Tuesday, 1 May 2012

21 things you should know by age 50

Even when I wasn’t as old as I am now (I’m 47), I was suspicious of ‘anti-ageing’ cosmetics, because it’s so obviously a self-defeating aim to keep trying to look younger. If you spend R1 000 on 10 grams of veal placenta to smooth away your wrinkles when you’re 30, it seems logical that you’re going to have to fork out R2 000 for 20 grams of it when you’re 40 to achieve the same results. And when you’re 50? 60?

Then I had an epiphany: when you’re over 50, nobody cares what you look like. Once the bloom has worn off your rose-like self, all you’re left with is the accumulated wisdom of your many years.

In this spirit, I offer 21 things you should know by the time you’re 50.

1. You can’t make people do what they don’t want to. You can try for a while (if you’ve got kids, say, or you’re in a difficult relationship) but in the end, people will do what they want to do, regardless of what you want them to do.

2. You’ve got to pay your taxes. Even if, in South Africa, SARS feels like the middle-man and you sometimes wonder why you don’t just put your money directly into the pocket of a corrupt government official, you should contribute towards state schools and hospitals if you can afford to.

3. Relationships aren’t static. Your best friend will turn on you, your husband will cheat on you, your nasty neighbour will rush to your aid when your geyser explodes, someone you swore you’d never talk to again will make a welcome return in your life. Never say never.

4. Life really isn’t fair. If it were, all the fat in the bottoms of the first-world obese would be sucked out and injected into the bodies of the starving millions in the undeveloped world.

5. Being educated doesn’t make you smart. I love the fact that our civilisation puts such a premium on education that people in the western world are forced to go to school for a third of their lives. But it hasn’t stopped rape, murder, theft, greed, cruelty and plain old ignorance.

6. You’ve got to love what you do for a living. If you don’t, you’re going to spend a lot of your life being miserable.

7. Family isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even if in the movies, everyone kisses and makes up in the end, this isn’t what happens in real life. Most families are dysfunctional; if yours is dysfunctional without ruining your life, you’re winning.

8. Having a room of your own is vital. You need somewhere safe to go to make sense of the madness. And if you’ve got a house to call your own, you’re luckier than most.

9. Do your best, and to hell with the Joneses. Who made the Joneses the king of the neighbourhood anyway?

10. Don’t bow to social pressure. You’re gay? A single mom? Dress funny? Like ABBA? Drive a kak car? Have blonde eyelashes or a big nose? Can’t spell? Have never had sex in an aeroplane toilet? Don’t like Oprah? Wouldn’t know art if it smacked you in the face? Have kankles? Work for the government? Can’t tell a joke to save your life? Well, join most of the rest of the world. Hey, we’re the spice of life!

11. The natural world is heart-stoppingly beautiful. It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day trivia of a life hectically lived. Stop and smell the flowers. Watch a sunset or a moonrise. Listen to the birds. Climb a hill. Eat an orange straight from the tree. And do it as often as you can. We’re animals too, remember.

12. To err is indeed human – admit to mistakes and move on. Nobody likes to be wrong but nobody’s perfect. We all fuck up from time to time – it’s how we learn. Don’t beat yourself up. But don’t do it again, ok?

13. To forgive might be divine, but forgetting is just stupid. The point of making mistakes is to learn from them (see point #12). So forgetting the lesson is self-defeating. The balancing-act is to remember the wrongs done to you without letting them eat you alive – harder said than done, but practice makes perfect (or so they tell me).

14. We are ‘they’. The ‘they’ who should be synchronising the traffic lights and generally making the world a better place for all? That’s us. So best we get our acts together.

15. You’re never going to be as thin as you were when you were 20. Or 30 or 40. Aside from anything else, being that thin in later life flies directly in the face of our biology. Get used to your cellulite, your spare tyre or your double chin – it’s going to be with you for a long time.

16. Don’t let things other people say about you unsettle you. There’s not a person on the planet without issues; and there are very few of them who won’t, consciously or otherwise, project those issues onto you. Remember that it’s their stuff, not yours.

17. Ask for help if you need it. And if you can’t bring yourself to ask a friend or family member, ask a stranger – there are plenty of organisations out there who won’t look at you funny when you tell them you aren’t coping.

18. Anything that takes you temporarily out of your own reality is a good thing. Life is hard, so whatever your mind-altering drug of choice – cooking, dancing, marathon-running, painting, dagga, wine, standing in a circle at full moon with a moose steak on your forehead – go ahead and indulge it. The key word is ‘temporarily’.

19. It’s never too late… actually, sometimes it is. If you haven’t summited the seven peaks by the time you’re 50, you’re probably not going to. Let go of unrealisable dreams and replace them with ones that really are achievable. Even if you haven’t done everything you put on your ‘things to do by the time I’m 30’ list, there are plenty of things left you can do between now and when you die.

20. If you can’t do it, tell yourself you can anyway. Self-delusion is sometimes the only way to go.

21. Don’t waste time being scared of dying. Why dread the inevitable?

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