Wisdom//

I Just Turned 55 — Here Are 10 Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned a Decade Ago

"Dream big and let yourself fail."

Courtesy of  Wachiraphorn / Getty Images 

By Laura McCamy

  • Life lessons come in many shapes and sizes, and often are learned the hard way.
  • The older I get, the more willing I am to take risks. I wish I’d become willing to do that sooner.
  • At age 55, here are 10 life lessons I wish I’d learned earlier in life.

Looking back on my 55 years, I wish the past me hadn’t assumed the future me would be rich. I would have saved more.

Among the other lessons I’ve learned: A good haircut and a nice pair of shoes show that you take yourself seriously — and others should, too.

I try not to look back with regret, but here are some things I wish I’d known a decade ago.

Take time to pay attention to your health.

I had asked a doctor once or twice for help with chronic digestive problems, but they were stumped, so I dropped it. It wasn’t until I committed to spend whatever time it took to find the cause that I discovered I had a gluten intolerance, which probably started in childhood.

My health is immeasurably better since I gave up wheat, barley, and rye. And I learned the value of spending time on my health. 

Be intimidating.

I used to sit on my successes, so I didn’t seem full of myself. But I’ve realized that, if I want to advance my career, I’m the best person to testify to my own greatness.

I don’t suggest being boastful or rude, but you should celebrate your accomplishments large and small.

No more bad hair days.

Your hair is one of the first things people notice about you. Since I sought out a stylist who understands my hair, I have something I once thought was impossible: good hair every day.

Dream big and let yourself fail.

Ten years ago, I was scared I might find out I wasn’t good enough to be a professional writer. It wasn’t until I accepted that I might fall flat on my face that I was ready get serious about my writing.

I wish I had taken that risk sooner. Instead, I waited until I left a secure job to figure out my writing life — the career equivalent of throwing someone off the boat so they can learn to swim.

Take a vacation that has nothing to do with work or family.

For many years, my vacations all revolved around work or visits to family members.

I recently took my first real vacation in decades: fun destination, no work obligations, no family, no to-do list. It was delightful (and addictive — I’m planning more trips like this in the future).

If you’re part of the 52% of Americans who left PTO days unused last year — or someone who doesn’t really get away from it all — book some tickets to somewhere very far from your everyday life right now.

You’re probably not going to strike it rich.

A recent interview I did with a certified financial planner opened my eyes to the power of compounding savings. If I had invested just $100 a month starting ten years ago, I could have almost $17,000 in my bank account now.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to start saving.

Do something you’re terrible at.

I spent most of my college years focused on required classes for my English major. I missed out on subjects like history, biology, and art history that would have enriched my life, even if they might have hurt my grades.

Now I embrace things that don’t come easily to me. I bought an accordion and taught myself to play. I’m terrible, but it’s great fun (for me — not for my neighbors).

It’s humbling to pursue a hobby I’m bad at, but there are cognitive benefits to learning new skills.

Wear great boots.

After a lifetime of frugal shoe purchases, I splurged on a pair of designer boots. It was the best purchase I’ve ever made. They have lasted much longer than less expensive shoes and they make me look arty and professional at the same time.

Never underestimate the power of an awesome pair of shoes.

Do a favor you don’t want to do.

I’m not a natural caretaker — I’d make a terrible nurse. But I took a turn caring for my mother-in-law when she was dying of cancer, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

I learned I have the capacity to do things I thought I couldn’t. And I got precious time with someone I loved.

Say yes more than you say no.

I’m an introvert, so my default answer to invitations has usually been no. But, no matter how tired or busy I was, being a couch potato wasn’t serving me well.

I often regret saying no, but I rarely regret the adventures I say yes to. Saying yes recently got me to The Moth for the first time (big fun) and to a fabulous bike ride along a river trail. Who knows where “yes” might take me next.

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