Mature mefites: What did you wish you knew in your mid 30's/early 40's?
October 5, 2018 8:21 AM   Subscribe

It's easy to know what you'd tell yourself if you could go back to age teens, 20's or even 30 because society puts so much emphasis on our foundational years yet..

by the time we turn 40 there's still A LOT of time left for us to go on this planet. Despite this society seems to have little to say about what they wish they had known at this age. So that's the challenge I present here. Let's say your time machine only had enough gas to take you back to anytime between age 36-44. So you're still young, but your foundational years remain the same. Would you do anything differently?
posted by fantasticness to Human Relations (31 answers total) 210 users marked this as a favorite
Three things come to mind.

1. Do everything you can to preserve your health. Eat well and exercise. Lift weights. I know you don't think you have time, but what you really won't have time for is a serious disease that might hit ten or twenty years from now because you didn't take care of yourself. Not everything related to health is in your control, but a lot of stuff is. And if something you can't control comes up, you want to be in the best physical shape possible. This is very, very hard to do, but at this point, you've done some hard things. You can do this.

2. Move heaven and earth to get rid of any debt.

3. Get serious about the things that are important to you. If you're an artist, work on your art every single day. If there's something you've always wanted to try but haven't gotten around to, start taking lessons.
posted by FencingGal at 8:32 AM on October 5, 2018 [89 favorites]

Take steps to get over your fears.
Keep moving. Keep exercising.
Get out of debt.
"Enjoy every sandwich" - Warren Zevon
Enjoy every boner
Find your hobbies and embrace them. Make time for them.
Try to get really good at at least one thing.
End toxic relationships of all kinds. They're just not fucking worth it.
Find as many good take-out food places as you can.
posted by bondcliff at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2018 [19 favorites]

Index funds. Don’t mess around trying to play the stock market, as there are professionals playing against you 24/7. Unless you’re willing to put in a similar effort just toss everything in an index fund and don’t look at it for years at a time.

Also keep in mind that anyone who can successfully play the markets is not working as a financial advisor.


It’s easy (particularly for parents) to fall into the trap of being a "grown up". There’s no such thing — healthy creatures never stop growing. Never think of yourself as a finished product.


Death is like being on holiday with a group of Germans.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Stop caring about what others think, buck convention, live outside the box. Fearlessly.
posted by MountainDaisy at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

Take care of your debt
Take care of your joints
Take care of your friendships
posted by matildaben at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2018 [19 favorites]

Some excellent points made so far. All I can add is: Work actively toward your cherished goals - the sort of things you tell yourself "Oh, I'd love to (go place, accomplish thing, etc.) One Of These Days..." about. Time has a way of sneaking past you and Too Late comes far sooner than you think it will. Push hard, find the time and resources, fight for your life to avoid that regret. Even just "At least I gave it everything I've got" is better than "I wish I'd tried harder".
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:54 AM on October 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

If you are chronically unhappy, get therapy. (Or if you can't afford/access therapy, seek out books, online resources, supportive communities, journalling, etc and do as much as you can to approximate therapy.)

Beware the unlived life. Maybe you wish you could have had a different career or different relationships or been a different person and you feel that your own decisions or refusals held you back. Don't just let those feelings hover - process them through therapy or other methods and/or make changes to your life to incorporate elements of your earlier dreams. Unresolved bitterness is the enemy here.

Beware the unlived life, part two: Come to terms with your gender identity and sexuality if you haven't. That looks different for different people - but again, unresolved bitterness is the enemy.

Friends are precious. Make time for them if possible. Routines are your allies - it's easier to schedule the first Monday of the month for coffee with a friend than constantly shift things around.

Get wise to yourself. If you've always been This Type Of Person, don't kill yourself trying to be That Type Of Person - focus on becoming a good This Type. Work around your weaknesses rather than telling yourself that you're going to eliminate them. Work with yourself rather than against.

If you get along with your parents and older relatives, make time for them. If you get along with them more or less but there are troubled spots, try to think of sustainable things to do - write letters, send cards, etc - that will emphasize the better aspects of your relationship.

If you were living through, for instance, a climate change apocalypse, what - of the things that are somewhat realistic possibilities - would you want to do before the end? Do that.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on October 5, 2018 [60 favorites]

Death is like being on holiday with a group of Germans.
Easily avoided?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:01 AM on October 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

The answer is usually DTMFA. Don't try to think your way out of it.
posted by nantucket at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2018 [23 favorites]

1. If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. Dear G*d, this is so true. Do not waste your time doing some job you don't like that stresses you out. You get zero points for that. Also, there is nothing worse than having friends who are endlessly complaining about their jobs. Just leave and get on with your life.

2. Learn to deal with your stress on a consistent basis so when you are having issues, dealing with them is second-nature.

3. Work on your body strength, balance and posture for a few minutes every few days. No matter how fit and healthy you are right now, your back /hips/knees/feet will become assholes, and the more postural strength you have now, the easier it will be to deal with.

4. If you want to travel, do it.

5. Get into a regular exercise practice if you haven't yet. For women, the menopause weight gain is all too real, and you will not be able to lose weight easily if at all. So get healthy now.

6. If you have kids, know that it'll be their biological imperative to want to separate. It's nothing personal but you will have to work hard to continue having family time. Do NOT let them take the lead on this because they will look back and wonder why you let them be.

7. On that note, statistically, your kids are drinking and getting high. I have never once met a parent who said, "Yeah, my kid does that." Trust me; your kid is getting high and doing some really reckless shit.

8. Do not buy your kid a car when they get their license. Just don't. They don't need one, no matter how much they promise it will make your life easier.

9. The answer is ALWAYS DTMFA.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:11 AM on October 5, 2018 [16 favorites]

On that note, statistically, your kids are drinking and getting high. I have never once met a parent who said, "Yeah, my kid does that." Trust me; your kid is getting high and doing some really reckless shit.

My parents constantly said they assumed I was. It was really hurtful. I still don't. They just did not know me at all and it lost them all credibility with me.

Just... be a safe person to talk to and let them be _whoever they are_. There's a huge range of possibilities! This applies to everyone, not just kids.
posted by amtho at 9:40 AM on October 5, 2018 [58 favorites]

One really obvious, and oft-repeated above, thing. And a a couple of non-obvious ones:

• Oh my, yes, the exercise thing. So much good comes from it. Now at age 61 and in semi-retirement I can run, hike, bike, swim and do all the things that make every day a joy.

• Yes, get out of debt and save, save, save. But, unfortunately, I have to suggest you prepare as if you're not going to be allowed to work to age 63 or 65. The workplaces I've seen, and the people I've known, show that businesses can be cruel to people in their mid to late fifties. You should be prepared that you'll be shown the door earlier than you expect.

• If you don't have hobbies, get some. Both physical and intellectual. I've seen many contemporaries struggle with filling their days when they do get the time. A close friend who was a high-powered salesman and retired early has taken a job stocking shelves at Kmart not for the money but to fill the hours.

• It's not too late to develop a side hustle that you can continue on with after you retire. I learned how to draw at age 43 and it spurred a career that keeps me busy for just a perfect few hours a day.

• Make friends with people out of your age group; both older and younger. It's way easier to have fun if you have people to have fun with. And, trust me, listening to people complain about their knees gets old really fast.

Hope some of that helps.
posted by lpsguy at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2018 [22 favorites]

More concisely:

Don't treat other people as statistics.
posted by amtho at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

My parents constantly said they assumed I was. It was really hurtful. I still don't. They just did not know me at all and it lost them all credibility with me.

So much this. I mean, my parents did a lot of other shit to lose credibility with me - but they always assumed I was drinking, doing drugs, or whatever. (Rich, coming from parents who had no compunction against drinking or smoking pot in front of me.)

Yes, kids who drink and so forth are probably not going to fess up. A lot of kids do it, but some don't. Have sane boundaries with your kids, make them feel safe to call you to to come pick them up if they're drunk/stoned and shouldn't drive, and all that - but don't just assume your kid is doing these things.
posted by jzb at 9:49 AM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Don't be afraid to poop in public washrooms. Life is too short to hold it in
posted by JenThePro at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2018 [30 favorites]

Take care of your debt
Take care of your joints
Take care of your friendships

And your teeth!

Save more than you think you need to and consider that the minimum you need to save.

Lift weights!!! Never, ever stop!
posted by jgirl at 10:00 AM on October 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Exercise, but be really careful with your joints. All the damage I did to my body came through exercise. I absolutely believe I would have been better off with nothing more than simply walking a lot. I'm naturally strong and fit, but I lay in bed every morning feeling every single bit of that damage. It stops me from being more active now, and it's really demoralizing. Choose your activities wisely.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:45 AM on October 5, 2018 [20 favorites]

I really wish I had listened to my 30-ish-year-old self's admonition to "lose the weight now while your flesh is still soft with subdermal fatty deposits." Because yeah, 30 years later, I lost the weight (not on purpose, it just happened) and boy, without those subdermal fatty deposits, I sure do have wrinkles. Sigh.
posted by Lynsey at 11:06 AM on October 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I wish I'd known my life wouldn't stop at 40. That I'd actually start a whole new chapter in a whole new place & to calm down & stop panicking that life was passing me by. I wish I'd worried less about goals & more about the journey. I wish I'd used sunscreen more often & correctly. I wish I'd loved more & more honestly, but also been quicker to say good byes & move on. I wish I'd told the energy vampires to fuck off instead of thinking they were friends. I wish I'd realised it's OK to not like members of your family very much and that didn't make me a bad person because I couldn't love them while they were doing horrible things, and that I don't have to forgive them either. I wish I'd embraced the dorky things I'd loved back when I was a teen instead of discovering them in my 40's but then I think society had to change a little for that to happen.
posted by wwax at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2018 [25 favorites]

Buck convention.

Sleep more.

The warmest beer I ever had was just cold enough.

Go to see as much live music as you can.

Speak you mind, but do so with respect and humility. Then let it go.
posted by AugustWest at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

>Exercise, but be really careful with your joints.

Ditto x 1000. Go with *low impact* cardio - agree, it’s hard to find many people who hurt themselves walking - and switch it up, and learn proper technique, if you’re going to do any cardio other than walking, to avoid repetitive strain injuries. (I’ve had 16 soft tissue injuries since 2013. My biomechanics are terrible, but I didn’t know that when I decided to start running in my mid-thirties [on a very graduated program, in shoes recommended by a running shoe store, and having attended a running clinic :/]. Better safe than sorry - walk unless you *know* you’re built to run. I don’t think people over 25 or so should do plyo, either. YMMV)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:09 PM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Time has a way of sneaking past you

To expand a bit on that comment: Daily life can often be hectic and stressful, it's easy to get caught up in the everyday minutiae. You get to the end of yet another day and think "Oh well, I'll get around to that other stuff tomorrow, or maybe next week...." Meanwhile the months and years relentlessly move onward, unnoticed and unremarked; next thing you know you're coming up on another birthday ending in a zero, wondering where the hell the last 10 years went.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

Tons of great stuff here - yes on the health, yes on the debt.

My 2 cents is to not ever let the amount of time it will take to do something deter you from doing that thing: "Ugh, 4 years for a degree!" "A 30 year mortgage!?" Time will pass no matter what you do, and when you're looking in the rearview mirror, you realize that 4 years is so small. Think more about long term goals instead of short term goals and try to see the long game.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:03 PM on October 5, 2018 [20 favorites]

•Dance -- the single best thing to do for both your body and your social life, a twofer.
•I agree with NoraCharles that time is infinitely available; you have all the time there is, no need to panic.
•Contentment is a wonderful state of mind. It doesn't mean you can't want things, just that you're happy with or without them.

It took me until my mid-30s to begin to accept who I am, what I want, and what I'm willing to do or not. It took about 10 years to have all that shaped into who I am now. Lately, it's just fine-tuning.
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've learned to worry less. ("less" relative to my younger self - I'm still a pretty good worrier) Some of it is learning the difference between problem solving and worrying (or productive worry and unproductive worry) and learning to just let go of the stuff that doesn't actually help. Another part is recognizing what matters in the big picture - don't sweat the small stuff (although I don't agree that it is all small stuff - some things matter but recognizing that more worry usually doesn't help them turn out better) Someone recently told me that they liked the rule "If it won't matter in five years, it doesn't matter now".
posted by metahawk at 5:52 PM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

OMG! I am mid thirties and I'm starting to do some of these things because I'm afraid if I don't I'll regret it later.

I'll add, if you have pets, let them distract you from the TV, computer, phones, etc. It'll get you used to paying attention to things that make your life, not things that you wish your life was.

Also, if you think you need therapy, don't be afraid to seek it out, even if it takes a few tries to get the right fit. Talking to an objective person about what issues you may have definitely puts things into perspective and lets you figure yourself out a lot faster.

Oh, and don't be afraid of the pot.
posted by Advocate, I at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Save and invest every single cent you can.

Seriously, the freedom you buy later is worth it. Every year earlier you start doing this to the max is worth it.
posted by spitbull at 4:43 AM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Life is really a pay-it-forward game. Don't expect gratitude, understanding or respect in the immediate, you'll pretty much always be disappointed, but, conversely, live and act as if those would be the logical consequences of your choices. Or, as the late philosopher Frank Zappa put it, "Broken hearts are for assholes".
posted by Chitownfats at 6:23 AM on October 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are two types of maturity, and you can mentally force yourself towards one or the other.

1. Stability. You have the music you like, the foods you like, and the worldview you like. You keep those stable over time. You learn to reinforce stability.
2. Changing. Whatever you like now won't be what you like a decade from now. Your worldview will also change. You learn to accept change.

As the world changes over time, and you've presumably seen more of the world than you had twenty years ago when you set your political choices? I think forcing your brain to steadily accept change is the better choice because that's how the world works.

I still miss my favorite foods of ten or twenty years ago, but that feels like a worthwhile trade for all the new music I've been able to enjoy like whoa. ;-)

Also: wear lotion on your face with sunblock in it.
posted by talldean at 9:08 AM on October 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

For myself, I'd be more cognizant of how aging starts to erode possibility, all the paths that seemed so open when young, at first slowly start to seem increasingly difficult to find, then more suddenly may seem to disappear entirely if you haven't already mapped out the initial stages of those journeys and prepared for them.

New opportunities don't come as easily with age as they do with youth. They don't disappear completely, but they take much more effort as both others see you differently and you become more settled in your ways. Change at 30 when you still can develop networks of people all roughly in the early stages of who they'll become and goals they might work on is comparatively easy for being on the same curve often having a network of friends and family to help out if you screw up and need to rebound from misadventure.

When you grow older, friends are harder to make as people become set in their own lives with jobs, families and other responsibilities to attend to and families age with you, parents die and soon you may find yourself without much to fall back on other than your own resources and well wishes. Eventually that, it seems, can change again as people retire and responsibilities change, but it you haven't made yourself a stable place by that time, you might not be able to enjoy those same possibilities yourself as money and health concerns will grow ever more important because you don't have the same resiliency and elasticity youth provides.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:54 PM on October 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

Prioritize love
posted by soakimbo at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

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