What is it about aging that makes women happier as they get older, especially between the ages of 50 to 70?
Recent research from Australia, which followed women for 20 years, attributes some of this to the fact that women received more “me” time as they got older.
And with that “me” time comes a lot of satisfactory revelations.
I spoke to 14 women in their 50s about what they would have done differently when they were younger — if they only knew, what they know now:
“I wished I’d worn sleeveless shirts...” — Kelly J.
“I would tell my younger self to stop being afraid of being lonely. I made so many decisions just to be sure I’d never be without a lover for 10 seconds.” — Barbara S.
“I wouldn’t have started smoking. I thought it was cool — it’s just unhealthy.” — Jill S.
“I would have accepted the receptionist-I-thought-I-was-above position working for the U.S. senator.” — Amy R.
“I wish [I] hadn’t allowed other people’s fears/ignorance to affect me so deeply that I would blunt my ambitions/dreams to please them. It has taken me decades to undo that ‘good girl’ behavior.” — Kecia L.
“I’d explore my education more”
“I would have concentrated on mastering reading comprehension and interpretation in high school,” says Linda G., a dentist in her mid-50s. “I need to read something three times, and often have to take professional classes over again, when I don’t understand the materials.”
Linda feels that her parents weren’t focused on her education, so it fell through the cracks.
“I was the third kid. So, my parents loved me but were lax. I’m less confident in predicting what to do with my patients because I struggle to synthesize pieces of information.”
Because of this, Linda deals with an inner struggle.
“I feel like I’ve had to work harder for everything I’ve achieved. That has made me act harsher in wielding my authority because I’m always trying to prove my credibility.”
“I’d trust myself and my talents more”
Andrea J., a best-selling author in her mid-50s, says, “I see that who I was and what I did led me to a satisfying life, but if I changed anything it would be to trust my talents at a far younger age.”
Andrea feels that she wasn’t patient enough with herself.
“I wish I’d realized sooner that I could realize my ambition to write books if I just stuck to it and kept improving. I was so impatient to succeed that I quit and switched courses when success didn’t come quickly.”
“I would figure out what I wanted…”
Gena R., a hairstylist in her mid-50s feels she took a long time to figure out who she was.
“The way I like to describe the younger me is by comparing myself to Julia Roberts in the movie the ‘Runaway Bride,’ in the scene when she didn’t even know how she liked her eggs… because she liked them however her current man liked his.”
“Like her, I needed to figure out who I was without a man, and how I liked my eggs — no matter how he liked his.”
Gena believes that people thought of her as “the girl behind the chair” who is always happy and can solve all their problems.
But she has transformed.
“I no longer do things I don’t want to do and I’ve given myself permission to say ‘no’ and rest. If I want to sit and watch Hallmark movies all day I do. I surround myself with people I want to be around and stay away from people who suck the life out of me.”
“And I no longer feel shame for mistakes I’ve made. They are part of my story and it’s made me a more empathetic person.”
“I’d spend more time with my child”
Stacy J. a producer in her mid-50s says that time wasn’t on her side.
“I wish I would have spent more time playing with my child when she was younger. I was in school full-time and working and taking care of my sick sister and busy being poor.”
She realizes that kids grow up so quickly, but didn’t realize it then.
“I really wish I would have put things aside and had more birthday tea parties for her stuffed animals with her.”
“I would have danced more”
“I was always self-conscious and decided before I hit 20 that I don’t dance,” says Laurel V., in her early 50s. “And while I stayed on the sidelines at parties, other people expressed themselves and moved to the music.”
Laurel feels she shouldn’t have been so concerned.
“I tell my kids, if I could rewind, I would dance so much, and not care what people thought... they probably weren’t even looking at me anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be as concerned about my appearance”
Rajean B., a PR consultant in her early 50s is no longer uber-focused on her looks.
“In my 20s and 30s, my career as a company spokesperson put me in front of the camera and I rarely passed a mirror without fixing my hair, checking my teeth, reapplying lipstick. I lost sleep over the times I caught a glimpse of a double chin while talking or laughing.”
Rajean has realized what truly matters goes beyond the outside.
“My husband and my friends accept and love me for who I am and not how I look at any given moment. I like focusing on my inner beauty and strength.”
“I would extend more grace to myself”
“I would breathe before I react and understand that I don’t have to have an opinion on everything,” says Beth W., in her late 50s, who used to hold a high-pressure job for a large training organization.
“If I felt at risk of being left out, or misunderstood, I would shut down or fight to be heard. It was so stressful that I ended up getting ill, with shingles, which forced me to face my fears.”
“What I’ve learned is that I can insert grace into any situation by simply taking a breath, and grounding myself by placing my feet on the floor, so it slows down the adrenaline and cortisol racing through my system.”
Beth says doing this has reduced drama, chaos, and conflict in her life and deepened her relationships.
“I wouldn’t feel so beholden to my employers”
Nina A., turning 50 in a few months says, “I was disposable to the people I worked for. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I want younger people to understand so they don’t make the same mistakes.”
“I dated an older professor when I was in college. He had a lot of paid speaking engagements at international universities, and they paid for his stay, too. He invited me to join him on incredible trips to Bali, Java, China, Thailand. But I had a job, and couldn’t go.”
“One of the times I bucked being a ‘good worker’ was when I called off work to go to the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I got in a lot of trouble at my job. But guess what? The department still managed to function.”
A lot of wisdom and comfort comes with time
There will be times you need more than advice to overcome personal struggles. Sometimes, the answer is just time — enough time to outlive the struggles in your 20s and 30s so you’ve developed the mettle to balance the challenges that come in your 50s and beyond.
Perhaps, celebrity chef, Cat Cora, in her early 50s, best sums up the struggle of youth and the wisdom of that rearview: “If I could do it differently, I would take a pause more often and enjoy the ride. When you’re younger, your angst and desire to have it all creates an imbalance,” she tells us.
“With maturity, I have been able to have a calmness and peaceful empowerment in all areas of my life.”
Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, writing coach, and former magazine editor-in-chief. She hosts and curates the ASJA Direct podcast and teaches pitching and personal essay writing for Writer’s Digest. Her articles and essays have been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Family Circle, Brain, Teen, Your Teen for Parents, and more. See her writing tips and editor interviews at EstelleSErasmus.com and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.