I Got Wise: Four Things I learned at 40

I Got Wise: Four Things I learned at 40

Watching the world go by at the Seine. Photo by Brian Carroll

Watching the world go by at the Seine. Photo by Brian Carroll

Last year I had a complete birthday freak-out. Not at turning 39, at the fact I was nipping the heels of 40. It seemed like a checkpoint… A time when I should have had life all sorted, achieved everything I ever said I wanted, been a wise, bullet-proof grown up. Frankly I felt disappointed with myself.

Up until that point I'd had this vague, naïve idea that life was something that would happen in the future… But by age 39 it was a hard slap in the face that, actually honey, life is now and you’re living it.

Well it seems that just maybe I did do some growing up in the last year because this birthday I chilled the f out and noticed that I knew some stuff that I didn’t know last year…

I’ll spare you a list of 40, but here's four:

1. Stop being so fucking hard on yourself...

Last year I was in tears basically because I was telling myself I was an old, unaccomplished mess-up. Aren’t internal monologues cruel; is it any wonder most of us struggle with self-esteem from time to time?

This year that bitchy inner voice was not invited. Instead I honestly found the wherewithal to feel happy and acknowledging of all the many really cool things in my sphere. 

Instead of feeling deflated and overwhelmed by my expectations of myself, my brow was furrowed with determination. A bring it on sort of a mood.

I guess life truly does start at 40 if that’s when we stop being so fucking hard on ourselves!

2. Life just sucks sometimes...

Courses, books, workshops, retreats, podcasts, ebooks and 12 step programs on how to create your perfect life and manifesting anything your heart desires, abound. There’s some great wisdom out there, no doubt about it, and I definitely believe in personal accountability and the power of positive thinking, but…

Shitty, challenging moments are coming at us whether we like it or not. And that’s a fact. Just like the weather; some days sunny, some days rainy, some days stormy.

Tenzin Palmo (who describes herself as that Buddhist nun who got famous for sitting in a cave for a really long time) says the problem with life is that we believe there should be no problems… She says that problems are solutions waiting to happen.

Tenzin Palmo

Tenzin Palmo

The Rolling Stones got it right too:

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need!
Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger

3. Talk less, listen more...

My school report card would often include a variation of: “Leonie is a bright student who needs to talk less and listen more.”

And I know for a fact that when my man reads this he will be punching the air and crying with happiness that I’ve actually put this in writing.

Yes my big mouth has definitely landed me in a pickle many times over, but being chatty isn’t all bad…

I believe it’s a great quality for writers… Take for example the difference between my little sister and I… If you ask her how her day was she’ll say something like ‘good’.

Her pragmatic, grounded approach to life has made her into a rather incredible nurse. If there’s a crisis, you’re bleeding to death, your internal organs are dangling out of your abdominal cavity – call my sister. She’ll calmly stuff your intestines back in, sew you up and make you feel completely calm and that she has everything handled.

Definitely don’t call me… But if you want someone to write your biography I’m your woman. I’ll question you until you regret calling me, and write about it in all its sordid, intimate detail.  

However, when it comes to life, the getting of wisdom and peaceful relationships, learning to shut up once in a while can be hugely beneficial.

I believe there are three types of people in the world: The first type love conflict (I’d say this is the smallest group.) The second loathe it and do whatever they can to avoid it. The third group also can’t stand it, but attempt to resolve it by diving headlong into it.

This is the group I belong to. If there is conflict, I will push headlong into it. Not because I like it or want to fuel the fire, but because I can’t stand it and want it to be gone asap.

Learning to stay quiet and observe the world once in a while, without feeling the need to react or interact has been a revelation.

There are those of you in the world whose challenge it is to stand up for yourself, express your feelings, learn to open up so that you can connect with the human race. Then there are those of us who benefit from shutting our gobs once in a while.

To my surprise I’m enjoying the peace and stillness… And I’m still writing stories.

And now for my last and most profound piece of wisdom…

4. Smooth, crack-free heels are totally possible

I’m a heel stalker… If you’re walking in front of me and I can see your heels, know that I’m checking them out.


If you’ve got smooth, pink, crack-free heels I’m jealous, and quite honestly mystified. My heels always seem to look like an eroded mountainside.

On the occasion of turning 40 I thought, dang it I’m going to have a pedicure. It was strange, but awesome strange.

I’d always looked at those manicure salons with the rows of massage chairs and foot baths and thought it seemed a bit gross to pay someone to rasp off your dead skin and clip back your cuticles.

But then there’s colonics… So I guess pedicures aren’t so gross afterall.

I was a little nervous and out of my depth as I booked my pedicure, and initially uncomfortable sitting in the big chair with someone at my feet. I looked around mystified that no one else seemed to batter an eyelid.

It was an experience, that's for sure. I did plenty of staring. (Anyone who know's me well, knows this is a really bad habit of mine.) And yes I did get sprung more than once.

I've got a lot of thoughts about the whole experience, but maybe a story for some other time.

For now, I'll just say that I walked out of that place with lovely shiny red toenails, and....


Smooth, pink, crack-free heels!

A little bit older, a little bit wiser…

Each ride around the sun may play havoc with our crow’s feet and heels, but the very cool tradeoff is that we get a little bit wiser with each circuit.

We learn to be kinder to ourselves, to not care so much what other people think and get better at recognizing the things that really matter. We dive deeper into our experience of life, love and the general mystery of it all.

Let’s face it, we become more interesting.

Also published by Elephant Journal and Rebelle Society.

Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marcomms consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. When she's not head down with this, she's teaching yoga, creating floral artworks, running a Harvest Swap and adoring two spirited sons... Get in touch by emailfacebook or subscribe to her weekly blog.

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