2016 will be memorable for many reasons – including Brexit, the controversial US Presidential election, and the highest number of celebrity deaths in recent memory. For me, though, 2016 has a very special significance, as it was also the year I reached the milestone age of 40; something that seemed very far away a decade ago when I was pregnant with my eldest son (I’m convinced that time starts speeding up as soon as you have children). The turning of another year has led me to reflect on a few of the things I’ve learned in my 40-odd years on the planet, so if you’re soon to turn 40 yourself, also turned 40 in 2016, or just enjoy the clichéd affirmations of a (sob!) middle aged woman/mother/blogger, then hopefully you might find them useful.
- Turning 40 is Nothing to Worry About
Joking aside, I wasn’t someone who was particularly worried about turning 40. I’ve met people who’ve spoken about falling into a sort of depression at the prospect of the big 4-0 approaching, but for me, it wasn’t something I really worried about, or in fact even gave much thought to before it actually happened. Whether that was because I was so busy in the run up to my birthday, or because I just maintained to take a positive approach to the whole business, I’m not too sure. What I do know is that deciding to set up my blog (in an unrelated incident), a few months before my birthday kept my attention firmly focused elsewhere and there just wasn’t much time to think about it. So for anyone who is worried about turning 40 I’d recommend finding something positive to do to keep your mind off it – learn a new language, resolve to travel more, or take up that new hobby you’ve always fancied trying your hand at. Whatever you do, try not to stress too much about it – because speaking from experience I can tell you that the day after your 40th birthday you’ll look and feel no different to how you did the very day before.
- Family – and Health – are Everything
I wouldn’t say I’m someone who needs reminding about the importance of family, and the things that define me most in life are undoubtedly the bonds with family members who are also my closest and most treasured companions. But if I ever did need any reminding of how much they all mean to me, this last year has served that purpose well – being ill with pneumonia for 3 weeks in the summer and watching various family members struggle with health issues – battles mostly, but not always won – really reminded me of how much I care, and am cared for, by the ones I love. Turning 40 has therefore brought me a much better appreciation and sense of gratitude for my health and the health of others close to me. And that’s something I hope I will remember never to take for granted in my life again.
- There’s Nothing Wrong With Looking Backwards
It always seems at the start of a New Year, or after a milestone birthday, that we’re encouraged to look forward, plan ahead, put the past behind us, and all that motivational malarkey. Getting older has made me realise that for me, those sentiments are totally misaligned, and in fact I often find energy and strength in looking back at the things, and the people, who have gone before me. As the years pass I find that many of things I do, or want to do, are a way of reconnecting with the memories of my childhood and the key figures who are no longer here to experience them with me. I don’t think this makes me backward looking or negative – I enjoy making plans and setting goals as much as the next person – I just think it makes me me; a product of all the bits of history that have added up to make me exactly who I am.
- If There’s Something You Want To Do, Do It
I spent a lot of time after my children went to school thinking about what I wanted to do with my future (career wise), and for a little while sent off various job applications on the basis that the hours they offered fitted in with the periods in which my boys were occupied at school. What I omitted to think about was what I actually wanted to do myself – as opposed to what was just convenient – and thankfully (although I might not have thought it at the time), all my applications were unsuccessful. I was then forced to have an even longer think about what I really wanted to do, and no matter what way I tried to play it, the answer always came back as writing. After some consideration I started my blog a few months ago, and can honestly say I haven’t really looked back since (except in relation to the memory stuff in number 3 above). Ok, so my blog makes no money and can’t really be considered as anything other than a hobby (and I realise what a luxury that is), but maybe, just maybe, one day I can turn it into something more. And if I can’t? Then what the heck, I can always say I gave it a go. What I’m trying to say here is that if you want to do something, just do it, and do it to the very best of your ability. Don’t let convenience, fear of failure – or fear of anything else for that matter – hold you back. Don’t put items on your bucket list and leave them sitting there indefinitely. The time to do them is now – you just never know when you might stop getting the chance to come back to them.
- What’s For You Won’t Go By You
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my husband’s Grandmother (who is a quite exceptional lady), utter the phrase ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’, in the face of disappointment or some seemingly missed opportunity. Over the years I’ve come to think of it as one of life’s truisms, and many incidents in my own history (take number 4 for example), seem to fall into this category of initially disappointing events that eventually turn up something quite unexpectedly wonderful. Whether it’s fate, destiny, or simply having the grace to turn a negative into a positive, I’m not sure – but what I do know is that sometimes it pays to stand back and let the universe unfold exactly as it should.
- It’s OK to Say ‘No’ Sometimes
I’m something of a people pleaser, and have been known to say ‘yes’ to things that I really should have said ‘no’ to. It’s often led to me taking on too much and ending up feeling resentful for something I myself could easily have avoided. I’ve realised over the last few months that it isn’t selfish for me to want to pursue some of my own goals instead of forever putting my hand up to offer my services wherever they might be requested. I’ve discovered that it’s ok to say ‘no’, or ‘I can’t do that anymore’, and that if you let them, people will understand.
- Perfectionism is Not My Friend
I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, and although I do think it’s an admirable trait in others, I can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for anyone else afflicted with this quality. For me, it’s something that causes anxiety and borders on the obsessive (I mean, really, do my visitors actually care if my welcome door mat is straight or there are smudges on the mirrors?) In terms of professional work or writing it makes me continually dissatisfied with the smallest details of things I’ve produced, and leads to the endless seeking out of improvements for the next thing. Although I’ve got much better in this area since having children, I’m going to admit to being a work in progress – and stopping when something is ‘good enough’ is unlikely to ever be the way I operate. But recognising that something is a problem is the first step to healing it, and one thing I’d definitely like to work on over the next decade is loosening this smiling viper’s grip.
- …And Happiness is Now
Despite what I’ve said above, one thing I have got better at as I’ve got older is realising that the so called ‘perfect’ moments in life are here and now, and I’ve come to appreciate the present in a way I just didn’t back when I was in my twenties. Instead of thinking ‘everything will be just right when we get married/get our kitchen done/get the house finished’ I realise that happiness is right in front of me, and not on some timer delay switch waiting to be flicked on by some sort of object, event or upcoming purchase. Most of this is undoubtedly due to my children, who have made me want to savour every moment in life and never wish a single second away from their precious childhood. Experiencing the outdoors with my dog, and more recently enjoying outdoor adventures in our campervan, has also given me a new found appreciation for nature, in the way some people might find joy in their own kind of spiritual worship. These days I can quite literally be found chasing sunrises and sniffing roses – and generally just feeling grateful every day for the happiness in life that no money, thing or event could ever hope to bring.
- Kindness is the Best Quality
It hasn’t taken me 40 years to work out that kindness is the quality I value most in people, but it has occurred to me over the past few months that above all things I’d like my children to be kind. The moments that make me proudest as a mum are when I see them being kind to others, being caring, or being thoughtful in an unexpected or surprising way. I don’t really mind if they never give me any sporting or academic achievements to brag about on Facebook – what I do hope is that they grow up to be the caring, affectionate and kind young men they show every sign of being now.
- And I’ll Never Find Out What Happens to all the Odd Socks
Despite being kind and caring, one thing my two sons are not good at is keeping their socks together, and for years now I’ve found myself in an endless ritual of collecting friendless socks, giving up all hope of ever finding the others, culling the lot in an odd-sock-drawer clear out and then promptly staring the whole ridiculous cycle all over again. I’ve finally come to the realisation that I’ll never find out what happens to all these lonely leg warmers – they haven’t been eaten by the dog or the washing machine and they are nowhere to be found under beds or in the darkest crevices of our wardrobes. It remains a mystery and one I can only assume I won’t have solved by the time I reach my next milestone birthday in another decade.
But if lost socks are all I have to complain about then I think I have been very, very lucky. And I hope that when you think about the things you’ve learned in however many years you’ve been on the planet, you feel very lucky – and perhaps more than a little grateful – too.