10 Lessons About Turning 40

The famous 1997 essay by Mary Schmich that was turned into a cult song by Baz Luhrman is hard to top for dispensing wisdom about getting older. But allow me to at least use it as inspiration. For reference, watch it again here: “The Suncreen Song”

Lesson 1

You just never know what someone’s life is really like apart from their curated social media presence. Being jealous of others is natural, just don’t let it get out of hand. I have wanted a stable life bordered by the proverbial white picket fence. Sometimes, to my immense surprise, the very person I envied would say they wanted MY life. The older I get, the more I appreciate that jealousy is a waste of precious, finite time.

Lesson 2

Nobody cares what you do. Once your ego gets over this, it’s very freeing. Sometimes we are afraid to try new things because of what others will think. But most people are way too wrapped up in themselves to notice if you fall on your face. It’s the upside of none of us caring to stay in touch anymore! Think everybody is waiting to see you fail? Nobody is interested in you! They are too busy taking a selfie with a bagel. It sounds harsh, but this outlook has allowed me to live with less guilt and regret.

Lesson 3

Getting your shit together is a cyclical endeavor, not an end goal. I used to think I would turn 40 and from then on it would be smooth sailing. At midnight, when I officially turned 40, I said I needed to get my shit together. From the Schmich essay: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives some of the most interesting 40 year old’s I know still don’t.” Sometimes life works out, sometimes it doesn’t. We make plans, they fall apart. We don’t make plans, we get lucky. It’s like that for all of us.

Lesson 4 and 5

Know when to quit and when to wait. What I love best about getting older is learning to size up people and situations with lightning speed. I have less time to waste on relationships and jobs that are not good for me.

I went back and glanced at my earlier blog posts. Wow. I REALLY wanted to be a Writer. And now I just don’t care anymore. I spent too many years wanting to “make it” and it was torture. I’m probably never going to make it. And it’s okay to quit. I don’t owe anyone anything. I’m so much happier not getting the constant rejections. I just passed the 50k word mark on my memoir, Stephanie Terrorizes A Swabian Village (working title), so I secretly harbor dreams that it will make it out into the world, but I don’t make publishing success the center of my hopes anymore.

On the other hand, I have learned to spot situations that may appear to be a waste but are worth the wait. This past year has not been easy. There were many times I thought I would just pack up and go back to the States, but something in my gut told me it was not the right time to go back. My life in Germany was just beginning. I arrived in the summer of 2018 and it was too soon to call it off. In the past few months, I’ve started to not only have more of a social life again, I also landed a job that could be a great opportunity going forward. In my heart of hearts, I felt that things were going to turn around. Because I had patience to endure the long, tough months, they did.

Lesson 6

Learn to be alone. I went from being a social butterfly to having a blank calendar. I went to shows and other events I was interested in alone and I learned to live with it. Now I’m not always alone, but I’m glad I’m comfortable enough to be my own company.

Lesson 7

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” is another line from the famous speech/song. CHECK. Moving to a foreign country pretty much takes care of that one! That’s the next lesson. If you cannot be embarrassed, you are powerful. I’m so used to feeling like an idiot here, I’ve become immune. It’s now my superpower! Nobody can shame or embarrass be anymore. I’m invincible.

Lesson 8

There will never be a “perfect” time to do most anything. But in most cases, do whatever it is while you’re young.

Lesson 9

Remain yourself. People in this region of Germany can be so rude and grumpy other Germans complain about them. Let that one sink one. Other Germans say the people HERE are rude. In the beginning, I really let it get me down. Everyone was just such a downer, I started telling myself to not smile and to be rude right back. But it never felt natural. I decided to remain my old self and old Stephanie is a door holding, smiling compliment-giver. I held the door at the pharmacy for a woman and she was so utterly delighted she kept exclaiming how polite I was and she gave me the widest grin. We let a lot of cold air into the pharmacy. I kept holding the door open for her and she kept not going in because she was still complimenting my door holding from the outside. But we exchanged mutual joy over politeness and damn, have I missed my Northwest Nice.

Lesson 10

That stuff about sunscreen and flossing is right. I do espouse the benefits of both. I don’t care who you are or where you live, you need to smother SPF 50 on your face every day. Floss every night. Don’t skimp on the time or money needed for lotions. They are cheaper than a face lift later!

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