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Wisdom of middle age: 45 lessons at age 45

never-grow-uk

It’s my birthday today. I’m 45. It feels significant.

If I live to 90 this is the mid-way point. Life expectancy for a man in the UK is around 80 so I realise that I’m already pushing my luck.

Whichever way you cut the numbers, I am officially middle aged. This is the halfway point of my life, or thereabouts.

Accordingly life seems to have a new tempo. In the past five years my last surviving grandparent has died, my partner has faced and beaten breast cancer, and I’ve lost my father to dementia.

Shit happens.

Pension valuations suddenly have an absolute meaning, hair is growing in the wrong places, and more often than not, an early night seems like a good idea.

I’m not having a midlife crisis but I am certainly questioning my purpose more than at any other time before, and I’m thinking about what I’ve achieved and what might come next.

Here’s what I think I’ve learnt in the last 45 years. There’s a point for every year. It’s social media, obviously, and it’s the distilled wisdom that I plan to bring to the second half of my life.

I’ve written this over the last few months inspired by conversations with family, friends and colleagues. Let me know what you think, and if it resonates with you please feel free to share.

It’s a bit different to what I normally write but hopefully you’ll find something here for you, and if not, it’s my life, my blog, my rules.

Live life, and love well.

Purpose

#1 Fairy tales don’t exist

There’s no such thing as happy ever after. Disney is manufactured storytelling. You have to create your own happiness.

#2 Do what you love

Modern education is built for the industrialised society you read about in history books. Follow your passions if you want to create value and have a career.

#3 Higher purpose

If God exists, he or she communicates in extraordinary ways. We’re going through a rocky patch.

#4 We’re all a work in progress

Almost everyone is making it up as they go along. Some people are simply better at hiding it, and more confident, than others.

#5 Start small

It’s easy to feel powerless in a globalised, networked society. If you want to make a difference, start in your own relationships, family and community.

#6 Personal craft

Making stuff with your own hands is good for your soul, your community and human development. Craft and culture separate us from animals.

#7 Marketing bullshit

You can’t have it all. That’s a myth of modern consumer marketing. Decide what’s important to you and prioritise.

#8 Help and gratitude

Helping people out is a positive action that ripples through a community. It is a transaction that has far more than financial value. Likewise saying thank you.

Family and relationships

#9 A mother’s love

Your Mum is the only person that will ever love you unconditionally. Nurture that relationship.

#10 Emotional glue

Emotions are the glue that binds relationships. Break that connection and you break the relationship. Love well.

#11 Don’t feed the animals

There’s rarely anything that you can do to influence other people’s bad behaviour but you can choose how to respond. Don’t feed the trolls.

#12 Relationships and the art of maintenance

Long standing relationships endure typically because neither person is prepared to give up at the same time. There’s no magic, just constant work.

#13 Banish personal pronouns

We not me, and us not I. Personal pronouns have no place in relationships, family, community or modern organisations.

#14 Burning bridges

Some relationships endure for only a stage of our lives while others last a lifetime. Knowing when to let go, and doing so with grace, is tough.

#15 Nurturing children is hard

Babies are hard, toddlers harder but teenagers are toughest. Single parents are generally incredible, patient, hardworking people.

Emotions

#16 Honesty

Honesty is always the best policy but too often people aren’t prepared to listen and face up to the truth. That’s hard.

#17 Managing anger

Anger is a powerful emotion. Use it carefully and wisely. Be very careful of the silent, angry person. Depression is often anger internalised.

#18 Men can be emotional too

The crisis of masculinity is very real. Men want to talk about their emotions but very few people are prepared to listen. That needs to change.

#19 Ask for help

Next time you’re stuck, ask for help. You’ll be amazed how people respond. Vulnerability is a powerful state. That’s why it’s so scary.

Wellbeing

#20 Value of therapy

Psychotherapy always strikes me as extraordinary value. It has replaced the role of our grandparents in modern society.

#21 How to lose weight

Eat less and exercise more. There are the only two things you need to know about diet. 10,000 steps a day and 2,000 calories a day for a woman and 2,500 for a man.

#22 Look after yourself

You will likely die of heart disease, cancer or the impact of mental illness. Fitness and wellbeing are the best form of defence.

#23 Reach for the off button

All media has an off button. Use it. We all need to log off and disconnect in order to rest and recuperate.

#24 Enjoy now

Live in the moment. You can’t do anything about the past or the future. The present is the only thing that you can guarantee. There’s a reason why it’s a cliché.

#25 Smiling and laughing

Much of communication is nonverbal. Nothing cuts through like a smile. It puts people immediately at ease and gives you a personal shot of serotonin.

#26 Listen to yourself

You’ve a lifetime of personal experience on top of thousands of years of human evolution. Listen to your own subconscious. It’ll typically be right.

#27 Refreshment and sustenance

Every situation can be improved by taking 15 minutes out for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Beer, gin, whisky and wine also work in moderation, depending on the time of day.

Environment

#28 Growing your own

Growing food connects you directly to the cycles of nature. Nurturing people or plants is good for the body, heart and mind.

#29 Going green

Managing your own rubbish and waste disposal is the only way to truly understand your personal impact on the planet.

#30 We do like to be beside the seaside

There’s a reason that we like to be by the seaside or walking in the hills. It’s a chance to escape routine and connect with nature. Grab your bucket and spade, and go.

#31 Wellbeing through walking

Heading outside for a walk is almost certainly a better plan than whatever you are intending to do in the next 30 minutes.

Finance

#32 Managing money

Budgeting and compound interest are the root to sound personal finance. They should be mandatory at school.

#33 Making money

You’ll always be able to make money if you have a craft or a skill that people need and you are prepared to work hard. Self-employment brings greatest reward and risk.

Learning

#34 Explore

Languages and cultural empathy are your passport to travel and personal development. New environments and experiences are almost always positive.

#35 Rest in peace

Life goes on after people die. Recognising this is the root to overcoming personal ego and making a contribution to society.

#36 Knowledge is power

Never stop learning and develop an openness and enthusiasm about the world. Curiosity wouldn’t have killed the cat if it had read more books.

#37 Perseverance and stamina

Anyone can write a book, or build a house. You just need to put one word, or one brick, in front of another. Most people haven’t got the stamina.

#38 Developing good habits

Starting something is the hardest thing. Keeping going, second. After 30 days almost anything becomes a habit.

#39 Important information

Read the instructions. Almost everyone and everything comes with a set. They’re not always well written but they are usually helpful.

Life lessons

#40 Action and intention

Trust is earned by what you do and not what you say. Action and intention are very different things.

#41 Emergency procedure

Always know where the emergency exit is but only ever use it in an emergency. Remember the story of the person that cried wolf.

#42 Value exchange

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Qualify objectives as quickly as possible to avoid misunderstanding and time wasting.

#43 Moaners versus doers

People divide neatly into those that moan and bitch and those that apply themselves to change. Doers are almost always happier.

#44 Reward

Reward is the most powerful lever to change behaviour. It’s why we have the children, politicians and business leaders we do.

#45 Don’t be a dick

Whenever faced with the choice either to be a dick, or not to be a dick, choose not to be a dick. It generally makes for a more pleasant experience and easier life.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

109 Comments

  1. Love this! You should turn this into a poster. Some great tips/life lessons here. Thank you. And happy birthday! Matt

  2. Happy birthday Wadds – and as ever, you give, even when it’s your birthday.
    Do also enjoy the birthday presents that are unwrapped and unannounced.
    Are you sure fairy tales don’t exist? Seems your words of wisdom have provided the template for my favourite story – the Ugly Duckling.
    Here’s to you’re next 45!

  3. My attention was drawn here by Rachel Miller – I am really enjoying your list and just wanted to say thanks for putting this together Stephen, and a belated happy birthday.

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