Yesterday, a friend forwarded me the HuffPost "50 Things Every Woman Should Know by 50" list. It reads like a To Do list for maturity, but I would argue it's more like a To Don't list.
At first glance, the items on the list seem reasonable, but by the time I got to "No. 13: Sew," I wondered if this list had been beamed into the Internet from 1957. Some things on the list are "don't try this at home" endeavors, some are head scratchers, some contradict each other, some are old-timey-time, some seem more punishment than reward for making it to this landmark age and for some I simply have a Ramones, "I'm Against it" reaction.
Let's start at "No. 1: Say no, without feeling guilty."
Sure, at this point in life we can all agree that good boundries are important, but on the other hand, I tend to say "no" all to easily and at 51 have challenged myself to say "yes" more often. Only last week, the cover story in the New York Times Magazine was about a much lauded study suggesting that the secret to success in life is being of service to others. l not only think that, but research shows one of the factors that most deleteriously affects people 52 and up is loneliness and isolation, and if you're looking for a sure fire path to being alone, just try saying "no" on a regular basis. Furthermore, at the risk of violating "No. 39 Know when to reveal personal information -- and when not to," I can find myself saying no to sex because I'm tired, because I ate too much garlic for dinner, because I'm already in my 13-year-old sweatpants in my 16-year-old marriage, but if I want it make it to 17, which I do, I'm going to need to say yes a little more, or I'll end up on the OurTime.com dating site where my friend Christine was just matched up with both her older brother and a homeless man who goes by the name Bling, Bling.
Here's one that will now top my To Don't List:
Don't "No. 31. Apply makeup w/out a mirror."
Red alert, red alert! Don't try this unless you're a pro, and even then, maybe not. As an actress, I've worked with professional makeup artists for 30 years and I've never once heard this dictum advised even once. In fact, we've all seen the results of No. 31. You know the Bubbelahs with overly bright cheeks, lipstick where their lips used to be, crayon-colored eyebrows penciled in where the eyebrows used to be -- our faces change constantly, and not just with age -- you need to adjust your makeup for different weather, time of day, and occasions. There are plenty of other things you can do to your face -- wash it, dry it, apply moisturizer -- without a mirror, but if anything, you want look more closely and not just in any mirror, a good magnifying mirror. Where I live in Los Angeles its a misdemeanor if not a felony to have errant chin hairs. A better No. 31 might read: Wear less makeup than you think you need to and check not one but two mirrors -- one in the house and one outside.
Don't "No. 28. Tell off at least one person who deserves it."
If you're anything like me, that menopausal hormone rollercoaster can turn you into a raving maniac. Depending upon what day it is, what constitutes "deserving" is a slippery slope -- some days, anyone breathing in my ZIP code might count as "deserving." One of the things I am most proud of at this point in my life is my ability to resist telling people off. For example, just this week I was handed a small flyer by a pimply, overweight, 30-something-year-old guy sporting shorts and a T-shirt and flip-flops outside a health food store. "Thanks," I say and look down and see it reads: Hi, I'm David. I'd love to tell you about Herbal Life Supplements. I handed it back with a smile. "You're missing an opportunity to learn something," doughy man retorts. "That's okay," I said and walked away. Had I taken No. 28 to heart, I would have replied, "Really? Really, you want to teach me something? You, who are a grown man who leaves the house in shorts and flip-flops, want to teach me something? You, who are exploding from your boy pants while I have the good sense to at least be wearing a pair of Spanx under my jeans, want to educate me about nutrition? And Herbalife? I'm in hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's camp, mister! Herbalife is a pyramid scheme. I'm not going to end up with bottles of supplements rotting in my garage or enlisting my friends so I can earn money from enrolling them in what I know is a scam. No, thank you, I would rather be filleted than take your flyer!" Really, a grown man trying to recruit me in shorts and flip-flops? My telling him off wouldn't have begun to address the underlying issues at play.
Don't "No. 26. Whip up a signature dish that's not spaghetti or meatloaf."
This one is too old-timey-time for my taste, like "No. 13: Sew." I also have to wonder if these two would make a 50 Things list for men? Maybe not. I don't have a signature dish. Not everyone is cut out for kitchen duty. Isn't that something feminism freed us from? Or did third wave feminism return our aprons (I can't keep up with it)? A few years back, I chronicled my disastrous attempt to make what was going to become my signature dish, a brisket, on NPR. It only took me 17 hours. It did taste delicious, but my shoe would have tasted good after a 17-hour marinate and slow cooking. Meanwhile, the very next week my husband gave up red meat, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. In this day and age, entertaining can be vexing -- your guests might be on a gluten-free, free-range, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, or alkaline-food-only diet or all of the above. That's why, when you come to dinner at my house, you can be assured that I'll be calling you to check on your various and sundry food allergies and you'll be getting something new and wonder and different every single time you come over because my "No. 26: Know where to get good take-out never gets old." (And anyway, why the prohibition against spaghetti or meatloaf -- a good version of either of those is priceless!)
No. 11: Invest in the stock market.
In 2010, Luscha the chimpanzee famously out-picked stocks that had a better return than 94 percent of investment brokers in a contest widely reported on by The Daily Mail. If any woman out there 50 years old, or any age, knows how to do this and presumably do it well, please contact me immediately because none of professionals I've hired over the years can seem to figure this one out and Luscha hasn't returned my calls.
"No. 32: Buy something crazy expensive just because they want it" contradicts "No. 48: Put together a real retirement strategy."
By the way, I thought I'd addressed No. 48, but since the economic downturn I've had to shift my expectations. Like many people, I've got a nevertirement plan now. What age do I expect to be able to afford to retire? Never.
Don't "No: 10. Do their own taxes."
If you're working on No. 48, you would probably be better off having a professional prepare your taxes. I did this once. I tried to prepare my own taxes in 1989. I am still working on that return.
Don't "No. 5 Change a tire." I'm against it.
Some of the best advice I've read on effectively using your time in both business and your personal life is to recognize your strengths are and learn to delegate to others. At this age, I can confidently say automobile repair isn't my bailiwick. I recommend membership in AAA, it's the most value you can get for $48 in your lifetime. Sometimes the AAA guys are very cute, which is just an added bonus.
Don't "No. 49 Look good in a photo."
I thought one of great benefits of age point is giving myself the freedom to not worry about how I look in a photo. I've accepted that there are many, many, many things that are beyond my control that have to go right in order for me to look good in a picture. You could spend the rest of your life working on No. 49, that's why there's Photoshop.
Don't "No. 37: Tell at least one really good joke."
If you really want to do No. 47 on the list -- show love with actions and not just words -- then you'll skip this one. Telling a really good joke might be harder than performing open-heart surgery. Jerry Seinfeld is still getting up on stage trying to perfect this one. Seinfeld! He made a documentary in 2002 about this, after all those years on TV. And there is really nothing more painful for both the person telling and the people listening than a joke that doesn't land. It can feel like a hostage situation. I say this from personal experience on both sides.
So, I'm making my own list of things you know by the time you're 50 and it's got just one item on it.
No. 1: Free yourself from any and all Things You Should Know Lists.
Haven't we earned it?