40 Life Lessons I Know at 40 (That I Wish I Knew at 20)

Today is my 40th birthday.

When I turned 30 a decade ago, I wrote an article sharing life lessons to survive your 20s and crowd-sourced advice on how to excel in your 30s. And apparently you guys loved it.

So, here’s more of the good stuff: 40 life lessons I now know at 40 that I wish I knew at 20.

Dig in.

1. Your relationship with others is a direct reflection of your relationship with yourself

If you treat yourself poorly, then you will also unconsciously seek out and tolerate others who treat you poorly.

If you treat yourself with dignity and respect, then you will only tolerate others who treat you with dignity and respect.

Get right with yourself, get right with the world.

2. The only way to feel better about yourself is to do things worth feeling good about

Respect is earned, not given.

3. The only failure is not trying

The only rejection is not asking. The only mistake is not risking anything.

Success and failure are fuzzy concepts that only exist in your mind before you do something. Not after.

After the fact, everything will be a mixture of both. The only real failure is doing nothing.

4. No one is coming to save you

No single thing will solve all your problems. No goal, no achievement, no relationship.

No one will ever fix you. You will always feel mildly inadequate and somewhat dissatisfied with your life.

Nothing is wrong with you for feeling this way.

On the contrary, it might be the most normal thing about you.

5. Be the partner you want to have

If you want a healthy and fit partner, then be healthy and fit yourself. If you want a loyal and trustworthy partner, then be loyal and trustworthy yourself.

To put it another way, would you date you?

If not, then that’s a fucking problem.

6. The most valuable things in life compound over a long period of time

I’m talking about health, wealth, knowledge, confidence, relationships.

These things will frustrate you when you’re young because they are slow.

But if you start building them from a young age and you don’t stop, by the time you’re in your 30s and 40s you will have an incredible life.

7. The most sexy and exciting things in life are the opposite

These things start out extremely fun, but then have intense diminishing returns.

When you’re young, these things distract you and occupy a lot of your time and attention. I’m talking about social media, casual sex, drugs and alcohol, video games, gambling, vacations, and blowjobs.

The first time is incredible. The second time is almost as good. But then it’s all downhill from there.

Be sure to experience all of these things for a little bit, but then quickly move on.

Well, except the blowjobs. Don’t move on from the blowjobs.

8. If you’re not turning down things that excite you, then you’re not focused enough on what matters

Our world is overflowing with stimulation and opportunity.

If you aren’t struggling to turn down options, then you haven’t correctly prioritized what matters to you.

9. Taking responsibility for all of your problems alleviates more suffering than it creates

Most people assume that if you take responsibility for all the pain in your life, then you will just feel worse about it.

But the opposite is actually true. The more responsibility you take, the more you empower yourself to actually do something about that pain.

That’s because…

10. You give power to who you blame

When you blame someone else for your problems, you’re giving them power over you. You’re allowing them to define and dictate your happiness and well-being.

This is fucking stupid, so don’t do it.

It’s not worth it.

11. If you have to tell someone you’re that, then you’re not that

A rich man doesn’t feel the need to show people he’s rich.

A smart man doesn’t feel the need to tell people he’s smart.

A confident person doesn’t have to show people he’s confident. He just is.

Don’t say it. Be it.

12. Motivation is not the cause of action, but the effect

If you want to feel motivated to do something, take the smallest action towards doing it.

Then let the momentum carry you forward.

13. Love is not the cause of commitment, but the effect

You don’t wait until you have a perfect relationship to commit to a person.

You commit to the person in order to create the perfect relationship.

14. Passion is not the cause of good work, but the effect

You don’t wait until you find something you love doing.

You learn to do something well, and the process of developing competency and agency then causes you to become passionate about it.

15. The person you marry is the person you fight with

The house you buy is the house you repair. The dream job you take is the job you stress over.

Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice. Whatever makes us feel good will inevitably also make us feel bad.

16. A happy life is not a life without stress. It’s a life of meaningful stress

Nuff said.

17. Don’t view exercise as an exchange for something

You don’t work out to lose a few pounds or earn that hamburger or an ice cream. With this mindset, you will lose motivation quickly and quit.

Instead, view exercise as an investment. For every unit of energy you put in, you will receive multiple units of energy back.

The catch is that these units of energy you get back will be spread out over weeks, months, and years.

This is why exercising hardcore occasionally is far inferior to exercising a little bit every day.

18. Trust people

Most people are good. And while you might get hurt or embarrassed sometimes, the alternative is just way worse.

19. There’s no such thing as a life without problems

Warren Buffett has money problems. A homeless guy has money problems.

Buffett’s money problems are way more desirable than the homeless guy’s. But problems don’t just disappear, they get exchanged and upgraded for better problems as you grow and evolve.

The solution to today’s problem will be the seed of tomorrow’s.

Set your expectations accordingly.

20. Growth is rarely accompanied by joy and celebration

On the contrary, growth is usually painful to some degree.

That’s because growth requires loss—a loss of your old values, your old behaviors, your old loves, your old identity.

Change always has a component of grief to it, so be sure to let yourself grieve.

21. Fuck being normal

Statistically speaking, a normal person is physically unhealthy, emotionally anxious and depressed, socially lonely, and financially in debt.

So yeah, fuck being normal.

22. If you can’t say no, then your yeses mean nothing

We are defined by what we give up, what we sacrifice, and what we reject.

If you sacrifice nothing and reject nothing, then you have no identity. You are merely a reflection of the preferences and demands of the people around you.

In other words, if you don’t decide who you are, other people will decide for you.

23. Be careful how you define yourself

Your identity is a self-constructed mental prison, confining you to a life of desperately seeking and finding things to validate whatever you’ve chosen to become.

Define yourself as loosely and ambiguously as possible. You will feel less defensive towards the world and be willing to change when it’s necessary.

24. Don’t make assumptions about people

You have no fucking idea what they’ve been through.

Don’t make assumptions about yourself either. Chances are you have no idea what you’re talking about.

The last person we’re objective about is ourselves.

25. No one thinks about you as much as you think about yourself

Whatever you’re insecure about, chances are 99% of people around you haven’t even noticed it.

This is because everybody else is too busy thinking about themselves.

This may strike you as a little bit depressing, but it’s actually liberating. It means that you are judged far less than you think.

26. Confidence does not come from an expectation of success. It comes from a comfort with failure

There’s a word for someone who feels a need to succeed in everything: a fucking narcissist.

Don’t be a narcissist. Embrace your flaws. Embrace failure.

27. Develop a willingness to be disliked

This will grant you the freedom to do what needs to be done, even if it’s unpopular.

28. You cannot be a life-changing presence to some people without also being a complete fucking joke to others

Part of the price of having impact is some hate. And usually that hate is proportional to the impact.

29. Floss and wear sunscreen every day

Look, I know I sound like your mom right now, but trust me, in 20 years you’re going to be thanking me.

30. Extraordinary results come from repeating ordinary actions over an inordinate amount of time

Any overnight success is secretly the result of quietly working in obscurity for years, if not decades.

31. Choosing a partner is not about romance

You’re also choosing a confidant, counselor, career advisor, therapist, investor, teacher, travel buddy, roommate, best friend, business partner.

And no, I’m not saying you should make your partner be all these things.

I’m saying whether you want to or not, your partner is going to become all of these things. That’s what a relationship is.

So choose fucking wisely.

32. Don’t overestimate romantic love

Love doesn’t fix relationship problems. It doesn’t make trust issues go away.

The truth is, love can harm as much as it heals. It’s an amplifier. It makes a good relationship better and a bad relationship much worse.

Don’t get me wrong, love is great. Love is beautiful when it works.

But to make a healthy relationship, by itself love is not enough.

33. Trust is the currency of all relationships

Every good relationship is built off the back of years of trust.

Every failed relationship fails because of broken trust.

Therefore, honesty and integrity are the backbones of a life of healthy relationships and therefore happiness.

Dishonesty and a lack of integrity might be a shortcut to some short-term gains, but you’re completely fucking yourself in the long run, so fucking stop it.

Speaking of which…

34. If all of your relationships have the same problem…

Newsflash: you’re the fucking problem.

35. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion, only a bad response to an emotion

Every emotion can be used constructively or destructively.

One of the most useful things you can ever learn in your life is to figure out how to channel your negative emotions constructively.

36. Go to bed and wake up early

My whole life, I always promised myself I would never be that guy who went to bed at 9PM on a Friday and got up at 5AM to hit the fucking gym.

But kids, I hate to tell you, mornings are the real shit. Sorry.

37. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, including yourself

Let me say that again: you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, including yourself.

38. Life advice is like clothing

Try it on. And if it doesn’t fit, discard it and try something else.

Also: like clothing, bad advice will be useless within a few weeks, but good advice will last you a lifetime.

39. Nothing meaningful in life is easy, nothing easy in life is meaningful

We think we’d like to have everything handed to us on a silver platter. But the truth is that we don’t appreciate or enjoy things that we don’t struggle for.

So stop avoiding the difficult things in your life and instead find the difficult things you enjoy.

And finally…

40. It’s never too late to change

A friend of mine once told me a story about his grandmother. He said that when her husband died, she was 62 and for the first time in her life, she began to take piano lessons.

For weeks, she practiced all day, every day.

At first, the family thought it was just a phase, a way for her to process her grief. But months went by and she continued to play every day.

People started to wonder if she was crazy or something was wrong with her. They told her to give it up, face reality. But she kept going.

By the time she was in her 90s, she’d been playing piano every day for over 30 years, longer than most professional musicians have been alive. She had mastered all of the classics—Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi.

Everyone who heard her play swore that she must have been a concert pianist in her youth. No one believed her when she said that she took her first lesson in her 60s.

I love this story because it shows that even at an impractical old age, you still have more time left to learn something than most professionals at that thing have even been alive.

I didn’t start writing until I was 27. I didn’t start my YouTube channel until I was 36.

In every phase of my life, I’ve started five to ten years later than most people. Yet it didn’t matter.

I get emails all the time from people asking me, hey, I’m 20 or 40 or 60 or 80, is it too late? Can I change? Is there time?

The answer is it’s never too late. There’s always time.

The only question is how long we’re going to sit here and make excuses and pretend there’s not.