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Life Lessons Learned in My 40’s That I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

Life Lessons For Young People

Photo by Jake Sloop on Unsplash
Photo by Jake Sloop on Unsplash

Prioritize Your Passions

Always keep your dreams in sight. Chart a life’s course around them just as an ancient sailor would chart a course using the stars.

“All we need do is find a star that is directly above the place we need to get to and it will point exactly the right direction for us.”

Let your dreams be your guiding light.

Even if you can’t build a career around them, you can carve out time to work on them each and every day. Make this your #1 priority.

Your goals, dreams, and passions will change and evolve. That’s okay. Just go with it.

Think of your life’s plan like a language immersion program. In the beginning, you may only spend 5–10% of your time working toward your dreams. Increase this time as you age so you are spending 100% of your time pursuing your passions by the time you retire.

Focus On Flow

Stop wasting your thoughts on marrying a rich guy/girl and living happily ever after! Disney got it wrong.

Getting rich and retiring is not the ultimate goal in life. Retiring with no dreams, passions, or even hobbies = inevitable decline.

A life well-lived needs purpose. We should strive for flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and author of the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience defines flow as

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

He also says:

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What activities bring you to a flow state?

How can you spend even more of your time in this state of clarity and excitement?

Flow-producing activities will lead to inner satisfaction and that is infinitely more valuable than the outward appearance of success.

Become Financially Literate

My number one regret about high school — not taking the class where you carry around a soda bottle baby and learn life skills. This class conflicted with a college prep course I was supposed to take, so I skipped it.

In hindsight, this would have been the single most useful high school class offering.

My friends and I arrived on our college campuses full of idealism and naivety.

The credit card companies were waiting. They offered us free ski lift tickets, meals, and even hotel vouchers. All we had to do was sign up for a credit card. After all, we had to establish credit, right?

I still remember the amazing Weezer and Live concert I got to attend when I signed up for my first credit card.

Be careful! Getting into credit card debt means you start the journey of life already behind. And you have to pay interest!

Cut up those credit cards after you go to the free concert or give them to a parent to keep for you (out of sight, out of mind, right?). If you have learned to stick to your budget, get a credit card that offers cash back and pay it off automatically each month. If you can’t do this, cut it up!

Learn as much as you can about saving and investing wisely. Remember, your #1 goal is to have a financial plan that will allow you to pursue your passions when you retire.

There are many free resources online. Just remember that many bloggers/businesses have affiliate links so if they try to convince you to purchase something, they get paid. Be skeptical. Do your own research and compare. You don’t have to purchase anything (except maybe a book).

Experiences Not Stuff

When you do spend your hard-earned cash, spend it on experiences. These are the things you will remember and look back on with nostalgia when you are older.

Don’t go shopping with friends if it means they are going to convince you to buy shoes and handbags that are out of your budget.

If you buy stuff in your 20’s and 30’s, you will spend your 40’s decluttering all of the crap you bought when you were younger.

I’m still getting rid shoes and handbags that don’t spark joy. When I see them, I imagine the weekends away I could have had or the extra money I could have invested.

Don’t buy them in the first place.

Travel

Travel. It will transform your life (for the better). You will learn to be more open and empathetic. And, you will gain confidence!

Once you have had to ring someone up and make travel arrangements in another language, you will feel like you can do anything.

When you return to your home country, everything will seem so much easier. You will fearlessly phone people (even if you hate being on the phone).

There are several ways to incorporate travel into your life without going into debt. Do it before you have house payments and children!

  1. Study abroad for at least a year — This is often the same price as attending college at home. I got this right and it remains one of the best and most transformative experiences of my life.
  2. Teach English abroad — There are many countries that will pay all of your costs if you are brave enough to go and teach English for 1–2 years.
  3. Volunteer for a service organization like the Peace Corps.
  4. Be a nanny — if you like children and you find a nice family to hire you.
  5. Be a digital nomad — if you can figure out how to make it work for you..

Know Your Personality Type

Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has been a revelation to me.

Our Western ideal is extroverted. This book shows the value of introversion. It helped me understand myself better. I wish I had thought about my personality type more when I was making decisions about career options.

Susan Cain writes:

“It’s not always so easy, it turns out, to identify your core personal projects. And it can be especially tough for introverts, who have spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time they choose a career, or a calling, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences.”

Susan Cain

Consider your personality type when you make career choices. Of course introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum and many introverts are able to rise to the occasion and be outgoing and charismatic when the situation demands it.

The important thing to consider is how you recharge your batteries. If you need alone time to do this, be sure to build this into your working life.

Perfectionism Is Bad

I used to wear my perfection like a badge of honor. I was a teacher. I worked really long hours trying to design amazing lessons and decorate my classroom to ‘Open House’ standards. Unfortunately, this led to burnout. It was all or nothing and it wasn’t good for my health or finding balance in my life.

Being a perfectionist is unsustainable and unhealthy.

Often, perfection paralyzes us and keeps us from action. I also dreamt of writing a children’s novel. Whenever I sat down to write, perfectionism reared its ugly head and kept me from moving forward.

I finally let it go and just wrote. Even though I cringe when I look back at some of my early drafts, I am proud of myself for moving forward. I know I am learning and growing.

The only way to get better is to just do it, fail and move on. If you do this enough, you will be ahead in the game of life.

Appreciate Your Healthy Body

I guarantee that when you are in your 40’s, you will look back at pictures of yourself in your 20’s and marvel at how good you used to look. It’s all a matter of perspective.

You are healthy. You can exercise without feeling sore afterward. Appreciate your healthy body.

Stop looking at images of beautiful, photo-shopped people on social media. It will only make you miserable.

I still remember the time my British husband and I were in a French hotel room searching for English channels on TV.

On the American channel, they were showing ‘The Girls Next Door’, the reality show about the playboy mansion. Women in full make-up, skimpy clothing, and plastic parts paraded around the mansion.

On the BBC, they were airing Gardeners’ World. Two mud-covered older women in baggy trousers, wearing absolutely no make-up and jewelry were enthusiastically digging in the garden and discussing flowers.

The contrast between the images on the two channels will forever be ingrained in my head. It was so refreshing to see women enthusiastically engaged in an activity they loved without any expectations of looking good for a TV audience.

So ladies, when you start feeling bad about your appearance, flip on Gardeners’ World and remember rule #1: Prioritize Your Passions.

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