Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s) – Part Four
9 minute read
Click here to read Part Three of “Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s)” where I talk about people pleasers, dickheads, people that talk shit, and Kodak moments in the sun.
Lesson #10 – Life is too damn short
Hold on to your hats people, this next one is likely to be a bumpy ride.
I alluded to this one during the introduction, but now it’s time to go full throttle.
Where has the time gone?
Life seems to pass by too damn first. It’s like being in the stands at Silverstone and seeing those Formula 1 cars go whizzing by. It’s just one big noisy blur which you could miss if you so much as blink!
But this is just a normal life span that I’m talking about. What about all those tragic events that we hear about or witness for ourselves? What about all those lives that are cut way too short? And what about the people that never got an opportunity to live a full life?
We see and hear about these things each and every day, and we silently pray, sometimes subconsciously, that we manage to avoid such fates. We pray that it won’t happen to us, and we pray that we’ll go on to live long and happy lives and that it will all end, peacefully in our sleep, at the ripe old age of 173 (give or take a few years).
This is not always the reality.
I don’t need to sit here and write about the tragedies I’ve witnessed because we’ve all been there and it isn’t exclusive to me. For me to list all these things would be self-indulgent and perhaps even insulting to every single one of you. All that matters is that I’ve experienced enough so as to inspire me to want to live the fullest life that I can, for as long as I can.
Bizarrely enough though, one thing that’s started to hit me recently is when I hear about some of the famous people that have passed away. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our favourite actors, musicians, artists; they all become a part of our lives. We may never meet them, we may never really know them, but their contributions to the world and their highs and their lows, all become a part of who we are. When these people disappear from the world, they disappear from ours, and once again it reminds us of the shortness of life.
But let’s now try to turn all of this into a positive thing.
When and how it’s all going to end is the big unknown in life, yet it’s the one thing that is inevitable for each and every one of us. Most people fear this – particularly out here in the west – but in other cultures it is accepted and embraced (check this article – The Young, The Old, and the Easy Tiger).
Death (yes, I said it) is the one thing that bonds us all.
Life is precious. Make the most of the time you’ve got. I’ve now realised that the bullshit that I thought mattered, doesn’t matter half of much as I thought it did. I’d give up all of those things in an instant just to keep the people around me that matter most.
And I can only speak for myself here, but what I’ve tried to do over the past decade is to use this to fuel my zest for life.
The knowledge that time is finite acts as the constant kick up the arse that I need. It’s this knowledge that inspires me to go on my next big adventure, to call my friends and arrange the next gathering, and to fully appreciate my family and to cherish my parents.
It’s this knowledge that allows me to have perspective and clarity, to not take things too seriously, to avoid petty arguments, and to slow life down, to smile, to breathe, to choose simplicity over chaos, and to choose less rather than more.
And this takes me onto number eleven.
Lesson #11 – To live simply is to live beautifully (and to say no is liberating)
One of my greatest pleasures is my morning coffee.
After I’ve eaten breakfast and before I head out to work, I’ll stand at my kitchen window and watch the morning come to life while I drink my coffee. I’ll watch the birds in the trees, the leaves dancing in the breeze. I don’t rush it, I take my time.
I look forward to that moment each and every day; picking up the cup, breathing in the aroma, taking that first sip.
Such a simple thing makes me so incredibly happy.
For years I was guilty of trying to fit in way too much and my friends would always make fun of me for being so difficult to pin down. My diary would always be packed full and at one time I found this exciting, and it was a buzz that I never got to sit still. These days it would stress me out completely.
I now look forward to opening my diary and seeing a few blank pages, to be able to approach a week not knowing what I’m doing, and I like that I can now be more spontaneous with my plans.
When I was rushing here, there, and everywhere; time seemed to disappear into a black hole. But one of the things I’ve found since I started making less plans is that time actually seems to slow down. Think about this. Because just like when you have a busy day at work and the day seems to fly by in a nanosecond, so too will your life if you pack it full and don’t allow your brain the opportunity switch off every once in a while.
The more you try to squeeze in, the faster it all goes. And it’s better to do one thing and do it properly, rather than splitting your time between numerous things and never really achieving anything.
This isn’t helped by the modern age that we live in where an abundance of distraction surrounds us at our every move. We live in a plug-in, streaming, on-demand culture where there is an excessive amount of choice, and something is always vying for our attention; whether that’s through social media, advertising, videogames, or streaming services.
We can lose hours flicking through social media and its false realities, fluffing our voyeuristic natures while making us feel like we’re missing out on something. We see images from advertisers that tell us what we should be doing, and we begin to believe them and forget all about what our own hearts are actually telling us. Videogames are getting bigger, more addictive, and new downloadable content is always around the corner. Our digital TV boxes fill up with so much recorded content that we’re constantly fighting against the memory to not hit 100%, and then the media companies themselves are so thoughtful that they even help fill that memory by saving suggested TV shows because they think we’ll want to see those too. But that’s before we even get to Amazon Prime, Now TV, Netflix, and goodness knows what else which throws endless movies, documentaries, and the latest 17 seasons of yet another 49 must-see TV shows. All while this is happening our smart-phone is binging and vibrating like a whiny and annoying friend that is desperate for attention, bombarding us with yet more notifications from social media and various apps, and because our phones track everywhere we go and everything we do, they know what we want before we know it for ourselves.
Do this, go here, buy this, want that. Everything we ever wanted is just one click away.
Well stop the fucking bus because I want to get off!
And that’s exactly what I did.
I say switch off the TV for a moment, put your Playstation in rest mode, switch your phones to silent, and then just be.
Take time for yourself to breathe, to think, and to decide for yourself what you want to do. Work out whether all this distraction is keeping you from pursuing something much more fulfilling. And once you’ve broken out of the hypnotic trance of the television screen and you’re sat in silence, you’ll begin to remember the things that really matter; like getting off your ass and spending time with the people you really care about.
I used to suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and yes, that is an actual thing. But no matter how much I tried to do, the reality is that I could not do it all. And to finally accept this was liberating for me. The word NO suddenly became way more powerful than YES. And instead of my diary being full of things that I sort of wanted to do, my diary has now become open for all the things that I really want to do.
While I will always be an adventurer and will always seek to get the best from life, I know that I’m now only pursuing the things that are in my heart. And to embrace the simplest of pleasures has been the key to slowing the world down and basking in its beauty.
Shortly after finishing this writing for tonight, The TV will stay switched off, my phone will be on silent, and I’ll sit on the sofa and read my book in the lamplight while I sip on a cool glass of whisky.
I cannot wait, and I’m already excited for tomorrow morning’s coffee.
(Final) Lesson #12 – My relationships are the most important thing in the world to me
Have you ever heard the phrase, “No man is an island”?
Yeah, me too; I heard it many years ago and I always thought it was bullshit. I thought I was an island. Correction, I thought I was one great big bastard of an island with white sands, blue skies, and crystal clear waters.
Most importantly, the population of my island was one.
These days, however, that type of outlook couldn’t be further from who I am, and the reality is that I’d only want to be an island if it meant that I could share it with my girlfriend, my friends and family, and all the good people of the world.
I used to think that I didn’t need anybody and that I was perfectly fine, all alone, just taking care of my own shit and looking after number one. Although I was still having a handful of experiences with my family and friends, the majority of the things that I was doing, I was doing alone.
I’d go to gigs alone, venture to the cinema and theatre alone, I’d travel alone, and I’d even go to music festivals alone. In many ways I did this as a test of character and to prove to myself that I could do it, but this can only go so far, and when you end up favouring solo experiences over all others, then it’s time to make changes.
The biggest thing that I’d been forgetting was that for every day, week, and month that passed by; this was time that I could never get back. And for every experience that I had alone, it was a potential shared experience that was missed.
For a number of years my life had been full of magical moments that I’d either experienced alone or amongst strangers. Moments like when I found myself walking along a desert road in rural Arizona one night in 2008. I remember standing at the side of the road with a long walk still ahead of me, there were no street lights, and I could hear the chirping of crickets. It was late, still hot, and I looked around me and had a 360 degree panorama of star-filled sky. Everywhere I looked; big, bright, beautiful twinkling stars. I was mesmerised, and I remember saying to myself “wow, this is just for me”.
It’s amazing to have had experiences like that, and to some extent I still do have those experiences. But now, more than ever, I want to be able to say “wow, isn’t that beautiful” to the person standing next to me. Now, more than ever, I want to be able to recall memories that were shared.
But the importance of knowing you can be okay alone should never be under-estimated, because it is only when you achieve this level of self-love that you can then love others unconditionally. And it’s a much better place to be at when you can say that you don’t need company, but rather that you want company.
Nothing else can compare to having good people in your life, to being surrounded by positivity, and to having a strong support network. When people have your back, you feel stronger than ever. When people are there to catch you, you’re not afraid to fall. When people are there to encourage you, you believe you can conquer anything. And when you’re surrounded by love, you realise that’s all that really matters.
As you get older, the size of your social circle doesn’t necessarily get smaller, but it does get tighter. And while it’s true that friends will come and friends will go, the ones that remain will be the ones that were there all along.
We so often get trapped in the rat race, sacrificing the time that we have to make more money and to buy new things. But when it all comes down to it, our lives won’t be measured by the money we made or the things that we owned. Instead our lives will be measured by the love that we gave and the mark that we left on this world.
As the guardian angel, Clarence, wrote in his message to George Bailey at the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”
Our time is finite. The time for those around us is finite. We need to make everything count, right now, because there is no other time.
I’m sure that, like me, you’ve heard people talk about loved ones that have passed away and how they’d give up every penny they have just to be able to spend another day with them. And if you’ve ever taken time to read the most common regrets of the dying, the only mention you’ll ever hear about work or money is that they wished they’d not spent so much time working to make money.
Love trumps everything.
And if there’s one thing, above all else, that I’ll take from my 30’s and carry over into my 40’s; it’s a much deeper sense of gratitude for the people in my life, and a determination to give as much time and love as I can to each and every one of them.
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Elliot, what a wonderful post! Sounds like you are on the perfect path for your well being! Enjoy your forties! Your reflections are amazing and lovely! I’m grateful for getting older because i can notice the maturity of the soul. The beauty of learning is when I look at the mirror an I can see the beauty in spite of the effects of gravity. Or when I can smile because I forgot simple things. I believe getting older, give us the chance to being who we are and don’t care with different opinions, we respect it. The best part of getting older ist that you finally figure out who you are, what you want, and what matters most. The people you love, being with them, encouraging them and inspiring them by loving them and sharing your gifts and talents to make the wold better.
I can’t wait to be 80 so i can live in a kick ass assisted living facility and play bingo and poke people with my cane… hahaha…just kidding.
Big, grateful thanks to you, Elliot and keep being an inspiration! Taking nothing for granted surely does make for a miraculous life. God has some exciting plans for you!
PS: What is one thing you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
A big hug
Hi Katy, and thank you for leaving this comment.
I’m totally with you on all that and one of the greatest gifts of getting older is definitely the figuring out of who you are. That’s something that can only come through having really ‘lived’, and so to reach such a place really does speak volumes for what’s gone before.
So, getting to your question, and what a good one it is! What’s the one thing I wish I could go back and tell my younger self? Do you know what…I believe that everything that has happened, both good and bad, all happens for a reason and it brings us to where we are now, right? So I’m always reluctant to think about what it would be like to change things, because then I wouldn’t be the same person. Therefore, it would actually be something very simple that I’d tell myself…I’d just want to look that younger Elliot in the eyes and tell him that everything would turn out okay in the end, and I’d tell him not to worry too much.
In may be simple, but that really is it.
How about you Katy? What would you tell your younger self?
Hi Elliot, I would tell myself that it is really important to stay honest to yourself, and not to pretend to be someone who you are not. Be kind, be thoughtful and always consider how you can better help others. I have found the key to self happiness is to help others find happiness. The world is full of possibilities and do not be afraid to try new things and even make mistakes. Nobody will ever be perfect.
Hey Katy, I completely agree with that final comment…nobody will ever be perfect, and it’s an important thing to remember. I always think it’s important to pursue the challenge of being your best self (you could even say it’s a challenge to become the perfect version of yourself), but will we ever get there? I don’t think there ever is a final and complete version, but what really matters is how far we go and how much progress we make. It’s like the saying “Happiness is a journey, it’s not the destination.” And the very same thing can be said about our own lives…it’s all about the journey, because the journey never ends.
Wow, another great read Elliot…like you, I can relate to pretty much (most) of these things….well written once again, funny and so, so true.
Keep up the excellent work on the site mate – very proud of you!
Awww cheers Kev…thank you so much for reading this and I’m really glad you enjoyed it. That final comment meant the world to me. Thanks buddy.