4 Terrifying Life Lessons We Only Learn As We Age (and how to accept them)

creepy shadow
Here is a little secret.

I have no idea what I am doing half of the time. I plan things out like a regular sane person and I have a vague idea of the future but quite often things don’t always go the way I want them too.

Like the final season of Dexter.

As I get older I have realised that I am, and always will be, a work in progress. My life is a movie with a cast of 7 billion and an audience of thousands. I haven’t a clue what the next scene will be or even if it will be my final performance, but that’s fine.

I am 32 and I have learnt a hell of a lot in my time but experience is exponential. The longer we live the more we learn about ourselves, those around us and life in general. Like not investing 8 years of your life in following a TV show only for it to turn around and slap you in the face. I learnt that this week.

I digress. I’m starting to realise that there is no such thing as a perfect existence. Everyone goes through ups and downs. Nobody is exempt from the rollercoaster that is life. Our elders are only wise because they have reached a grand old age without getting themselves killed in the process. They haven’t figured everything out, nor do they know everything.

Maybe that is why happiness is said to increase dramatically over the age of 55.

They have reached an age where they stop trying to resist life’s many obstacles. Instead learning to embrace everything that comes their way – accepting the good and the bad with equal relish because they have the experience needed to take everything in their stride.

But for those who are younger, who maybe haven’t figured it all out yet (me included), these lessons can be terrifying when they occur.

So far, during my 32 years on this planet I have come to realise that…

1. Nothing lasts forever

It’s time for a quick pop quiz.

What do hangovers, childbirth and late night Doner kebabs have in common? Apart from the fact that all three can be the result of drinking too much alcohol.

That’s right, they are all bloody horrible. Yet we keep going back, again and again.

We’ve all woken up after a particularly heavy night with a stupendous headache and a mouth that tastes like the Devil’s piss. Telling whoever is in earshot that we will never touch another drop of alcohol. Our words are uttered with the utmost sincerity, of course they are, but once our beastly hangover has passed we tend to forget about the pain and the suffering and the following week we are back out partying like mentalists.

A similar thing occurs after childbirth. I obviously have no first-hand experience but popping out a lump of screaming flesh the size of a Honeydew melon would definitely put me off ever doing that again. Yet unfathomably, women keep going back for more. The internal, instinctive desire to seek out the happiness and joy of having another child is far stronger than the pooping and pain that occurred the last time they gave birth.

As for kebabs… no science in the world could explain why we keep going back for more. (Does anyone ever finish a kebab anyway?)

Every relationship begins with the hope and expectation that this will be it. This is the one. This is the person I will spend the rest of my life with.

Likewise, every career begins with the belief that this is what will be paying our mortgage for the next 25 years.

Sadly life offers no guarantees. We all know that relationships end. 99% of them do – it’s just the way it is. That doesn’t mean that we are ok when it happens. Break ups hurt. Some of them are akin to rubbing vinegar into an open wound.

Losing a job or coming to the conclusion that your career is a dead end can be a scary moment too. The security you thought you had has come crashing down and you feel vulnerable and genuinely worried about your financial future.

As teenagers or young adults we don’t think ahead too much. We live in the present moment. Life is about the now, not about the future. It’s a simpler time for all of us. But then shit happens. Our first relationship ends and it feels as though our whole world has ended. We don’t think we can ever love again but we do – of course we do, and we figure this out in due time.

Many of us will lose a job at some point in our lives. Redundancy and being fired (cough) are common enough that they are both a real possibility. When we suddenly lose a job, especially one that either paid well or was somewhat interesting, it can leave us fearing that we never find another one.

Yet we do. Of course we do.

At a certain point this blind naivety turns to burning cynicism and then finally, acceptance.

Nothing lasts forever. The trick to living a stress free existence is to acknowledge that occasionally, shit happens and if it does then that’s fine, because we are all resilient enough to get over it and move on with our lives. We do it again and again.

Hangovers, childbirth, ending relationships, losing a job, being broke and even the horrifying realisation that the kebab you desperately wanted to eat is making you want to shove a plastic fork in your eye can be tough to deal with, but it is only temporary. Human beings are resolute bastards and nothing can stop us from going back to the beginning and trying again.

Because that’s just how we roll.

2. You can never outrun your shadow

The truth is – you cannot change who you are.

You can change your job, you can change your appearance, you can even change the way you think, but you cannot change the person you really are on the inside. That person is with you for the long haul.

One of the many reasons why people allow addiction to overcome their basic everyday needs is because they refuse to accept who they are.

Substance abuse can be a means to escape the conscious mind. The mistakes, the failures, the embarrassments, the shame and the hurt – memories we strive to banish from existence, yet they are still there, picking and scratching at our surface, vying for attention.

There are people out there who spend thousands on cosmetic surgery because they believe that it will change who they are. They are often saddened to discover that beyond the compliments and the initial surge in confidence, things level out again and their old self re-emerges.

Men hit the gym and pound the weights. They eat a shit ton of food and inject copious amounts of testosterone in the pursuit of a physique that will turn heads and reduce women to a quivering wreck. Yeh sure, it works, but again – to what end? When the lights have been turned off and they are alone in bed, all they have is their mind and the same hopes, dreams, fears and everyday stresses remain.

Most of us cannot understand when a celebrity or a hugely successful movie star or athlete complains about their life. ‘What have they got to moan about?’ we ask. ‘How can they be depressed with their bank account?’ It’s because depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your material wealth or how you look on the outside. There are many cases where a beloved celebrity has come to the realisation that being rich and famous counts for nothing. They believe that making it in Hollywood or finally having a hit single will suddenly erase their inner demons. It won’t, it never does,

They struggle because they haven’t accepted who they really are. They try to outrun their shadow but it’s not until the light shines brightest that they realise how futile it really is.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in changing your appearance, but it has to be a means of enhancing your outer shell, not as an attempt to replace who you are on the inside.

Acceptance is the key. We have to accept the shadow that follows us around because try as we might, we cannot get rid of it. Learn to work with it, become friends. Offer encouragement, accept the flaws, embrace the memories and work on the weaknesses.

You will always be ‘you’. Just become a better you.

3. You’re a failure

You may not want to hear this, but I’m going to lay it on you anyway. You’re a failure.

You failed when you were a child, you failed throughout your teens and you’re an even bigger failure in adulthood. Now, before you run away, attacking a huge tub of ice cream declaring ‘that nasty Jamie is being mean to me’, realise this – failure is natural and it is normal. In fact, it is damn right essential. Here is why.

Today, I was caught in a torrential downpour and to suggest I was a bit wet is an understatement of biblical proportions (I think I even saw the animals leave two by two). I was drenched. But as I write this, I am now pretty much dry. Aside from the little wet patches at the bottom of my jeans, you couldn’t even tell I had left the house today.

I was completely wet-through, but it was only temporary. Later I will be 100% dry and everything will be right in the world.

Failure is a bit like that. You fail at something, thus you are a failure, but is it permanent? Hell no. You dust yourself down and you try again. We are constantly failing, at everything we do, but eventually we move on and either we give up or we succeed. Which largely depends on only one thing, how much do we really want it? Things that we don’t want, we leave as failures. The things we do want, we find a way of succeeding. It’s just how it is.

Without failure there can be no success.

We all believe, sincerely believe that there will come a time when everything will work out. It may do, but just because something is great, doesn’t mean that other things won’t be. We will always be a work in progress. It’s a good thing. Failure means trying something new, breaking out of our comfort zone.

Don’t become disheartened because you have reached a certain age and you feel like things haven’t worked out yet. Fail, fail over and over again, become a failure but embrace it and know that without it, you cannot become the person you truly want to be.

You’re a failure, and that is why you are successful.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

4. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know

I like to think that I am a pretty knowledgeable and intelligent. I know a lot of stuff. Ok that doesn’t stop me from being a colossal idiot, because I am.

I’m an idiot.

But let’s not go into why.

I have always been very self-aware and one of the scariest realisations I had was how insignificant we really are on this planet. It’s so easy to just accept whatever we are told by our parents. If you are born into a Christian family then it’s likely you will grow up as a Christian. If you are born into an Islamic family then it’s likely you will be brought up as a Muslim.

Yet no matter how strong your beliefs may be, there will surely come a time when you will begin to question your faith. It may only be for a fleeting moment, but it will probably happen at some point in your life. This can be terrifying for most people as it can feel like a betrayal of their very existence.

Regardless of the outcome, you have entered the realm of self-doubt’.

In the movie, ‘The Matrix’, Neo is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the fabricated reality of the Matrix. The red pill would lead to his escape from the Matrix and into the “real world”.

By taking the metaphorical ‘red pill’, you have suddenly considered the prospect that there might not be a God at all. For many, having this internal debate can actually strengthen ones faith but once the acknowledgement has been made, it can never be unlearned.

This moment of clarity is scary because for the first time you have thought about the possibilities outside of your previous reality.

Many people live in ignorance – blindly believing in something to the detriment of everything else, or worse, not even thinking at all. By questioning who we are, why we are here and what lies beyond, the terror can be crippling but once it has been accepted that it’s ok to have these thoughts, the only outcome is one of strength.

You will either have re-enforced your faith or you will have rejected it. It doesn’t matter which path you take because you have faced the fear of uncertainty and come out a better person.

Yes it’s scary but I believe that it’s something that we all must go through, whether you are a religious person to begin with or not. To ponder what is out there is simultaneously fascinating and healthy.

Have a think back through your life. Are there any terrifying lessons that you have learnt along the way? If so how did you deal with them? Let me know in the comments below!

About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. Jesus Christ, Jaime!!! That image of the vampire from Nosferatu is still seared into my brain from when I was about 7 and has stayed ever since. We really need more movies like that. I too teach guitar and opened a studio after quitting my 9-5, well 7-4 music teaching gig (nightmare). Cool.

    Accepting who I am was a bit hair raising. I am an aloof, spacey, hopelessly silly and weird guitar picker and composer. Tough, yes, but I somehow fell in love with it.

    Love your writing, Jaime. Witty and fun. Just what keeps my interest. Have a marvy one!!!

    • 7-4 is worse than 9-5! (but not as bad as an 11-8)

      I think all guitar players are a bit crazy in their own little way. It’s what makes us who we are. I hope your teaching is going well? It’s a tough job to get going but once you have enough students it basically runs itself.. (he says..)

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. I’m 100% with you on the failure lesson. I seriously owe everything to my failures. There’s no way I would be where I am right now without failing so many freakin times.

    I’m just starting to wrap my head around your fourth lesson. For most of my life, I’ve had a set of beliefs that guided me. I felt very strongly about those beliefs, but somewhere along the lines, I would find contradictory information and my beliefs would be stripped away. As time goes on I am starting to learn that believing in things is great, as long as you can keep your mind totally open to other things. If you don’t, you will surely be missing out on the millions of lessons you still have to learn.

    One other lesson I’d love to add to this post is that “There is no overnight success.” We live in a very NOW culture. We expect results today. But success is a process. It takes a lot of time to make shit happen. We have to be in it for the long-haul if we truly want to see the fruits of our labor.

    • I think that no matter how strongly you feel about something, you have to remain open minded. Who knows what we will think 5, 10, 20 years from now. Who knows what science will prove or disprove? Who knows how we will feel about the world we live in? Or those around us for that matter.

      Good shout on that extra lesson. I’m pretty sure the internet has ruined our attention spans and thus we need a quick fix whenever possible. Success takes time. Even so called ‘overnight successes’ were years in the making, we just see the finished product. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Lesson one is bittersweet, while I quite like change, when you’re having a particularly good time, it’s always slightly disappointing when the circumstances change.

    I think that you can actually change who you are on the inside. The thing is you’re not born completely developed, the journey is what molds you, so when you choose to take a different path you actually change yourself quite effectively. Sure it might not be instant, and it might not turn out the way you expected, but it will change you.

    On the other hand, your values and general perception of reality can appear set in stone. At the very least, it’s not something the pursuit of women or money will change. I remember wanting to become a douchebag when I was younger because they seemed so carefree. But even after becoming more confident and outgoing, my values keep me from lying out my ass to try to impress some random chick I just met, or treating people like shit in general.

    I was pretty surprised to see “you’re a failure” turn into an actual life lesson. as it is something I am used to hearing my perfectionist twin brother chant at me from inside my skull. I always berate myself for not really trying, I think my greatest failure would have to be the lack of trying up to this point.

    I sometimes struggle to grasp the 4th lesson, when I compare myself to people who I deem to be idiots, but then I remember the 12 year old doctor graduates and the like and I realize just how commonplace I am. As Shakespeare said: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
    Ragnar recently posted..6 Things You Think You Know But Don’t That Will Bite You In The Ass If Given the ChanceMy Profile

    • Hi, While I do believe that we CAN change on the inside, we can never change the whole essence of who we are. Think of it like a PC that has it’s RAM, hard drive and graphics card upgraded but still has the same motherboard. Our memories will always ensure that deep down we will always be who we are, even if we have dramatically improved every aspect of our personality.

      Well that’s what i was trying to get across anyway 🙂

  4. Hi Jamie,

    This was a wonderful post and it’s great to be at your blog.

    You’re post got me thinking of the Law of Impermenance and how everything that arises will pass away, including good experiences and bad ones. When one begins to explore that this is the way life is, one gives himself/herself the opportunity to not get too carried away during the good times and not get overwhelmed during the bad times.

    Thank you.
    Hiten recently posted..How to Deal with Self-DoubtMy Profile

    • This also reminds me of the Rudyard Kipling quote about treating triumph and disaster as the same. I think it’s important to remain level headed, to focus on the present and to accept that it doesn’t matter if you have a good or bad day for you have not changed either way.

  5. Hello Jamie! What a fine post and engaging writing style. I’m so happy to be here.

    #4 reminds me of when I first started teaching elementary school at the ripe old age of 27. I had my bag on my shoulder heading for the door by 4pm (kids left at 3pm). As the days wore on, I realized how much I didn’t know. Holy schnipsters, I knew so little about how to teach! With every staff development and discussion with my colleagues, I learned more and more. Then I wanted to know everything about teaching. I suppose that hunger led me to promotions and being able to leave teaching after 10 years and start my own business. Once I realized I didn’t know everything, I wanted to know everything. Now I feel like that about other things, and it’s so very exciting!

    • Hey Tammy, thanks!

      You’re a braver person than me teaching a class full of teenagers! Sometimes I struggle giving a double guitar lesson.. It’s great though to learn as much as possible about the things you are passionate about but the irony is that as soon as you make that decision, you realise it will be a never ending quest. It’s strangely addictive though, you’re right. I’m like you. I want more, more, more.

  6. Hi Jamie,

    Gosh, so many things I loved about this post.

    When you think about it – when weren’t we taught what to think, believe and generally take on as truth? When did we ever allow ourselves the wonderful opportunity to question things – and come face to face with our conditioning?

    I can’t tell you how often I measured my self-worth based on based on what society deemed as successful, beautiful and deserving of acceptance.
    When I realized that I was free to challenge the programming and beliefs that I had held throughout my life that caused me pain and heartache, I gained an understanding of how we poison our minds with nothing more than stories.

    The shadow thing is huge. And you’re right – we can’t hide from ourselves. It’s really just a matter of learning how to incorporate all aspects of ourselves to work in harmony. The negative stuff has something valuable to teach, so why hide from it?
    Great job.
    Dana recently posted..Bullshit – the Road to Enlightenment?My Profile

    • Hey Dana, thanks!

      It’s so true, most of us measure our self worth on what society deems to be the right way. That’s why there is so much unhappiness because we are measuring up against an ideal that doesn’t align with our core values as individuals. Of course there is nothing wrong with ‘fitting in’, it’s essential, but the more we question those things that don’t quite sit right with us, the happier we will be. At least in my opinion.

  7. You’re right that the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know.

    [warning, this may be off topic, but it’s based on a book that I’m currently reading].
    For example, I’m reading a book called The Road Less Traveled that’s informing me about love at the moment. This psychiatrist is informing me that true love doesn’t even start until after you’re ‘honeymoon’ or ‘falling in love’ period is over.

    Once that is over you now begin to CHOOSE to love. Interesting concept. And all this time I was thinking I would have this special spark/feeling all my life. Now I’m not as scared if I don’t. But I’m sure the point made by this guy is debated by many 😉
    Brooks Conkle recently posted..How to Work Remotely, Guatemala, & Language SchoolMy Profile

    • Hey Brooks! That is a really interesting viewpoint about love. I have heard another interesting (and controversial) belief that a man doesn’t know if he truly loves a woman until AFTER he has slept with her. That way it is not his libido that is clouding his judgement and he can be sure that the feelings are sincere.

      Choosing to love as opposed to falling in love could be the topic of a pretty interesting article, and the concept could probably be used in many different areas of life also.

      Thanks for your comment!

  8. I’m another 9-5 dodger.
    I couldn’t stop reading this Jamie, and you’re so right.
    Comes a time when we all have to stop and look at ourselves.
    It’s only terrifying until you start, then you realise just how stoopid you’ve been to wait so long.

    I tried to make a ‘success’ of my life for years, then gave up. It was only then (with a few years of therapy) that I found what I was looking for – true happiness.

    • Being a 9-5 dodger is cool isn’t it!

      Hindsight is a wonderful thing and sometimes we need to make mistakes to mhelp us realise how we should live our present.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  9. I liked what you said about not being able to outrun your shadow. Wherever you go, your shadow follows. Whatever demons, crutches, negative thoughts you have ride the train of life along with you. As do whatever passions, joys and happiness.

    My goal is to have a shadow of joy, fulfillment and contentment. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
    lISA recently posted..Lighten Up and Let Your Inner “Silly” Come Out (Humor Alert)My Profile

  10. Your thoughts on failure are just what I needed to hear today. I stumbled across your blog through FB I think (can’t remember I’ve been reading your blogs all day) after finding out I failed an exam. I read/watched the depression blogs and had to sit back and really put it all in to perspective. So thank you. The universe works in mysterious ways.

    • Hey Jess, thanks for your comment and remember, failure is only temporary. Learn from it and move forwards – it will be fine. You can always do another exam, and you will do it better next time.


  1. […] 4 Terrifying Lessons We Only Learn as We Age (and How to Accept Them): There’s no sugar-coating in this one — if you’re ready to find out the harshest […]

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