I’ve been lucky enough to make it to the big 42 this year. 10 years more than my sister and according to the wise, funny and wonderful Douglas Adams the number which is the answer to life the universe and everything. So as an homage to this great writer and to celebrate I thought I would share the knowledge I have gained whilst turning this wonderful number.
It will never make sense, that’s part of what makes it brilliant
When I was a kid I thought that adults knew it all. When I was a teenager and in my 20s I thought I knew it all, whilst simultaneously knowing I was out of my depth and knew nothing. In my 30s I felt like I needed to know it all and put myself under all the pressure that came with that to succeed and to be seen as knowing. Now I’ve reached my 40s I’ve realised that one of the biggest joys is in the not knowing and enjoying that there is still so much more to learn, explore and achieve.
Its not about how fast you get there, its about remembering to enjoy the ride
I spent my 20s and 30s racing towards an imaginary finish line. I had a list of tick boxes and I ticked fast and I ticked hard. Having reached my imaginary line I now realise that the joy was mostly in the journey and not in the completion. I know a lot of people right now in the ticking phase and the thing I most wish they knew was the boxes WILL get ticked, but that they should get the most from ticking them. Sit back and smell the roses, feel the sun and enjoy the pleasure of each achievement for its own sake, rather than immediately looking towards the next.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind
I don’t remember the smartest people, I don’t remember the people who had the most experience or the most knowledge. The people I remember for having the most impact on me and my career are the ones who were kind. The ones who took the time, the ones who lifted me when I stumbled and the ones who had faith in me when I had none in myself. If you want to maximise the impact of your time on this planet then being kind is the way to do it. Be kind when it’s the last thing you want to be, be kind to the people who are pulling you down. People are fighting battles you know nothing about and one act of kindness can change a day or life.
Not everyone will like you and that’s OK
I find this truth hard as I am, by nature, a people pleaser but its true. No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try, not everyone is going to love or even like you. That’s ok you won’t love everyone either, the key thing is to not let that drive you. I’ve been described as ‘marmite’ and it taken me some time to grasp the fact that someone doesn’t have to like me to work with me, we just have to set differences aside and find enough common ground to focus on a shared goal for a time. Not everyone needs to be a tea and cake buddy.
Understand what aids you and let the rest of it go
Sadly I don’t think anyone gets this far in life without having some challenges and quite frankly dealing with some shit. These are the fires that forge us. The thing is knowing that those fights and struggles that have got you here have made you who you are, honour that but don’t let it define you. It’s all too easy to carry our scars with a little too much pride and to give them a little too much weight in our present. I’ve learnt to acknowledge the drive they have given me, the armour they have provided, to try and take the good but leave the bad. To let them help make me but not to let them tell me who I am.
Understand what matters to you
What matters changes over time, it isn’t always a static state of being and requires regular reflection. I’m often described as driven but I mostly think that’s a nice way of people saying I’m following my own path, all I do is put one foot in front of the other. What I do know is that there is a continuous signal amongst the noise of my life and that is that what matters most to me is my family. The people I love are my world, they are my centre and keep me grounded. They are the calm in my storm. What I want most is time with them and to live my life without drama, I did ALL the drama in my teens and early 20s and I don’t enjoy it.
My husband and I have a phrase that we use with each other ‘let me just check my bothered pocket’. When I’m getting into a shame spiral when I’m panicking about the conversation I had yesterday or the imagined upset I might have caused him or visa versa it’s a phrase we use to bring some reality back. The answer is almost always ‘its entirely empty’. Everything is almost always completely OK and there is almost always nothing to worry about. This simple phrase grounds me and enables me to focus on what matters most, the people I love.
The struggles you feel now will fade and change into new and different ones
You have probably gathered that I’m not a very chilled out person, as my husband says ‘my mind is a hell to me’. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to step back when I’m in the midst of my storm to try to get the distance to understand whether this is something that actually really matters. The ability I have to focus and be tunnel visioned is great to achieve tasks but is somewhat of a hinderance in this and it’s something that I have to practice. I sit and ask myself if the worst case is true would this matter in the way it feels now next week? next month? next year? in ten years? By asking myself these questions I give myself the structure to work out quite how important it is, or if in fact it is not important at all. This also helps me choose the battles that I want to engage in and the ones that I’m happy to walk away from.
Finding your tribe makes it all worth it
We talk a lot about making sure that you have insight from beyond your echo chamber, and this is true. Right now though I’m going to talk about the joy of finding people who just get you, people who are part of your tribe. None of us are strong all the time, none of us can always be our own advocate. Life is an exhausting merry-go-round and sometimes we all need help. Find the people that see you for who you truly are, good and bad, and who like/love you anyway. Find the people who will see your worth even when you can’t and who will lift you when you fall. Once you have them life will never be quite the same as you will be able to share the load. Once you find them never let them go.
Have the courage to choose the unconventional path
We spend a lot of time getting told what should matter to us, where we should want to be, who we should want to be with. I’ve never been very good with instructions. I’m a strong believer in ‘you do you’ as long as what you are doing isn’t hurting others or taking away their right to choose the same way. I don’t really believe in doing things the way others have done them. I’m the only one that wears this skin, I’m the only me, therefore only I can choose the right path for me. Being different, being you takes courage and self belief, but it’s worth it. Choose the right path for you, otherwise you’ll spend your whole life questioning what might have been and that’s a cage that’s hard to escape from.
Travel the road using the 3 Ps and you won’t go far wrong
The 3 Ps are my rules I set myself to live by: purpose, passion and principles. They apply across my professional and personal life. Do the things that make you wake in the morning with a smile on your face, do them consciously and in a way that doesn’t hurt others. For me, if I live by the 3 Ps I don’t question my life choices because I’m following a path, no matter how challenging, that I’ve set on because I believe in it. When life gets hard therefore, and believe me it does, I know at the core of my being why I made the decision I did and it makes it easier to carry on. These Ps are mine but you have a whole alphabet of choice to decide on what your guiding stars might be!
All opinions on this blog are my own
2 thoughts on “An Homage to Douglas Adams: Reaching 42 and therefore becoming the answer to life the universe and everything”
Oh Elaine, as someone who became “the answer” a few years back, this one hit ALL the nails on the head! Unfortunately, there’s always soooo much to do at work but my family need me (& I need them) so they take priority (even if it doesn’t feel like it some days).
Great points from someone who’s reached the number of the answer to life and universe and everything. Choosing the unconventional path is never easy, but we really won’t know what’d happen if we don’t try. Anyway, thanks for this post and happy birthday (whenever it is)!