Ah, the age of 40, when you enter the most feared, most maligned, most ambiguous decade of your life. Your 30s don’t sound much older than 20s and once you reach your 50s then it all just seems to be a case of enjoying the rest of the ride while you can.
No matter what they tell you about anything, 40 is middle-aged. Because, statistically, it’s in the middle. That’s how these things work. Well done for getting this far. But it’s also an opportunity to make the rest of your life absolutely banging. Because I love a sporting analogy: The whistle has gone for half-time, you’re in the dressing room and you’ve got 15 minutes to make some tactical changes for the second half.
Those changes all depend on the state of play, of course, but here are a few suggestions from someone who’s half way through half way.
Make time for real conversation
By real conversation, I mean the kind you have in person or on a telephone call. You might think that you’re much more witty on WhatsApp and text chat is fine for a lot of things, but for any kind of decent conversation it is absolutely disastrous. Other than the obvious rage-igniting issues around misinterpreting tone and unfortunate typos (be careful asking someone if they like walking), it’s also really inefficient and can sap the will to live. Unless, of course, you can type faster than you can speak. Which you can’t.
By making time, I mean putting yourself in situations where conversations happen. Rather than gigs or films, for example, go to the pub, host a meal, arrange a picnic. Or go to the gig/film and allot a couple of hours afterwards to discuss it.
Conversations makes us better, smarter people. It’s very easy and comforting to disappear into our phones. You can have very basic conversations on Twitter or in group chats, but nothing gives those synapses a workout like having to listen and respond to live words. It’s good to talk.
Eat less, eat better
There’s no escaping it: after 40, your metabolism decides that it’s going to put its feet up for the next few decades, basically until you die. The git. It doesn’t mean that you can’t stay healthy and in shape (Exhibit A: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). However, it does require a little more effort on the exercise front and a little more discipline on the diet front. You have to eat less (well, less of certain things).
If you have to eat less, then you should eat better. And better doesn’t necessarily mean a diet of shoots and sprouts seasoned with nothing but best intentions. It means *really* good food, from the finest fish to the juiciest burgers to the creamiest of ice-creams, just less often. You get to eat better food because you can afford it; you get to enjoy it without guilt; and you get to appreciate those moments. It’s a healthier relationship all in.
When you get to your 40s, try to think less about yourself. Not saying that you’re selfish – you’re obviously very lovely and kind. But in your 20s and 30s, you’re going to focus on finding your way in the world. You’re going to want to have fun, carve out a career, maybe find that special person (or special people) in your life, think about having kids, think about not having kids, try to buy a house (good luck with that at the moment).
Hopefully, by the time you hit 40, you’ve either done a lot of this or decided that you really don’t want to do it. Whatever, you should have more time on your hands and committing that time to a good cause of some sort will both expand your horizons and make you feel a hundred times better about yourself, let alone those you help. And, let’s face it, there’s a lot of people/animals/planets that need help right now.
What contradictory madness is this? Care more but also care less? Yes, absolutely. Care more about other people, but care less about what other people think of you. Care less about looking cool, care less about trying to please people who don’t care about pleasing you, care less about ruling the world or filling your bank account.
Let some of your less logical cares go and you’ll free up a lot of ‘emotional capacity’. Because, as much as we like to deny it, Bob Geldof was right: you can get compassion fatigue. The more emotional capacity you have, the more you emotion can direct towards things that are worth the energy. And the more you can just not expend the energy, which is also very healthy.
It’s very tempting, after four decades of absorbing the world, to think you know as much as you’ll ever need to know thankyouverymuch. You will have seen this particular trait in many any older person, piffing and paffing at anything they don’t understand. But it’s wrong. It’s unhealthy. Not because you should try to “be down with the kids” but because a) it helps you understand different generations, nationalities, schools of thought and the like; and b) lifelong learning is good for that thing in your head that does the thinking. If you stop learning you might do things like forget words for stuff.
This doesn’t mean ignore your experience: not all that’s newer is better. You only have to look at Zoolander 2 for evidence of that. After all, who do we all learn from when we’re young? Older people (and Greta Thunberg). Just make sure that the relationship is reciprocal.
Say yes to everything because you’ll be dead soon! Too much? Ok, say yes to most things because it’s half-time in your life and you don’t want to be putting things off if you don’t have to. That better? It’s definitely accurate: time is, as it currently stands, unstoppable. As is the ageing process.
This means you only have a certain window to do things you want to do and that window is even smaller – a tiny wee porthole in some cases – for anything that requires your body to exert itself physically. A tiny porthole for some things. That bucket list won’t tick itself.
Saying yes is also the way to a happier healthier life and being a more rounded and interesting individual. If all of your days are the same for the next 40 or 50 years, you’re going to be very dull company. You’ll probably find your own company dull and it’s really hard to get away from yourself.
New experiences expand the mind, give new perspectives and are good for your mental health. A bit of risk, getting out of your comfort zone and into the unknown, is healthy, no matter the consequences (to coin another cliche, it’s better to regret the things you’ve done than the things you haven’t). They don’t have to be skydives or trips to Antarctica; you could join a choir or take up knitting. Just say yes, oui, si, ja, da, hai or whatever positive grunt you feel like uttering.
Never think "I'm too old"
Your 40s, as discussed, is roughly half-time in the football match of life. And, as any fan of sport knows, a good half-time team talk can do wonders to transform a game. You can gee yourself up, give yourself a bit of pep – and this is the time to tell yourself: “I’m not too old to do anything!”
You can change career. Why not? You’ve been working for about 20 years and you’ll be working at least another 20, so why not try something new if you fancy it? In 10 years, you’ll be an experienced pro – and a much happier one. You can start a new relationship (you can do that whenever, of course), you can travel, you can take up a hobby, you can relocate, you can change your name to Thrumble Gurtzlikkip if you like.
So never, ever think, “I’m too old” to do something. Unless it’s wearing a hat with animal ears – you’re definitely too old for that.
Leave earlier and walk more
Walking is the most practical and enjoyable form of both exercise and transport. You’re not exercising for the sake of it because you’re going somewhere and that somewhere could be anywhere because you’re not going to rock up wrapped in repulsive sweaty Lycra or the wrong clothes for the occasion or weather. You can walk to a black-tie event in December or a beach party in July.
It’s eco-friendly, it’s free and it encourages you to get up and go a bit earlier (because for all of walking’s plusses, it isn’t the fastest). It’s also really enjoyable. It’s hard to type on your phone while you’re walking, so you’re more likely to listen to a podcast or music or have a conversation or, wait for it, just walk. No chat, no videos, just you and the world around you. Oh, and if you get a dog it becomes ten times more enjoyable.
Dress for comfort (physical and emotional)
Clothes maketh the man (or woman or whatever you identify as). It’s not the worst adage ever. If you’re on a date or at a job interview or a party, you want to dress to impress. Making an effort is, on such occasions, a very good thing.
But those clothes are often really quite uncomfortable. Skinny jeans or cocktail dresses are not the best items to wear if you’re settling in for a three-day Succession binge (which you really should). As you get older, those dress-up occasions become less frequent and also, the list of occasions you think are worth dressing up for (bye-bye trip to the dentist).
So, in your 40s you can really embrace the most casual of wear. Not dressing gowns to Aldi – that’s too far – but jogging bottoms and hoodies for just about every aspect of daily life. Gardening clogs, The Happy Mondays, now in their 50s, sang that you “gotta have a loose fit” and boy were they right: elasticated waistbands are the work of the gods.
You also develop by your 40s a sense of what you can and can’t wear: what makes you feel comfortable in yourself because you know it looks good. A personal style. Absolutely run with this until they bury you because it makes life so much easier: you know exactly what to buy and what to wear for every occasion. Sure, adapt to fashions if you like them, but there’s absolutely no pressure because you look delightful anyway.
Images: Unsplash, Pexels