40 things I learned in my 40s

There’s something about a birthday that ends in a “0” that makes you think. I texted this thought to a friend recently and when she texted me back she reminded me that I had said this to her when we first met – actually, when I interviewed her for a job – as she’d just turned thirty. She said she’d always remembered it, that she’s even said it to candidates she’s interviewed recently. I’d completely forgotten that we’d ever had that conversation, in fact it’s completely possible that I thought that texting it out to her was the very first time I’d had this specific thought at all. Because, well, things like that happens in your 40s.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I wrote 30 Things I learned in my 30s and I just read back over that list, mostly to make sure that I had, in fact, learned something new in this last decade. Though if I’m honest – and why write something like this if I’m not being honest? – I was also checking that what I just wrote wasn’t some derivative, less witty, less insightful version of the words of my younger self. Because lately, the intrusive and not especially helpful thought “my best work is behind me” has joined that late night clamouring list of fears that tend to circle late at night.

It turns out my list at 50 is actually pretty different to my list at 40 and where there’s overlap, well, I think those will be things I’ll be learning or unlearning in different ways, over every decade. So here we go. I hope you get something from my list. But more importantly, whatever mile marker you are at on your own journey, I hope reading this makes you pause for a moment to look around and maybe even write your own…

  1. “No” is a complete sentence.
  2. It is possible for a body on the brink of 50 to be in better shape than in any other time in any other decade.
  3. You’d better be really sure you need reading glasses, because thirty seconds after you first put them on you’ll be that person holding a menu at arm’s length if you leave them at home.
  4. Making it to 50 is a privilege that not everyone gets.
  5. When you lose someone your own age it’s incredibly sad and shocking – but it’s also really fucking scary.
  6. It turns out it is possible for a married couple to live and work in a 600 square foot New York City apartment without setting foot outside the door for months on without killing each other (and actually to get to even enjoy it).
  7. I get a lot out of having friends who are older and younger than me, but sitting around a table with a group of friends who I’ve known for decades is best of all.
  8. Don’t wait to find someone who wants to go to that concert with you – enjoy the freedom of going alone!
  9. Asking for help gets easier the more you practice.
  10. There are few times I am as present or as fulfilled as when I teach creative writing.
  11. You are not too old to get a tattoo.
  12. Tattoos are addictive.
  13. Loving someone and pleasing someone are not the same thing.
  14. Two of the words in the English language that melt my heart the most are: “Aunt Yvonne”.
  15. If you ever get the opportunity to dance on the Irish Consulate float in the New York City Pride Parade, bring a whistle.
  16. But don’t get so carried away blowing that whistle that you ignore the smell of burning from the float’s engine…
  17. The choices I am faced with may not be the choices I want, but I still get to choose.
  18. This 50 year old body contains all my younger selves and I’d better pay special attention to my inner five and fifteen year olds, because if I don’t, they’ll be the ones making my decisions.
  19. My inner fifteen year old is very happy that it is apparently acceptable to dress like it’s still 1989.
  20. While I love getting my work published, that has absolutely nothing to do with the reason I write.
  21. Seasons of Love is a song made for walking down the aisle to.
  22. Don’t look up back pain online unless you want to see a flood of donut cushions in your Instagram feed.
  23. Nothing screams turning fifty more than a donut cushion.
  24. Not everyone will like it when you get your hair cut short.
  25. I am the only one who needs to approve of my haircut – but it’s really hard for me to remember that.
  26. Don’t let people tell you something will never happen. Anything can happen. It has and it will again.
  27. Daily married love isn’t Instagrammable. It looks more like endlessly filling an ice machine or jumping in an Uber on a January Sunday night to get to a KFC in Queens than that photo of you both on a white sandy beach in Turks and Caicos.
  28. Being by the sea makes everything better.
  29. Writing the truth about my sexual abuse didn’t kill me and it didn’t kill anyone else either.
  30. Even though I don’t always like the plan the universe has in store for me, when I look back I can grudgingly admit the universe was right.
  31. A half-marathon is a gateway drug to the real thing.
  32. Maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy sex life takes more effort these days but really, what’s the alternative?
  33. I might carry two passports but if you ask my nationality I will always say I am Irish.
  34. My happiness is my responsibility – it’s not yours and yours isn’t mine.
  35. No matter how many pairs of runners I have, I will never not want a new pair.
  36. Self-care and selfishness are not the same thing – if I don’t take care of myself, I have nothing to offer you.
  37. You are not the only one of your 50 something friends who is a secret Swiftie.
  38. Disappointing someone is okay so long as that person isn’t yourself.
  39. The business of “coming out” is never over but it does get easier.
  40. “Yes” is a complete sentence.

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