Insights from a 40-something Woman

Pamela Druckerman is an author, wife, and mother living in Paris.  She is about to turn 44 and thinks it’s time to re-think her life.  Her musings, to me at least, cross the gender and even Parisian cultural boundaries and make sense in lots of ways.  Here a few musings:

I think the biggest transition of the 40s is realizing that we’ve actually, improbably, managed to learn and grow a bit. In another 10 years, our 40-something revelations will no doubt seem naïve (“Ants can see molecules!” a man told me in college).

But for now, to cement our small gains, here are some things we know today that we didn’t know a decade ago:

• If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them. You no longer leave conversations wondering what just happened. Other people’s minds and motives are finally revealed.

• People are constantly trying to shape how you view them. In certain extreme cases, they seem to be transmitting a personal motto, such as “I have a relaxed parenting style!”; “I earn in the low six figures!”; “I’m authentic and don’t try to project an image!”

• Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.”

• There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.

• There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.

• You will miss out on some near soul mates. This goes for friendships, too. There will be unforgettable people with whom you have shared an excellent evening or a few days. Now they live in Hong Kong, and you will never see them again. That’s just how life is.

• Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. At a wedding many years ago, an older British gentleman who found me sulking in a corner helpfully explained that I was having a G.E.S. — a Ghastly Emotional Scene. In your 40s, these no longer seem necessary. For starters, you’re not invited to weddings anymore. And you and your partner know your ritual arguments so well, you can have them in a tenth of the time.

• Forgive your exes, even the awful ones. They were just winging it, too.

• When you meet someone extremely charming, be cautious instead of dazzled. By your 40s, you’ve gotten better at spotting narcissists before they ruin your life. You know that “nice” isn’t a sufficient quality for friendship, but it’s a necessary one.

• People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What’s adorable at 20 can be worrisome at 30 and dangerous at 40. Also, at 40, you see the outlines of what your peers will look like when they’re 70.

But here’s the one that really captured my attention:

• More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.

Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller Tipping Point, and other books on the science of social networks, ponders the same thought.  He says that despite  what we may think, “we must first understand that human comunication has its own set of very unusual and counterintuitive rules.”  In other words, we often think we can radically transform ourselves, from making New Year’s resolutions to thinking we can look like the manniquin in the store if we just buy that outfit.  But, in truth, Gladwell and others have reported, “We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us.”

That translates into social media  being just a huge potential tool of influence and one we are likely to see modified, recalibrated, and tailored to what the network can do and how we will react. For Gladwell, the upsides are immense: “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place.  It is not.  With the slightest push–in just the right place–it can be tipped.

Ms. Druckerman seems wise beyond her years and so are those who see that.  And Happy Birthday, Pam!

Here’s her piece in full:

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2 Responses to Insights from a 40-something Woman

  1. thesoos1 says:

    “More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.”
    This logic might be a relief if one is a member of an educated, upwardly mobile cohort. It may be hugely disappointing if one is part of the billions on earth that live below the poverty line. Her logic might suggest that it is very difficult to rise above current circumstances.

  2. sydhavely says:

    Exactly. And I would think Ms. Druckerman would agree with you. The science of social networks bears out your comment as well–the better place you are in the network, the more resources and benefits of the network you get.

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