Advice to your forty year old self.
September 10, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

You are 50 or older and have specific advice you'd give to your 40 year old self based on things you did that worked wonderfully or went so badly you learned a valuable lesson. What advice is this?

Let's say, hypothetically, there is a MeFite who will turn 40 next year and is wondering what types of things they can do or avoid during the upcoming decade so on their 50th birthday they can look back and say, "Wow, what a great decade that was?"

I've seen this question about one's 30s.

Actionable, specific ideas based on your own positive or unfortunate experiences are the most welcomed (see a doctor about ____ vs. "stay healthy"'; plan an overseas trip every single year vs. travel more, etc.). But all ideas are neat!
posted by MoonOrb to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 142 users marked this as a favorite
Regular. Daily. Exercise.

Strength training some days, aerobic activity other days, mix 'em up, whatever, as long as you're doing some of each -- but done daily (or as close to as possible), so that it becomes a habit so deeply engrained that you'd no more stop doing it than you'd stop brushing your teeth.

Trying to Get Back in Shape After 60 Truly Sucks.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:48 PM on September 10, 2014 [26 favorites]

Get a fasting blood-glucose test and if it's in the high-normal range, change your eating habits now. You could actually avoid type-two diabetes by starting eating the right in your forties. Also, weight loss gets harder and harder the older you get. If your family history includes heart disease, stroke, hypertension...every little bit of weight loss can help if you're heavy.

Make a plan for taking better care of your teeth. Gum disease can start in the thirties and gets worse in the forties. You don't have to be perfect in your dental efforts, but flossing twice a day really makes a difference if you're prone to gingivitis.

When I turned 40, I lamented that I was so old. When I turned fifty, I looked back and thought, "Man, at 40 I was so young!" It would have been better if I'd told my forty-year-old self, "You're younger now than you'll ever be, so enjoy it."
posted by wryly at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2014 [18 favorites]

Maximum IRA contribution NOW.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

Start running now. It's way more enjoyable than you think and if you start at 40 rather than at 51, you'll have a whole extra decade to do it in!

Stop thinking that you're a bad person for wanting to be involved with someone who is financially secure. It doesn't mean you're a gold digger. It means you're responsible and you want to be involved with someone else who is responsible.
posted by janey47 at 1:06 PM on September 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you smoke, quit.
If you haven't already, find someone to love.
posted by islander at 1:12 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm in my mid-forties, and I just lost a ton of weight (70 pounds) and have totally redefined how I think about eating.

I've also looked into "male menopause", and have taken note that testosterone starts to rapidly decrease, which causes loss of muscle mass, which causes testosterone to decrease...

The way to stave off this is to build muscle.
posted by Nevin at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're thinking about ending that relationship, do it now, not ten years from now. Lose that weight you've been meaning to lose--lose it now. Start daily yoga like you've been talking about, and get serious about saving for retirement.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:18 PM on September 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm 46, and yeah, start to watch your diet and exercise a lot more vigilantly. The weight seems to get on you much faster than it comes off at this age. Don't panic about retirement, as you still have 30 years, but if you haven't been diligently saving the time to start is yesterday.

Also, remember your age. You can still so pretty much any physical activity you want, but if you go from 3 months of sloth on the couch and then decide to hike 10 miles one day, you will feel it afterwards. For a week. I may or may not be speaking from experience.
posted by COD at 1:21 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mine are rocking so far [what me forty?].

Talk to your colleagues about salaries, past, present, future. Get over that "don't talk about it" bullshit and encourage yourself and others to use that information to stop taking shit wages.

Be a bridge and a problem solver even if it just means getting two warring parties in a room to solve the problem through communication.
posted by tilde at 1:22 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Good for you for starting to jog! Now make regular running part of your life. You'll find that a couple of half marathons a year really keep you on track. Bicycle and walk whenever possible too.

Keep brushing and flossing. Pick up one of those Sonicare brushes. Good teeth are a joy forever.

Yes, take off the makeup every night and moisturize night a day. And enjoy the sun WITH a hat and sunscreen.

Starting yoga now is really going to help alleviate the regular aches and pains that show up with age. Consider meditation/floating too.

Just about the same moment you finally stop worrying about getting married/not getting married you will meet the love of your life and you'll finally have a relationship that is both easy and profound. When conflict arises, try hard to think the best, not the worst, because his intentions will always turn out to have been loving. (This will save you a lot of stupid misunderstandings.)

Become a nutritarian now, not later.

Every minute with your dogs is precious because they aren't going to make it into your 50s with you.

Definitely quit smoking right now. Don't taper, quit. The harder it is to stop the less likely you'll ever start again.
posted by bearwife at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

What Kat Allison said, plus yoga!!!
posted by jgirl at 1:54 PM on September 10, 2014

Save for retirement. If you save a given amount, lets say just $100 per month, for retirement from age 20 to 30 and compare it to somebody who saved the same amount per month from age 30 to retirement, you will have more money than they do (assuming the rate of return was the same). Interest is a miracle... I will retire a millionaire never having earned more than 75K per year.

Eat right.

Sleep. Studies have found that men who sleep five hours per night have a 15% lower testosterone level when compared to those who sleep eight hours. Sleeping = higher 'T' levels (for men) and better brain function (for everybody).

Live small and travel big. We do not need 4,000 square foot McMansions with several empty rooms. Buy smaller and use the money to live. The cost to buy, maintain, clean, taxes, ecological footprint, etc. are all great reasons for this. Travel to places others dream about, donate more to local charities. Live life with the money you save. When your time comes, you will not remember your house, but you will remember the memories you shared with others. Make them happen.

"Floss between the teeth you want to keep". If you don't want to keep them, don't floss them.

Tell people how you feel. Do not wait until somebody is terminal before you tell them you love them. Do it now and enjoy the time with them - and with "both of you knowing how both of you feel".
posted by Leenie at 2:02 PM on September 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

From a 72 year old: exercise very very regularly, quit smoking, buy low and sell high, don't make decisions based on greed or fear, pick your battles carefully, live in different cultures, never underestimate the power of commitment, 70% of what you have achieved is good fortune but never underestimate the 30% that is hard work and good choices.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:02 PM on September 10, 2014 [42 favorites]

Work way up to regular intense daily exercise

High protein, higher fats, lower carb, close to no-sugar diet (not necessarily keto/paleo, but more like than not!)

These two things likely changed me from pre-diabetic, spectacularly bad cholesterol/triglyceride/liver enzyme numbers to good-verging-on-a-20-year-old athlete in about 4 months.


Also: Remember the big picture. It's easy at this point in life to think you're over Status Anxiety - for 40-somethings it often pushes itself into an annoying psychic background noise that is hard to identify and permeates a lot of your interactions.
Remember that you are likely doing very well indeed compared to a vast percentage of the world's population. Try and note when you are doing the Anxiety thing and make an explicit note to be grateful (to whomever or whatever) for your combination of luck and effort that led you to your fortune.

posted by lalochezia at 2:05 PM on September 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Start that hobby. I got my first guitar at 37, and it's added a tremendous amount of enjoyment to my life. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

Acknowledge that as you age, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for adventure through changing jobs, because you will be less and less likely to make even the first cut. Ask yourself how happy you are on each of these fronts: personal life (love, health), the place (city, etc) you live, your financial situation, and the work you do. By the time you are in your sixties, you will want to have fairly positive status reports on each of these, and it may well take another twenty years to make that happen. (If you're already all right across the board - wow, good for you! now don't let yourself get bored.)
posted by mmiddle at 2:26 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Meditation practice. From that one thing has come so much else.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're thinking about ending that relationship, do it now

don't make decisions based on greed or fear

I'll be 49 in two months. That is good advice up there.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Maximum IRA contribution NOW."

Yes, do this. But the legal IRA maximum is so low that this, without more, may not get you where you need to be.

Get some guidance, from a financial planner or elsewhere, and decide on the level of savings that you REALLY need.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2014

If you're a woman, start learning to enjoy meals without dairy. At 44, I'm starting to understand why Dannon paid Jamie Lee Curtis all that money to advertise a digestive health product. Sigh.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:07 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

(I'm in my late 40s.)

OWN the fact that no one can now possibly look down on you for being "too young" to - do whatever or make your own decisions about anything, and also OWN the fact that in 10 short years you'll be dealing with people acting like you're "too old" to do whatever or make your own decisions about anything. For both of those reasons, it's (past) time to stop caring what people think about you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:14 PM on September 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing the regular daily exercise thing.

As a subset of the "stop caring what other people think", in my 40s (I'm 46), I've had fun overhauling my wardrobe. I don't have to worry about the herd whims of fashion and the terrible ostracism of being out of step, so anything that makes me feel bad (e.g., high heels) can be tossed right out. Instead I can have style, which suits me, and pick and choose what I like and what feels good on me. And if I want to rock the purple hair--and I do!--I can make that decision without regard for the people who think I'm Too Old For Fun and Have to Be (their idea of) Mature.
posted by immlass at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Know that aging has its perks! :-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:37 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm only 41, but here's what I'm doing so far. I read something years ago that someone wrote about how he found his thirties easier because he turned a corner he didn't see coming and life just seemed to smooth out. That didn't happen to me at 30, but it did seem to at 40. Ten years ago a friend of mine who is ten years older than me told me, "Forty is when the roof blows off," because she and so many of her friends found they'd suddenly had it and were turning their lives upside down if they had to in order to get what they want - or to get rid of what they didn't want. It's a good description of what happened to me. The roof blew off, and I'm not any happier, but I did finally accept some things about myself and my life, even if they were painful things, with the result that I got tougher, mostly in a good way. I stopped grasping at straws and entertaining forlorn hopes and started digging into the real work of making my life better.

- I'm looking back over the mistakes I made during my twenties and thirties and am trying not to make them again (i.e., spending too much time in relationships that were a waste of time or dead end jobs, pining a lot, being too self-indulgent in some ways and too hardline in others).

- Conversely, if I find myself with regrets for things I haven't done, I look for ways to do them now. I'm getting on with things I should have done years ago: writing, working on my house, taking better care of my appearance/health. I took a makeup course. Sure, I'd rather have taken one at 16, but better late than never. I'm working more actively with my doctor to see if anything can be done about my chronic fatigue issues. I've had a sleep study done and am due to find out the results in just two weeks.

- On a number of levels, I'm reassessing what I want and need and working towards getting those things and getting rid of what I don't want or need. I've made lists of goals, I've cleaned out the closets, I'm making an effort to avoid getting into time wasting arguments, and I've turned my back on several people who have hurt me a lot and shown little to no real concern for having done so.
posted by orange swan at 5:37 PM on September 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

This may not apply universally, but if there is one thing I wish I could tell my younger self -- every. single. day. -- it's simply, "Call your mother."
posted by GatorDavid at 8:41 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 59.

Health is your greatest wealth.

+ Exercise daily if possible (I just do basic calisthenics, a few simple yoga stretches, walk).
+ Brush your teeth twice a day.
+ Keep a journal, your captain's log.
+ Eat less than you think you need.
+ Live in the present.

These are things that have worked for me.
posted by rmmcclay at 11:12 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm days away from turning 54. I echo what everyone else has said about taking care of your health. As a part of that, stop eating out so often. Restaurant food is terrible for your health - so much salt and fat. Learn how to make your favorites at home.

Make it a point to have friends who are 10-30 years younger than you. Real friends, not just acquintances. Go shopping together, take mini-road trips, go out to eat with them regularly. Give them advice if they ask for it, and listen if they offer advice, because sometimes you'll be amazed at what they know. You'll also be amazed at what's going on in the world that you're not aware of. Mostly, just have conversations with them. It will remind you of what it's like to be that age, and that can remind you what your hopes and dreams were then. And now is the time to act on those hopes and dreams.

Revamp your wardrobe. Trust me, you need to. In fact, do this every 5 years or so. Also your hairstyle. If you don't believe me, go look at the 47+ year olds on OK Cupid. (And these people are trying to present their best selves to potential dates!)

Is there someplace else you've always wanted to live? Start figuring out how to get there. The older you are, the harder it is to uproot and move.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:26 AM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

One more. If you find yourself having a midlife crisis, take a solo road trip. Drive for at least two days. What's important seems to snap into focus when you're on the road by yourself.

And from a 53 year old friend: "Be prepared for the best years of your life. Don't get complacent. Wisdom and wealth come together."
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:02 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

No matter what else you have, if you're ill, you're fucked. Eat properly (small portions, little or no meat, lots of vegetables) and use your feet to get where you want to go (walking, running, bicycling, swimming).

And do what you've always wanted to do, even if you're no damned good at it. If you want to paint or write or play music or something like that, do it. If you're embarrassed about it, you can do it on the sly.
posted by pracowity at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 48 and a half.

Don't wait as long as I did (46ish) to begin the hard work of really actually facing up to interpersonal family of origin problems (just because I could travel or lived abroad) and deal with them.

You don't want to be learning how to be the wonderful person you are and thinking Damn, why didn't I start the hard work of getting here much sooner.

i.e. denial isn't the river in egypt that dries up just because you get older.
posted by infini at 9:47 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 51. My 40s were the worst decade of my life. Looking back, I'm trying to figure out what I could have done to make them better and I keep coming up with: be more ruthless, more determined and more willing to accept and even seek out change. Focus on your job, focus on your family - you won't have them forever; that's a big part of why my 40s were so bad - and focus on yourself. What do you need? Go out and get it. If you never worried about money or credit or jobs, do that. Stop thinking things will just work out. They might, but they really might not, too. Save money. Save a lot of money. Also, buy a house now. Don't wait; they're only going to get more expensive. If you haven't, put down some roots, lay some strong foundations, because it truly, truly sucks to have your life pulled out from under you in your 50s.

As someone said upthread, find somebody to love. Date like crazy. Date ruthlessly, actually - don't bog down when something doesn't work out, move on! Because otherwise it will be ten years later and you really probably will be facing the rest of your life celibate and alone, as I am. Which I'm okay with, and my 50s are going to be way better than my 40s, but I really wish I had taken advantage of the face and figure I had a decade ago that I was ridiculously self conscious about then and thought was old. I was wrong. There might have been somebody out there for me then but I was so busy obsessing over all the reasons why I was old and frightened and depressed and etc., etc, that I got stuck. Don't get stuck. Stay loose and flexible and if you see bad things coming down the pike, take action. Trust your instincts, because you have honed them without even knowing it.

And, most importantly, remember that you are not old! You aren't old! You will be old soon enough, don't borrow it now! This is the end of your youth, enjoy it. You look good now. Use it. Go with it. Have fun now. Fun gets different by the time you're 50. Not worse, not better, but different. In ten years you're going to be stepping off into a new place, so make sure you have firm footing to step off from.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:28 PM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Bike to work
posted by agog at 9:32 PM on September 12, 2014

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