I just turned 40. And to be honest, I dreaded the big Four-Zero. It felt like people in their 40s should be wise old sages and with everything in life figured out.
This freaked me out — Here I was, in my late 30s, and I still had no idea what life was supposed to be.
But as I blew out the multitude of candles on my birthday cake a few days ago, I found myself thinking about the lessons I learned in my 20s and 30s:
1. You’ll Feel Lost At Times
I graduated at 23 at the top of my class, with a scholarship to boot. But somehow, my coursemates ended up getting better jobs than I did.
It threw me off guard. I had envisioned joining an MNC and getting promoted to senior engineer within 2 to 3 years. But there I was, working in this local construction company with fewer than 5 office staff.
It was a bitter reality pill. I realized that life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. It would take me another 5 years before I managed to achieve my professional goals.
At my first job.
2. Learn To Swallow Your Pride
So what did I do? I sucked it up and worked my ass off for the company. I worked through weekends and holidays, through the night and under the rain, and all without any allowances and OT pay.
Then, I got shouted at by clients and criticized by my supervisors in public, but looking back, I wouldn’t change anything for the experience that I gained.
My advice is, don’t take the negativity to heart; learn from it and you will gain from it one day. My 3-year stint with this company opened up doors to many opportunities.
3. Surround Yourself With People Who Bring Out The Best In You
A picture taken with buddies in Cambodia.
When I was 27, my boyfriend of 6 years dumped me for someone else.
I’ll be brutally honest. It was hell. I cried and I begged. I lost sleep and had trouble concentrating on my job. There were nights when I would wake up feeling as if I had lost my arm or my leg.
But I was blessed with a loving family and a wonderful group of friends who supported me through and through.
After 3 months of feeling sorry for myself, I decided it was time for a change. I went for LASIK, revamped my wardrobe, and started life anew.
I socialized more, made new friends, traveled the world, and realized that the breakup was the best thing that had ever happened in my life.
4. Take The Leap of Faith
In my late twenties, I finally joined an MNC. The job scope was entirely different from what I had been doing the past few years, and accepting this job meant that I would have to start from scratch all over again.
But as Nike’s slogan says, ‘Just Do it’. And that was what I did.
The company’s culture was entirely different from the conservative ones that I used to work in. Here, I was taught to be more outspoken and to speak my mind.
I recall my manager encouraging us to voice our opinions if we were to ever disagree with him. “Why on earth do you think you have a mouth for?” he would say.
Life In My 30s
Celebrating the 30s with childhood friends at a road post.
5. You Can’t Have Everything
30 was a good year for me. I had just been promoted to Senior Engineer and was having a blast planning my wedding.
But then my husband was offered a job in another town. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and he would have been crazy to decline the offer.
In all honesty, I was rather unhappy at first. This choice would mean giving up my job, moving away from my family and friends, and having to start all over again.
It was scary and a bit unfair. But one night, dad gave me a wise piece of advice. He said, “Sometimes, we cannot have everything in life. You have to choose the one that means the most to you.”
So in the end, I quit my job and followed my husband to the other town. Sometimes, we just have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. And for me, that picture was my family.
6. The Need To Save Money Is Real
Here’s the truth. Money matters. Period. I learned this when my husband and I started to settle down and hunt for houses.
There were loans, bills, taxes, and insurance premiums to pay. I learned that we should start saving as early and as much as possible.
If possible, try to invest in a good fund, property, or business because otherwise, you might not have anything to fall back on in the future.
7. Start Taking Care Of Your Health Earlier
In my 20s, I could go for karaoke sessions and drink till the wee hours of the morning and still be able to report for work the next day. But in my 30s, I came to realize all those late nights were taking a toll on my health.
I found out that I had low blood pressure as well as an unusually high level of ANA (antinuclear antibody) in my 30s. I’m getting a lot more wrinkles these days too, so multivitamins, face creams, and annual checkups have become mandatory for me.
So just as it is with money, we should start taking care of our health as early and as much as possible. We have only one body to live in, and if our body breaks down then that’ll be the curtain call for us.
8. Spend More Time With Your Loved Ones
In my 20s, thoughts about my mortality never once crossed my mind. But when an aunt, a dear friend, and a cousin all passed away in my 30s, I began to realize how fragile life can be.
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, that was the turning point. I quit my new found job so I could spend some quality time with him before he passed on.
I feel we should make the most of our time, and for me, it would be spending time with my loved ones.
What I Learnt From The Past
These days, I find myself embracing the upcoming 40s with arms open wide.
I experienced and learned many valuable lessons ( happy, embarrassing, and painful ones) in my 20s and 30s, lessons which I am grateful for, and lessons that helped me grow into the person I am today.
Truth be told, the number of lessons for us to learn in life are endless. Every day, no matter how old we are, we will learn something new.
So even if you stumble and fall, don’t beat yourself up over it. As the saying goes, failure is the first step to success. Learn from your past and grow stronger.
Spend your days with people you love and with people who appreciate you. Your life is your own to lead.
“In my life, I’ve lived, I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I’ve missed, I’ve hurt, I’ve trusted, I’ve made mistakes, but most of all, I’ve learned.” – anonymous.
For more stories like this, read: Single at 30: What the ‘No Plus-One’ Life Taught Me.