This is a letter written by your 26-year-old self to your 60-year-old self.
And it’s inspired by Freud himself:
If youth knew. If age could.
The obvious question of course is how your 26-year-old self would have any clue what challenges your 60-year-old self might have faced. Well, that much I can’t say. But in many ways, that’s the thrill of life — you don’t know what’s to come or who you’ll be at 60. But suppose you are the things you hope to be no matter what cards you’re dealt.
You would be a pretty darn amazing 60-year-old.
The guesswork in this letter comes from the many 60-odd-year-olds I have met along the way: some of them inspiring and others downright painful. I have picked up clues from my folks and their mates, the lives of my mates’ folks, guests I’ve served and complete strangers. It’s a fairly diverse sample of people but it’s certain enough to give me a few ideas on how to age.
- Don’t be bitter with your life path for it’s a path you and only you chose. Don’t ever lay blame on others (loved ones, God, ex-colleagues, whoever) for the choices that you made along the way. You had the choice to stay, leave, learn, forget, forgive, live, say and act. By blaming others, you become a victim of circumstance rather than a purveyor of choice.
- Put love before money and memories before things when you measure your success. I often wonder how wealthy the 60-year-old me will be in comparison to how happy the 60-year-old me will be. One thing I pray is that beyond wealth, I will know the joy in life’s real successes: happiness, love, family, time and health.
- Hear younger people, take an interest in their lives and ask them questions about their adventures. Make it about them and not about you. You’ve lived already; your story’s old hat. They’re the exciting, next generation, they’re still bumping their heads and writing their stories. Don’t interrupt them in their playful journey by expecting them to be interested in your already-forged, world-view. In any case, there’s probably a thing or two to be learned from people younger than you.
- Following from this, let go of your children. Let them run free and live their lives away from the apron strings. No one ever liked a meddling or interfering parent who — out of boredom or dissatisfaction with their own lives — gets overly involved. Balance your involvement but maintain the strong sense of family and togetherness without the toxicity.
- Don’t use this time as an excuse to slow down, watch more television and forget what it means to keep active. The best 60-year-olds are the ones who still have the energy to live. And of course a sedentary lifestyle will make you wilt. So keep moving: cut the lawn, paint the kitchen, walk the dogs and clean out your cupboards. And if you’re up to it, cycle races and climb mountains and swim rivers. Don’t become a prisoner in your own body because you’ve neglected your health over the years and it’s now too late to fix.
- Maintain stimulating friendships and don’t sink into solitude. I don’t think people plan to be old and lonely and yet so many turn out that way. Be a person you would want to hang out with, debate interesting things, keep thinking, have a sense of humour and be interesting. Don’t push people away because you’re 60, completely uninteresting and an emotional drain.
- At 60-years-old, your childhood is no longer an excuse. Read, rediscover and reinvent who you are rather than using a lifetime-ago childhood as an excuse for bad behaviour. We are never too old to change or grow. Our life’s work should be to constantly improve on our younger self.
- Don’t live in the past or drag people into yours. The past is one of the best teachers we will ever have but it’s also the greatest waste of now. Appreciate today for what it is and get on with the now.
- Forget the small stuff –– small fights, nitpicking and nagging. Chill out, stay even-tempered and have a good time.
“It has done me good to be somewhat parched by the heat and drenched by the rain of life,” said poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
One life. Make it count.
Your 26-year-old self