Turning Forty. Five Life Lessons.
I turned forty yesterday. I was born on June 15th in the last year of the 1970s, in North Shore Hospital in Great Neck, New York. Since then, life has generally been good to me—or at least that’s what my optimism tells me as I consider my past and present.
I have a beautiful family. No major illnesses. And I have achieved many of my goals, both in my personal life and professionally. I feel I have made a contribution, have the potential to make a greater contribution, and I am constantly making an effort to grow. I have experienced failure and disappointment, but not of the kind that I significantly regret. I feel I am blessed and the best is yet to come.
But as it goes with milestones of this type, I cannot help but feel a need to look within, to analyze, to take stock of my situation.
A couple of years ago, famed business strategist and writer Jim Collins started rating his days from one to five. He does this so he can look back and accurately determine what in his life brought him the most fulfillment. He keeps a spreadsheet with numbers and notes. After a period of time, he reviews his ratings and adjusts how he is spending his time to ensure that he experiences more fulfillment. I like this idea conceptually, but I probably won’t pursue it, as it feels a bit antiseptic to me. But I do like the idea of looking back and finding ways to understand and improve my life as I pass this milestone.
I have discussed my views pretty extensively in my writings, so I am going to share specific lessons I’ve learned in the past couple decades of adulthood that I would like to apply to the next part of my journey. Here we go:
- During the first half of my life I think I often feared risk. I didn’t want to fail or make a bad decision, so I limited my life. I didn’t take action on some of my best insights and ideas. In the second half of my life, I would like to take more risks. I have reservations about this because I have a family and reputation to protect, but I don’t want to reach eighty and feel I did not live my life to the fullest. I think I would be doing those I love and myself a disservice by not allowing the richness of life to be fully realized by playing life too safe. And I need to keep reminding myself that “giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” Failure is part of the process.
- I am going to double down on people and relationships. While I have many meaningful relationships in my life, both personal and professional, at times during my first forty years I sacrificed relationships for ambition or other selfish motivations. That was a mistake. While professional contributions are important to the world, there is nothing more important than the depth of your relationships and connections to others. I write both because I have to, and because I want to forge bonds with my readers. I am going to do everything I can over the next forty years to build, maintain, and expand my relationships. I truly believe the richness of life lies in the fabric of your personal connections to others.
- What is the right thing to do? I get asked this question more than you could possibly imagine. I have pondered it and answered it many times, in many different ways. But as I turn forty I can say without question that the right thing to do is whatever YOU think is the right thing to do. No one else can tell you what this is. You have to go to sleep at night, get up in the morning, and be satisfied with who you are in this world. That will only happen if you feel good about yourself, if you can forgive yourself for mistakes and give yourself a pat on the back when you do good. No one else can give you that sense of self. You must love yourself, trust yourself, and be honest with who you are. Live your life, not anyone else’s.
- I have been preaching this one for many years, but at this point in my life I believe it more deeply than ever. I always knew instinctively that doing work you care deeply about, that serves something greater than yourself, was an important factor in being fulfilled. Over the years, I have experienced both kinds of professional existence. I have done work I love and done work I felt little or no connection to. But without question, a deep connection to your work—the ability to enjoy and gain meaning from what you do every day—is an integral part of a fulfilled existence. In my opinion, without a purposeful connection to your daily work, true fulfillment may not be attainable.
- When I look at my children I feel the purest love I have ever known. When I see my wife smile it lights up my soul. When I speak with my mother and she reassures me that everything is going to be okay, I know it will be. Family is everything. They aren’t perfect, they never will be. No one’s family, rich or poor, big or small, is without conflict. For some of us, our friends are our family. Those people you consider your family, they are the closest you can ever come to feeling you have a place in the world. Through them comes the feeling that you are protected and loved. Hold onto them and never let them go.
We all want to be fulfilled in our daily lives and successful in our pursuits. While we define our fulfillment and success differently, there is no doubt that the journey to realizing our desires will be continuously challenging. Kids, relationships, and work are all ongoing challenges. We are constantly overcoming challenges and moving on to the next one. Many of us spend our life resisting challenges, trying to stop change from occurring, to maintain the status quo. As I embark on my fortieth year, I can say without question that the key to life is accepting and embracing challenges as a fundamental element of life. When you shift your perspective to accept this truth and love the journey, no matter how challenging it might be, you open yourself up to a richer, more peaceful, and more fulfilling life experience. After all, as Ferran Adrià puts it: “That is what life is, a struggle to reach a challenge.”