40 Lessons I’ve Learned at 40

And they pretty much all come down to being nice to yourself and others

I’ll cut right to the chase. I’m 40! Oh my god. How did this happen? I really don’t know. But it did.

The bad news is that I’m over the proverbial hill. The good news is that I’ve learned a few things along the way. And I’ve decided to share them with you. So here we go…

Health

  1. The way your body looks and feels is determined roughly as follows: 75% what & how much you eat; 10% strength exercises, 10% rest, 5% cardio

  2. 80%+ of what goes into your body should be naturally occurring: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat. Chemicals = avoid. Refrigerated = good. Otherwise, moderation.

  3. Mental health is as important as physical health and very closely related. Your mood and even thoughts are often results of chemical reactions. The first step in controlling for this is by following #1 and #2.

  4. Our minds are incredibly busy and jumbled. We’re not that different from goldfish, bouncing from one thought to another. Meditation is a great way to observe this and to realize that you are not your thoughts. This concept is extremely important.

  5. Go easy on alcohol.

  6. Be careful with prescription drugs. Half of what they say today will help us will be considered absolutely insane if not toxic by our great-grandkids.

Relationships

  1. Find someone who is smarter than you, gets your jokes and is a better person than you. Some of the latter may even rub off on you.

  2. Small gestures go a long way. Empty the dishwasher.

  3. In arguments, even when you know you’re right, proving that may not be your best route. The older you get the more you realize how to keep your mouth shut.

  4. Don’t be nasty, mean, malicious or untruthful. Life’s too short.

  5. Looks are fleeting. Having someone at your side who you actually like never gets old and is probably the best part of life.

Politics

  1. It’s human nature to want to belong to a tribe. But politics is not black and white. It’s gray. That makes for bad TV ratings, though.

  2. Be cautious of oversharing political views on social media. Here’s roughly how they are received by your friends: 50% decide they actually don’t like you; 50% agree with you but that breaks down like this: 35% think you’re foolish for oversharing, 5% think you’re awesome, and 10% are Russian hackers.

  3. Politics, while important, should not be allowed to ruin your day, week, month or year…. or your relationships for that matter. Keep an eye on this.

  4. Despite the constant media barrage of bad news, the world, over the long term, is getting amazingly better at an exponential pace if measured by things like child mortality, violence, life expectancy, quality of life, access to clean water and food, poverty, etc. Basically, everything is getting better. For proof, read: Abundance and Bold (both by Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler), Factulness, Enlightenment Now and World Positive (from Gabe Kleinman & team).

Religion

  1. Most of the world’s major religions are essentially the same story, created roughly at the same time, to explain: Why are we here and how did we get here? The one that you identify with is 95% determined by what part of the world you happened to be born in and to what family.

  2. Religion is not inherently bad or good. It’s personal. If it centers you, gives you purpose and connects you to a community, it’s great. If it requires you to judge, hate or want to harm or kill others, it’s probably not the best thing in the world for you.

  3. Know your facts. Don’t be lazy and blindly follow. Do the work to understand what you believe. Two of my favorite books on the human condition are Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Parenting/Family

  1. One of the harder parts of parenting is understanding that you need to give your kids the tools to figure out who they are and want to be, rather than trying to control who they become.

  2. Once in a while, when you feel like screaming at them, try laughing instead.

  3. Be nice to them. You’ll regret it if you aren’t.

  4. You’re going to screw up. A lot. Just make sure it’s not fatal.

  5. Watching your kids sleep is one of life’s joys. But maybe it’s creepy, like, once they’re 18.

  6. Enjoy your parents (and try to be nice to them) while you’ve got them. This goes by faster than you can imagine. (This one caused tears… love you, Dad)

Career

  1. Any success I’ve had in my life (academically, career-wise, etc.) has been roughly driven by: 45% hard work/persistence, 30% attitude, 15% circumstance (where/when I was born, color of my skin, gender, etc.), 5% luck, 5% natural skill.

  2. “Don’t burn any bridges,” said my dad. He was right. How you leave a job tends to outweigh everything you did while you were there. Leave well.

  3. Be the nicest to the people who have absolutely no power or are the most junior in any organization. Do this for a selfish reason: not to impress your boss, but to impress yourself.

  4. Be humble, at every stage of your career.

  5. When trying to figure out what career to pursue, whether it’s your first, second or 25th, focus on what you’re naturally good at and enjoy. Money, seniority, etc. all follows if you love it and do it well.

  6. Whatever you choose, try to become the best at it. A true expert.

  7. Don’t have disagreements over email. Never ends well and too much room for misinterpretation. Pick up the phone or sit down and talk.

Self-discipline

  1. A lot of things are out of your control. Your thoughts and actions are largely in your control. If you want to see who’s got this mastered and who doesn’t, watch the varying reactions of people on an airplane the next time you’re sitting on the tarmac for two hours.

  2. You are capable of way, way more than you give yourself credit for in every aspect of your life. Set a goal, commit to it, and chip away every day relentlessly.

Self-care/awareness

  1. Trying to impress other people is a waste of time. Everyone is too focused on themselves to notice.

  2. You only get one body so don’t do anything stupid like drugs to screw it up.

  3. If you’re happy with the way you look, feel and act, good things will come to you in your life. If you’re not, they won’t. It’s not selfish to focus on yourself first, it’s required.

  4. Realize that everyone struggles. Everyone is unhappy or anxious or stressed or worse. Don’t obsess about being perfect and be willing to accept help when you need it.

  5. Saying “no” is really important for happiness. Don’t go to the friend of a friend’s holiday party because you feel obligated. Read a book or have a date with your spouse. Your hours on this planet are limited so protect them vigorously.

  6. Listen to music you love. It’s good for you.

  7. Dedicate time every day for yourself. Early morning or late at night or whatever works for you. Exercise, meditate, read, write, pray… whatever it is you need. Again, not selfish, required. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose control or perspective.

  8. I lied, #41: Don’t take yourself or life too seriously. Try to relax and enjoy it. It’ll be over before we know it.

That’s what I’ve learned. I fail at these every day, but I’m trying.

Share

If you enjoyed this list, you might like my weekly newsletter, Intentional Wisdom. I write one article per week in which I try to give my readers a bit of motivation, inspiration and some practical advice for getting a little bit better everyday at every aspect of our lives.