Today, I turned forty years old.
It’s an interesting thing to move into a new decade in your life. It only happens a handful of times in your life, and each time it does you are a different person.
Like almost everyone, I never imagined when I was young that reaching 40 would come so soon. But at the same time, so much has happened that makes me feel like my 30s was a long decade.
The funny thing is, you don’t feel older, just more level. My emotions and thoughts are more integrated today than they were ten years ago. I also feel like I know my place in the world.
In this blog, I wanted to share the best of what I learned in the years from 30 to 40. I’ve distilled it into my seven biggest lessons. In some respects, it’s sort of a memo to myself. But my hope is that something here resonates with you too.
Lesson # 1 – People want you to be like them
There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens in your 30s. You start hearing the words ‘settle down’ a lot more. Your friends start saying that they want to ‘settle down’ and have a family, buy a house, etc. Your boss or people in your company start asking you to ‘settle into’ your career. There’s suddenly this pressure to settle.
But what exactly are we settling for?
To me, the idea of ‘settling down’ has always been an annoying phrase. It seems to denote that it’s time to stop being adventurous or energetic. That it’s time to be more civilized or restrained in your behavior. It also means its time to have a standard pattern of behavior that matches those around you.
More than anything the idea of settling means just accepting things as they are. Not aspiring or reaching too high, but taking what you can get. No thanks.
Underneath this idea of settling down that people want you to accept is something more sinister: your continued growth makes people uncomfortable. It shines a light on the fact that they have stopped growing. Seeing you continue to grow makes them feel bad that they aren’t doing it.
My advice is to ignore them. Let other people ‘settle down’ if they want to, but keep changing, evolving and becoming someone new as long as you wish. No, they won’t like it, but they will envy you for not settling.
Lesson # 2 – Fear doesn’t go away, it just gets more sophisticated
When we’re little kids, it’s normal to admit were scared. But as we grow older, we start to mask the fact were scared by using rational excuses for things.
For some reason, however, as we get a little older, we won’t readily admit to being scared. We start to use terms like ‘I don’t know if I should do that’ or ‘I don’t know if that’s feasible.’
A strange phenomenon I noticed about people in their thirties, is that they love to say things like “I’m so busy” and “I need to get around to that” or “I need to do more research before I decide” etc.
These rationalizations are just cloaking a fear. There is no reason not to do, be or have the things you want. In fact, if you keep thinking about them, you need to pursue them.
If you are feeling fear, admit it, and then act anyway. I’ve noticed that fessing up to your fear somehow makes you more powerful. It pinpoints what is stopping you, and then all you have to do is go through it.
Lesson # 3 – Relationships can hold you back or push you forward
It astounds me how many people should not be in a relationship, but stay together because they’re scared. They give away most of their life just to abide by the needs and wishes of another person. They do this under the guise of commitment, faith, persistence, and love. But often, these are just hiding a bigger truth: the two people would be better off apart.
At the age of 35, I had to make a very tough choice to end my marriage. Getting divorced for me at the time felt like a miserable failure. I felt like the world was judging me for not being able to make it work. I felt weak for not staying the course like everyone around me.
But after about a year or so, I realized that it was the wisest thing I could have done. For both her and I. We were not compatible and were only holding each other back from living our best lives separately.
It took me another five years to meet someone who was compatible with my life and ambitions, as I was with hers. But in that five years, I was acutely aware of the fact that I wouldn’t allow another relationship that held me back. Nor would I let myself to hold someone else back.
I think this is a crucial lesson to remember: just because everyone else is in a relationship, or has chosen to get married doesn’t mean you have to. You should choose a relationship that complements the lifestyle you want, not so you can appease others.
Lesson # 4 – Your actions tell the truth about you
No matter what your goals or ambitions are, there is nothing worse than talking about something and never doing it. I am as guilty of this as anyone else I know. Saying that I am going to do something and then never actually getting around to it.
It’s interesting to me, now that I’ve grown some skill as a speaker, that many people approach me and ask for advice or mentoring. I tell them I’m glad to help after they have completed ten speeches. They all agree they will get started, but almost nobody who asks for my help finishes ten speeches. They get to about three or maybe five speeches, and then they drop off.
I’ve realized now that you can’t listen to what people say, you have to watch their behavior. Those who are truly committed to doing something will be on course to it, doing something about it every day or every week. They may not make massive progress in the short term, but they are consistent.
No matter what you say, the only way to show who you are is through your actions.
Lesson # 5 – Your environment is a choice
Whether you realize it or not, your environment has a massive hold on who you are. Your friends, your family, your culture, all mold you. But given enough time, they restrict you as well. I remember at the age of 30 feeling like I wanted to expand and change. There was nothing wrong with my environment, but I felt like I was tired of being the same person.
At the age of 32, I moved country. I sold almost everything I owned, and I started over. For the first 12 months, I was homesick and continuously thought about returning home.
But what I realized after a while is that by leaving my environment, I also left a big part of who I was behind. Soon my old home didn’t have the same pull on me as before. I was free to begin to reinvent.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, one of the best ways I know to reinvent is to change your environment entirely. It is always within your power to do it. You just have to have the courage to act.
Lesson #6 – Things won’t work out like you plan, but they will work out
I’ve always been someone who makes a plan and sets goals. And I’ve learned that one of the guaranteed repercussions of setting goals is that you will become frustrated.
The path that you plan out for yourself will make sense, it will have clear intentions, but it won’t work for you.
That’s right. No matter how much you try, things won’t work out just like you plan. Opportunities won’t work out as you hoped. People will let you down. Events you didn’t expect will change the course you are on. Things just won’t work out as you expect.
But, given enough time, things will work out.
You will find that if you keep on towards your ambitions, new opportunities open up to you when you least expect it. You will meet new people who help you and lead you in new directions you didn’t expect.
It’s amazing how often when things don’t go as I expect I have this feeling like I want to give up immediately. I feel like my goals should work out just as I’ve planned. This is a fool’s way of thinking. The world is not designed to work just for you. You have to navigate it and aim to make it to your destination despite the challenges.
But keep the course, and things will work out. Better than you ever expect.
Lesson # 7 – It’s never too late to be who you are
This might be the most important lesson for me personally. No matter what age you are – 35, 45, 55 or even 85 – there is still time to become the person you want to be.
For most of my teenage years, I dreamed of being a motivational speaker. But like most people, I fell under the influence of those around me and gave up on my dreams around the age of 20. I got a good job as a consultant, I earned money and became responsible, and I started to be like everyone else. I was 35 when I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t happy being a consultant. What I truly wanted to be was an inspirational speaker. Part of me felt like this was a crazy idea to do at the age of 35, and yet another part of me was screaming from inside: DO IT.
The fear of years and years of not doing it was incredibly strong. But the pain of not doing it was stronger than facing the fear of doing it. So, I started to become who I truly was.
I prepared some small speeches and started asking to speak. Slowly over several years, I built up my skill and started to get an opportunity to speak in front of larger groups.
Today I am not a work famous speaker, but I do get paid to speak at conferences, and I am slowly building my reputation.
People know me today as a speaker because I finally had the guts to call myself one and act on my dreams.
I hope that these seven lessons help you to gain some clarity and belief that you can rise above your challenges and the pressure that the world places on you to conform. Your life is only as exciting as you dare to make it, so in the words of Mark Twain:
‘Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.’