A Message From The Future

Today, I am forty. It is a good day, and it has been–especially lately–a good life so far.

What follows is an exercise in perspective, offered to those half my age. Some of these things I knew at 20, some I didn’t.

  • You may think that such financial frippery as balancing a checkbook, paying bills on time, and having savings in the bank is sheer drudgery. The truth is, once you get the hang of it, it feels really good.
  • As much as you can. look inward. Think about what’s most important to you, what you like to do now, what your favorite vegetables are, how you want a lover to touch you, where you want to be in five years, how you think the world should be. Keep thinking about these things, and let them change and develop. If you do this now, you won’t have to do it when you are forty or fifty, after half a life of having half a life.
  • You are probably thinking you will feel old when you are forty. You won’t. It feels like a new beginning, because you have another forty ahead of you, and this time you don’t have to learn to say you’re sorry or which fork to use first (hint: always work from the outside in).
  • Be very cautious about permanent decisions. I’m not saying don’t take risks–do! Have fun, adventure, for it is true that you will regret more the things you did not do than the things you did. I’m talking about more mundane things like ruining your credit or changing your name (not getting married, but actually doing a legal name change–think on it for at least a year or two).
  • Speaking of credit: if you’re not already damned good at it, take a class. Pay attention. It will make the future infinitely easier if you can keep things clean.
  • Wear sunscreen. Yeah, someone already said that, but it’s true.
  • Don’t do something just because it’s the expected thing. Consider what you want for your own future before you get married, buy a house, have children, etc. It’s okay to not want what other people want.

Some additions from over-forty friends


  • Most of the time it doesn’t cost you anything to be nice to people.
  • Beware of believing anything told to you by someone with an axe to grind.
  • People need to think very hard about whether they really want children or are just meeting someone else’s expectations. Once you have a child, you’re responsible for their welfare until they’re of age. The world can always use another good parent, but there is already a huge surplus of bad ones.


  • Do everything you can, because if you’re not watching alertly, your choices narrow. And then you cannot.
  • The older you get, the shorter you realize the list is.

Some more from very astute under-forties


  • Realize that you’re going to keep learning. Look back at yourself five years ago–what you thought, how you behaved, what you knew or thought you knew. That feeling will never go away.


  • You will always be worrying about something.


  • Don’t burden yourself with too many expectations or deadlines about where your life/career should or shouldn’t be by a given age. It’s all way much more fluid and up in the air now than we were raised to believe.


  • Do not tie your self esteem to someone else’s perception.
  • Stop smoking cigarettes right now before you get more hooked.
  • Don’t hold grudges. They don’t do anything to the person you’re grudging against, but they make you bitter and unhappy.
  • Travel.
  • Vote.

6 Responses to A Message From The Future

  1. Frank Kelly says:

    Er, cosmic or what? I turned 54 on the 30th. Good stuff, Cat. You’re quite right.

    It took me 20+ years to work my way up the food chain, studying every aspect of the job before I became a pro filmmaker, specifically a director. On my 40th birthday the cast and crew sang Happy Birthday to me in three-part harmony at a swank private club in Covent Garden, after a 12-hour light entertainment shoot with numerous stars of stage and screen, no joke.

    Cat’s absolutely right. You have to have a goal high enough to carry you forward through thick and thin. She’s also right about being 40, a time to reconfigure for the second act.

    In my case, I started writing more seriously and privately (the antithesis of light entertainment). It took years to get good at it, comfortable with it.

  2. J.D. says:

    Great list, Cat. I especially like your #2.

    I’m only 35, but I would say that the single most important lesson I’ve learned in life is: insomuch as it does not infringe upon the happiness of other people, do what makes you happy. Don’t do things because you think you ought to, or because you feel obligated. Do what makes you happy.

    Happiness is severely underrated.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Happy Birthday, Cat! and I like your perspective on life. Hope you get to enjoy the next 40 years to their absolutely most beautiful and most inspiring and fullfilling amounts!

  4. Jenn says:

    Happy Birthday, Cat! Excellent list. You’re one of the last people I would ever think of as living half a life. 🙂

  5. Paul says:

    Happy Birthday Cat!!! Well a belated Happy Birthday to you!!! I wish you much love and joy on your continuing journey as well as a smattering of wisdom although in that department I reckon you are doing damn well!



  6. A belated happy birthday to you!

    My own bit of advice, offered from well north of 40 and stolen from Dear Abby, is the moral hidden in one of her responses. From time to time, Dear Abby will publish a letter from someone who writes, “I want to go back to school and become a _________, but I’m already X years old, and it’s going to take 4 years to finish school. When I finish, I’ll be X+4 years old. Should I go back?”

    Abby’s answer is always the same: “How old will you be in 4 years if you don’t go back to school?”