I was going to title this piece Things I wish I’d known when I was 20. Then I realized the same wisdom applies at age 30, 60 or at any point in our lives. Knowledge is knowledge. It’s all about whether you absorb it and make it work for you. I wish someone had told me these things (and I’d actually taken it heart) when I was 20. So, Gen Xers, Y’s and Millennials, this is for you. Here are some things I’ve learned for sure along the road of life:
- Things dry up as we get older—skin, nails, eyes, vaginas—all our body parts. Appreciate your dewiness while you still have it. It won’t last. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry—to keep us lubricated and functioning.
- Your hair is the best it will ever be. As we get older, our hair thins, loses its shine and is never as luxurious and abundant as it was when we were twenty. That’s why we have expensive salon treatments that become increasingly more expensive as we age.
- Menopause symptoms are not a short-term inconvenience. They can last for years. In my case, the hot flashes were never-ending and lasted more than 20 years. The accompanying weight gain is practically irreversible. Try not to beat yourself up. Millennials, Gen-X’s and Y’s—consider yourselves warned. You’re not immune and this too will happen to you, no matter how many ab crunches you do.
- Being assertive in business is a good thing. If I learned nothing else after 40 years in the corporate world, it’s take of yourself first! Men have no qualms about asking for raises, a company car or an extra week of vacation. Boomer gals were raised to be polite, compliant and patient, hoping our rewards will come. Didn’t really do us a lot of good. Put yourself first.
- Loyalty to your employer is not in your best interest. I think most men understand the basic premise here but women tend to take some convincing. All those late nights working to meet a deadline, family time traded for priorities at work? Not worth it. Your tombstone won’t read “Loyal Employee”. See Item 4 above.
- Manage and promote your personal brand. We’d never heard of those things in the workplace when boomer gals were trying to get ahead or even survive in those last decades of the twentieth century. We were raised to believe that’s it’s wrong to self-promote. It’s wrong not to.
- Catch that 5 lb. weight gain before it becomes 10 lbs. or 20. Once you hit menopause you’re screwed and it’s nearly impossible to lose weight. That’s just life.
- Financial security is paramount. It’s tempting to spend, spend, spend when you’re young and making good money. But when you hit mid-life you might want to change careers or take a sabbatical. Financial security and ultimately financial independence equips you with options later in life. That cool car or those expensive shoes and purses you couldn’t live without in your twenties are long gone and forgotten when you’re reading your bank statements with enormous regret at fifty. Save, save, save. It’s only when you’re financially independent that you’re truly free.
- Be yourself. You’re a worthy, whole and valid person without changing your personality for the sake of someone you think you love. Love yourself first.
- Be healthy. Everything in moderation. A little bit of this; a little bit of that, without overindulging in all the things we like—wine, desserts, sugar, bad carbs, red meat etc. Taking care of our bodies will pay off as we get older. Smoking causes cancer, a raspy voice and zillions of wrinkles. Keep drinking under control, keep moving, stay curious and take care of yourself.
I’m not sure I would have listened to any of this advice when I was young but for what it’s worth, here it is. Like most people, I did some things right and a few things wrong but overall, baby boomers are the healthiest, most financially secure generation ever. Was it our music? Our parents? Hard work? Whatever came together to create our generation, we have a lot to be thankful for.