Things You Should Know Before Turning 30, 40,& 50

By Julene Mays

Advice and words of encouragement are in abundance for young people just starting out in life. At our High School Graduation or on our Twenty-first birthday, the older and wiser in our midst feel compelled to warn us about the obstacles and detours lie ahead. As young people, it was just statistically likely that a large majority of those we met are actually our elders and feel compelled to offer their (frequently unsolicited) advice. As we get older (and wiser!) most people feel less and less comfortable “butting into our business” as they assume that as “grown folks” we may resent it. However, living another year doesn’t mean you have all the answers and can’t benefit from some reflection. Milestones are further apart the older we get, but there are some things we should have learned about ourselves by certain points in our lives, and if we don’t have the answers to these questions, maybe we could use some help to figure them out. Here are some things you should likely know about yourself by three different landmark birthdays.

Turning 30: You Know Where You Want to be in Five Years, Next Year and Right Now. What is Your Plan to Get There?

In your twenties, you had time to explore different things. You tired on and shed different college majors, career paths, lifestyles and personas. You should have taken this time to explore different lifestyles to see which one makes you the happiest and fits in with the vision you have for your life. In your 30’s, you may continue to change as you learn more about yourself, however, this may be the first time n your life that you are making future decisions based on real-life experiences, as opposed to other people’s expectations or even your own stereotypical perceptions about how things “are supposed to be”.

At this point in time, you can no longer afford to let life “just happen” to you. The idealism of your twenties might have given way to the realization that a dream doesn’t become reality without a plan. The thirties can be a time for assessing what goals are realistic, and which can be discarded. How much money do you want to have by the time you retire. Are you taking measurable steps toward reaching your goal? Is your childhood dream something you even really want, or have you outgrown this goal, and keep it around out of habit? If your dream is to travel the world, you should be looking into booking trips and be working remotely or starting a business that allows you to be nomadic. Start taking the steps to accomplish your dreams or rethink whether or not those dreams still fit you and your vision of the life you want to lead.

Turning 40: Now That You Know Yourself, Take a Personal Inventory. How can you repeat Life’s Successes and Minimize Life’s Challenges?

You have learned what makes you happy… and what doesn’t. By the time you turn 40, you likely have a very definite idea about what in your life you want to have gone differently. You know yourself much better than you have in your twenties and even your thirties. Even though we are all constantly evolving, at this point, you have a very goo idea of who you are. This realization can often come suddenly, or close to a landmark birthday. Many people see their 40’s as their “last chance” to accomplish a dream or cross an item off their bucket list. This realization when it affects loved ones who depend on us is often construed as a “mid-life crisis”. It is important to seek self-fulfillment, but not at the expense of those who depend on you. During this time-period, we are often responsible for more than we ever have been in our lives. Most of us in our forties have are more advanced in our careers, possibly own a business, and have spouses and children that depend on us. The obligations can become overwhelming, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, can feel cumbersome. Find ways to realize the part of your life that you’ve been missing without abandoning your responsibilities to others. For example, could your childhood dream of becoming an actor be fulfilled by joining a community theater, rather than quitting your job to become a full-time actor?

At this age, you should know yourself very well. You have had several decades of life experience to reflect on, and there have been mistakes as well as victories along the way. You have reached the point in your life where there is opportunity to reflect on which plans worked, which did not and why. An old adage says that insanity is repeating the same behavior again and again, but expecting a different result. Be purposeful in how you choose to spend the time that is more precious than ever due to your increased responsibilities and obligations in life.

Turning 50: You have Learned to Live for Yourself, Not the “Jones’s”

The time you turn 50, you have seen friendships come and go. Your children are most likely looking toward independence, and you may be on a second or third career (or possibly spouse). At this time you have experienced tragedy as well as joy and recognize the fleeting nature of both. The old adage becomes relevant in your life “This Too Shall Pass”. Self-fulfillment will still be important in your life, but that will ideally come from within. Using internal motivation to achieve goals in your life will be more effective than external motivation. A good lesson to have learned by your fifth decade is not to be as concerned with what other people think. Fear of judgment can be one of the main reasons your former dreams and goals were stopped in their tracks. Reflect upon this. What would you have done in the last few decades if it was not for this fear? How much have you really lived for yourself?

This is a time for you to celebrate and acknowledge your successes and accomplishments. Even events and decisions that caused setbacks were all opportunities to learn, and make us better for the experience. DO not allow others to define what this time of life will mean for you. There is no rule book for “proper” behavior of a “middle-age” person. Do not allow other people to define who you are! (That’s a lesson you should have learned in your 20’s!)


The above are just really suggestions. These are places to start from when you are at a crossroads in life as many of us are by the time there is a “zero” at the end of our birthday. If you are not where you feel you want to be in life, our even more alarming, you aren’t sure where you stand, consider working with an an objective third party. A licensed therapist can help you figure which way you want to go on that next step in life, and help you develop your plan to get there.