“You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’” — Talking Heads
The half-century mark of life on earth is a reflective point. It was hard to resign myself to the fact that time had passed so quickly. How did this happen? Was it all just a dream?
Of course it wasn’t, but the 1980s didn’t seem so far away, even though it was and so much had occurred between then and now.
The vivid moments linger: The days when I would cruise around my hometown in my Chevy Citation listening to U2 and Duran Duran and Depeche Mode and Billy Idol and The Cure… The afternoons when I would head to my job at the farm, or the local mall (now closed) to shop and see a movie and get a slice of pizza. Or those days when I would take a trip downtown to buy imported vinyl and British magazines at a music shop run by a very hip guy nicknamed The Professor; after-dinner viewing of “Cheers” reruns and basketball games at UConn; trips to the city with bands, watching them take the stage at clubs like The Bitter End and CBGBs and getting extra-large black Dunkin coffees to make the long drive home in a musician’s second-hand Salvation Army van.
It feels better when you know you are not alone in some sort of existential aging crisis, like spending a half-century on the planet. So, when I turned 50, I decided to check out what other things were as old as I was. It turns out, I was in good company: J.Lo, Jennifer Aniston, Dave Grohl, Tic Tacs, The Gap, Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Sesame Street,” “The Brady Bunch,” the song “Sweet Caroline,” Paul Rudd, “Abbey Road” and “Scooby Doo,” to name a few. My birth year was apparently a very good year, and my generation — Generation X — has amassed a pretty cool reputation.
After the big day passed, I realized that a number doesn’t mean much. You grow old, but you don’t feel old. There may be adults born in a different century, your high school classmates are grandparents, your hair gets some glittery strands and your eyes get crinkly, but your soul doesn’t age. You will always feel young, inside, even if you start having “Get off my lawn!” moments on the outside.
Despite questioning myself with the Talking Heads lyric above, I know how I got here. It was a long and winding road, full of twists and turns, and it didn’t turn out like I thought it would. But I ended up where I needed to be. I have learned many, many lessons, the first being “Older is definitely wiser.”
There are so many things I would tell my younger self. Here, in a random order, are 50 of them.
- Live with no regrets. The past shaped how wonderful you are now.
- The future is fluid: Never outgrow the need to become your best self, set goals, dream new dreams.
- Fight the worry. Accept what you cannot change.
- Women do have to work harder than men, overall, in life.
- Life isn’t black and white; it’s gray. Don’t let people make you feel bad about not taking sides.
- Do your homework before you open your mouth.
- Your soundtrack will change depending the day, month or year. All music is good music, when it fits the mood.
- When in doubt, turn on the radio.
- When you walk through a crowded gate, go left.
- You can feel lonely yet not alone. You can be alone yet not lonely.
- Life is about relationships, plural — not a relationship.
- True friendships run deeper than any time you haven’t spoken.
- Listening is as important as talking. Communication is something that everyone needs to work on, all the time.
- People will ditch you. That truly is their loss. But some people are only meant for a season of your life.
- Never allow someone to break your heart. If they do, they aren’t worth your time.
- Parenting is the hardest task on earth, with parenting teens the most difficult. (In another few years, I’m sure I’ll say parenting “twin” teens is the most difficult.)
- If you feel lazy, watch the TV show “Hoarders.” Your house will be clean wicked fast.
- Choose your words wisely. You can’t take them back.
- “50something” is the new “40something!” (Am I right??)
- Every brain works differently, and society needs to embrace neurodiversity and adjust to it.
- Children, and the elderly, are the greatest teachers.
- Education — any education, from tech certificates to college degrees — is something no one can take away from you.
- And that said, living a rich life is the best education.
- Everyone has a unique talent. Find yours, and make it a part of your life.
- It’s not about the stuff: Money is a necessary evil but overrated. It’s truly cliché, but count your non-material blessings.
- Someone is always worse off than you. Be grateful.
- A compliment, however small, can make someone’s day. And possibly change their life.
- Pay it forward, give to others, do the right thing. Always.
- Own your story. All of it.
- If someone is mean, or unkind, feel sorry for them. They are struggling.
- Cursive writing still matters.
- Animals can teach us things if we pay attention. Value their worth and protect all creatures.
- You can drink coffee without sugar. It’s possible.
- Buy the good lipstick.
- Don’t be afraid to do something out of the box. Hence, my Warrior Dash escapade… Mud, heights and fire.
- Find your people. In my case, many different groups: Music people. Newspaper people. Mom people. Running people. Higher ed people. Student people. People who want to make a difference.
- Farmers should be valued as much as doctors. Eat your zip code.
- Tequila and Fireball must be consumed in limited quantities.
- Look for simple escapism every single day. Like Bee Gees greatest hits, old Seinfield episodes, bad reality TV.
- There is never enough time to read.
- Life without the arts isn’t worth living — live music and theater and art and all of it.
- Look for the backstory. Never accept what’s on the surface.
- Be a light, a ladder or a lifeboat: Help others who need it and you will help yourself.
- Sometimes the worst days become the best memories.
- Teach your children the important things: Classic rock, old flicks and movies from John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, The Beatles, newspapers, vinyl records, “Tom & Jerry,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and the Little House books.
- Have ice cream for dinner at least once a year.
- Take the pictures, and put them in albums.
- It’s OK to cry.
- When you lose someone, you keep them alive by mirroring their best qualities.
- On your birthday, you are only one day older than the previous day. Life should be measured in days, not years. Embrace the moment you are in.
There are many other lessons in life, but I’m only halfway through this adventure around the sun.