Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s) – Part One
8 minute read
Where did the time go?
I know I’m not the only person to have ever asked that question, but seriously, where did it go?
I’ve tried looking in the back of the wardrobe, I’ve searched for it on the internet, and I’ve even travelled to the mountains of Nepal to ask some wise old men with big white beards (okay maybe I made that bit up); but no matter what I do or where I look, I just don’t know where it went.
Why am I asking this question? Because I recently turned 40.
The look of disbelief that currently resides on my face is nothing to do with how fast my thirties passed by. In fact, when I look back over the past decade it actually felt like a lifetime ago when I was partying with my friends in Bratislava, celebrating the day when I left behind my 20’s for good.
The question arises as a result of looking back over my entire lifetime. Where did it all go? How did I manage to reach 40 in what feels like such a relatively short space of time? Maybe it’s because up until my 30’s I lived a life with very little responsibility and it was all about going places, doing things, caring very little about money (or the debt that arises as a result of caring very little about money), and embracing every opportunity that was presented to me.
But as I flew out of Slovakia in 2008 and looked through the window and back out over the beautiful capital city, I knew something was about to change.
And so I entered my thirties, still determined to live life to the full, but with a much greater sense of responsibility.
The changes didn’t come about instantaneously, but over the course of the following decade I began to focus on my career, on personal development and facing my fears, on saying ‘no’ a little more, and being selective on when I’d say ‘yes’.
I changed my attitude towards money, towards the past, the present, and the future, and as I began to value life more, in turn I began to value myself more. But perhaps most importantly, I began to value the friends and family that were around me, far more than I ever did.
Split into four separate parts and being released over four consecutive days, this feature length article is about looking back over this time and summarising the biggest lessons that I learned in this most significant of decades; lessons that I plan to carry over and build upon in my 40’s and beyond.
Lesson #1 – Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned
I had a crystal clear vision for my life when I was younger.
Even as far back as in my teen years, if I’d have been asked how my life would look when I was 40, well, first of all I’d have sniggered and said that I’d never be that old (didn’t we all say that), but then when the joke had passed, my answer would have been simple.
By 40 years of age I’d be married with two children. We’d have the family home in the country, two cars, a fully stocked wine rack, and I’d have a dog that I’d take for a walk every day.
The reality is that at 40 years of age I have none of those things.
The closest I’ve come to ticking any of them off is the wine rack, but it’s seldom fully stocked because wine doesn’t tend to last very long in my house; nor does cheese.
But the funny thing is this. I am far happier than I was when I was 20, and my life is much better than it was when I turned 30. Therefore I know that my life is moving in the right direction, despite the fact that it’s so different to how I thought it would be.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned it, and although I’m a huge advocate for making plans and then going balls out in order to achieve them, I’ve also come to learn that some flexibility is necessary too.
Circumstances change, people change, you will change, and therefore your plans will change.
Not everybody is destined for the same things in life. Very often we follow what we’re led to believe is right rather than listening to our gut, following our instincts, and doing what feels right to us on an individual level.
All you need to be certain of is that you’re on the right path, and the only way you’ll work that out is by listening to your own heart.
Some people want their entire life to be mapped out and to know where they’ll be at next week, next month, next year, next decade; but I have no idea what my future holds. And although yes, that can sometimes be a scary thing, I also choose to see it as a blessing.
Life is a gift, and as with any gift you have to be grateful for it.
Go out there, live truthfully, follow your heart, and come what may.
Lesson #2 – I am not invincible
Well this second one takes the prize for pointing out the bloody obvious, yet it’s something that we ignore for much of our earlier lives.
I don’t know about you but I always used to feel like I’d never get any older and that my body would keep on recovering from everything that I threw at it.
As a youngster I was always something of a daredevil and seemed destined to be the next Evil Kenevil. And despite several bouts of concussion and having been stitched up more times than the knees on my school trousers, I always came through the other side functioning with 100% fitness, sporting a brand new scar, and being as daring as ever.
This didn’t last forever.
After a few injuries that have now been sustained through football and Muay Thai, I can’t run for any more than five miles without blowing my knee out, my ankle gives way randomly and without any warning, I suffer regularly from lower back pain, and I have bright flashes in the vision of my left eye.
Whenever I go mountain-biking with my friends I can no longer throw myself down hills and over jumps without feeling some hesitation. Instead of being the guy at the front of the pack who can’t wait for the next big obstacle or hairpin, I’m now the one at the back who’s enjoying the scenery and whistling to himself.
And it’s not just about recovering from physical injuries, it’s now more mental and about the practicalities of daily life. I ask myself, if I broke my arm today, how would I cook and clean at home, how would I get dressed, what about getting to work, and could I even do my job?
Gone are the days when I could just recover on the sofa, miss a few days of school, and get looked after by my Mum.
Even all the years of going to gigs have taken their toll and I now suffer from permanent tinnitus. A few years ago I saw 119 bands in the space of one year, now I’m lucky if I can make it into double figures.
A few weeks ago I watched the movie, Baby Driver, and I had to constantly pause the DVD to work out whether the buzzing sound that I could hear was the tinnitus of the lead character or my own. I just looked to the ceiling with a confused expression on my face while my girlfriend looked at me with a concerned look on hers.
“Can you hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what?” Alex asked with a slightly scared look on her face, perhaps thinking I could hear voices that were telling me to do evil things.
“Never mind.” I responded.
It was quite an awkward evening after that.
Lesson #3 – Life can be cruel (and you cannot make any sense of it)
That one word, made up of just three letters, is one of life’s biggest questions.
It’s also the one that is often impossible to answer, and I don’t think there’s been a week that’s gone by where I’ve not had to question why something has happened, whether that be to me, to you, or to anybody.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do some people manage to remain unpunished for their despicable actions? Why can a life be taken away from an innocent child when there are evil people who manage to live long lives, well into their eighties or nineties? Why are there parents who care very little for the welfare of their children, and yet they pop out baby after baby, each of which are destined to suffer neglect and abuse? And at the very same time, why are there men and women who have all the love in the world to give, yet for some cruel genetic reason their bodies won’t allow them to bring children into the world?
Why does all this happen?
I wrestled with these kinds of questions for years, but they always remained unanswered. Or at least, I was never able to find an answer that would allow me to sleep any easier at night.
The only answer I could ever really find was; because that’s just life.
And that’s what I’ve finally come to accept over these past few years.
Bad things do happen to good people, bad people do get away unpunished, and there’s absolutely no sense in it whatsoever.
Life is life, and it can be fucking cruel at times.
As I once wrote in a previous article (read this article – You Are Not Alone), when we’re affected by one of these acts and we’re in pain or suffering, I try to tell myself that life is just being life. This time the bad thing happened to us rather than somebody else, and next time it will be somebody else’s turn.
That may sound a little flippant, but seriously, what else can you do? Unless you’re going to hide from people, form no close relationships, and live under a rock for the rest of your life, shit is going to happen to you. Even then, while you’re hiding away under your rock you may still get bitten on the arse by a diseased rat and then develop a huge boil on your bum cheek which becomes infected and then grows and grows until eventually you explode and die.
Okay maybe I exaggerated that a bit.
But my point is, no matter what, you will experience pain and suffering. Yes you may suffer worse than the previous person, but the person after you may suffer ten times worse than you did.
There’s no mathematics to it, no logic, no patterns, and no fucking sense in it whatsoever!
It just, is.
But let’s now take some brightness from this darkest of lessons and remember that the outcome of suffering is the development of character. A person that has suffered the cruelties of life can often become the most compassionate, loving, caring, and compelling people with a genuine gratitude for life. Yet show me somebody that has only ever walked the easy path and who knows nothing about suffering, and I’ll show you a person who will most likely struggle to show empathy and whose stories will have very little depth.
And yes, bad things happen and they will happen again, but never forget that good things happen and they will happen again too. Don’t let the awareness of life’s cruelties hold you back from living fully.
I don’t believe in questioning these things too much anymore, but what I do believe in is karma.
And although karma doesn’t work out all of the time, there’s no denying that if you live the best life that you can and practice love instead of hate, you will undoubtedly increase your chances of good things happening to you, and around you.
And then when those dark and testing times come along, it will be the good that surrounds you and the love and happiness that you’ve attracted, which will help carry you back towards the light.
Click here to read Part Two of “Turning 40 (and The 12 Biggest Life Lessons That I Learned in my 30’s)”
Did the first part of this feature length article resonate with you and do you know of anybody that could benefit from reading it? If so then please do feel free to share this article wherever you can.
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