When we have a "milestone" birthday, it's a chance to reflect on where life has led us and to think about some of the lessons learned along the way in order to make the next decade better than the one before. I turned 50 earlier this year. My 40s were a very challenging period in my life but I've learned a lot about myself in that time. Here are some of the lessons I've learned.
A Brief History Of Me
My 40s were a very challenging time. Both my parents passed away, my first marriage broke down, I lived alone for the first time in my whole life, my career completely changed and my faith (I'm a Christian) was shaken pretty hard.
At 40 I was an overweight and unfit married father of three young kids with a steady, well-paid job living in suburbia.
Today, that version of me feels completely foreign and someone I barely recognise. But that transition made me realise a few things.
#1 Make Time For People
The day my father died - it was very sudden - I was leaving a meeting at work and was on my way to the office Christmas function. I got a call from my mother and I knew something was wrong - she rarely called me at work and had never asked me to come home.
I used to spend lots of my time with my Dad - he'd call me during the week for some tech support and we had a Sunday night tradition of drinking ouzo and smoking a cigar together before a family dinner.
My mother's passing was very different as she was in palliative care when the cancer that took her leg became more ravenous. I spent many hours at her bedside, talking when she could, reading to her when speech became difficult and holding her hand.
I'll never get another moment in this world with either of them.
Whoever your loved ones are - don't waste a minute you could be spending with them. When those moments are gone, you can't get them back.
#2 Follow Your Dreams
In my early 40s I was working in the energy industry. I was well-paid (working in tech and getting hired at the peak of the Y2K era was a golden time for IT salaries) and had great job security. For most of the time I worked at that company, I was happy and challenged.
But along the way, I started freelancing for a couple of magazines - the opportunity started when a friend asked me to cover for her when she was going away. Within a couple of years, I had a couple of small but regular gigs.
As my job satisfaction started to wane, I decided to see if I could earn a decent living writing rather than being stuck in a comfortable, but increasingly unfulfilling, corporate job.
My rationale was that I could always go back to the corporate life if things didn't work out but I didn't want to get to retirement age and ask myself "What if...?"
#3 Your Health Matters
In your 20s and 30s, you feel quite invulnerable. By 40 it was clear I was heading for some health issues. I was about 25-30kg overweight, rarely did anything active and ate whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it.
After messing around with my son at basketball training for 20 minutes I tweaked my hamstring badly enough that I walked like I'd been shot in the butt for a fortnight. That started me on a regular program of exercise that I've managed to maintain, at varying levels of intensity, for about six years.
I've done things I thought I'd never do - like run a couple of marathons - and while my weight is still a little higher than either me or my doctor would like, I'm far fitter and healthier. Even things like hay fever, which used to smash me every Spring, are less annoying now.
It also means that when my step-son learned to ride his bike this week, I could easily follow along beside him and keep up to encourage him. And I've become more confident in trying new things. It might not sound like much, but I now ride a bike regularly - something I haven't done since I was a kid.
Being healthier also means I'll live longer - or at least with a better quality of life for longer - so I can enjoy watching all my kids grow up.
#4 Learn To Listen
Before my marriage broke down, I'd never lived alone. I moved out of my parent's home on my wedding day into a house my first wife and I saved for and bought (back in the day when $110,000 could buy a slice of suburbia). After my separation, I rented a place (also a first) and set up house for me and my kids when they were over. But that meant lots of alone time - something that was really new to me.
It took me a while to get used to being alone but it really helped me to reflect on what was important. I suspect that, for the first time, I had enough quiet space to really think about things.
I'm not for a moment suggesting you need to establish a "fortress of solitude" but find time to sit quietly and reflect and really think about things. It's something I now do most days, even though I'm married again and have a new home.
#5 Age Really Is Just A Number
I was recently looking back at some old photos and saw a picture of my dad in his mid 40s. And he looked a lot older than me. I've been told I look young for my age but when I see my friends and their parents, it's obvious to me that my generation look a lot younger than our parents at the same age.
But I also have a few friends who clearly look a lot older than me. That's made me realise the decisions we make about how we live our lives have long term repercussions. Spending time on your health, and with the people that are important to you - parents, partners, kids, friends - investing time in them rather than on stuff will keep you physically and emotionally healthier.
Finding what it is for you that keeps you feeling young is important. And while the jury is out on whether you can significantly increase your life expectancy it is possible to improve the quality of your life as you get older. How you feel isn't about the data on your birth certificate - it's about where you invest your effort.