My life lessons on turning 40: Embracing wisdom, growth, and resilience

It was my 40th birthday recently. There’s something about 40 - it’s been my first birthday where the number actually starts to sound, dare I say, “older”. It’s only natural for us to consider what our parents were like at a similar age and to reflect on the journey that has led us to this point. With each passing year, we accumulate invaluable experiences, moments of growth, and a deeper understanding of what truly matters.

As I step into this new chapter, I'd like to share the top ten lessons that have shaped my perspective, teaching me about life and the pursuit of happiness. These are all deeply personal to me but hopefully some of them will resonate with you too.

1) Health – Must come above all else

Health is the foundation upon which our lives are built. As we navigate the complexities of adulthood, it becomes increasingly clear that nothing matters more than taking care of our physical and mental well-being. Without health, we simply can’t focus on any other areas of our lives that are important to us.

On the surface, most people would consider me to be one of the healthiest people they know. And in many ways, I probably am. However, this focus on health and wellbeing has been borne out of necessity rather than (initially at least) choice. For much of the past decade I’ve struggled with a long-term health issue. At it’s worse, it can make life challenging. Getting through a day can be tough, but fortunately I’ve been able to plough on, never missing a day of work or any special events.

When I’m feeling great, I see it as one of my life’s major blessings. It has forced me to lead an examined life, focusing acutely on what food I eat, what I choose to drink, how I sleep, how much I exercise, and how much stress I choose to absorb.

It’s a blessing and a curse, but as I’ve always done, I always try to see the positives.

2) Career – Sometimes our jobs will suck, but often at these times is when the most growth occurs

Career paths are rarely linear, and setbacks are par for the course. Our jobs might not always align with our passions, and at times, they might even feel mundane or frustrating. However, these moments of discomfort often hold the greatest lessons. They teach us resilience, adaptability, and the value of persistence. Even when the road seems arduous, remember that every experience contributes to your growth.

I’m fortunate and privileged that my job affords me the opportunity to speak to people every day about their careers and their lives. This has given me a unique perspective on work, and its through these conversations that I have then chosen to shape my own life.

In this highly connected age in which we live, we are all comparing ourselves constantly to people on social media. This is a fallacy and simply not reflective of most of our lives. Our jobs can’t all be about scaling a tech company, nor gaining thousands of followers on Instagram, for example. Much of what we have to do is mundane, tiresome, and boring. This is real life and very normal.

You must define what you really want, not what the world tells you to want. This isn’t easy and takes a great deal of introspection. If you’re struggling with this, I can help…

3) Work with the right people

The company we keep can significantly influence our journey. This doesn’t have to be perfect from day one. Often, (see point 2), our greatest learnings come from our biggest struggles. While collaborating with inspiring and supportive individuals can uplift us, encountering toxic or unsupportive people can be equally transformative. Sometimes, these challenges serve as a catalyst for much-needed change. Embrace the discomfort, learn the lessons, and use these experiences as stepping stones toward aligning your professional circle with your values.

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work with a fantastic range of people. Everyone has brought different skills, experience, and personality traits with them. Just because someone is right for you doesn’t mean they are right for someone else, and vice versa.

I’ve learned that for me, it’s imperative that I work with people who share the same style, ethics, morals, and general outlook on life. There is no right or wrong with this and it’s a work in progress. I actively seek and encourage diversity of background and thought, but I also have a list of non-negotiables centred around kindness and virtue.

4) You must live in the right place…for you

This is a far more recent learning for me. Our surroundings play an integral role in our overall well-being, so finding a place that resonates with your essence, aligns with your values, and nourishes your soul is crucial.

I spent the first five years of my life in Dubai followed by a year in Ecuador. From there, we moved back to the UK and lived just outside of Dundee for a year before moving to the North East of Scotland, where I then lived for over 30 years. However, there was always something deep inside me that I couldn’t name or describe, that felt slightly off. I didn’t know what it was, but from the very first few days of moving back to Dubai in 2022 that feeling simply vanished and I haven’t felt it since.

It’s hard to define, but I had this deep intuition, that I needed to live somewhere else. This is true alignment in action.

Most of us live very close to where we were born, and our circumstances keep us there. It’s incredibly easy to list why you shouldn’t (or couldn’t) move somewhere else. But remember, you have more agency over your path than you might think. So ask yourself, “is living in X definitely the right place for me, my family, and for our future?”

5) Define what financial freedom means to you

Financial freedom is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It's essential to define what it means to you personally. Whether it's about security, the ability to pursue passions, or a comfortable retirement, understanding your financial goals empowers you to make purposeful decisions that align with your aspirations.

My personal relationship with money has changed numerous times over the years. However, I’m now a firm believer that (like Health - Point 1 above), being comfortable financially is a key component to living a contented life.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t about materialism or keeping up with the Jones’. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. This is about connecting with the life you truly want, and then putting systems in place to ensure financially you can achieve this.

This doesn’t necessarily mean earning more money. It’s about looking at your lifestyle holistically to see what you really need and value. This could look like moving to a far cheaper part of the country to live a more rural life and adjusting your spending accordingly. Or, it could mean pushing for that major promotion to allow you to save X amount into a savings account each month so that you can retire at 55.

6) Structure and routine are critical to my personal performance (and therefore my happiness)

Amid the chaos of life, structure and routine provides me with a sense of stability. Being so organised and building structure into my life is a trait passed down to me by my mum. She always had our meals prepared in advance, our clothes ready; literally every part of our lives organised and considered in advance.

While spontaneity is cherished, having a well-defined framework ensures that I stay on track while embracing life's unexpected twists. The key for me is to maintain structure and routine but to have a soft touch and to be flexible if plans change.

For example, I always look out my gym clothes the night before. I will look out my contact lenses, and I’ll pack my bag. I prepare my breakfast in the evening so that it’s ready the following morning.

I write a Master Work To-do-list on a Sunday and ensure all my emails are cleared to zero before starting the week. I also write my Daily To-do-list every evening.

I get up at the same time every day, no matter what day of the week it is. And, it takes something incredibly special or unique for me to go to bed late. These are all just some examples of systems I’ve put in place to allow me to thrive. By doing so, there is no decision paralysis. I simply know what I should be doing when and where.

This will sound stifling for many of you, and it probably doesn’t suit everyone. However, I NEED this amount of structure and routine to feel calm, focused, and therefore…happy. If it wasn’t for me following this structure I have no hesitation that I wouldn’t run my own business, I wouldn’t be as healthy as I am, and I wouldn’t be as present a parent as I am.

7) Say yes to the right things, but unashamedly selective about saying no

The art of saying yes and no is a delicate balance. Being discerning about your commitments allows you to invest your time and energy in pursuits that truly matter. Embrace the power of a well-placed "no," and don't be afraid to prioritise your own well-being and passions.

Easier said than done I know. As a perfectionist and a people pleaser I know all too well how easy it is to say yes to things simply for approval.

Saying no gives me time and space to say yes to the things that truly nourish me.

8) Don’t underestimate the importance of exercise

This doesn’t have to mean flogging yourself in the gym or running marathons. It could simply be a walk, signing up to tennis lessons, or perhaps yoga.

I found running, quite out of the blue I must add, around eight years ago. Running unlocked a level of mental clarity, focus, drive, and contentment that I had never accessed previously.

Since then, I yearn for that feeling that you can only get after working out. It’s a non-negotiable part of my routine and I’ll even include it in my business diary (this part relates to Point 1, Health).

Everything in my life can be going well, however throw some exercise into the mix and my mood elevates from an 8 to a 10 out of 10. It’s simply that powerful. I am a far more patient father, a far better listener, and more focused, on days in which I exercise in the morning.

9) Having, and maintaining, friends as you grow older can be a full time job

As we grow older, our friendships evolve. Some fade away, while others deepen into lifelong connections. Actively nurturing these relationships requires effort and intention. Surrounding yourself with individuals who uplift, challenge, and inspire you is a gift that enriches every stage of life.

I failed at this through my 20’s and for most of my 30’s so I am actively working on this now. As kids and teenagers, we tend to have large social groups, but as we couple up, start our careers, and have kids, it’s very easy for friendships to wane.

The pandemic made me realise how much I covet good friendships. Therefore, I’ve challenged myself to not only be a better friend to my existing friends, but to put myself out there to meet new people. Fortunately, this is easier in a place like Dubai where everyone is an incomer and it’s not awkward asking another guy for coffee within 10 minutes of meeting!

10) There’s so much on offer in life…its up to you if you choose to take it

The world is vast, and life is a mosaic of experiences waiting to be explored. Embrace the unknown with open arms, challenge your boundaries, and step outside your comfort zone….but only if this aligns with who you are, not because social media tells you so.

As I start this new decade, I for one feel very grateful for the events that have happened to me throughout my life, both good and bad. My greatest learnings have always come through periods of pain and discomfort.

So, if you’re currently going through something tough, or don’t feel like you are quite living the life that you could be, know that this is a signal and that nothing good ever comes from staying within a comfort zone.