- Bob Curley says there were a handful of crucial life lessons he learned between ages 40 and 50.
- From continuing to play sports to excising negative people from your life, here are 10 lessons Curley, 50, wishes he’d learned a decade ago.
When I hit my 40th birthday, someone gave me a coaster that read “If you haven’t grown up by age 40, you don’t have to.”
Recently, I saw the same coaster, only for age 50.
I think it’s imperfect advice at either juncture. We all want to retain our childlike wonder about life, of course.
But there are a lot of “grown-up” things I learned between those two big, round-number birthdays. Here are a few of the most important.
1. You’re not old yet.
At 40, I was healthy and active, but that date on the calendar seemed symbolic of my vanishing youth. A decade later, I know that while ageing is inevitable, you really are only as old as you act and feel.
You’ll almost inevitably start looking a little older in your 40s, but if you stay active and eat healthy, you’ll still be able to do almost everything you could do in your 30s.
2. You don’t need to quit playing sports.
I’ve been playing sports nearly all my life, and I’m still playing softball, football, and hockey in my 50s. Granted, it’s flag football and beer-league hockey, but people have been giving me variations of “When are you going to quit?” and “Aren’t you getting too old for that?” since I turned 30.
I usually tuned it out, but not as much as I should have. Don’t stop moving, even if you have to adjust your expectations and activity level down a little.
3. People your own age are going to die.
The odds of dying begin to increase rather disturbingly after you turn 40.
Death rates among US men in 2015 jumped to 609 deaths per 100,000 men ages 50-54 from 254 at ages 40-44, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Likewise, death rates among US women increased to 382 deaths per 100,000 women ages 50-54 from 159 at ages 40-44.
Death is always shocking, but it’s definitely an eye-opener when people you went to elementary school with start dying from “old age” diseases like heart attacks and diabetes.
4. Having your kids out of the house can be a blessing and a curse.
Sending your kids off to college can be traumatic, but becoming an empty-nester is also an opportunity. Couples may wake up to the reality that it’s just the two of you again.
Reconnect to a time when you were someone other than Mum or Dad. The door may be closing on a day-to-day routine revolving around kids, school, and family activities, but having the time to pursue your own interests and rekindle your romance can set the stage for decades of happiness to come.
5. You really can’t party like you used to.
There’s a popular saying that summarises this one pretty well (and I’m paraphrasing): When you’re 20, you try to sneak into parties; by your 40s, you try to sneak out.
When you drink later in life, you’ll likely get drunk on fewer drinks, and the hangovers are worse. Blame biology: After age 40, your liver becomes less efficient at processing alcohol, making your tolerance lower, and your body retains less water, making you more prone to hangover-inducing dehydration, according to The Wall Street Journal.
6. Smaller and simpler are better.
One of the big changes I made in my 40s was trading in a big house with a pool for a small one on a lake. The latter has plenty of living space but is far easier to keep clean and organised – and the lake doesn’t require any maintenance.
Simplifying has been so calming that I sometimes wish we had kept the starter home we had in our 20s rather than buying into the typical suburban big-house dream (and burdens) in our 30s.
7. There’s no need to suffer the opinions of idiots.
One of the most important things I realised in my 40s is that there are a very limited number of people in your life who truly love and care for you. Those people are irreplaceable.
Negative people, on the other hand, aren’t just expendable – they need to be excised from your life, both personally and professionally. If part of growing older is learning to deal with having less energy, you certainly don’t need to be around dour, life-draining people.
8. Do something for yourself now, not when you retire.
We’ve all heard the sad story of the person who works all their life only to drop dead a week after retirement. Too many 40-year-olds think the best years of their life are in the past. I was one of them. It’s the worst lie we tell ourselves.
In my 40s, I learned rock climbing; my wife ditched her hectic but ultimately unsatisfying career as an attorney to go back to school for a psychology degree. The truth is that we’re never too old to learn something new or experience new things.
9. Be more intentional in your thinking.
I spent decades making choices in my life not because they were good for me or my family, but because I “felt bad” about letting down other, frankly less important people.
It took me until my mid-40s to realise that the real obligations were the ones closest to home. Beware of knee-jerk responses – there’s nothing quite so old as being “set in your ways.” Whether you say yes or no to something, make sure there’s thought and intention behind it.
10. Gratitude is a real thing.
If you’re doing life right, you’re learning as you live. Some of that comes from loss and the inevitable mistakes you’ll make as a parent, spouse, and friend. If you’re lucky, you’ll come through it with a better appreciation of what you have and less concern about what you don’t.
I’m happy for the wisdom I’ve gained by age 50, but I could have prevented a lot of pain if I had learned a decade or so sooner to be a little more grateful a decade or so sooner.
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