Today I have a milestone birthday.

Today I turn 40.

It’s a been a hard number to wrap my brain around. I’ve been so focused on being okay with this number that there were days where I forgot to be 39. I needed to remind myself that I wasn’t there yet, that it was silly to be freaked out by something that wasn’t even real yet.

Deep down, I still feel like a kid.  I’m sure I felt something similar when I turned 20.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I’ve learned over these last couple of decades, what wisdom I wish I’d possessed when I turned 20. What would I tell my younger self about life? I realized that the great thing about getting older is that while physical things change, the wisdom you’ve gained over the years makes life more fun.

So, with that in mind and in no particular order, here are the 20 pieces of advice I would give to my 20-year-old self to make the journey a lot easier:

  1. Get a good neck cream. Mom will constantly worry about the turkey neck that runs in our family. This will make you paranoid if you don’t take action. Maybe you should heed her advice now.
  2. Understand the meaning of work-life balance. Work will multiply and permeate every crevice of your life like mint in a garden, if you let it. But work will not bring you chicken soup when you are sick or stand on the long line with you at Momofuku Milk Bar & Bakery when you crave Crack Pie or cuddle with you on the couch on a Saturday night while you watch Suze Orman yell at people. Make sure you have a life.
  3. Take good care of your health. This will alleviate the need to have the conversation during your physical which ends with the doctor saying, “Ummm…okaaaay…you need to get a life!” See #2.
  4. Rethink your non-existent dating strategy. See #3. The doctor means well; she doesn’t want you to end up lonely.
  5. Food has always brought you joy – don’t ever become afraid of it. Please. There will be neurotic people all around you, counting every calorie, including the ones you are eating. They will be afraid of real butter, real sugar, the food coloring in your beloved rainbow sprinkles and, oddly, cantaloupe. They will tempt you to be neurotic too. Don’t do it.
  6. It will be easy to lose who you are in other people – friends, family, men – but resist at all costs. Be who you are, no matter what they say or how cute they look.
  7. Remember to laugh when construction workers whistle at you on the street. It’s easy to be annoyed by them, but you should revel in the fact that people find you attractive.
  8. Don’t sweat the bad haircut. It’s hair and it will grow back. And you will have a compassionate friend at work who will listen to you talk incessantly about how much you hate it over the following months and tell you each time that you look great. Act as if she were right and move on.
  9. Take the leap and move to New York. It will change your life. And Al Pacino, the hero of your adolescence, will be your first celebrity sighting.
  10. Spend lots of time talking to your parents. Ask them questions about what life was like when they were growing up. They are really cool people.
  11. Corporate America is everything you thought it would be…and so much worse. Be brave, hold true to your dreams and find a way to live the creative life you always dreamed of.
  12. Trust your instincts. Listen to them. Act on them. They will prevent you from inviting people into your life who don’t serve you well and from doing things everyone else thinks you should do.
  13. State your case and own your opinions. Bosses and co-workers will mistakenly think that because you are nice you don’t have a backbone. Having an opinion and arguing passionately in favor of it may make things messy and uncomfortable at times, but you will be able to look yourself in the mirror knowing that you did your job to the best of your ability.
  14. Don’t hesitate before buying the Diane von Furstenburg dress. Wear it more often than you think practical. And work it.
  15. Remember that love is the answer, whether it worked out or not.
  16. Get a Christmas tree, no matter how small your apartment is. It won’t feel like the holidays if you don’t.
  17. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  Just. Don’t. Watch.  Save yourself while you can.
  18. Pay attention. It’s the little things in life that will bring you joy: the scent of hyacinths wafting through midtown Manhattan in the spring, the enormity of the full moon rising over the river, the way your nephew looks at you when you tuck him into bed.  Be in awe of the world around you.
  19. You are worthy of the best.
  20. You rock. Never forget that.

The view from 40 is looking pretty good.  I’m embracing it and intending to make great things happen.

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