Wisdom of middle age: 45 lessons at age 45
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.
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.
#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, unless you're telling a personal story. Use sparingly.
#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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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.
#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.
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.