Issue 6 Stories
The Best Medicine

Let Me Eat Cake?

Advice from my Future Self on Getting Older

I turn 60 this month, which is stunning when I think about it (and trust me, I try not to think about it). I was born before mankind walked on the moon. Before the internet was invented. Before a bank loan was required to go to the movies.

I actually still have the receipt from my birth, a handwritten receipt for $99.87. I sometimes wonder if my mother held onto it in case she decided to return me for a refund, or at least for store credit. I also wonder if my parents ever felt like they got their money’s worth, although I’ve never been bold enough to ask.

Hitting milestone birthdays often makes people feel old, regardless of their age. Turning 40, you feel old compared to your 20s. Reaching 50 makes you reminisce wistfully about your 30s. Finally picking up on this pattern, I figure instead of feeling old, I’ll remember that when I turn 80, I’ll look back and realize how young 60 is.

It doesn’t work. I still feel old.

There is also a tendency to look back at one’s younger self and think: “I wish I knew then what I know now.” Whatever our age, most of us would have done some things differently, if we only had the perspective we now have.

Looking back, and given the benefit of hindsight, I realize I shouldn’t have decided that soup bowls were best used for ice cream. I would have taken the money I spent on pizza and placed it in a 401(k) (and, thus, would have already been retired for 10 years). I wouldn’t have eaten raw fish in Peru immediately before getting on an international flight home (worst flight ever).

We tend to think about our past and regret certain things we did, or did not, do. That’s human nature. We just sigh and think to ourselves: “Ah, if only …”

But what we don’t do enough is think about our future selves and try to imagine what we will wish we did differently now. Instead of lamenting about the things I did or did not do when I was younger, the more interesting question is: When I’m 80, what will I be looking back and wishing I had done differently in my 60s? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves.

Will I regret having my picture taken while wearing glasses I now feel are stylish, but in 10 years (10 weeks?) will make me look like a clown? Will I realize that the “all-the-cake-you-can-eat diet” I recently found on the internet wasn’t a great idea after all?

I do know with absolute certainly one thing my older self will wish my younger self did, and that is exercise. That’s why I’ve started exercising regularly. It’s not even for my present self … although I do notice a difference. It’s so when I turn 80, I won’t shake my head with regret and wish I hadn’t rationalized away why I didn’t exercise, because that is guaranteed to happen.

We can rarely predict what our older self will think of our current self, but this one is a gimme. So I’m giving my future elderly self an early birthday present and doing now what I would, in the future, regret not having done.

What will your future self wish your current self was doing now that you’re not? Exercise? Regular health checkups? Once you answer that question, ask yourself why you aren’t doing it.

The verdict is still out, however, on the all-the-cake-you-can-eat diet. My sense is that my older self will still approve.

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