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Friday, February 24, 2017

Advice from an old lady

In my younger days, I was just like every other selfish, self-absorbed millennial today. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and nobody could offer me any advice that I didn’t already know. I scoffed at my elders, thinking they were fuddy duddies who lived in another era and certainly not keeping with the times. Now that I am an old fuddy duddy myself, I realize that the young people I know are probably thinking I’m out of date myself!

I came across a whole write-up that detailed advice from old people. Some I know already and absolutely agree with. Like being present in the moment and not living a life that you’ll regret in your later years. And working hard but not at the expense of family, friends and even yourself.

Some other pieces of advice made me nod my head and go, “Gee, I wish someone had told me that earlier”. We only have one time on this earth. We don’t know if it’s going to be short or long, so we had better pack as much living as we can into the time we have. See the world. Don’t wait till you’re retired and supposedly have more free time and money. Travel doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. With all these travel apps and cheap airline tickets available nowadays, as well as work/travel options, you can literally travel on a shoestring budget.

When I graduated from college, I was in such a hurry to get a job. Looking back, I wish I had taken time off to travel and see the world. Travel is different when you’re young. You don’t mind roughing it out like sitting upright in a train for hours. Or staying in fleabag hostels with no hot water or ensuite bathrooms. Now that I have the means to travel in greater luxury, I find that I can’t endure long flights any more. And joint pains make walking for long hours excruciating. So I encouraged my son, B, to take time off and travel right after college, as long as he could support himself. Because he would never have the opportunity to do it again for long periods once he started work.

I wish someone had told me also not to accumulate so much stuff. I get the compunction to spend.  The feeling of wanting something is so compelling, so addictive, that I would spend hours looking for the perfect outfit. Or handbag. Or earrings. Or a new lamp, or coffee table, or rug. I would save up for it, talk about it, stay up thinking about it. Then when I finally got it, I would look for the next thing to hanker after. It was not until only a a few years ago that I could let go of this obsession with stuff. You can’t take it with you when you go.

Ditto money. I know older folk who hoard their savings and live like misers, grumbling over the cost of a meal eaten out. Mind you these are wealthy folk. They deprive themselves of the pleasure of travel, a nice meal or a fun outing. What’s money for then, if not to spend on experiences that make us happy? Note I said experiences, not buy more stuff!

I found myself nodding at this sage piece of advice - pay your bills and stay the hell out of debt. Much of my working life had been fraught with worry over bills. Mainly tuition fees for my son. I couldn’t ever stop working, even at jobs I hated, because I had bills to pay and debts incurred by my ex. I spent sleepless nights wracking my brain to figure out how to make extra money. I counted pennies and even raided my son’s piggy bank, just to make ends meet.

Nowadays I try not to use my credit card, even when traveling. My motto has always been “if you don’t have the cash for it, don’t buy it”. I did carry the burden of credit card debt, again through the foibles of someone else, and I vowed never to feel that terror again. The day I became debt-free, it was like shackles had come off my entire body. I’m glad that I was always able to find work and I’m a firm believer in hard work.

One piece of advice in this write-up was a surprise, though it did make a lot of sense to me. It said, “Don’t marry young. Live your life. Go places. Do things.” Now, many decades after I, too, married too young, I realize that I could have done so much more had I chosen to remain single for longer. Your life choices are very different when you’re just living for yourself and have the freedom to decide just for one.

I have no regrets and always say that even if my time is up tomorrow, I’ll look back on a life well-lived. I’ve done things I’ve dreamed about without worrying what people will think. I’ve spent money on experiences, not stuff. I’m living in the moment and appreciating my life. Now if only I’m presented with a grandchild, my life will be full!

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