Life at 40: Musings on Turning 40

To celebrate my 40th birthday, I went down a belt buckle and joined a gym for the first time in my life. Not bad. Then I started jotting down some thoughts about the hard-won wisdom I have earned (<– that’s too short to be plagiarism … I think) but it got really long. I’m a patent attorney. I turn one sentence ideas into about 30 pages. It’s just what I do for a living.

Here we go . . .

Part 1: The World Gets More Complex

The number of items near the bathroom sink grow in proportion to the complexity of life.

Want to simplify things? Don’t do it by combining stuff in your bathroom. I call such people “clients” and no, you’re not the one who is going to combine a toothbrush with toothpaste and make a profit. Frozen actually drives home this point quite well … some things aren’t meant to be mixed unless you can have magic flurries but by the time you’re wise enough for that there’s something near your sink to keep them in your hair.

After the stuff to keep you looking and smelling alright is in order, your insides start to break. Physical therapy is okay but hip thrusts are cheaper, quicker, and work so much better.

Never do hip thrusts in public.

When someone screams at you … or uses the word “you” followed by any sort of complaint, they’re just grossly misusing the English language. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Just ignore the stuff about “you” and figure out what’s bothering them.

By “someone” that’s typically “a woman.” By “misusing” that might be “using like a woman.” Your guess is as good as mine as to how they use the same words to mean two opposite things. The advice still applies.

Part 2: Proper Use of English and Emotion

People who fix grammar which otherwise best conveys the feeling you’re trying to evoke are English teachers you hate … or just men trying to figure out what in the world a woman means when using the same sentence on two different days to mean three different things.

When someone asks you a question your most common answer should be, “I’m not sure” followed by “Maybe it’s this”, each followed with “but I’ll look it up and find out.” Unless the person is paying you for a service – then you answer with “The answer is X and I can do that” which you follow up by frantically figuring out how on earth you’re going to do that. Otherwise, you’ll never learn a new skill.

There’s no rule you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. No, I’m not going to do that here to show you. That’d be corny. Instead I’ll just

Everyone has shortcomings. Your parents, your mentors, everyone. Idealize no one. Question their advice. Forgive everyone.

Without emotion, people can’t make choices. Logical therefore dictates that choices aren’t logical. This advice is based on emotion.

Use your judgment but know when to defer to others. Logic dictates that this is trial and error. Emotion says, “stop, take a deep breath, close your eyes and see if it feels right.” Make sure you’re being true to yourself and true to what’s right – is that what a higher power wants from you?

If you don’t have a higher power to call upon, G_d help you.

Part 3: Weight Loss

The secret to weight loss is to eat less calories than you take in. An app taught me that – it’s just like any other set of data now … I like to use my willpower to make the line on the graph go down. That’s what a patent attorney does for fun.

Only true nerds can listen to an app over their stomach when deciding whether or not to eat the next chip.

When you’re quantifying everything you eat a balanced diet kind of happens. Eating cake just makes it harder to move the graph down tomorrow … but not that hard… eat the cake. Unless it’s bad cake. Don’t eat bad cake. A negative slope tastes better than bad cake.

A handful of Brazil nuts are often more calories than a piece of cake. Brazil is home to the only sumo club outside of Japan. Coincidence?

Part 4: Humor and Self-Improvement

It drives be Brazil nuts when someone just repeats what I said. Apparently, for other people it makes them feel heard. In the end, that’s all any of us want – We’re like antelopes that make honey – we like bee herd.

My not-yet teenage children still laugh at puns like that. My teenagers tell them to stop encouraging me. I’m with the teenagers on this one.

You can laugh on the inside when you make a person feel stupid by being nice after they’re angry and insulting you. Oh, and where possible, avoid them. I think this is why Canadians avoid Americans.

Sometimes it is actually about you. After you’ve made someone feel heard and all – decide if they have a point. If they do, do something about it. They’ll appreciate it and so will you. – after you get over your desire to squeeze them like a soda until you realize at 40 soda is not something you drink.

The worst people to deal with, by far, are narcissists and borderlines. Both will suck the life out of you for personal gain while giving you nothing of long term value. Manics and bipolar are cool though. They give and give and give to you and disappear on their own before they hurt you – they’re like inverse narcissists and borderlines that hurt themselves instead of others. It’s the perfect harmonic balance of nature.

If you can’t say what you have to say without being angry, it’s your problem.

I get angry. So do you.

Yeah, I get it – someone you were close to hurt you. I’m still close to them. That’s not an excuse to avoid me. That’s sad.

The most profound off the cuff thing my wife every said (to the recollection of my 40 year old brain) happened after a small child asked her why her friend’s parents weren’t together anymore. She said, “because they didn’t know how to say they were sorry.”

Part 5: Business and Purchases

If it’s not sold at Costco or Amazon, you don’t need it.

Good products don’t need salespeople. Costco tests products. Amazon has ratings.

Sort by ratings before buying anything on Amazon. Don’t trust products full of ratings which all have perfect or terrible grammar and 5 stars. The great firewall of China has an exception which allows those through.

The 80/20 rule also applies to people in any profession. 80% of them are mediocre at best.

The 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to salespeople. The only good salesperson (including a real estate agent) is one who doesn’t talk. If they’re doing more than answering a direct question, tell a dad joke to put them in their place. Bring a not-yet teenage child so someone laughs at your joke and the salesperson looks silly when he doesn’t laugh. Otherwise you’ll be the silly looking one.

The rule is – avoid people who complain about the last guy they hired before they hired you. It’s not the “last guy”, it’s them.

There are exceptions to every rule.

People don’t buy houses very often because they have to deal with real estate agents and high transaction costs. Yet people lease cars!? That’s like dealing with a real estate agent every three years while ensuring you get a bad deal. My oldest car lasted 18 years. That’s like … 12 years of nearly free car and no one trying to sell me anything except dent repair.

It’s impossible to know ahead of time if an exception to a rule should have been applied.

Part 6: When to Say Sorry

My version of the Coase theorem: Given enough time together, any two people in any sort of relationship will piss each other off. You will do it to them and they will do it to you. Only the frequency and intensity will vary.

Say you’re sorry even if you don’t mean it and even if the other person knows it. People still want to hear it and it changes them whether they want it to or not. It also changes you. In Canada saying you are sorry can’t even be used against you in court (lousy polite Canadians … ugh … they make me feel so bad for being angry at them).

Saying ‘sorry’ is a paradox – Wait a few minutes and it’s an easy lie. Wait a few years it’s a hard truth to swallow.

I once almost lied. I told a person who walked out without paying that I had the whole thing on video. It’s not a lie unless time travel never gets invented and I don’t retroactively install cameras. Fine, maybe I won’t be able to do that but I’ll at least be able to look back on them from the future. No? Look, all you need to know is that she paid.

Never listen to a cartographer turned zip line guide who says it’s perfectly safe to come at him and he’ll catch you. I know this is a rather specific life lesson but it’s a great story. I socked him right in the chest with both legs and apparently contour maps don’t include trees because it was one bungee which kept him from falling off the 50 foot high platform in the tree. I wish I had that on video so you know I’m not lying (check out that double reference – wow).

Did you hear about the cartographer who told the mountain climber not to go up to the top? He said it wasn’t to scale.

Part 7: Improving English

Did you ever look around in a large room full of people and realize you’re taller than all of them? I remember when I was a kid looking around and I couldn’t see much of anything in such rooms. Is that how y’all live your whole life?

The lack of a “you” in plural form is really a crying shame for us northerners. A get that “y’all” makes you sound like you have a lower IQ and all but that’s just how lines of latitude work. Go further south and we think Mexicans have even lower IQs and don’t get us started on central and south America. Most of us can’t find Suriname on a map, but … well, we must be smarter because we use the same “you” for two different things which works about as well as a toothbrush that dispenses toothpaste.

“Do the needful” is even better than “y’all”. It cuts entire wordy sentences down to three words that get straight to the point and actual says what it is. Thank you India for … well, this phrase. Now please stop calling me. I’m not the person in charge of the energy bill, alright?

Part 8: Time and Money

I can remember events like they were yesterday … from 20+ years ago. I could tell the passage of time by what grade I was in. Now, my new car is 8 years old and I can’t differentiate between things that happened since I bought a house. That’s actually pretty cool – who wants to be anxious about a test or where you’ll buy a house? I highly recommend getting paid for your work instead of paying professors for it.

When you’re 20, prepare for the life you want when you’re 40 so that when you’re 40 can you live life like a 20 year old. Except alcohol – alcohol has so many calories. Drink that when you’re 20.

The stock market goes up on average 7 to 9% a year. There are only two ways it can go on any given day and you have no idea which. Even if you do, your emotions will screw it up.

Now is always a good time to invest. Now is always a bad time to sell.

Anyone who uses the verb “play” in the same sentence as “stock market” is one or more of: a) frustratingly stuck where they are; b) living from paycheck to paycheck and will be in five years too; c) thinks they’re poor.

Poor is a mindset not a dollar sign. I know rich people who earn far less than poor people. That’s not a contradiction.

Life is amazing or hell dependent upon whom you’re spending it with. I loved skiing, wondered why I liked it, and then loved it again. Do the math.

Part 9: Marriage

That and … when you’ve never done something before – listen to what people who know you best and have done it before tell you.

By the above I’m actually talking about getting married and listening to your parents. Despite any of their shortcomings (which everyone has), they know your needs better than you do. You haven’t a clue about marriage until you’re in one. Good or bad, parents know what one is like and also know your emotional needs because they’ve seen you and taken care of you while you’ve been stuck in your head the whole time.

Marriages suggested by parents and marriages which involve a lifetime commitment before moving in together (for one night or forever) are statistically more likely to succeed.

“Understanding” and “agreeing” are two different things. Sometimes the former leads to the latter but you can still keep them separate.

Marriage is the hardest and best thing a person can do. It exposes all your shortcomings and selfishness while causing you to work really hard if you’re going to enjoy life to its fullest. It’s also probably the reason most fail.

There’s always someone better than you at something and someone worse than you at something. I played golf once. The hit the ball on the tee but it went through my legs and hit my friend standing behind me. There was still someone worse than me.

Safety speeches are boring. You know who listens to them less than you do? The person giving the speech.

Part 10: Children (Especially Teens)

It’s bad when you have to teach one of your children, “I’m just playing with your words to amuse myself. I do actually understand what you mean by, ‘ate the pear’. All you have to do now is roll your eyes and say, ‘oh daddy…’” She’ll get there.

Said above child hits me back though. She taunts me with, “I can’t wait until I’m a teenager so I can torment you!” I’m seriously worried. I mean it.

“Daddy, how come I can’t eat now but he can?”
“He’s a teenager – I can’t control anything he does but you still have to listen.”
“Oh. Makes sense.”

I figured out how to be invisible. Start a sentence with “Can you …” and direct it to a teenager.

My teenager wanted money one day. Another day he wanted a ride somewhere. I confused ‘love’ with ‘dang, what’s wrong with my invisibility cloak today?’

If you do it, no matter what it is, it’s not cool. I said that to one of my teenagers and I get the feeling that he never felt more heard and understood in all his life.

Teenagers do get better with age … though it was all fun and games until the oldest started showing signs of becoming a teenager. I stopped having kids after that.

The best age for kids is 5 to 11. They can dress themselves, laugh at your jokes, and aren’t too old that they don’t still think you’re cool and fun.

After about age 11, kids not only start to see your shortcomings but start thinking “whoa, confusing world this is” and start recalibrating their emotions while beating you over the head. There’s a very effective way to deal with this – act pre-emptively. When you see it coming strike hard and often: “Yes son/daughter, I suck for this and this reason … feel free to talk about it any time.” It works wonders. Repeat as necessary and their anger turns into feeling understood. It’s kind of like being married except it’s a teenager who will probably remain selfish until married.

Don’t forget to add “you may rebel only in ways which are reversible and don’t screw up your life long term” to keep them out of too much trouble.

Giving teeneragers some sort of responsibility for their younger siblings is also helpful to keep the older ones in line because people are often like, “I don’t care if I screw myself up, but that poor child doesn’t deserve it!”

You trust the neighbor’s older kid with your baby but not with open internet. Teenagers are kind of the same.

The Talmud says that you can assume eggs are fertilized if a rooster could have traveled a long distance, crossed a plank over a river to get to the henhouse, and probably gone back to where you first saw him. Do you have males in your house and an internet connection? Roosters are male too.

If you’re alive, there’s more you can do to change yourself and the world – in that order. Don’t think so? You’re already dead.


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2 Responses

  1. Here’s something to keep in mind when, please G-d, you start the approach to doubling your current age. Being over 70 means you don’t have to be afraid to make suggestions to your grandchildren. If their parents don’t like the suggestions, they can always roll their eyes and tell their children to be nice to the septuagenarian by pretending to be interested. What the parents don’t know is that children are ALWAYS interested in what their grandparents have to say. That’s because there is an inborn, natural tension between parents and children (no matter how old either are), and children of all ages tend to follow the old saw that the enemy of my enemy is my FRIEND. That is why, last summer, when I suggested that one of my granddaughters consider looking into an internship with a patent attorney in Passaic, her mom wasn’t so sure it was a great idea, but my granddaughter leaped at the chance. Before she went back to Israel, that granddaughter told me it was the best summer experience she can remember, especially because it opened her eyes to all sorts of new possibilities. Being your granddaughter’s superhero (or heroine) is wonderful at any age.

    • tostien says:

      🙂 I didn’t know she enjoyed her internship so much. She’s the best intern I ever had – including people in law school and adults looking for career changes. She’s also smarter than me.

      Also, good summer experiences for intellectuals are hard to come by so there wasn’t much competition.

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