I’m turning 40 later this year. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since I turned 30. My 30s were a great decade – seeing my two kids born in front of my eyes, starting this blog, travelling and exploring Asian and European cities, teaching my kids how to ski, getting involved with Scouts again, meeting like-minded folks within the FIRE community, having some fabulous vacations, and creating some wonderful memories with my family.
For some, 40 is scary because it means the start of a mid-life crisis. However, that’s not the case for me. I’m really looking forward to this next decade and the experiences and memories I will have. I thought it would be interesting to write down 40 lessons I’ve learned after 40 years. I hope you enjoy them.
40 lessons I’ve learned after 40 years
1. Grades aren’t everything
Throughout school, we were taught that grades are everything. Get good grades so we can get into better higher education and eventually land ourselves high-paying jobs.
But grades aren’t everything. There are so many skills that one will and never will earn in a classroom. Good grades simply mean one knows how to answer questions and write exams well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one can apply the knowledge in real-life scenarios.
2. Learn how to problem solve
I went through UBC’s engineering physics program in my early 20s. It was one of the most demanding programs at UBC. We would normally take seven courses per term, sometimes eight courses. Looking back, I am amazed at how many physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and math courses I took during the four years of the engineering physics program.
None of these university courses taught me anything when it comes to doing my full-time job. In fact, I learned everything I do with my job while on the job. But one thing is clear – engineering physics taught me how to problem solve and how to pick up new skills and knowledge and apply them quickly.
3. Learning never stops
If you think that learning stops when you finish school, you’re so very wrong. The learning never stops. I am always learning and eager to learn. If we’re not busy learning and growing, we’re busy dying.
4. Take care of your health
It’s important to take care of your health. You only have one body. Healthy eating, avoiding junk foods, exercising regularly, and most importantly keeping your mind sharp by engaging in mentally challenging tasks frequently.
5. Appreciate your parents
Becoming a parent made me realize how much work being a parent is. I really begin to appreciate my parents more as I get older and how much work and sacrifices they made throughout my life. I realized that I need to spend as much time as I can with them.
6. Stop caring about what others think about you
Since you can’t control what other people think about you, you should just stop caring about what others think about you. Focus on only what you think about yourself and your life will become a lot easier.
7. Learning to forgive
Hate is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Don’t hold onto grudges, learn to forgive and move on with your life.
8. It’s OK to ask for help
There’s no way we can do and know everything. Be humble and admit your limitations. There is always someone who can do something better than you. It’s OK to ask for help from time to time.
9. Do something that makes you uncomfortable
Being too comfortable in life is dangerous, that means you’re not growing and expanding yourself. Therefore, it’s important to challenge yourself from time to time by stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that makes you uncomfortable.
For example, I was extremely introverted when I was younger. I could go for days without talking to anyone. Over time, I realized that I need to be social in new environments, so I learned to push myself to talk and start new conversations with strangers.
10. Focus on mental health and mental wellbeing
The last two and a bit years of the COVID pandemic has taught me that we need to focus on mental health and mental wellbeing. It’s OK to admit that you need help. It’s OK to admit that you’re mentally tired and need a break. This doesn’t make you weak. In fact, by admitting you need help and taking care of your mental health, you are making yourself stronger.
11. It’s OK to make mistakes, learn from them
This might be a cliche but I’ve learned that it is OK to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn and grow. Without some financial mistakes I’ve made in the past, I would have never started building our dividend portfolio.
Don’t skimp money on experiences because they will last forever. This is the whole premise behind dying with zero.
Ten years from now, you probably won’t remember that shiny new iPhone that you purchased but you will certainly remember the time you took a week off to go skiing in Japan with your family.
13. Your job does not define who you are
Work is only a small part of your life, so why do we ask what people do for work as one of the first questions when we meet someone? Your job shouldn’t dictate who you are or what you would do outside of work hours. And don’t think that you owe your employer anything.
14. Ask for what you’re worth
It is your employer’s job to pay you for as little money as possible; it is your job to get as much money as possible from your employer.
Do your research on sites like Glassdoor to see how much the average salary is for your job. Use that as the baseline for your salary negotiation.
It is essential to know how much you are worth.
15. Ask… if you don’t ask, you won’t get it. The worst thing is that you’ll get a no.
I have read many books in the last 40 years and Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang is probably one of the best books I’ve read. It was amazing to hear Jia talking about his experience at a work event a few years ago.
From that, I learned that if I have the desire for something, ask for it. People can’t read my mind if I don’t ask. Therefore, if I don’t ask for it, I won’t get it. The only fear I needed to get over is getting rejected. But is it so bad to get a no?
So whenever we stay at a hotel, I’d always ask nicely whether we can get a suite upgrade or an extra dinner appetizer. I’ve asked managers for raises and promotions at work.
If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.
16. Stop comparing
Stop comparing yourself with your friends, neighbours, colleagues, or even celebrities. The more you compare yourself with someone, the more miserable you will feel.
17. Don’t rely completely on technology
Learn to calculate in your head, it’ll go a long way to keep your brain engaged and young.
18. Don’t assume everything
Stop making assumptions and thinking you know everything about someone else. You may disagree with someone’s action and may think his or her action is completely wrong. But you don’t know the circumstances that led to this person making the decision and taking the action. There are so many things behind the door we don’t know about.
19. How much money you have doesn’t define who you are
I will always remember this speech at one of my high school teachers’ retirement party:
At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money you make, it’s not about how big your house is, it’s not about what kind of car you drive, it’s about the relationships that you build and the impacts you’ve made on other people’s lives.
What can we do to make positive impacts on people around us? What can we do to improve our communities?
Think about that.
20. Happiness comes from within
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that money can buy happiness. Happiness needs to come from within. Happiness induced by external influences is almost always short-lived – a new car, a promotion, a fancy vacation, all of which will only make you want more. Find inner peace and ways to make you happy without an expiration date.
21. Stay true to your core values
Your core values are what define who you are. Stay true to them and believe in them. Do not feel that you need to adjust what you believe in because someone or your peers have different belief systems.
22. Learn to agree to disagree
Since everyone is different and has their own belief systems, at some point, you will disagree with someone, whether it be your parents, your partner, your kids, your boss, or your friends.
Remember, it is OK to have educated debates and it’s OK to agree to disagree. Don’t let disagreements ruin your relationships. You’re better than that.
23. Learn to say sorry
We all mess up from time to time. Learn to say sorry and really mean it.
24. Owning and having more stuff won’t make you more complete or successful
Contrary to what social media has portrayed, owning and having more stuff won’t make you feel better. Owning more stuff will make you want more and force you to go down the never-ending slippery slope of just having one more thing then I will feel more complete.
25. You can’t change people
I’ve heard so many times – “he/she will change once we’re married,” “this time is different, he/she won’t cheat on me.”
You can’t change people for who they are. So don’t try. If someone is not good for your mental and physical well-being, disengage and find someone else.
26. Have a long term investing strategy – get in line and stay in line
Don’t attempt to switch back and forth between investing strategies. Stay focused on one long term investing strategy. It’s like getting in line, staying in line, and waiting for your turn to get to the front of the line.
27. “Next time” is the most dangerous phrase
Don’t kid yourself that you’ll do something next time, do it now or you may not ever get a chance. Stop using this most dangerous phrase in the world.
28. Travelling is the best way to learn
Thanks to a dad that retired early, I travelled extensively every summer growing up. When I was in university, I had the chance to live in Europe for eight months and travelled extensively throughout the continent. One thing I realized is that travelling will be the best way to learn about yourself and gain knowledge that you wouldn’t have learned sitting in a classroom.
I experienced discrimination firsthand when travelling through a small town in rural US. I’ve learned more about WWI and WWII by walking through the trenches, battlefields, and cemeteries than I ever had by watching videos in social study classes. I learned how devastating nuclear bombs are by walking through Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I learned how to think on my feet to get myself out of trouble and get my wallet back when I got mugged in Barcelona.
Encourage your kids to take a gap year to travel around the world. Encourage your friends and siblings to travel.
29. Value your time. You can’t do everything
It’s easy to say yes to every commitment. You only have 24 hours each day so it’s important to realize that you can’t do everything. Value your time.
30. Always make time for the things that you love
Never feel guilty for taking time to do things that you enjoy. Because doing things you love will make you happy.
31. Don’t get hung up on plans
Planning and having plans are good, but don’t get hung up on your plans. Life is fluid and things change. It’s important to adapt to the situation and change your plans accordingly.
32. Be yourself
You can’t pretend to be someone else and hide behind an imaginary role forever. Be yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin. You will offend people by being yourself, be prepared.
33. Parenting is hard
Parenting is hard and exhausting. There’s such a thing as a how-to-parenting manual. All we can do is do our best and give our kids our time and attention.
34. Work on your relationship with your partner
Always work on your relationship with your partner. Don’t take everything for granted. This is especially true once you have kids. Set time aside to spend special times together. Have adult-only times. It’s important to constantly work and improve your relationship with your partner.
35. Simple and easy aren’t the same thing
Don’t get confused with simple and easy. Just because something is simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. For example, personal finance concepts are simple – spend less than you earn, pay yourself first, and invest for the long term. But is it easy? Certainly not. Similarly, staying fit is simple – healthy eating, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, don’t drink. But it certainly is anything but easy to stay true to these simple concepts.
36. 80% will get you a long way
You don’t have to do everything 100% correctly. If you aim to stick to good habits and do good things 80% of the time, that’ll get you a long way. So if you’re doing intermittent fasting, don’t kick and blame yourself for having a latte in the morning from time to time. It’s OK to have a drink, have a few extra slices of pizza, or skip a workout to watch TV.
37. Focus on the big expenses
Yes, having a latte a day at a local Starbucks will cost you quite a bit of money over time but it is more effective to focus on cutting down on the big expenses. It won’t do you any good to save $5 when you’re overspending $500k on your house.
Focus on the big and major expenses and relax on the smaller expenses. Life will be simpler this way.
38. Water is good for you
About 60% of our body is made up of water. Drinking water regularly and frequently will do our body a lot of good. Skip those sugary highly caffeinated drinks.
39. Don’t get used to luxuries
Nice things and luxuries are funny things. Once you get used to them, they don’t seem so nice and luxurious anymore and you’ll end up wanting even nicer and more luxurious things. Spend too much time eating at fine dining restaurants or flying in business or first class? It’s OK to tough it out from time to time.
40. Time is precious
Over the last decade, I have encountered the unexpected deaths of coworkers and friends which only made me realize how precious time is. The loss of our beloved cat also hit me, Mrs. T, and the kids really hard.
Since we don’t know how long we are going to be on Earth, we need to learn to spend our time wisely.
I hope some of these are new lessons for readers. Dear readers, do you have any lessons you’d like to share?
Here’s to another fabulous decade and more learning for me!