Many people, approaching or in their forties, despair – thinking their life is over now that they are sooooo old. As someone now in their sixties, let me tell you that your forties are a really great phase of life!
Behind you are years and years of mastering the skills associated with your growing body; learning how to behave to get along in your society; hour upon hour in school being educated; days and months of becoming proficient in a trade or career; and seemingly endless hours of practical life experience at parenting and a myriad of other functions.
You are in the sweet spot of life! Your kids (if any) are most likely old enough to be somewhat self sufficient, and you are approaching the prime time of working life – functioning with ease, skill and experience, perhaps having opportunities you never dreamed would come your way for advancement, travel, monetary and other rewards.
Your body has not yet cascaded into steep decline and your mind is still zipping along.
I have enjoyed each decade of my life. I loved being home with my birth family as a kid, going to elementary and high school, finding new found freedom at college in my teens and early twenties, striking out on my own in my twenties, having and raising my babies in my twenties and thirties. My forties were most exciting, learning a new trade and re-entering the workforce in a high paying field, having opportunities to travel, attend conferences, lead groups of people and much more. I lost my stay at home baby weight and emerged a slim confident young career woman.
Looking back from my current age to my 40’s here are the things I think helped make it great. Perhaps they will work for you too.
Be an individual.
You may have been part of a couple and a family for 15 or 20 years by now. Sometimes we feel that our own individuality has gone away, that we have no ‘self’. If that is you, find yourself. Explore things outside of family and spouse that are interesting and enjoyable to you. Don’t neglect your family responsibilities, don’t ignore the enjoyment family members can bring, but do establish the expectation that you are unique, that you have a right to do things for yourself.
I tried learning how to play the guitar, took long solo bike rides, learned to skate backwards, traveled alone and more.
Hit the retirement savings hard.
The next two decades are likely to be your high earning years. Set aside as much as you can for your retirement years now, if you haven’t already met those goals. You most likely WILL get the itch to do something different later in life – whether that is retirement or something else. Be prepared by setting aside the financial resources you will need.
Being out of the work force to raise babies put me behind on the retirement savings front, but I caught up through regular 401k contributions, and additional IRA savings and ended up with more than most people do put aside.
Those years of child raising may have caused you to make your heath a secondary priority. Now, before things really start to decline, is a good time to set and meet those health goals. Lose weight now. Every year you carry extra weight means worse conditions for you later in life. Besides, you will look and feel better and enjoy life more as a slimmer version of yourself. I managed to get back to my wedding weight in my late thirties and maintained it through my forties. I also finally stopped smoking.
Start fueling your body with the right stuff. Whether you feel it or not, your body is actually changing. It needs to be pampered with the right minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Get into good eating habits now so that you give your body the material it needs to sustain you into the future.
Establish healthy exercise habits that you can maintain into retirement. Find ways to integrate exercise into your daily life instead of latching it on to your day. If you are moving, find a walkable neighborhood. Get and ride your bike to places you need to go instead of driving. Clean your own home, mow your own grass, keep a garden. See if you can create a stand up environment in your workplace. If none of these are possible, do what you can.
At times I went to a gym during my lunch hour. Other times I walked outside. At one point, there was an ice skating rink next to my office so I skated at lunch. Early on, I established the habit of exercising in the morning at home to videos or dvds before doing anything else for the day. I have done that since 1984 – at least 30 – 45 minutes of varied types of exercise each morning.
Prepare your dependents to leave the nest.
If you haven’t already, set the expectation that your kids will learn a trade, get a career or find a job that pays enough so that they can support themselves. Set the expectation that they won’t be able to live at their parents house, rent free for years after they finish school. Even if you think you want them to stay with you forever, they still need to become self-sufficient, for their own good.
Parenting well is a process of letting go. At each stage in your child’s life, you have been required to let go of something. Their first step, that first day in pre-school or kindergarten, the first time they rode down the street by them self on their bike, leaving for college… all these required you to let go. You aren’t done yet. Even after they get a job and move to their own place, you will still have more opportunities to let go.
Enjoy your life.
Don’t spend all of your time working, parenting or giving to others. Now is prime time for you to enjoy life. Take vacations, learn to paint, take a class, sit and read, take a nature hike, go swimming – whatever it is that appeals to you. Take time along the way to rack up some good memories. You don’t get a second chance at NOW (at least as far as we know).
What will you (did you) do in your forties?