Have you noticed how the years seem to be speeding by faster and faster?
A friend recently asked me to write about age anxiety.
I guess he thought I had some first hand experience, being 43 years old and all.
Well, I don’t.
I’ve always liked every new year better than the last and I’ve never felt the years speeding by faster and faster.
If anything, I kind of feel the opposite. My girlfriend feels the same.
The other day, e.g., we realized it’s only been a year since we got back from Jamaica. Between then and now we adopted a dog, I retired, snowboarded naked, we had an epic vacation in Champagne and Paris, I spent 10 decadent days in Ibiza, sold my Lamborghini. I also wrote a book and appeared drunk on national television with a rhubarb umbrella, among other things… It feels like several years have past since last January.
Only losers suffer from age anxiety
I have a hypothesis though. I think age anxiety stems not from age or (lack of) absolute success, but from not reaching one’s potential, from feeling left behind, from not making it and from feeling too old to start now. In short, age anxiety is for losers that never dared live (and still don’t).
Just note that there is nothing wrong with being a loser (albeit a bit sad) – and there is definitely no reason to be picking on one. That would only put you in the same camp..
It’s never to late to make amends. Novelty and Happiness are always options.
Waking up with a sub-par life
Here is what seems to be the problem: At a certain age (like turning 30, 40 or 50) you ‘wake up’, take stock of your life, and get a feeling of being sub-par, absolutely or relatively, in terms of:
- your income and wealth
- your experiences (travel, adventure etc.)
- your body
- your partner and family (or lack thereof)
- relative others (however, only truly tragic individuals base their own quality of life on what others have. Feel free to pick on these guys any day of the week)
- FOMO (fear of missing out on the good stuff in life – oh yes, you will miss out alright if you keep fearing missing out. If such a little thing instills fear in you, you’ll never dare to live)
- being too late to the game (whatever the ‘game’ might be)
You’re a loser because you compete
Typically, you realize you never fulfilled your own ambitions, or that you are doing worse than your neighbor, friend, colleague or some random celebrity. In addition you feel time slipping through your fingers and that you’re too old to change tack. You feel you can’t get a divorce, can’t move, can’t start your own company – not least due to your too high debts that need to be serviced.
The reason for ending up with age anxiety is that you lived an ordinary life of wage and debt slavery, trying to keep up with the Joneses, just doing what everybody else did, while trying to impress everybody but yourself.
The best way to ensure age anxiety is to walk in line with the herd, get a student loan, an unrelated job, a mortgage, a car loan and then mindlessly consume media that tells you to borrow more to buy even more stuff and travel packages you don’t really want or need.
If you on the other hand pay attention to what you really like and want – and then go after exactly that, constantly filling your days with new experiences, with joy, sadness and fear, you’ll never feel too old or like you didn’t reach your potential.
The trick is to know yourself, know what you want, and stop competing with irrelevant people. And, of course, you need to actually reach for your goals. No matter if you succeed or fail, you at least tried.
It’s the doing (trying) that cures the anxiety.
Two ways of building an age anxiety free life
I. Cut the clutter and make some ‘marks’
Right size your life step by step. Question one asset and habit after the other, and ask yourself whether it is for you or for somebody else.
Write down what’s dragging you down, what you want to change, then just get to it right away. Loans. Duties. Commute. Tuition fees. Parking. Gas. Fitness. Then cut.
The act in itself will be an important milestone in your life, maintaining a feeling of being active and alive for many years. At least start exercising today – this instant.
Do you live where you want to live? Do you work where you want to work? Do you drive the car you want to drive? Do you need a car at all? Do you travel where you want to travel? Does watching the news, movies and TV-series make you happy?
Can you quit your job and spend your life the way you really want to, if you get rid of the car(s), of the extra living space, of unnecessary consumption and pay back your loans (talk to the bank today)?
I’m not saying you should downsize. Perhaps you should get a more expensive car, a second home…
I’m just saying you should question why you have what you have. Is it really for you? Maybe you should start a company, work harder and smarter and make more money. That’s not for me to say, but if you have age anxiety you clearly are doing something wrong.
In addition to cutting, also make a ‘mark’. Any mark will do, such as learn something new, do something that frightens you, visit a new place, talk to a stranger, pay attention to something ordinary (the sound of biting into an apple). Help somebody. Make/build something.
- start fasting, walking/running and making burpees and pull-ups today if you want to get fit. Start eating or cooking if you feel you have missed out on good food.
- start dating, talking to strangers, take up hobbies and group activities, learn to dance (scary, fun, lateral, physical and good for partnering). Or get a divorce. It’s never too late. Nor too early…
Bigger marks are even better – anything that takes considerable effort and or lead to some kind of personal success (or lesson), or an actual mark in the physical world or the history books:
- Write a book (start now)
- Start a company (if you still want, need, the money). Work hard for some months or years – not for others, for you, because it feels good, fulfilling, like you’re in control.
- Climb a mountain
A few years is nothing to invest in the big scheme of things. Looking back on your failed or successful endeavor will make you feel like you lived, you tried, you spread your wings instead of just staying in the nest like a crippled bird.
II. Build from the bottom up
This is much harder than cutting, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but here goes: Try to imagine your perfect situation and go there as directly as possible.
Do you like reading books somewhere with a sea view? Get a Kindle, move your body to a sea horizon and just sit down. It really is that simple.
The hard part is knowing yourself, truly knowing your own desires without having tried a lot of different things first (living laterally).
Understand that there is absolutely no reason to fret over time passed:
You never made it big? Never got rich? Get over it, money is not that important (and you can start earning it now, if it is).
Sure, money is fun and useful. Status and fame too. I would never give it back. Those things buy leisure and contentment and provide a nice and stable base, but they don’t guarantee happiness or cure boredom. Popping champagne alone or driving around town in your Lamborghini with the top down isn’t happiness. You still have to make real ‘marks’ – hopefully you made some big ones earning the money (as opposed to inheriting it).
You can’t do anything about your current age, but you can always inoculate against future anxiety.
Summary – DO THIS TO CURE AGE ANXIETY
No matter if you already feel left behind, too old, out of time, or if you want to avoid that dreadful fate in the future, do this:
Stop living through others and for others. That might mean stop reading this blog.
It definitely means stop comparing your life with other people. Go ahead and use others for inspiration, but not as benchmarks. Only buy things for you, for a direct purpose, not for showing off. Buy clothes you like to wear, comfortable furniture, practical means of transportation etc.
What would Batman do? Do you think Batman would stage his house to impress a guest? Do you think he would buy clothes or a Lamborghini to be admired (like I did)? He might do it as a smokescreen or to intimidate, i.e. for a clear purpose (other than collecting envious looks from strangers), but not for showing off in itself.
Introduce novelty as often as possible. Walk different routes, try new activities. Hunt for laughs and fear. Learn new skills. Surprises and novelty make life seem fuller and longer (Brain Science Pod Cast by Dr Campbell, NPR TED Radio Hour, among others).
Be your own master. Don’t get a college education ‘just because‘. Don’t buy a house. Don’t get a mortgage. Don’t get a boring job. Learn what you want to learn. Do what you want to do.
Food and shelter is all you really need. What you want and what you want to pay for that is up to you. Just don’t waste time and effort on the eyeballs of strangers.
There is no point in throwing your life away on doing the same thing millions others do and then end up with age anxiety and eventually die full of regret.
Yes, as in this instant.
Do you want to get in shape physically? Drop down and do 10 burpees now. There you go, you have taken your first step toward a better body. Then get out and walk around the block. Done! Your first exercise session. Increase the load slightly every day and sooner or later you’ll be athletic.
Burpees, pull-ups and walking/jogging can take you a really long way. If you want more, you can check out my bar-bell exercise regime here.
Do you want a partner? Go out now and strike up a conversation with every stranger you see. Or take up a hobby and talk to people that are interested in the same things you are. Put out feelers among your friends, in your social networks online, look for interesting people, not models. Whatever you do, get off that couch, turn off the TV or internet and get out and meet real people (online is fine too of course – I’m not a luddite).
Do you want to stop the years from rushing by? Do something scary, something that sets down a big milestone between the years.
Get a divorce, move to a different city, adopt a rescue dog, sell your house, start a company, exert yourself until you throw up, write a book on your favorite topic. Start now, spend five hours right away researching and outlining your book or actually writing the first chapter.
And here is something REALLY SCARY: A Reddit tale by 46 year old banker John from Australia who says he recently woke up, realizing he had wasted his whole life on a 9-7 job.
Batman doesn’t suffer from age anxiety
I don’t either.
It’s because we live real lives, our own lives, not somebody else’s. We explore, invest, take risk and reach, and we do it for ourselves, because we truly, deeply, madly want to, not as an act before an audience of inconsequential strangers.
Read my book, then write a better one
How about that burpee now? Or Khan? Or starting on your book?
Try reading mine first if you haven’t already. It’s free for subscribers to my newsletter.
By the way, do you think Batman lies about his age? Do you think he blames anything he did on being young and dumb?