than I'll ever be again -- I'll quit bellyaching and enjoy it."

I don't know if this advice would have done me any good if I'd heard it 16 years ago.
posted by wryly at 5:52 PM on January 1, 2014 [12 favorites]

It beats the alternative.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:52 PM on January 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

There's a reason the Bible says that "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged." My parents enjoying the HECK out of being grandparents; it's almost like watching them be whole new people, only the same people as before, only twice as joyous.

Your problem-solving skills also continue to improve as you age, since they improve with practice and experience, and don't devolve from the slight mental slowdown of age. That's true whether your friend likes helping people with interpersonal relationships, solving financial tangles at work, or engaging in political advocacy on complicated issues, and that's why older people are so valued for their advice and leadership.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:53 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

At 55 I went back to college and decided to get a degree in Studio Art. Technically I am not very good. I know this and don't view it as the thing that is going to stop me from pursuing this interest. I don't think I could have even done this in my forties let alone my twenties. I was just to locked in to comparing myself to others and always coming up short.

School starts in two weeks, I am in the middle of an attack of Optic Neuritis, my vision is blurry and I am taking Figure Drawing for the first time. I have no idea what to expect, except that I will have fun doing what ever it is.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:59 PM on January 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Emotional equanimity. Last year, in my mid-forties, I had occasion to closely reread some journals written by a 23-year-old me and I could scarcely believe the insufferable angst-ridden guy scrawling out his worries and fears on the page was ever me. Now I have a degree of calm I could barely imagine then. The Epicureans called it ataraxia, the Stoics apatheia, and the Buddhists upekkha. The Buddha said, "Passionlessness is the best of the virtues."

At some stage, you begin to accept the transitional nature of everything, not excluding your high emotions and even your existence, and you can take more unfettered joy in what you have, rather than lamenting what you lack.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:19 PM on January 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

I'm a handful of years away from 40 and the best part is definitely, as others have mentioned, the whole not giving a fuck about what anyone else thinks anymore. It's really very personally fulfilling to not have to always worry about gaining the approval of others. Now I am the one whose approval is required. HA.

Also - and this may be more due to being the only member of my family left - but I don't really have to answer to anyone other than the IRS and occasionally my boss. And both those parties can be negotiated with. I mean, I have responsibilities, but they're ones I have chosen and ones from which I can walk away if I need to. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

The main downside is that I am really not good at being responsible for my own bedtime.
posted by elizardbits at 6:29 PM on January 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

Julia Child did not learn to cook until she was almost 40, and was age 50 when she first appeared on television.
posted by trip and a half at 6:33 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

"I will tell you the advantages of growing old: As it's toward the end of the run, you can overact appallingly."

- Quentin Crisp
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:56 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well, I'm only not-quite-30 but I've certainly noticed that year by year I become a more stable, centered, self-assured person. I've also noticed that I've become less nervous/clingy/anxious over the years, and that I have an easier time navigating the various situations that life throws up since I have a bit more experience with them.

Also, I'm enjoying the progression through the various age-related social roles, and through the different experiences that are common to different age cohorts. In recent years I've watched siblings and friends get married (and I got to be best man for a childhood friend!) and start to have kids. When I meet little kids I find that I can relate to them better than I used to be able to -- I'm old enough now that the child/adult dynamic seems natural, and I've had a lot of fun playing with kids and watching them start to grow up.

It's obviously too early to say, but I see a lot of that continuing. I'm looking forward to another ten, twenty, whatever years of self-improvement, experience, and wisdom. I'm looking forward to perhaps marrying and starting a family myself one day. I'm looking forward to one day playing the grandparent role, and to developing my career and progressing through the ranks of my chosen field. I'm looking forward to having more money and stability.

I talked about this with my mother a while back, and asked her if her own experience had been the same. She agreed -- to paraphrase, she said "my thirties were better than my twenties, my forties were better than my thirties, my fifties were better than my forties, and so far my sixties have been pretty great".

As we age, we lose the sexual desirability of youth and eventually our bodies start to fall apart. However we gain credibility, wisdom, experience, and the perspective to see that whatever crisis we may be facing will likely pass just like every crisis before has passed, and that life will keep rolling on. I don't think it's a terrible trade.
posted by Scientist at 7:01 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've learned that the things I long considered uniquely shameful and weird about myself are in fact fairly universal.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:07 PM on January 1, 2014 [25 favorites]

At sixty, I feel I'm fully qualified to put my stamp of approval on all of the above statements.

And then to tell you all to get off my damn lawn.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:11 PM on January 1, 2014 [14 favorites]

Once I got over the shock of turning 40, I found that the forties were an absolutely fabulous decade.

I am now 55. I love the fact that people take me much more seriously now that I am middlaged. It rocks, seriously.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:38 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm an artist and a writer. You know how they say "Write what you know"? Through getting older, I'm building a very rich and deep pool of experiences to pull from for creative inspiration and ideas. My creative work now is so solid and has such variety, so much more than in my early 20's when I had the creative energy but just knew less.
posted by cadge at 7:44 PM on January 1, 2014

Less zits, for sure!
posted by Bohemian Sailor at 7:50 PM on January 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

One of my examplars for latelife career change is Dr Gerda Lerder, of blessed memory.

She escaped Austria as the Nazis closed in, and finally made it to the USA. She aligned herself with Communists. She raised kids. She organized the women she met at the laundromat. When that phase of her life was done she was ready to challenge academia. Her memoir Fireweed, covers up to this turning point.

At 40 she entered Columbia. She got her History PhD at 46, and went on to create the discipline of Women's History in the U.S. She always kept her eyes on the prize, recognizing that white women weren't the only people systematically written out of history.

She died last year, after finishing just one more book, age 93.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:02 PM on January 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

Dr Catherine Hamlin was in her late 30's when she and her husband became involved with training midwives in Addis Ababa, which led to the first hospital offering free fistula surgery.

She is now 89, and is still actively involved in the hospital. 34,000 women have had fistula repair surgery, changing their lives for ever.

(If that doesn't inspire you to charge into your older years, determined to do what you can to make the world a better place, I don't know what would.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:50 PM on January 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

What, in your experience, is the bright side of getting older?
-A dose of self-confidence, but not big enough to become self-righteous or incapable of self-criticism.
-The realization that the compact majority is often highly biased and unreliable as a guide for healthy and virtuous living.
-The understanding that you are a valuable creature who should aim and struggle to keep growing in whichever direction you want, bearing in mind that success and failure are ultimately usually beyond your control.
-The recognition that a culture which worships youth and frivolous consumption doesn't deserve to be taken very seriously.
In my opinion, current philosopher/president, former guerrilla fighter, 78-year-old Jose Mujica is an interesting role model for those concerned with growing old constructively.
posted by kayrosianian at 9:13 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

By an odd happenstance I remember having a trivial e-mail exchange (old account, don't have the message anymore) with Randy Pausch, maybe 5 years before he became famous for The Last Lecture. He passed away in 2008 at age 47.

If you review Randy's bio and his Lectures I think you will see someone who continuously strove to make a difference. My favorite quote of his:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
I think age and milestone birthdays are examples of brick walls. They stop the people who don't want things badly enough. I hope I can heed Randy's words.

As for an example of someone who accomplished great things after 40, I think Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu qualifies (also known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta). I believe Jimmy Carter became president at 53 and received the Nobel Peace Prize at about 78.

I thank the OP for their question, and for all the wonderful answers from which I hope to benefit.
posted by forthright at 9:23 PM on January 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

One of the big things is you eventually realize that everyone is just making it up as they go along and pretending to know what to do, there never is a moment where they give you a How To Be A Grownup Manual where everything is clearly delineated. Which is kind of terrifying initially but then you realize you are the product of tens of thousands of years of people muddling through so you probably can't mess up too bad. But nobody is saying that. It's sort of this massive societal Grand Illusion of everyone trying desperately to project competence because they think everyone else has it figured out.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:26 PM on January 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

There's a very similar question from a couple years ago. I read b33j's response when I was in high school and I'd like to think it's saved me a lot of anxiety:

b33j: "I, for one, blame the media on this one. Holding up unlined, inexperienced youth to be the holy grail, pah. Stuff is richer when you've had time to think about it. Who likes gardening when they're ten, eh? But give it some time, and the feel of the soil on your hands, the knowledge that you're working with nature to create fruit or flowers, that you can't rush it, you have to work with the seasons - that's the taste of being older. Time to really think and appreciate things."
posted by yaymukund at 11:04 PM on January 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

48: I've definitely stopped being so hard on myself.

Nthing you stop giving a shit what people think of you

And conversely, not feeling like I need to prove myself all the time.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin, even on those days that you don't recognize your skin.

And no periods.

...without having to do anything! I know it's different for every woman, (and that last stretch of road definitely had its up and downs) but good god y'all, what a relief.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:03 AM on January 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I love this poem about the theme of caring less about what people think. Perhaps your friend might too.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

--Jenny Joseph
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 1:34 AM on January 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

For me (and a lot of my friends), the progression went like this:

20s: You haven't accomplished anything yet, but you are convinced you are going to change the world.

30s: You haven't changed the world. You aren't the superstar in your chosen field that you dreamed you'd be. You are living an actual human life, instead of the glamorous fantasy you imagined in your twenties. You get a little depressed and begin to take stock.

40s: You begin to emerge from the stock-taking with a newfound acceptance of your limitations, a newfound understanding of your strengths, and a newfound appreciation of the good things in your life. You begin to stop worrying about the things you can't do, and begin to start focusing on making your life better in concrete and achievable ways. (I'm being very careful to emphasize the word "begin." I'm in my early forties, and there are still plenty of silly things that rankle me, but I feel like I'm truly starting the process of moving past them.)

This is just anecdotal experience, but there are scientific studies that back it up-- a number of studies have shown that people reach their least-happy moment sometime in middle age, and then get steadily more happy for the rest of their lives. This study, for example, suggests that the happiest ages are 23 and 85-- and that, of the two, 85 is happier!
posted by yankeefog at 3:22 AM on January 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

For me, at 44, the best thing about getting older is an increased ability to not force things to happen. When I was younger, I did a lot of really stupid things out of greediness or anxiety or fears of not getting enough, not getting the things I wanted in the world, so I'd force things and either do things that were ultimately detrimental to myself and others or just settle for a lesser version of what I wanted, which has a monkey's paw quality to it because then you're stuck with this thing you don't really want in your life.

I am better now about being patient, waiting, watching, and accepting if things don't go my way.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:12 AM on January 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I turned 40 this year. I made a goal of not hand wringing about it or making a big fuss but it crossed my mind often to wonder what it means in my life. Probably the biggest take away is that I realize I've spent ~20 years in various states of uncertainty if what I'm doing is okay or good enough to various stake holders: University, siblings, career, my health, finances, wife & kids.

Increasingly I'm getting a picture of myself where I can say, "hey, this is working out okay after all". I still get a bit anxious about things but I can't deny that what I'm doing has worked on some level, and even in areas where I've screwed up it isn't really that bad in the scheme of things.

The big take away advantage of age is momentum. I have momentum of good investments in my relationships, health and finances that show every reason to sustain or flourish. In fairness I can see how some may have fear of the future if they don't have a good foundation, but in many ways I find the prospect of aging to be comforting because ultimately what I'm doing seems to be working and I don't need to be a ball of stress over it.
posted by dgran at 6:40 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in my mid-forties when I started my own business. I didn't change fields, but I sure as heck changed how I did the work, who I did it for, and to what standards I did it. My self-respect and income shot way up.

Now I'm in my early 50s and live in whatever country I want to live in and travel all over the place. I've got far more freedom than I had in my 30s: I don't worry about money because I finally have enough, and I don't give a hoot what people think.
posted by ceiba at 7:32 AM on January 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm way older than anyone above who gave an age, and here's my take on it: You get more generous and kind and more forgiving and more grateful, but at the very same time you get more cynical and bitter and despairing in the realization that the world's selfishness and evil cannot be defeated. It's in us.
And I agree with BlueHorse. Get off my damn lawn too.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:43 PM on January 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

I enjoy getting better at anticipating potential problems, after having observed (or caused) enough of them in the past.
posted by ovvl at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mum always says, "The older I get, the less of a shit I give."

...hilariously captured by Wanda Sykes in this bit of (NSFW) stand-up comedy.
posted by jquinby at 6:26 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! These should definitely cheer her up-- they definitely worked on me.
posted by rpfields at 10:27 AM on January 3, 2014

Breaking my resolution to stop promoting lists, and aggregate machines such as The Huff, here's a list of 40 things Wendy Fontaine says she can do at 40 that she couldn't at 20.
posted by Wordshore at 5:01 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I turned 41 this year. For much of my earlier life, I assumed as an article of faith that I would not survive past 35, if that far. And I made strenuous efforts in the risk-taking direction to make that come to pass.

The one thing that I enjoy more than anything else about getting older is that it's provided empirical proof that there are very few mistakes that are permanent. You live life, you fuck up, and you move on.

Until I had done so, I generally assumed that every error I made in public was the metric by which I would be judged forevermore by everyone. Getting older disabused me of that notion, largely because, like many people my age with kids, the past is another country. If it happened more than a couple of years ago and you're still holding onto it, I'm likely to think you need therapy.

So the earlier you can come to this realization, the more freeing you will find life. Go, live, fuck up, and move on. That's what it's about. There are plenty of other pieces of advice, largely centered around "fucks, the giving of, how to stop", but other people have covered that.

Life is for the living. Have at it. Nobody gives a shit, and you shouldn't either.
posted by scrump at 12:56 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm 53. And a half.

Here's what I think.

The great virtue of youth is certainty. It takes young people to lead a revolution, because only young people have the certainty that things must change and things can change in one generation. Only young people have the ability (and tendency) to see things in black and white -- yes, no, right, wrong. I LOVE how young people can run with a firm idea (see, e.g., Occupy).

The drawback of certainty is that stuff gets thrown out with the bathwater. Especially in adolescence, everyone believes that there is ONE way to do things (what clothes to wear, what music to listen to, whom to have sex with, and what sex positions are acceptable) and it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to break free of that. Adolescence can be summed up by: "Mom, you can't tell me what to do, I am my own person now and I MUST have the same sneakers everyone else is wearing!"

So then old age. Or middle age. Or whatever you want to call it but not youth. The virtue of age is perspective. That's why you see (old) people (like me) saying "I so do not GAF what others think of me." We tend to get less overwrought by certain issues, because we've seen the pendulum swing each way a time or two and we know that (a) it's REALLY hard to push that pendulum our way and keep it there for any length of time and (b) it'll come back our way in its own time anyway. This too shall pass.

The drawback of perspective is that it leads to passivity. "Oh who cares, it's all ephemeral anyway."

The other big problem is that curmudgeons can get snarky about youth. I tell my friends that you know you're old when you start giving in to the pessimism bias -- "In my day, we had it much harder than kids do today but we were better people for it." "That's not music, that's noise." "Fashions in clothing today are ridiculous, people who buy whatever is currently 'in' are just fashion victims" (I noticed this last one the first time from someone who was wearing what was 'in' when he was a teenager, but he thought it was a 'classic' look. Uh, no. It was unattractive.)

But I think it's relatively easy to watch for and avoid the pessimism bias once you're aware of it. And as long as we remind ourselves to watch out for passivity, perspective can lead to pretty great wisdom in things both large and small. That makes for a really wonderful life. And that perspective is also what lets us see that it's coming to an end, and pretty soon at that. And the more aware we are that our time is limited, the less we take for granted what we have and the less we procrastinate. When we really get it that everything ends, we don't waste a minute. We say "I love you." We realize that there no sense in "protecting" our hearts, because they'll be broken no matter what we do. We give things away because they're better off with someone else. Realizing the truth of impermanence is one of the greatest gifts of age.
posted by janey47 at 10:29 AM on January 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

My student loans are almost paid off!
posted by srboisvert at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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