At 27, I lived in London and listened to podcasts all the time on my daily three hours of commute. I listened to podcasts like “The Tim Ferriss Show”, featuring high achievers, who seemed to have conquered the world, often at a young age.
Me too, I had so many hopes and dreams. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to create my own business, travel the world, buy an apartment, be successful. And yet, there I was: a 27 year old wasting her life away on metro rides, packed like a sardine against sweaty people, day in, day out.
I was running out of time.
I Thought I Would Be Dead By 40…
Sometimes, I believed I would be physically dead. Other times, I would just imagine my life so boring by then that it would be as if I was dead anyway. In my 27-year-old mind, life finished at 40.
At that age, people are buried in unhappy marriages, with a couple of kids who drain all their time, energy, and money. The only exciting thing happening in their lives is a holiday once a year somewhere by the beach, if they are lucky. I dreaded a life like that. And yet, I thought it was inevitable.
So, if that was going to be my life in 13 years, I needed to reach all my goals fast. I needed to live before dying. I needed to experience as much as I could in the time I had left.
“One fast move or I’m gone”
— Ben Gibbard
But at 30, I Didn’t Have Only 10 Years Left
As you’d expect, three years later, I turned 30. But, against what you’d expect, I didn’t panic. I didn’t feel like I had only 10 years left to live. Actually, I felt better than ever before: in control of my life, certain of who I was and what I wanted. And, better, I could imagine my life past 40!
As you get older, you see older people as younger. My grandad is 90 and he still mentions his friends as “that young guy”. You know, that 87 year-young guy. Age is relative.
And so is your frame of mind. The thing is, when you’re 20 you look at 40-year-olds and you despise them. They seem boring and grey and their lives have no excitement at all. Most of them don’t party, don’t get wasted on the weekend, don’t go to festivals, don’t backpack, don’t live fast.
Yet, they are probably happy. They are happy doing the things they never imagined could make them happy when they were 20. Taking the time to prepare a nice meal for their loved ones, teaching a puppy, watching a child grow.
Your interests, your priorities, and your desires realign as you move along life. You feel yourself changing. And, contrary to what I believed when I was 27, witnessing that change is not scary or sad: it is beautiful. It is what keeps life interesting. And the sooner you accept it, the sooner you will fit in your own shoes, and start walking on a happy path.
And I Realized My Life Is What I Make Of It
I am not sure why I had that image in my head of how life looks like at 40. Maybe it is what I saw around me, maybe it is how most people’s lives in the Portuguese countryside looked like when I was growing up. But I don’t even live in Portugal anymore and, good news, it’s not the 90s either.
At 22, my mom was married to my dad, had given birth to me, and had a family house to take care of.
At 22, I moved abroad for the first time and lived in Paris for 3 months, on my own. Now, at 32, I am single, I have no kids, no responsibilities, and I live life in my own terms. I travel, I experience as much as I can, I moved to 4 countries and I changed careers a couple of times. I am far from being dead. I still have that business to build and most of the world to discover but I also have plenty of time to do all that.
And I realized that what I feared was not getting old; it was having a life that didn’t please me. I can be incredibly old and incredibly happy. It’s not one or the other. As I can be young and miserable. Life is what I make of it, not what my age dictates for me.
You Might Still Die Next Year
But what if I was right, to begin with? What if I really die at 40? Or at 35? I don’t know. You don’t know either. Nobody knows when they will die.
So, we should probably live accordingly. We should work towards our goals now instead of lying on the couch all day. We should have plans for the next few years. We should cross those items off our bucket lists. We should go on that trip. We should build that business. We should have that kid if that is what we want.
But we should find the balance between living fast and living sweetly. Between working like crazy and taking time to enjoy the little things. Between saving for retirement and going on a trip to our dream destination. Between worrying that we are running our of time and enjoying the time we do have.
We should live like we are going to die. Because we are.