Yesterday I turned 40. I’m not sure what it was supposed to feel like, but mostly I find myself wondering why I don’t feel very different than I did in my late 20’s. Aren’t I supposed to be having some kind of mid-life crisis? I’m glad I’m not, but it did make me wonder about what, if anything, has changed over the years. And then I realized the biggest difference.
Worry. Or rather, lack thereof.
When I was younger, I worried so much. About what I should be eating, if anyone would see me eat something I “shouldn’t” have, what other people thought of me, how they might perceive and judge me based on my appearance. I worried about doing things wrong, and even doing things right didn’t always help because I set myself up for more pressure because then I had to keep it up.
I have to say, it was pretty exhausting. But more than that, it wasn’t very productive.
I started thinking about this recently when watching the movie Bridge of Spies. In it, a spy is captured by Americans and put on trial, and his lawyer keeps asking if the spy is worried about his fate. Every time, the spy wonders if worrying would help.
Although I’m not completely worry-free, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to distinguish more between those things out of my control – which aren’t helped at all by being anxious – and those things I can take action on and alleviate some of my concern. And by and large, I’ve realized that how other people perceive and judge me is out of my control.
This isn’t to say that I plan on behaving badly because I don’t care what other people think. Rather, beyond being as polite and kind as I can be based on circumstances, I can let go of worrying about what other people will think. The main key to this is remembering that, the vast majority of the time, it’s not about me at all – people’s responses to my behaviors are much more about them and their own issues.
If I could send a message back to my younger self, that’s probably what it would be. I don’t know if she would have understood, or if this is something that can only come with experience. Since I don’t have a time machine or anything like that, it’s a moot point. But I will say that I appreciate this particular gift of age, and I look forward to more years and more opportunity for learning.