Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s) – Part Three
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Click here to read Part Two of “Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s)” where I talk about metabolic rates, the disappearance of friends, and wicked hangovers.
Lesson #7 – Some people are full of shit
You know how sometimes you’ll meet people who appear to be so incredibly confident? They’re the kind of person where as soon as somebody asks a question, they have an answer. When you’re stood at a bar, they’re flashing the cash. When an adventurous story is being told, they have an even more adventurous story to share.
They’ve been there, done that, got this, and got that. They know everything, they know everyone, and oh yeah, they’re usually full of shit.
Understanding this, however, is something that can only come with age and experience. Years ago, if somebody would have asked me what abilities I’d need to develop in life I’d have taken a guess at things such as maintaining a house, changing a car tyre, or protecting my family; but I had no idea that a key ability to develop in life would be the ability to detect bullshit.
The bullshit radar really is a very useful tool to have. In fact it’s right up there with the hammer drill, GPS, and the tin opener. You can get by without them, but they make life a hell of a lot easier.
But when we’re younger and we’re less confident in ourselves and in our abilities, it’s so much easier to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. We’ll listen to what these people say and we believe them and take it as fact. And because they speak with such conviction, we even start to question our own beliefs and opinions and this can take us down the wrong path entirely. They can, in essence, drag us down with them.
Many years ago I worked on the service reception at a garage and there was one customer I remember well. I was only 18 years old at the time and so was only just finding my feet as an adult, but this one customer who was in his late twenties would often bring in his sports car for maintenance and he’d always be sharply dressed. When I made polite conversation with him he had so many things to tell me about and he always had a convincing answer to everything.
One time, after he’d left the garage, I turned to my older colleagues and talked about the guy’s car, how much money he seemed to have, and how he seemed to know so much.
“Don’t be so easily fooled Elliot.” I was warned.
I continued to defend the man, almost as though I was defending myself. But one of my older colleagues, who was twice as old as the customer and almost three times the age of myself, made reference to a couple of statements he’d made and then went on to prove how it was complete bullshit.
I’d been so in awe of the guy, but my older and wiser colleagues had sat back quietly while I’d continued to massage his ego and had believed everything that he’d said to me.
“But what about his car though, and did you see those threads he was wearing?” I protested.
Once again the comeback was that I shouldn’t be so easily fooled and that just because somebody creates the appearance of having money, does not necessarily mean they have money.
Sometimes it’s just a front, and some people will get into debt just to create the impression of having money. It’s a financial paradox.
Don’t ask me how I found out, but they turned out to be right about this too. I was left feeling stupid at how I’d been drawn in so easily by his bullshit, and most significantly, how I’d let it make me feel inferior and like I was some sort of loser.
Lessons like this continued right into my thirties and took on various forms, and I learned that very often what a person presents on the surface is only a cover for what really lies beneath. And when somebody pushes themselves forward so strongly, what they’re actually trying to do is get the validation that they so desperately need. This can be true for money, career, relationships, or anything.
A truly confident person doesn’t feel the need to prove themselves to others, and a person with high self-esteem, who respects themselves, and who is truly secure with who they are; they don’t need to say a word and they don’t need to impress anybody. They’ve already provided themselves with the validation they need, and they’ve ticked their own boxes; not the boxes of other people.
These are the people that you should really be admiring.
And finally, I really cannot end this seventh lesson without mentioning those guys that many people like to label as Alpha males. You know the kind; they’re louder than the rest of the group and are full of dominating handshakes and forceful back-slaps. But just you wait and see what happens with a lot of these guys when the shit hits the fan and somebody needs to step up.
There’s true confidence, and there’s false confidence. There are alpha males, and there are fake alphas.
Understanding these differences and learning to spot the differences has been a priceless life lesson.
Develop your bullshit detector, because it will never steer you wrong.
Lesson #8 – Change is inevitable (so embrace it)
Oh boy, did I used to fear change or what? I hated change, and I wanted everything to stay the same forever.
When things change, we’re taken out of our comfort zone. And when we’re taken out of our comfort zone, we feel uncertainty. And it is within human nature to fear uncertainty and to seek comfort. Therefore, on the face of it, change is a bit of a bastard. But it doesn’t have to be, especially considering that it’s completely unavoidable.
So let’s get straight to the point with this one. Nothing stays the same, and everything will eventually change; so learn to embrace this, and not to oppose it.
It took me a long time to reach this level of understanding, nay acceptance, in life. But the result of reaching such a point means that I worry far less than I ever used to. And I think that’s something we’d all like to get on board with.
A few years back I used to work within a really closely-knit team and the feeling was more akin to being around a family each and every day. Prior to this I’d been working at a place where I’d been completely miserable, so to have found such a positive workplace had been like finding buried treasure. It was incredible.
But rather than enjoying what was in front of me, I instead spent half my time worrying that I’d lose what I’d found. I also had other opportunities for better jobs arise, but I turned them down because I wanted to hang onto this group of people and the wonderful feeling that I got from them.
I didn’t want anything to change.
Things continued positively for some time, until one member of the team decided to leave the company. A few months later, another person left, and slowly but surely the dynamics changed until eventually the team was nothing like it had been. The atmosphere had changed, the key people had disappeared, and the family-like team no longer existed. Most sadly, I was then stuck in a job that I was no longer enjoying and I felt bitter about the fact that I’d turned down other chances to better myself, all because I’d wanted to hold onto something that was ultimately taken away from me anyway.
This experience hurt me a lot at the time, but I later came to understand that this is just life.
I’ve had so many experiences like this over the years. In fact I’ve lost count. But with each passing experience I became more immune to the fear that used to accompany change. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a hesitancy that will arise, but I am now able to quickly give it the perspective it needs and to not fight against it.
The last time I allowed myself to get upset by this was during my years of Muay Thai training. There was a period during those years that a lot of my friends still refer to as the ‘golden days’, and we all look back and remember them fondly. It was one of those periods in time where everything ran like clockwork and, quite simply, everything about it was perfect. Ultimately that all changed, and there were a number of reasons as to why that happened, but I am now able to look back through philosophical eyes and to feel gratitude for what I had rather than sorrow for what no longer exists.
It’s like the closing scene in the movie, The Beach, where Richard is in the internet cafe checking his emails. He receives a message from a friend and as he downloads the attachment that accompanies the email, it turns out to be a photograph that had been taken on the island. The entire group were there on the picture; the sun was shining, everybody was happy and smiling, and it captured the moment where everything was at a high and when things were perfect. But after this idyllic moment, things fell apart for Richard and everything changed. Life had caught up with them and their experience also.
But whether we’re talking about work, Muay Thai, relationships, or a Hollywood movie; ask yourself this question.
Is it better to have experienced something incredible and to no longer have it, or to live your life in the shadows while you fear the inevitable?
So no matter what stage you’re at in life, accept that it will change. But also remember that it doesn’t have to be for the worse. When things change, they can also get better. And when one chapter ends, another one simply begins.
We all know that when you have children, you never want them to grow up; but they will. So cherish those years while they’re young and make the most of every single day.
When you’re in a new relationship, that initial period of getting to know each other is so incredibly exciting. But as you really get to know each other and the bond deepens, things will change; yet what comes next will be even better.
And even if it’s that the neighbourhood you live in is idyllic, the neighbours are great, and everything works perfectly, make the most of that too because it only takes one person to leave and everything will change.
When you have anything that’s good in your life, do not take any of it for granted. Whenever you enter a particularly exciting period, immerse yourself in it fully. And wherever there is love in your life, embrace that and give your love in equal measures. By doing this it will give you a much deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude and it will intensify your experiences like never before.
And finally, let’s look at this from another angle and at those times in your life where you’re in pain and where everything feels hopeless. We all have those times. Well take comfort in the fact that the same rules apply here too and that these times will not last forever either.
If you’re going through a break-up and your heart has been broken, you will get through it and your heart will eventually mend. If you’ve lost your job and have no idea what to do next, you will get through this and can forge an even more satisfying career. And if you’re going through a period of intense stress, you will get through this and you will find peace and happiness once again.
No matter what shit the world is throwing at you, you will come out of the other side.
This lesson is not just about learning to cherish what you have, because it also about taking solace in the knowledge that pain is only temporary and will not last forever.
Bad times change too.
Lesson # 9 – You must let go of the things you have no control over
I used to be a worrier when I was younger.
In fact, I was more than just a worrier, because even when I wasn’t worrying, I was still worrying about why I wasn’t worrying.
I worried for years, and I worried about anything and everything.
I’d sit about and dwell on why things weren’t going a certain way in my life. I’d worry about the actions of other people. I’d stress about why somebody didn’t like me as much as I thought they should. And I’d panic about what might happen in the future. I’d get anxious about some of the stupidest little things.
It was a bad habit that I fought for years, and it took conscious effort to finally defeat this self-destructive character flaw.
But the turning point for me was when I finally realised that I had very little to absolutely no control over the things that I was worrying about.
The tendency to worry is something that absolutely must be controlled. If ever something is to pop into your head that has the potential to cause anxiety, I find that the best thing to do is not to ignore it completely, but rather to treat your mind like an email inbox; paying attention to what’s important, and deleting the useless junk.
In other words, take action on the things you have control over. For everything else, forget about it.
What will be, will be.
Worry, like fear, can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy. It can flag up genuine issues that need your attention, but it can also flag up complete and utter bullshit. It is your job to work out the difference.
Worrying will only lead to stress, and stress will affect the quality of your life, your relationships, and even your health. It can be crippling and it can prevent you from getting on with your life.
Back in my teens and well into my twenties, my biggest worry of all was about what people thought of me. I wanted everybody to like me and I’d do whatever I could to please other people. If I got the impression that somebody didn’t like me then I’d sit and worry and ask myself, over and over, why? And then I’d do whatever it took to win them over, because for some reason it was like I needed their approval and their validation.
Well what a fucking dick.
These days, I accept that not everybody will like me. In fact, I embrace it. That isn’t meant to sound arrogant and if I did something to upset somebody then I would be quick to put my hand up, acknowledge my wrong-doing, and apologise; but only if it’s warranted. I would never intentionally set out to upset anybody or to give them reason to not like me; instead it just means that I get on with my life, do what I do, and people either like me or they don’t.
It’s a simple and unavoidable fact that not everybody will like you. Sometimes, we develop an instant dislike of somebody and we don’t even know why. Sometimes, you’re that person. But this is not something to worry about, because let’s just say that you do things one way to suit one person, and then you do things the opposite way to suit the next; while you may please both in the short term, in the long term they’ll see you as a contradiction, as a fraud, and as a gutless wimp who sits on the fence. Your good intentions only end up hurting you. It’s self-defeating.
If you’re a people pleaser, then you’re not pleasing anybody; especially you.
And for the men out there who identify with the Mr Nice Guy archetype; remember that there’s a huge difference between being a Nice Guy and being a Good Man. There will be a separate article on this in the future.
This is an area of my life that I had to work long and hard at, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in the quality of my life and my relationships since I took control of this.
And so these days I can quite honestly say that I just conduct myself in the best way possible while remaining true to myself and to my journey. And if somebody doesn’t like that then I say fuck it, come home, climb into bed, and sleep like a baby.
Click here to read the Fourth and Final Part of “Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s)”
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Great blog! After I became a widow at the age of 32, I had a lot of religious beliefs coming at me & my brother warned me about the importance of developing really good bullshit filters…especially when I was in such a vulnerable state. As you say, bullshit detectors are important to have!
Hi Maryanne, your brother sounds like a very wise man! And yes I can appreciate the importance of needing to develop that filter when in a vulnerable state and when we’re more prone to buy into what other people are saying to us.
I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for commenting.