Lessons at life’s midpoint | Financial Times

Not long into the new year, I will turn 40. On my way to what actuaries tell us is the rough midpoint of a western male’s likely span in this vale of tears, I have had occasion to notice a few things. I have also acquired a platform on which […]

Not long into the new year, I will turn 40. On my way to what actuaries tell us is the rough midpoint of a western male’s likely span in this vale of tears, I have had occasion to notice a few things. I have also acquired a platform on which to share them. Here, then, in scattered form, are one man’s life lessons: some practical, some grander in scope, many no doubt wrong, but all sincere.

Go for checked luggage over carry-on. The goal is to make a multi-hour flight stress-free, not to avoid a brief wait at the other end. Conversely, keep your jacket with you in restaurants and parties. You can’t know when you will need to make a quick or discreet escape.

Don’t befriend people in the same profession. It is not just mind-narrowing, it creates a single point of failure. To lose your job is to lose your social life. 

Atlanta is the best non-coastal US city. All alternatives to champagne are a waste of time except Franciacorta. Exercise is almost irrelevant to weight-management. People infer their politics from their tribe, not the other way around. Only mediocre restaurants ask whether you are enjoying your meal. Whatever you think the incidence of marital infidelity is, it is higher than that.

Your stylishness, as perceived by others, is a function of your gait and body language, not your clothes. The world is full of exquisitely dressed klutzes.

Eat just once a day. Do so especially if you enjoy food: better a single blowout than three apologetic non-events. Insomnia is not wasted time: thoughts are being processed and ideas explored. There is a difference between “good” and “good enough to recommend”. Be sparing in what films, books and magazine articles you suggest to people.

Powerful men are often disappointed in their sons, and unconsciously auditioning for a replacement. A young man of talent and ambition can profit. On a related note, the quickest way to endear yourself to someone is to ask them for advice. 

Get off social media. Don’t “take a break” or explain your reasons: you are not a soul singer cutting short a Vegas residency. Just leave. Alaska Airlines is the best domestic US carrier. If someone is not sure whether they want children, they want children. Never support a cause or idea because the people on the other side are objectionable.

To hail a taxi or attract a bartender’s attention, keep perfectly still for several seconds and then raise a hand. The movement will stand out in their peripheral vision. Of all the human insecurities, the least prevalent is physical. Most people accept their looks and body shape by their mid-twenties. Social and intellectual insecurity drives the world, however. 

Don’t make notes: the test of an idea is whether it survives in the brain without a record. Ignoring a problem in the hope that it will go away is more effective, more often than anyone will admit. A blanket refusal to attend weddings will not just save lots of precious weekends, it will cause less hurt than a selective approach. Taylor Swift knows her onions: Primrose Hill is, by a whisker, the best residential neighbourhood in London.

It is pointless to read one book on a subject. The knowledge won’t stick unless reinforced with at least one other, read concurrently or straight after. Outside the big countries, Copenhagen is the most interesting weekend break in Europe. People are not judged on their looks so much as their “look”: conservatives think Emmanuel Macron is more of a liberal than he is because he has the appearance of one.

If you are thin, people will wonder why you bother to watch what you eat. Therein lies a warning about our species’ ability to take any sort of preventive action, whether against climate change or viral pandemics. 

The point of romance is not only or even mainly enjoyment in the here and now. It is that you will live off the (hugely embellished) memories in later life. Martin Amis refers to these as your “pension”. For a coast-to-coast layover, choose Detroit airport. 

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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