How we live: Notes to my older self

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Remember when it was fashionable to write a letter to your younger self?

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The idea was to share pearls of wisdom with your anxious, unformed self (now safely in the past) from the vantage point of the older, wiser you. Some of the advice typically included things such as be grateful for all that you have. Be kind. Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff.

It was a popular exercise for college and creative writing classes, and there was even a book on the topic, What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, published in 2006. One example from it came from mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, who wryly told her 20-year-old self: “Your hair matters far, far less than you think.” (Not sure I fully agree.)

In light of a recent 60-something birthday, I decided to flip the concept on its head. Instead, I thought, why not write notes to my older self at, say, age 85, should I be so lucky to live that long.

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Here, in no particular order, are the things I want my elder self to keep in mind heading into the wild blue yonder.

Dear Older Self:

Adventure is excellent. It juices the brain, unlocks you from your comfy routine and helps hone your working edge. Travel is pure oxygen for mind and soul and you want great gulps of it to stay sharp. But it’s expensive and fraud, given the pandemic. So, broaden your horizons locally by shopping at that interested market, seeking out a new café, bar or eatery or joining a club. Take up a musical instrument. Make time for art, live music, dance and theater. Go camping.

Respect your aging body. Your reaction time and tolerance for discomfort and things going sideways have changed. So, yes, push yourself to find your working edge, but try not to bite off more than you can chew on that bike ride, hike or (gulp) horseback ride. (Remember the one that left you bruised and with a new respect for Mexican ponies beating it back to el rancho?)

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Factor in an animal. Having a dog or cat, or even just borrowing one, enriches your life. Consider fostering a pet or volunteering at a shelter.

Pay attention. Notice your surroundings and the people around you. Avoid dallying in the passing lane or blocking the grocery store aisle, wrapped up in examining a label. Note: This could be an all-ages admonishment as self-absorption reaches epidemic proportions.

Be nice to your aging body. Touch is essential so take it for massages, pedicures and haircuts. Buy new or new-to-you clothes from time to time, ones that fit your changing shape. Ditto for underthings. In a similar vein, pay attention to your personal grooming as your sense and senses fade.

Avoid eating crap. Have some protein with every meal and snack. Eat across the rainbow. Picnic or dine al fresco whenever possible.

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Illness, pain and suffering are part of the human condition. Humor will pull you through. Try not to talk only of your increasing health concerns, as fascinating as they are. You are more than your aches and pains. And, despite your very best efforts, should you wind up in a care home, be kind, amusing and engaging with your caregivers and fellow residents.

Listen more than you talk. By the same token, limit the amount of unsolicited advice you give. Stay on your own side of the street (this one is courtesy of aggrieved adult children everywhere). You will have to bite your tongue, often. Keep in mind that what was good for your generation may no longer apply.

Stay engaged. Do whatever it takes to give you a charge and stoke your brain, be it paid work, reading, painting, writing or playing cards and other brain teasers. Reach out to others. Volunteer. Help a neighbour. Donate. Learn something new.

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Move your body. Walk, swim, paddle, ski, hike, do weights and bicycle for as long as you can. It may not be as far or as fast as once upon a time but you’re doing it! Embrace new forms of exercise — chair yoga, tai chi, water aerobics — as you go.

Understand independence. Even though you’re increasingly the center of your universe, as you age your seeming independence may in fact be crushing your loved ones’ independence. Know when it’s time to get paid help, move to a smaller place or sign up for a greater level of care.

Bitchiness, black moods and depression will happen. Know which things – nature, a walk with a friend, yoga and meditation – can help pull you out of a spiral. Open the blinds and let the sun shine in! Life’s low points are inevitable but if you can’t see your way clear, seek professional help.

Limit intolerance. And check your impatience, dammit.

Friendship is the staff of life. Nurture your friends with all you’ve got and try to make some new ones. Be kind to your loved ones. Spend time with young people, children and other species (see animals). They know where to find the joy.

Be in nature. Tend your indoor plant babies. Get your hands dirty outdoors. Sit by a river or creek. Pat a tree. Keep fighting for the planet; it’s extraordinary and so, frankly, is getting to live to a ripe old age.

– Love, Your Younger Self

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