On turning 50 – things I have learned

Turning 50 was a bit of a bugger – I found it more confronting that any of the previous big birthdays. It’s something to do with being half a century old, with the making of telemovies about political events that I can remember, and with my children growing whiskers and breasts (not, fortunately, on the same child).

It’s definitely to do with sore knees and finding myself having difficulties getting off the bus with my granny trolley.

But there must be something worthwhile about reaching this epicentre of life, some wisdom I’ve gained that I can pass on to my children. (And to other people’s children who are not as fortunate in their choice of mother as my own).

Given that so much of life is luck and genes – the way you look, how smart or healthy you are, who you meet, where you grow up, where you are at critical moments – I tend to think that the only wisdom worth sharing relates to things that you can do (and not do) that will lead to you feeling better than you did before doing them (or not doing them).   So here, in no particular order of importance, is my list of things that are guaranteed to improve your life.

Accept that you can’t change other people (unless they really want to change, or they’re very young)

After nearly 30 years in domestic relationships, years and years of working with other people, two children and a respectable number of friends and relatives, I have learned that you can’t change other people. Unless they want to change. But even then they may not have the same ideas as you about what would be an improvement.

You can really only change yourself and the way you respond to other people.

You can change small children in some ways if you work hard at it, and are very consistent. (You should only be trying to change small children in good ways. And you can’t change their basic qualities; you’re just tinkering around the edges.

Eat regularly with other people

It’s good to eat alone sometimes. You can watch TV while you eat. You can eat out of cans and crisp packets. You can eat only chocolate and cheeseballs.

But it’s also good to be able to eat with other people on a regular basis. I’m not talking about candle lit dinners or gourmet extravaganzas. Just ordinary pasta or a thai takeaway will do. But it feeds something in the soul to consume food with another person – preferably someone that you like.

Find someone or something to care for

We are all looking for love –usually for someone else to love and care for us. But there’s a lot of luck involved in that, and (see above) you can’t necessarily make other people care for you in the way that you think they should

My experience is that finding someone or something else for you to care for, is more consistently achievable.

It could be a partner, but it could also be friends, or relatives, or an organisation or a cause. But you must get something back from the caring, some feeling of accomplishment or fulfilment or gratitude. Getting nothing back from caring is sainthood, and Australia’s already got one saint.

A dog is a good choice – a dog will always appreciate you if you do quite simple things like walking and feeding it. A cat not so much, but if you’re nice to them, they’ll generally sit on you and let you stroke them.

Let go of your angst about your parents

In the words of the poet – they fuck you up. Your parents undoubtably made huge mistakes, which linger on in your mind, and cause unhappiness. But they’re old or dead now. You can let it go.

It’s hard to do – you might need help – but it’s worth the money for counselling to sort it out. If you can separate yourself as a person from your parents, you’ll feel better.

Put aside some money to help your own children with their psychotherapy (just joking … of course we’ll do better).

Have a warm place to live

Everyone has different heat requirements. If you’re living with someone who feels the cold less than you, negotiate over the heating. My life changed for the better when we got one of those gas heaters with the false coals. We all now spend time together gazing into the false flames, relishing the easy warmth, and remembering not to throw scraps of rubbish onto it.

If you share a bed regularly with someone who needs lots of warmth at night, and you’re feeling like a boiled tomato – get a separate doona. You’ll still be in the same bed, but you’ll wake up feeling much more pleasantly disposed towards your partner. Then you can work on the snoring.

If your house leaks, get it it fixed. Might sound obvious, but I’ve realised that a lazy approach to small household problems leads to far greater disasters down the track.

Don’t eat too much food at one time

You’ll feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Don’t have too much stuff.

You have to clean it. You have to insure it. You have to care for it. You have to arrange it. It uses up time and not always in a good way.

Have things that you really like. I love my mobile phone. It’s quite small and requires very little maintenance, and yet it does almost everything I could ever want in a gadget. Technology is not necessarily a bad thing in moderation.

Drive less

Driving is boring, stressful and dangerous.  Avoid where possible.

Get a comfortable bed

I spent a number of years trying to sleep in a bed that was too soft for me. After I broke my back (not in bed I hasten to add), I couldn’t sleep in it at all, and I had to buy a new bed. The new bed is so much more comfortable, and is a pleasure to retire into. I tell you this so that you don’t have to suffer a major health crisis in order to sleep well.

Get a comfortable chair

Also, it’s good to have a comfortable chair or two – perhaps one to sit on at work, and one at home. Your back will thank you. Look after your back – you want it to feel positively towards you.

Do something that interests you – get a hobby

When I was younger I couldn’t see the point of hobbies – I thought they were the pursuit of losers compensating for a lack of friends and lovers. In my middle years, I now have a number of fascinating hobbies.

I used to think that I was going to find continual satisfaction from my work. Some of us have jobs that enthrall and delight us forever. Others don’t. However, we usually have to keep plugging away at these less than completely satisfactory jobs in order to bring home the tofu.

So a hobby that provides new insights, learnings or surprises is a great comfort. (Watching sport is not a hobby.)

Use online grocery shopping

Never go into a supermarket again. No more lifting bags in and out of trolleys and cars (see back advice above). No more supermarket checkouts. Less impulse buying. Lower greenhouse gas emissions. Employment for delivery people. You can chose organic or local produce if you wish.

You really don’t have to squeeze the fruit before you buy it. Anyway, these days you can’t because it’s encased in hard plastic shells.

Do 45 minutes of exercise per day

I fought against this one for years. All through my childhood I avoided exercise. In high school I took extra subjects to get out of sport. I never played a team sport. I actually can’t run at all – there’s something wrong with my body. I can’t do aerobics either, or ride on those exercise bikes, or use a rowing machine. I just get puffed and give up

However, I can swim quite a long way quite slowly. And I can walk a reasonable distance, so long as it’s not up very steep hills or a lot of stairs.

I’ve found that swimming or walking a long way every day, with the occasional excursion up a hill, makes me feel calmer. I don’t enjoy the exercise experience, but I greatly enjoy the calmer. The invention of mobile phones with built in radio playing thingies helped a lot – walking becomes more bearable when you can listen to a prerecorded radio program of your choice. Again, technology is not necessarily a bad thing.

Contrary to popular opinion, a dog is not really an asset to walking – they stop all the time to pee and sniff the bums of other dogs. But they are good at getting you up and out. If you don’t exercise them, they bury bones in your bed, and eat your ugg boots.

Find some form of exercise that you can bear, and do it every day for 45 minutes.  You will probably feel better, and you will have something virtuous to report when the doctor asks you questions about your “lifestyle”.

Have your own bank account

It’s good not to be completely financially inter-twined with someone else – especially if you have an intense emotional relationship with that person. Keep a bank account with just your name on it.

Try to avoid the court system

The court system is a necessary evil for many things – murders for example, and domestic violence. And votes for women and Aborigines. And stopping irresponsible developments.

It’s not so essential for marriage breakdown, and for getting compensation for injuries. Or for complaining.

The court system works to the advantage of lawyers – the longer they can draw out a conflict, the more money they make. This is just something I’ve observed.

Courts can’t really tell right from wrong. They can only allocate responsibility.

Don’t stress too much about being happy

Someone wrote that you only know you’re happy retrospectively. I think that’s mostly true.   Happiness seems to me to be something that happens to you, rather than something you can work to get.  And when you’re happy it’s quite easy to forget to log it in your memory.

It may be the lapsed Methodist in me, but trying to be useful, rather than happy, seems a better thing to be working at.  You don’t have to be useful all the time.  You can sprinkle your usefulness throughout your life.  But you’ll generally be able to tell when you’ve been useful, and it will give you a good feeling when you look back on it.

That’s the end.  Thank you for reading.  All comments very welcome.

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About Jane Elix

I don't have enough bandwidth to deal with this www.janeelix.com
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7 Responses to On turning 50 – things I have learned

  1. Zea Vargas says:

    Oh, you make me laugh, Jane!
    Have to disagree with the on-line grocery shopping, but I have to say I am with you on most things.
    Zea

  2. Margaret says:

    Dear oh dear. I thought these reflections didn’t come until your 80th birthday. But since you’ve started it — here’s some I think you missed.

    Don’t stress about changing what can’t be changed, but get to work on what can be. And who knows where it will lead.

    A room of one’s own. Or in my case a house — absolutely essential to have a place to put one’s stuff that doesn’t have to be packed up and moved every 12 months.

    And I know you’re besotted with that ipod/pad or whatever it is, but I really don’t get walking around, especially in the bush, with ears and presumably brain disengaged from the world around you.

    But I do think you’re making good use of your 50th year. See you soon, Margaret

  3. nina harding says:

    Jane I loved this reflection on your half century! I agree with all of your points and wish to add the following: 1. soft lighting is helpful near mirrors where you are prone to gaze at yourself (near the front door, hallways or in the bathroom) and very unhelpful where you wish to read or sew (the stronger the better I find these days), 2. Sophia Loren when asked how she stayed so young said ‘I don’t make old person noises’ – I find this very good advice. No matter how you feel avoid emitting groans when you; get out of a chair, bend down to pick up something, or get out of the car. 3. Fibre (won’t say anymore) 4. Don’t criticise the people you love. Other people will do this for you. Instead try to notice their good points and mention them. Any negatives they will work on when they have the time and inclination. Lots of love and respect, Nina

  4. Karen says:

    50? Too long ago to remember. But I do remember feeling confident that I had learnt something. Dilemma was just what. And given that blogs didn’t exist then or if they did I wouldn’t have known about them, I might have written something in a diary. Unfortunately the find function in my brain doesn’t work as well as the one on the computer.
    A vague memory says: wake up above the treeline – in your tent or outside or near a window – at least once a year;
    Don’t every give up on wanting/trying to do more: music, read, be with friends and family more, of doing nothing, wandering in the bush, writing, oh yes and exercise.
    Be present – whatever you are doing and especially with people, anyone, not just friends and try doing one thing at a time; it’s also helped me remember where i put things.
    Remember you might die tomorrow.. don’t leave things unsaid that need to be said.
    Be with those old people who matter to you.. gosh maybe some others too… in a short time they will NOT be accessible.
    Celebrate often…. anything, being alive will do.
    Tks J, for great blog.

  5. Heather says:

    Hi Jane, I’ve been cogitating about whether to send this and wondering about the purpose of your blog. I decided that it is not to always agree with each other and I may as well cast myself into the Grumpy Old Over 50s category as I seem to be the only participant really challenging some of your views. May I draw your and your bloggers’ attention to the principle in John Stewart’s speech in his recent Rally for Sanity as a constructive and incisive way to get your message across as widely as possible: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXmbzLI3pnk) In this vein I offer the following definitions in response to your comment that watching sport doesn’t qualify as a hobby (and I presume you do not include watching Films, Opera, art exhibitions or train spotting etc in your proscriptive hobby register – or is it just men’s sport?):
    hobby
    Main Entry: hobby
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: pleasurable pastime
    Synonyms: amusement, art, avocation, bag*, craft, craze,distraction, diversion, divertissement, fad*,fancy, favorite occupation, fun, game, interest,kick*, labor of love, leisure activity, leisurepursuit, obsession, occupation, pet topic, play,quest, relaxation, schtick, shot, sideline,specialty, sport, thing*, vagary, weakness,whim, whimsy

    Antonyms: profession, vocation, work

    It may have just been a throwaway line but the view has consequences in terms of engaging with people beyond Old Guard feminists (bring on the New Guard which has nothing to do with age). Your put down about watching sport reminds me of the Old Guard arts community debate when I first arrived in Sydney about what was ‘worthy’ enough to appear at the Opera House – fortunately they lost their argument and we can now watch a diversity of modern performances that we can also afford. Before an Aussie Rules match during August this year I was televised in front of 35,000 AFL watchers at the SCG receiving an award from Michael O’Loughlin of the Sydney Swans for my ‘pleasurable pastime’ of watching all 11 games this year: Check out Michael’s and Adam Goodes’ GO Foundation to support Indigenous education, work and healthy lifestyles http://www.go-foundation.org AFL watchers, like myself, have facilitated these good works, along with support for the Pink Lady breast cancer research and children’s charities. I think these Indigenous kids will listen to the likes of Michael and Adam more than to we bloggers. Do you have to enjoy a pastime to induct it into the Hall of Allowed Hobbies – do they have to be ‘worthy’? I don’t like a lot of other people’s hobbies but don’t deign to relegate them to nothingness. Or are we being semantic – when is a hobby an entertainment? Who decides? There are many more questions in my original 4 page (!) response to your blog around issues of Old Feminist BS as distinct from New Feminist savvy (indignation thou hast a name) but I leave it at the following definition:
    snobbery
    – 10 of 12 thesaurus results
    Main Entry: snobbery
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: presumption
    Synonyms: airs, arrogance, hauteur, pomposity, pretension,snobbishness, snootiness

    Main Entry: contempt
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: disdain, disrespect
    Synonyms: antipathy, audacity, aversion, condescension,contumely, defiance, derision, despisal,despisement, despite, disesteem, disregard,distaste, hatred, indignity, malice, mockery,neglect, recalcitrance, repugnance, ridicule,scorn, slight, snobbery , stubbornness

    Notes: contempt is a more engaged, more involvedfeeling of disapproval than disdain
    Antonyms: admiration, affection, approbation, approval,endorsement, love, regard, respect, sanction

    Indignation aside, let me add somewhat Sydney-centric items to the’ what I’ve learnt in 50 years list’: 1. There is no point running to catch the ferry if you spend the whole time away worrying about whether you turned off the stove before rushing out (and be grateful you can still run even if you look like a chimpanzee on crack). 2. From age 50+ the Jacarandas flowering in November do not symbolise examination time but a glorious splash of purple across the metropolis. 3. Be grateful for wisdom that pivots on 50 years + that allows you to have friends you sometimes disagree with on issues but can still love them to pieces!

    P.S. C’arn the Swans! I can’t wait until I watch another match with my Freo Dockers supporting son and daughter in law – whatever it’s called.

  6. Anni says:

    As one of your ‘younger friends’ (Jane: have an age range of friends so you don’t die alone) – it is good to learn from the wisdom of 50. I’m with you on the less stuff, exercise, warmth, getting over the parents and staying out of the court system. Dunno about hobbies….but passions, yes.

    I would add:
    Teach your children to cook, wash their clothes and vacuum the house…and make coffee.
    Don’t ever do more than 30 mins housework a day (thanks to Germs on that one)
    Exit a bad marriage before it eats your soul.
    You might as well have children early, because chances are your career and partner will change anyway.
    Don’t squeeze pimples.
    If you’ve always wanted to do it, then do it.
    Have the third baby.
    Excessively high heel shoes are fun.
    Educated western women can change parts of the world if they really, really want to.

  7. Jasmine Payget says:

    I like this post about what you have learned about being 50! especially about being critical (so much) about the ones you love. Very timely. When I turned 50, my husband organised a great weekend event at Rylstone. People were invited to say something, always a bit scary. My nephew Evan said “Great cake!” this has been a wonderful motivator for subsequent events; neatly summarising how important food is in the relationships, but also celebrations. Many thanks.

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