10 Things I Wish I Had Done Before I Entered 'Middle Age'

by Lecia Michelle
Two middle-aged women with black hair wearing black and white clothes and smiling

I turned 50 this year. While I’m pretty happy with my life, I wish I had made different choices, both in my personal and professional life. If I could hold on to the knowledge I’ve learned and do it over again, I would have made different choices.

Here are some of things I would change:

1. Developed better eating habits.

By the time, I turned 50, my bad eating habits were a daily part of my life. And good lord does fat love my body. It is hard as hell now to lose weight. My body holds on to that extra padding for dear life. I wish I had gotten serious about changing my eating habits and exercising. If you’re in your 30s and think it’s difficult to change your bad habits, it’s a thousand times harder at 50. I’ve had more years to get into the habit of eating what I want, and most of my food choices aren’t good ones.

And let’s not forget good old menopause and how it affects what I eat. For years, I’ve experienced my own personal summer several times a day. It makes me sweaty and cranky, and you know what? It makes me want to eat all the things I shouldn’t eat. I’m trying the natural hormone cream to help, but so far, I just want to run around screaming when a hot flash hits and then sit down with a gallon of butter pecan ice cream. In fact, I’ve done that numerous times.

2. Made more female friends.

Remember when you were little and you had your little gaggle of girlfriends? Me neither. I always had a few close friends and continued this trend into adulthood. But here’s the thing. Once you get into your 40s and 50s, if you don’t have any close friends, you may never have them. I’m finding this out the hard way. I haven’t had a close girlfriend in years, and it makes me sad. I guess I could meet people online, but why? Why aren’t there normal places to make friends? I miss the days when your friend sat next to you in homeroom and you hung out after school.

3. Married younger.

I’ll admit it. I shouldn’t have married my first husband. I was approaching 40 and I thought it was time to get married. So I did, and it was a mistake. I also should have married younger. I really didn’t get out there and date like I should have. Then I could have found someone I loved who shared my same values. My ex-husband is a Republican. I’m a Democrat. While this works for some people, having a white man tell me, a black woman, that racism doesn’t exist was a huge slap in the face (yes, he said this the last year we were married, but I knew how he was before I married him).

4. Taken better care of myself.

The weird thing about turning 50 is you start noticing more high school classmates dying. More people my age are seriously ill because of years of drinking, smoking and eating badly. I’m trying to do better, but I wish I had taken my health more seriously when I was younger. It’s hard to change my behavior now, but I’m trying. Turning 50 is not the time to start thinking about your mental and physical health. Yet here I am, and I just have to do it.

I rarely thought about my own mortality until this year. Women in my family tend to live into their 90s, so I took for granted I would have a long life. Then I realized these women took better of themselves than I do. Who knows how many years I’ve shaved off these good genes I inherited with my poor choices?

5. Gotten out of my career comfort zone.

I graduated college at 21 and started working. My jobs were fine, but if I had to do it over again, I would have taken more chances with my career. I probably would have gone into broadcast journalism. I would have worked harder to be a professional singer. I would have done something other than go to a 9-to-5 that didn’t challenge or interest me. I’m grateful that I am financially stable, but having a career that interests me would have made me much happier. I’ve played it safe instead of running the risk that I don’t excel at something. I’ve started writing, though, and that does challenge me. So I’ve told myself that this year, I’ll write a book.

6. Started traveling when I was younger.

I put off traveling and didn’t go outside the country until I was 36. I wish I had had more adventures. I’ve probably traveled more than most Americans — because Americans don’t travel much — but I should have started in my 20s when I originally thought about it. I should have taken a semester abroad in college. Now I’m trying to travel abroad regularly. I’m coming up on two years since I went hiking in Spain, and it’s time to plan another adventure.

7. Stayed true to myself in relationships.

I spent years bending over backwards to please guys I was dating, and I did it to the point where embarrassed myself. While I tried to change who I was to keep the relationship going, I lost myself along the way. And I took way too much time finding who I was again. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve contorted my personality to be more compatible in relationships my entire life. The wild thing is I know I’m not being authentic, but I bought into this notion that there’s something wrong with being a single woman. Now I’m figuring out who I am and what I really want, and that means I have to examine my past relationships and own the parts of them where I wasn’t my true self.

That means no more downplaying my accomplishments. I’m an independent woman, and if that makes a man uncomfortable, that’s his problem, not mine. I wasn’t raised in a family with traditional male and female roles. I’m not interested in cooking and cleaning for my man while he sits in a recliner watching football. I can cook and clean, but I can also swing a hammer, do household repairs and take out the trash. None of these tasks are difficult.

8. Stopped caring about what other people thought of me.

This goes along with trying too hard to please guys. For most of my adult life, I worried about whether people liked me. I would change who I was to fit the situation. I was a classic people pleaser, and I did it to the point where I no longer recognized myself. How exhausting to hide who I was that way, but I did it to make and keep relationships. Now I don’t care. I don’t lose any sleep over it because these people hold no importance in my day-to-day life.

I finally understand I want people to know who I really am. That includes every shortcoming and every fault. I’m outspoken and I demand to be treated fairly. I’m too much for some people, and that’s okay. I spent much of my younger years worrying about being liked. Now I want acceptance for exactly the person I am today — an outspoken, educated black woman who refuses to settle.

9. Believed in myself more.

I’ve always been smart, but somewhere along the line, I stopped taking chances. I doubted myself, and it held me back. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and while I looked good on paper, I constantly second-guessed myself. Can I really do this? Am I good enough? Part of this was internal, but part of it was also how others treated me. My blackness made them doubt me, and I felt invisible at times. I suffered the sting of being treated differently than white people and feeling helpless. It did a number on my self-confidence.

I still experience racism, of course. However, where I would withdraw and say nothing before, I now open my mouth and question what I see. People rarely change their views, but it feels good to stand up for myself. I know I’m just as smart and just as capable as anyone else. So I fight for myself and the generations of black women who will come after me.

10. Spent more time getting to know myself.

I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies, meaning I can socialize with people, but I also need time alone. I’m more introverted, so I enjoy solitude and time alone. I wish I had known this was normal instead of feeling like something was wrong with me. I didn’t come to this realization until I was in my mid-30s and met other people who were like me.

So who am I now? I’m sort of a dual personality. If you met me in a social setting, you would assume I’m an outgoing person who enjoys meeting new people. This is partly true. I enjoy going out but not on a regular basis. The introverted part of me would be miserable if I constantly put myself in situations where I was forced to be “on.” My body would have a physical reaction to the stress of not being able to regroup and recharge on my own. Now I know my limits. I need that time alone. I love spending time in my own head. It’s how I better understand myself. So instead of depending on others to define me, I use that time to define myself.