A lot has happened during my 40 years on this planet, so I got reflecting on the life lessons I’ve learned during that time.
Some people might feel a bit despondent to reach such a milestone, to have reached “that age”. However, I like to remind myself of a certain quote. It goes along the lines of: “Never moan about getting older, it’s a privilege denied to many”.
I feel truly grateful to have reached this age. I don’t feel overly bothered about the number. But, I’ve certainly been more reflective during the months leading up to the big “four-oh”.
40 Life Lessons I’ve Learned In 40 Years
You’ll notice that some of these lessons are ‘deeper’ than others. That’s because sometimes things don’t need to be deep to be meaningful. That’s my excuse anyway!
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
It’s such a cliched term, but it’s so true.
We spend far too much mental energy worrying about the little things. We can let our thoughts run away from us and end up thinking the “worse case scenario”.
Before we know it our mind is there in that worse case scenario, and we’re filled with dread and anxiety.
So, it’s important to try to keep things in perspective. Look at the bigger picture. Will this matter in a few month’s time?
I find that using mindfulness helps. Look out for this in lesson 19!
2. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay
I’m getting better at not worrying about this so much. I used to be so preoccupied with wanting people to like me. Then I realised, how realistic is that?!
There’s no way on this earth that every single person will like me. And that’s okay. Why’s it okay? Well, not everyone is my cup of tea, so how I can expect to be everyone’s?
The thing is, you will meet people who are your cup of tea and you’ll be theirs. All will be good.
And that’s how life works 🙂
3. You need to move through fear in order to grow
I’m well aware that fear has held me back from doing things over the years.
It stopped me starting this blog for a while. I was worried what people would think. Worried I’d fail. Fear is hugely powerful emotion.
In the end I had to push through the fear and just go for it. And because I did I’ve learnt so much along the way. And continue to do so.
What are you putting off because of fear?
4. Chocolate and peanut butter are awesome together!
One of my favourite ‘meals’ is oats with chocolate protein powder and peanut butter. I’ve never grown bored of it!
Maybe that says something weird about me?! I just think it’s the best ‘comfort food’, and I can eat it knowing it’s doing me good.
Also, anything from Reeses is the best, but I have to avoid having too much in the house otherwise I’m doomed!
5. You don’t know the battles that others are fighting
I’m not trying to paint myself as a saint, because I’ve judged plenty of people in my time. And making judgements is something we all do, often without thinking.
There have been times I’ve judged others. I’ve made assumptions about why they behave a certain way.
Underneath the surface, I’ve found there’s a lot going on.
It hasn’t always justified their behaviour, but I’ve learned that people aren’t straightforward.
We all have a story to tell.
6. Don’t let your age define you
I’ve noticed that, as women, we seem to get more slack for getting older and ‘looking our age’. Heaven forbid we look our actual age rather than 20 years’ younger!
I don’t see many men getting this level of scrutiny. If anything, they get the “ageing like a fine wine” treatment.
Another narrative I hear is that we can’t do X, Y Z, or dress a certain way once we’re past a certain age.
The fact is, you can do what you what. And dress how you like, regardless of the year on your birth certificate!
This narrative from society will keep playing out, but you have a choice. You don’t need to subscribe to society’s expectations of you.
Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Don’t let age be the limiting factor.
7. You are enough
For years I thought I needed to look a certain way. Be a certain weight. Do a certain job to be enough.
I feel like that ‘striving’ part of me has lessened over time. I’m not saying it’s gone entirely. Like I said, I’m always working on myself. But, I do have more a sense of me being “enough” as I am.
Your worth is not tied in with your looks, your weight, or your career choices. Other people might think differently. Society and culture might have other views.
But they don’t matter. What matters is what you think. You are enough as you are, without anything else added on.
8. The only limits are the ones created by your mind
Like I mentioned above, I’ve stopped myself doing things so many times. I’ve told myself I’ll fail, I’m not good enough, or that people will think I’m stupid for trying.
I talk more about that in this post about not worrying about what people think.
These limiting beliefs held me back. Over time I realised that it was me getting in my own way!
Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself.
If you feel the urge to stop yourself doing something, question what’s stopping you? Is there a legitimate reason? Or is it you?
9. Set your boundaries
I like helping people. I guess that’s one reason I’m a mental health professional. But, there’s been times where I’ve put other people’s needs before my own. And in the end, they’ve come to expect it.
I learned that I need to put boundaries in place. To look after myself first and foremost.
It’s important to make things clear with people from the outset. Be clear about you will/won’t do.
You don’t have to come across as harsh. Just set the expectations from the beginning so everyone knows where they stand.
10. Life is full of curve balls
Ever heard the saying “Man makes plans and God laughs”? Yeah, that!
For my 40th birthday we were supposed to be flying out to New York. We’d been looking forward to it for months. Life had been pretty stressful so it was our ‘getaway from reality’ holiday.
But, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and pretty much the whole world was put on hold. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gutted. It was awful having to cancel our flights and hotel.
However, I’m grateful it worked out that way. Being in New York would’ve been no fun at all. And at least we were safe at home.
My point is, life is going to throw up some stuff you just don’t expect. It’s inevitable, because we’re not in control of everything!
The curve ball isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s how we respond to it that makes the difference.
Try thinking about the situation differently. Think about how can you take a situation and make it a bit better for yourself.
11. Don’t give up on your goals
A bit like the ‘curve ball’ lesson above, life is going to throw up some obstacles which get in the way of your goals. At these moments you have a choice as to what you do.
Do you take action which will keep you moving in the direction of your goal? Or, do you give up?
When I applied for my qualification as a mental health professional, I wasn’t accepted onto the course I applied to. So, I decided to take another route to get where I wanted to be. It wasn’t the one I’d planned, but it worked out.
If I’d have chosen to, I could have just given up on my goal. But, I decided to work out if there was another way, and there was!
Don’t give up at the first sign of a barrier. See if you can go round it, underneath it, over it, or through it!
12. Pets teach us how to love unconditionally
If you’ve never had pets you might not understand this one. But, my pets have taught me a lot about being in the moment and loving with all their being.
My kitty, Charlie, passed away in 2018. He was my best friend and I was heartbroken. He was the grumpiest cat when I got him from the shelter. But, he mellowed into a loving old boy.
I now have a dog called Cookie. She asks for what she wants, when she wants it. She even answers back sometimes! Most of all though, she gives her love unconditionally. She’s amazing.
13. Some people won’t like it if you change
I’ve lost friendships due to changes I’ve made in my life.
The saying I think of here is: “Those that mind won’t matter, and those that matter won’t mind”.
When we make changes to our ourselves, for example, in how we look, act, or carry ourselves, there may be people who find it hard to adjust.
Those that care about us will come alongside us, but there may be others who don’t. At that point I guess it’s about whether you want people in your life who don’t accept you for who you are.
14. When it comes to friendships, quality is better than quantity
This kind of leads on from the last lesson above, and speaks for itself.
When I was younger I had a large friendship group. We all got on pretty well, but there weren’t many in the group I’d really talk to about things. As I’ve gotten older, my friendship circle has grown smaller.
I think it’s because you learn who’s worth spending time with and who isn’t.
That’s not to be mean, but some people add to our lives whereas others tend to take from it. Negative people can have a big impact.
So, just because your friendship group might be small, doesn’t mean that’s bad. I’d rather have a handful of honest reliable friends, than a large group of people I don’t trust with my personal stuff.
15. People will let you down
Another of the life lessons I learned is that there’ll be people you think you can trust who will let you down.
The manner and extent of which they let you down will vary. This may determine whether the relationship can be repaired and you can both move on.
I know that I’ve let people down. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to repair the damage.
If that’s the case then all you can do is think about the learning you can take from the situation. You can then take this forward into other relationships.
16. Exercise is good for your mental health
People may often think that exercise is all about improving your physical health. However, there are numerous benefits to your mental health as well.
I was ‘exercise avoidant’ until I reached my mid-20s. Once I started, it was like a switch turned on in my brain. It made me feel so good, it gave me a purpose, and I felt like I was achieving things.
The best thing to do is choose an exercise that you really like. Don’t worry what everyone else is doing.
Do what you love and you’re more likely to stick with it.
17. What you have to say is of value
There are many times I’ve been shut down and my views dismissed. People didn’t want to hear what I was saying. I took this to mean that it wasn’t worth me speaking up. My feelings didn’t matter.
After some time I recognised that I wasn’t the problem. There was nothing wrong with what I was saying. What I was saying was actually valid – that’s why it was being dismissed!
If you’re feeling dismissed by certain people, don’t assume it’s about you. The other person’s reaction is about them. And, certainly don’t assume, like I did, that your views aren’t valid. Your views matter, and you deserve to be heard.
If certain people are dismissing you then perhaps it’s time to review that relationship.
18. It’s important to get out in nature
Luckily, I live fairly close to the countryside so I try to get there when I’m not working.
Being out in nature is like a ‘reset button’ for me. It takes me away from the day-to-day stuff and brings me back to where I came from.
We’re all connected to the world around us, and being close to nature hammers that point home even more.
If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take some time to visit your local countryside. Go for a walk – you might be able to find some walking routes online.
19. Learn to be more mindful
There are all sorts of ways to be mindful. Mindfulness is about really paying attention to what is immediately in front or around us.
Contrary to what some people believe, mindfulness isn’t about getting rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It’s about being open to ‘sitting with’ the thoughts and feelings.
Some people like to meditate. Other people might practice mindful eating or mindful walking.
Try to remain present in the moment. If you notice you start worrying about the past or the future, then bring yourself back to the here and now.
20. If you want to be humbled, take a trip to the coast
A bit like the countryside, being by the sea really helps connect me with nature.
Looking out at the vast ocean, I feel really small and insignificant. Which is actually quite reassuring!
When I want a mental health ‘reset’ I often head to the coast.
The salty air and the sound of the waves are just the thing to clear my mind.
21. You’re stronger than you think
You are strong and resilient. You’ve no doubt had some challenging times in your life, and you’ve come through them. You may carry the scars, but you made it. And you’re here.
Never doubt what you’re capable of. Your mindset is what will help get you through difficult times.
I say this because I’ve been there. And I know that when I shifted my mindset, it spurred me into action and helped me move forward.
22. There’s learning to be had in every situation
I totally get that when you’re in the middle of a difficult situation it’s hard to see what you can learn.
However, once I’ve come through a challenging period I’ve been able to reflect to see what learning I can take from it.
Even if the outcome of the situation hasn’t been positive, I’ve still learned from it. In fact, it’s almost always when the outcome hasn’t been positive that I’ve learned the most!
23. Trust your gut
I’m a big believer in listening to your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel quite right, stop and take a step back.
People often mock ‘women’s intuition’ and this may cause us to dismiss what we’re feeling. We might feel we’re “just being silly”.
I don’t necessarily think there’s anything strange going on. However, we shouldn’t dismiss when something feels ‘off’.
Take more time to listen to your gut.
24. You can’t please everybody
We often tie ourselves up in knots trying to be all things to all people. It’s not possible, as I discuss here.
I can’t possibly keep changing in the hope I’ll please everyone. You can’t control what other people think, so focus your efforts on what you can control.
And what you can control is doing the things that please you and bring you fulfilment.
As long as you’re not harming anyone, then do what you’re passionate about. Try not to worry about other people’s views.
25. Don’t believe everything you think
Our minds are incredibly powerful. When we think things, we often believe them to be true.
However, fundamentally, thoughts are just strings of words put together into a sentence. The only way they have any power is if we give it to them!
Ultimately, we get to choose how we interpret our thoughts. And if we can change this, we can change how we feel.
My blog post talks about changing our thoughts to change how we feel.
26. Personal growth comes from making mistakes
When life is going swimmingly, we don’t tend to think about why it’s going so well.
It’s only really when we’ve messed up that we have to stand back and reflect. We have to think about where we went wrong, and what we could do differently next time.
It’s easy to get into a cycle of beating ourselves up. However, that won’t do anything other than make us feel bad.
If we accept our mistakes, we can then move to a position of “Okay, what can I learn from this?”. That way you reduce the risk of the same mistake happening again.
27. Don’t compare yourself to others
I am hugely guilty of this and still have to watch myself. Comparing ourselves to others only serves to bring us down. When we compare ourselves to others we’re being really unfair.
One example is the blogging world and/or social media.
When we perceive others as being more successful, do we take into account how long they’ve been doing this? Do we know how much time they have to dedicate to it each day? Do we know whether or not they bought their followers??
Everyone is unique and has a different set of circumstances. We do ourselves a huge disservice when we compare ourselves to others. We’re not comparing like for like.
Focus on the progress you’re making along your own journey. That’s the only journey worth focusing on.
28. Social media is a blessing and a curse
I admit to being a social media addict. I love interacting with people, and it gives great exposure to my blog. However, I’ve also experienced hostility for no apparent reason. I don’t understand why people can be so rude!
If you can learn to brush off the negativity, or just ignore it, then social media is great for connecting with others and learning new things.
29. Your past does not define you
It can be hard to let go of the past, especially if it’s been difficult or even traumatic.
Actually, I’m not sure it’s possible to ‘let go’ as such. Perhaps a better way to view the past is to acknowledge it, but not allow it to dominate your life.
The past doesn’t define you as a person. It doesn’t define what your present and future will be. Unless you let it.
30. Your body and mind are you biggest assets; invest in them
I’ve learnt that therapy can be hugely beneficial to my mental health.
I feel there are times when it’s good to talk to a total stranger about your difficulties. Family and friends mean well, but sometimes they put their foot in it!
Equally, physical health is just as important. Try to exercise for enjoyment and health rather than appearance, be mindful of what you eat, and try to get good sleep. All these things have helped me to feel better mentally, too.
When we’re busy it can be hard to make time to unwind. But, it’s important to do this. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
31. There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely
I’m naturally an introvert. I’m quite happy being in my own company, as are many of us. Although I think some people find that difficult to understand.
People often assume we must feel lonely, being by ourselves. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth! There’s a huge difference with being alone and being lonely.
So, if you’re someone who likes spending time by themselves, then carry on! Do your thing and don’t worry how others might perceive it!
32. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time
This one might sound a bit “Duh, yeah!”. But, in my 20s I really used to believe that I couldn’t enjoy myself unless I’d had a drink. I think alcohol used to help me feel more confident in social situations.
When I abstained from alcohol for 18 months, I was surprised at how much better I felt without it.
The only ‘downside’ was that being around people who were drunk was a bit weird, and really boring! But, I’m not often in that situation these days. It’s really nice to wake up the next day without a hangover.
If you want to stop drinking, or cut down, I’d recommend giving it a go as I’ve found it really liberating.
33. Always be yourself
I’ve found it hard to be myself over the years. I think there was a fear that people wouldn’t accept the real me.
Then again, why does it matter? Better to live authentically than pretending to be something you’re not. That will eat away at you.
Now that I’ve reached 40 years of age I feel much more comfortable in my own skin. And less apologetic about it.
It kind of comes back to lesson 2 – not everyone will like you. However, you’ll be far happier in the long run if you stay true to yourself and what you believe in.
34. Laugh often
Have you ever laughed so hard you cried? Ever laughed so much you end up forgetting why you’re laughing in the first place??
Laughter really can be the best medicine. It’s worth surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh, and whom you can laugh with.
This is my excuse for all the laughter lines around my eyes!
35. Be thankful for the little things
It sounds cliche, but there’s so much I still take for granted. I’m very lucky in the grand scheme of things.
I have a roof over my head, a partner who loves me, and an adorable pooch. We’re not rich with money, but we’re rich in that we’re safe, comfortable, and loved.
When the chips are down, I find it important to keep things in perspective. I remind myself what I do have in my life.
It helps me recognise that things could be far worse.
36. Food is not the enemy
I spent many years of my life fearing food. I was worried it would make me fat, even though I hardly ate any.
Once I started weight lifting I educated myself about nutrition. It helped me learn that food is fuel and enhances the body’s performance. It’s not to be feared. I can now enjoy food – a lot!
There are no ‘good and bad’ foods. It’s important physically and mentally to have a wide variety of foods in your diet. Allow yourself to eat all foods without guilt.
37. Most of the time, people just don’t care about you
Before you start panicking, let me explain what I mean.
As I’ve said before, there have been many times where I’ve held back on things for fear of what other people will think. The reality actually is that people don’t really care that much!
People are too busy getting on with their own lives. If I want to wear bright neon leggings, then the majority of people are going to just walk on by!
So by that token, worry less because fundamentally people are more focused on themselves!
38. Procrastinate less
I’ve been a big procrastinator in my time. It’s never led to anything other than more worry!
It’s like the saying “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today”.
If there’s something that needs doing, you’re better off getting it done so you can forget about it.
39. Listening can be more powerful than ‘doing’
When someone we care about is having difficulties, it’s tempting to want to ‘do’ things to help. Often though, people don’t want you to do anything other than listen.
Don’t underestimate the power of listening. Many times I’ve tried talking to people and felt dismissed. They didn’t really hear what I was saying.
The first time I went to therapy was when I felt truly listened to. I believe that was the turning point for me starting to value myself more. Someone had taken the time to hear me out.
If someone wants to talk, then listen. And really try to hear what they’re saying. That might be more powerful than anything you could ever do for them.
40. Forgive yourself
We’ve all done stuff we’re not proud of. We’ve all had embarrassing moments, and behaved in ways we’re not willing to admit.
We’re human! We’re fallible. We will get things wrong. Amazingly wrong, sometimes!
As I said before, the greatest learning comes when we make mistakes. But, as part of that learning, make sure you forgive yourself.
If we can be more compassionate to ourselves, it helps us to extend this compassion to others.
If you’ve got all the way through this list then thank you for reading! There’s a lot of life lessons I’ve learned on this list!
If you had to write a list, what sort of lessons would you include? Let me know in the comments!
Welcome! I’m a Psychologist and fitness enthusiast. My passion is supporting people with their health and wellbeing, and inspiring them to pursue the things they love doing. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want to collaborate!