5 Truths About Aging I Wish I Knew When I Was in My 30s
For most of my career, I was eager to be transparent about my age because as a woman who is short and had a baby face, I wanted to make sure people knew how very experienced I actually was.
Later, I still was very upfront about my age because I knew I looked younger than how people imagined that age to look—plus, I wanted to normalize that age was nothing to hide, especially for women.
I’m still super upfront about my age (57) but at some point, the worm turned, and I realized I wasn’t quite as thrilled to say it out loud as I used to be.
Today, though, I am going to shake it off and tell you five things I wish today-me could go back and tell 30-something me about getting older.
1. Start using sunscreen and drinking lots of water NOW; your skin will thank you!
Maybe you already have a locked and loaded skincare routine, but I assure you that 30-something me did not. 30-something me went to bed with make-up on. 30-something me could not have told you about my pore size, nor tell you what vitamins belonged on your skin, not just in your food.
However, 30-something me was very good at two things that ended up saving my skin: I avoided the sun and I drank lots and lots of water.
Today, I apply sunscreen to my face (and hands) every single day. I can’t claim I was so consistent 20 years ago, but I did avoid sun damage in other ways … always finding the shady spot, hats, sunglasses, even long sleeves, and cover-up wraps.
Combined with how dedicated I was to stay hydrated (pro-tip: drink water!), I entirely credit that ingrained behavior with my relatively youthful glow today. (The skincare routine I now follow to maintain that is a whole other story!)
2. Your time, energy, and attention are finite resources. Conserve them!
30-something me didn’t think much about saying “yes” to a lot more than 50-something me does today. Social events, favors, work requests, pro bono requests, “pick your brain” requests and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always go to everything I RSVP’d "yes" to, but that brought its own problems with it, namely the guilt I felt if I was a no-show. In general, one of the life lessons I know now is that an over-committed life is an overwhelmed life and an over-burdened life, and when I got a little older I realized that wearing myself out mentally and physically to try to do all the things and be all the things for all the people was a losing game.
Like a hamster on a wheel, I was never going to reach some destination of feeling like I was enough. If I had to wear myself out to feel like I was enough, that was on me, and no amount of making other people happy was going to fix it.
3. Stop waiting for people to treat you better than they did in the very beginning.
One of my favorite jokes is about a man who dies and is offered a tour of both heaven and hell, so he can decide where he wants to go. Hell does a bang-up job marketing itself as much more fun and dynamic destination with free-flowing liquor and dancing girls and the whole nine hedonistic yards. Ultimately to his own surprise, he chooses to go to hell.
Of course, when he shows up, none of the best stuff from the tour is anywhere to be found; it's replaced with, well, fire and brimstone. When the man protests, the devil simply says, “Oh, yesterday you were a prospect. Today you’re a customer.”
The moral of that story is that when you see a red flag (or more likely feel it somewhere in your gut), respect that feeling! This goes for job interviewing and it goes for dating, too. People are most consciously on their best behavior when they’re aware that, in a way, they’re auditioning. When they’re trying to recruit you or attract you.
If you don’t get a good feeling from their best behavior, where else is it going to go but down? I’m not saying bonds can’t grow stronger over time. I’m not saying relationships can’t evolve for the better. But just remember, the way they treat you as a prospect is them doing their level best to impress you. It should be, well, impressive.
4. Perimenopause is a really weird thing about aging that no one talks about!
I don’t know about you, younger folx, but I imagined menopause happening something like this: My periods would fade away, I’d get some hot flashes, and BOOM, welcome to menopause.
That has not been my experience, and the more I discuss it with other people, the more I know I’m not the only one. Perimenopause is a whole thing, and it can be different for everyone. If things start to get wacky with your period, with your skin, with your moods and/or temper, with your energy level, with your sex drive, with your hair, with basically anything, and you’re 40-ish or older? Look up perimenopause.
Bottom line: You’re not losing your mind, but your body’s hormones are wigging out, and it can affect you in countless ways you might not even associate with aging or menopause.
5. People aren’t looking at, thinking about, or psychoanalyzing you with the rigor and criticism that you’re looking at, thinking about, and psychoanalyzing yourself!
Perhaps my number-one piece of advice is to realize that, to quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Every single person … is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own.”
The people you think are noticing your body in its bathing suit are worried about their own. (Or if they’re totally well-adjusted, they’re enjoying the fresh air and ocean waves and bright sun because that’s why they’re there … not to analyze the bodies of people around them!)
The people you’re obsessively trying to mindread so you can figure out their thoughts about you probably don’t have any at any given moment … because they’re probably just wondering what people are thinking about them!
Nobody but you remembers that gaffe you made in high school. Nobody but you gets really worked up that you didn’t remember their name that one time. Nobody saw you trip, and if they did, they probably just hope you’re OK.
So many people say they would never want to go back and relive their youth, even though, as they say, youth is wasted on the young.
I hope I’ve revealed some of the wisdom gained that will help make sure your youth isn’t wasted on you!
Elisa Camahort Page is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, best known for co-founding BlogHer. She’s the host of The Op-Ed Page podcast and This Week-ish newsletter, and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. Learn more at elisacp.com.