I recently turned 50, and partying was of course out of the question. On the morning of the big 5-0, I looked for consolation in knowing that I had given myself the mother of all parties for my 40th birthday. But the thought that actually changed my mind about the “wasted opportunity” turned out to be a very different one:
Look at how different your life is today than it was 10 years back!
There’s no way you could have guessed at all where you’d be today.
Same from 30 to 40. And I’m sure from 20 and 30 as well, though I have no memory of whatever I did for my 20th birthday. I assume it might have involved a lot of alcohol.
Turning 30, I sat in a romantic hotel in the countryside with a man who would be my husband for a whopping total of 16 months. After an excellent 5-course dinner in an elegant private dining room flooded in red roses, I sat in our suite crying my eyes out with my best friend on the phone (and a slightly disturbed husband across from me). I felt so old. So unaccomplished. So not on track. Wasting all that talent people had seen in me and – as I didn’t even know what that talent would be – struggling to be the perfect wife to an extremely young judge with outstanding career prospects. And I missed my dad – who had died when I was 28 – so much. It was hands down one of the most miserable birthdays I’ve ever had.
With that in mind, I vouched to make 40 a birthday to remember in the best sense of the word. And the Universe provided amazing support in the form of an unexpected accident insurance payout that I fully applied to celebrating my awesomeness. (Just to keep this in perspective: This was back in Germany, so we are not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here but a nice couple thousand euros.) And did I feel awesome! I had a fabulous life in a city I loved with a ton of amazing friends, lived with a hip, fun and creative guy with whom I also ran a coworking space for other hip, fun and creative peeps, and had built a solid communication business supporting myself and the occasional freelancer.
When I looked around at the 100+ guests at my birthday party, I was so happy I just wanted things to stay that way forever. Which is pretty much the fastest way to f*ck things up, right? By the end of the year, I found myself single, in my own small apartment and renting a desk in someone else’s space. Oh, and I was bored shitless with my business.
Now, freshly turned 50, things are again very, very different. I have lived most of the past decade in the US where I am about to become a citizen, I am married to the man I dated all the way back in my mid-20s when I lived in the US for the first time, I have my first own dog and a new coaching practice to complement the communication business, which I mostly work on but not in anymore. I haven’t been partying wildly in a long time, and that’s not only due to the pandemic. I’ve fully pivoted from night owl to morning person.
While this last development may be the most surprising for me and anybody who has known me for a long time, there is no way I could ever predicted any of the changes I summarized briefly above. You could argue that not having kids is one of the reasons why my life has taken all these very different turns – but I can tell you it’s mostly me.
I often feel that boredom is tougher for me to handle than anything else. I actually got that mirrored back at me this past year by my 85-year-old mother who announced at the start of the pandemic that she’d rather die of a virus than of boredom. Fortunately, neither has happened and I hope it’ll stay this way. But I totally feel her. If I didn’t have a very reasonable husband, I may have ventured out way more and done a few risky things myself out of sheer boredom.
But the real insight I got from this whole milestone birthday thing was knowing that whatever I am planning for future me ten years out is most likely totally different from my life in ten years.
It’s a bit of a scary thought, but then again – it gives me a lot of freedom to do whatever! Because if this is presumably not what I’ll be doing ten years from now, if this may not matter too much in the grand scheme of things, then why the hell would I not just do what I want?
Ultimately, knowing how much my life has changed over the decades gives me a lot of freedom to pursue whatever feels right to me right now – without wasting all the time to plan for some future that seems to take care of itself in a totally different way anyway.
As I am writing this, I’m really starting to feel that this mindset is the best 50th birthday present I could have made myself! Now I “only” need to take care of keeping it up. Easy, right?