Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.
What would 40-something you say to 30-something you?
I really love this question. Life is full of lessons and experiences that changes us. It is worthwhile to take the time to look back and see what we have learnt and think about what we would do differently if we had our time over again. This isn’t to dwell on the past, but to help us make better decisions in the future.
Looking back now at the age of 45 (mid way point to 50!) is a great time for me to do some reflecting. I remember looking at people who were nearly 50 when I was a kid thinking “they are so old!!!”. Now I am there and I wouldn’t say I feel ancient, but I do feel that I have lived a pretty great life already, accumulating significant experiences and see only better times ahead.
So if I were to sit down with my 30 year old self, I would be sitting across from a mum who was at home full time, living in a small house in inner city Melbourne with a 4 year old, 2 year old, a newborn and a gorgeous Border Collie dog. This is what I would tell her:
1. Move somewhere warmer now while the kids are young
Sunshine and I go together. It makes me happy, it gives me energy and I will spend much more time outside. Melbourne while not cold by international standards is too cold and grey for me. While it is truly cold and grey from late May to early September, I also wish spring and summer was hotter.
I have always felt this but over the last four years these feelings have intensified. When I can, I try to make sure I have time away from Melbourne in July or August. I like to plan it in advance so I have something to look forward to.
I have floated the idea of moving away from Melbourne with the family. I would love to move to northern NSW, but the older kids will not have a bar of it. I could push the issue and relocate us, but I think it would be destructive to the family. Also as they are in secondary school they would have to leave home to go to uni from this location in only a few short years, so I will have disrupted them for a couple of years for them to have to establish themselves again.
I had thoughts of heading both overseas and in Australia to warmer climates when the kids were little – I would tell my 30 year old self move to the sun now!
2. Let go of busyness
For too many years than I would like to admit, I was a busy addict. I wrote about it last year – 11 signs that you could be a busy addict. Somewhere along the line I confused productivity with being busy. Through some hard lessons I have learnt the two are very different things.
I would tell my 30 year old self to slow down and to stop adding things to the to do list. I would tell myself to cut my list of goals in half and allow some space in my life to enjoy the small things. I know it sounds so cliched, but some of my warmest memories over the last couple of years are morning hugs from the kids, sitting in the sun watching the kids play in the back yard, going for a run with my husband and sharing amazing food with friends.
These can be things you don’t make time for when you are thinking you have to be busy all the time and that you must be doing, doing, doing. I am the most productive I have ever been in my life now, but I take more time off work and I work less hours. Most importantly I am happy and I am a better mum for it.
3. Use your good things
My 40 year old something would tell my 30 year old something to use the “good things”. In my 30s I would buy a for me expensive pair of jeans and wear them for only special occasions. In a couple of years they might have become out of fashion or no longer fit – where was the joy in wearing them only so few times?
No when I buy something I will wear it often. I am not rocking up to school pick up in a cocktail dress in heels (way more likely to be lycra and runners!) but the gorgeous hand made denim skirt I bought at a market just recently will be worn most likely a couple of times a week this winter, certainly not just for special occasions.
Likewise for nice glasses, plates, vases etc. If I have nice things, I want to use them and enjoy them, not save them for a couple of special occasions over the year.
I do however keep my “good” scissors away from the kids – you always need a pair of good scissors 🙂 .
4. It is okay to fail
I really don’t like admitting that I can be somewhat of a perfectionist. It is annoying to be one and we are annoying to be around. But more sadly if you are wanting everything to be perfect, sometimes you are scared to try new things or take yourself out of your comfort zone.
I had many ideas in my 30s that I never acted on through fear of failure. I would look my 30 year old self in the eye and challenge her to go out and do something that had only a slight chance of success, but was something she really wanted to do. I would tell her that the world would not fall a part if she failed. I would also tell her that other people are not thinking about her no where near as much as she thinks they are!
5. The riverbank analogy applies to teenagers
In my late 20s I was told a great analogy by a Montessori teacher. To paraphrase it, she said that kids are like a river and parents need to be the riverbank. If the riverbank is too wide, the river keeps spreading until it reaches the riverbank. If the riverbank is too close the river will burst over the riverbank.
I would remind my late 30 year old self that this analogy applies equally to teenagers as it did to preschoolers. In general I applied this very well when the kids were younger. However, as the first of our kids moved into adolescence, I didn’t move the riverbank to allow our son to the freedom he needed at this stage of his life which meant I made things harder for both of us than they needed to be.
6. Start practicing meditation
When you are filling your life with “busy work” (see point 2 above) of course you think you don’t have time to meditate. I would tell my 30 year old self who thought with her busy mind, that she couldn’t possibly find the time to meditate and even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to quieten her mind – to stop what she was doing and meditate. I would tell her that she is exactly the type of person who will benefit most from meditating.
I started meditating last year and shared how I went about it in this post – Building a meditation habit. I am far from an expert and some days I find meditation challenging; my mind wanders off and it feels like I can constantly bringing it back to focus.
But I have become better at the practice and it has had a hugely positive impact on my life. I have more patience with the kids, I have less negative talk going in my head and I take the meditation techniques I have learnt to help me manage stressful situations in my everyday life.
7. Keep reading for learning
I realise my 30 year old self would glare at me when I gave this advice. The idea of reading for learning when you have so many little kids, would seem laughable to her. But I would encourage her to drop her standards a little and move away from her all or nothing approach.
My 30 year old self thought unless you could get at least 30 minutes to read, then there was no point in even picking up a book. Over the last couple of years, I have read many books by reading it 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there etc.
When you are at home with little ones all the time, it is easy to feel that you are stagnating. This doesn’t do a whole lot for your self confidence which of course impacts your willingness to try new things. I would encourage my 30 year old self to constantly have a book on the go, something that interests you and something that you want to read and use it as a treat for yourself when moments get tough.
8. Start running
I was never a fabulous runner in secondary school, but I would make it into the inter school cross country. At some point in year 12 I stopped running and then decided I didn’t like it. It wasn’t until after our first child did I venture to try some running again. I would do 20 minutes on the street or treadmill and that would be the way I would run for a number of years.
It wasn’t until after our fifth child that I thought, what if I try running for a bit longer and see how I like it? That was in the January 2012 and by the end of May 2012 I had run my first half marathon.
I did very much love running. I loved the peace it gave me. Having practiced meditation now, I realise that in many ways for many years running was my meditation.
Running has taken me to Brisbane, Bright, Boston and China and given me experiences I will never forget. Now I can’t imagine my life without running and the joy, peace and fitness it gives me.
9. Start CrossFit
I know the mention of CrossFit makes some people’s eye’s roll, but starting CrossFit had a huge positive impact on my life. Not all CrossFit gyms are equal and I think CrossFit BoxHill where I attend is something special. I can credit CrossFit for starting me on a health and wellness journey that has improved my health and I think will contribute positively to my longevity.
When I started CrossFit I was eating toasted peanut butter and cheese sandwiches for lunch with a diet coke chaser! Now I have meat and veggies with a cup of tea. I am stronger than I ever imagined I could be and this strength has given me confidence in myself outside of the gym.
It was also through a CrossFit challenge that an osteo strongly suggested that I add yoga to my weekly exercise schedule, which as you will see in the next point is something I wish I had started sooner.
10. Start practicing yoga
My 30 year old self simply couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do exercise that didn’t involve jacking up your heart rate and making you sweat (I know hot yoga does that, but I mean sweating through movement). It wasn’t until I was in my 40s and was made to realise that when you are pushing your limits constantly with physical exercise, you need to put something back into your body if you don’t want to deplete it completely.
So as advised I started doing a Yin Yoga class once a week. The first few weeks I was a little twitchy in the class, but once I started to notice how I felt physically after class and the calmness that it brought to my mind, I became a fan. My Yin Yoga class is an absolute highlight of my week.
Looking back over my list there is very much an underlying theme – try new things! This advice applies equally to me now. I love the known, I love having everything in order. This can sometimes hold me back from trying new things.
I am working on that. My recent trip to China to run the Great Wall of China with my husband was definitely trying something new that was super scary to think about, but while it was super hard, it was one of the most fun things I have done for some time.
I also did some life designing exercises when we were flying, etc which has given me a long list of new things to try and explore. Whenever we try new things there is always the chance of failure and as I mentioned above, I am learning to embrace that. I will be repeating the Samuel Beckett quote to myself regularly:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett
And if you have seen this quote and wondered what Beckett really meant by it, this article is worth a read – Samuel Beckett – Inspirational Guru?