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Opinion: With Age Comes the Ability to Choose (Hello, Confidence!)

In this laugh-out-loud opinion piece, our monthly columnist Sue Turbutt, writes about her discovery that with age comes the realisation that you simply can’t know everything and that it’s ok to know just a little about a lot.

So, it turns out, I do love a saying. In fact, if anything were to happen to me and my phone was retrieved the ‘Sayings’ in my Notes App could define me as quite a complex gal. It’s quite an extensive documentation, ranging from philosophical words such as ‘the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but rising every time we fall’ (Nelson Mandela) to the rather punchier ‘I had my patience tested…I’m negative’ (Debbie from Facebook – just when you think you couldn’t love Debbie more).

One I use more than others right now is: ‘If you want to do something you’ll find a way… if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse’. Or even better, ‘Have the confidence to sometimes say “no” or admit that you’re just not sure’.

With age comes the realisation that you simply can’t know everything – and that it’s ok to know just a little about a lot.

There have been many instances over the last few years where I feel liberated to admit I’m not sure of something and ask for help or clarification.

Such as, having the confidence to admit that when travelling on the tube (in fact, just about anywhere) I don’t know my north from my south. I either have to ask someone or hunt down the more detailed tube map, which nine times out of 10 means having to retrace my steps to get on the tube that’s going in the right direction. My days of going one stop, realising I’ve gone the wrong way and going back the way I came are, thankfully, behind me.

That said, this will come as no surprise to those who know me, given that I didn’t know which side of the river I lived on until I was almost 19.

On starting work in July 1982, the dialogue went like this:

Senior Bank Manager: ‘So what side of the river do you have to travel in from?’

Me: ‘What river’?

(Incredulous aforementioned) Senior Bank Manager: ‘The Thames’

Me: ‘Oh… East I think’.

I suspect that ‘The Essex Girl’ phenomenon was launched that day.

I’m also no great shakes in differentiating between sun and shade but maybe I’ll save this for another day…

Further achievements include finding the confidence not to purchase EVERY product that the overzealous beauty technician tries to sell me when she has giving me the makeover that I didn’t even ask for.

I’ve also felt more than a little smug when I found the confidence to walk out of a rather upmarket café in the heart of Knightsbridge, having waited a good 10 minutes before anybody looked close to taking my order. It felt liberating to leave and explain why, politely yet assertively. It was a bit of a Julia Roberts moment for them as I was contemplating the overpriced lobster salad. Big mistake. Big. Huge!

I’ve also begun to resist putting more events in an already overcrowded diary – it just makes me grumpy (ahem, grumpier) and tired (again, more tired). I’m very much at peace with the fact that it’s quality not quantity. I’m not necessarily saying ‘no’, but sometimes it’s a ‘just not now’.

If only my younger self had this confidence. It’s only been in recent years that I challenged my lovely older sis when I realised that she didn’t always HAVE to be Miss Scarlett when we played Cluedo. What can I say, a lifetime of being Colonel Mustard has taken its toll. And who knew that The Banker in Monopoly doesn’t deal out the property cards at the beginning of the game… although fair play to her, she must have spent ages arranging the shuffle to ensure she got the much-coveted two navy and three green cards! On reflection, a sassy 13-year-old being forced to play anything with an annoying little 6-year-old had to have its compensation.

I appreciate that there’s a fine line between saying no and not contemplating taking on a challenge or a new hobby, which is equally restrictive. But with age comes the ability to choose.

One of my proudest moments over recent years is the day I finally embraced ‘the trainer’. Being a child of the 60s, any form of sport shoe was strictly worn for, well, sport! (Apart from my dalliance with Step Aerobics in the 1990s where my obsession found me wearing Reeboks more than my white stilettos – my ‘round the world’ was legendary). So, to think that I’m making a good attempt to rock the trainer with a smart dress has been hugely liberating.

To cap it all, I no longer talk myself out of large, hooped earrings. Nor did I feel embarrassed when, in the jewellery department of a prestigious London department store, I asked whether I could see the other earring only to be told ‘oh… that’s a bangle madam’. Another saying for the collection: ‘Go large or go home’!

Being ‘all grown up’ also gives you the confidence to admit that you can’t kid a kidder.

Having to watch what I eat for most of my adult life and having tried most of the fads, the clubs and now the Apps, I’m clear that I really do know what I have to do. Without wanting to appear smug, my weight only really increases or decreases by around 7lbs so I whilst I constantly rob Peter’s calories to pay Paul’s, I do get it. However, I still think that I can ‘cheat’ if a slimming club tells me that bananas and potatoes are zero points or without sin. It’s a constant struggle and whilst I actually don’t like dairy (so cheese and cream cakes are not my bag and I haven’t got a particularly sweet tooth) I haven’t yet met a peanut or bag of crisps that I don’t like.

Whilst I remain a ‘work in progress’ I feel that I’m mastering some techniques to become a better version of me. That said, I still haven’t mastered the knack of saying ‘no’ to that one (ahem!) glass of wine for the road.

As I schlepp along in my flat-form trainers with hoops bigger than my head, I reflect that I’m quite liking this time of life and as it says in my Notes App, ‘I’m not a has-been, I’m a will-be’!

We’d love to hear from you about what you’re finding liberating about getting older?