Some things you learn in school. Most things you learn through experience. And a few things you learn thanks to the hard-earned wisdom of others. When it comes to navigating adulthood, career trajectories and personal trials and tribulations, there basically is no rulebook — only guidelines.
We’ve asked several professionals to share their take on the life skills everyone should master by 40 to give you a compass of some sorts. Whether you want to assess where you stand in terms of possessing the skills below or are looking to round out your life toolkit, the following insights will empower you to reflect on the lessons you’ve learned so far as well as the ones you’d like to take on in the next few years.
Picking up new hard skills is great. But learning how to learn is timeless. If there is one skill to master before turning 40, it’s the ability to self-direct your own growth over and over again.
“I believe one of the most important life skills to acquire amidst the current ever-evolving business landscape is the ability for constant self-improvement. Sure, continuing education is great, but it’s so much more than that. [Things] are progressing at such a rapid pace that constantly staying in the know can be the difference between success and failure,” says former chef, entrepreneur and writer Sebastien Helary.
“We now also have the ability to acquire many newer skills or vital knowledge by way of online platforms such as edX, Udemy, Blinkist, and so on, at very little cost and in a more nimble and leaner fashion. Then it just comes down to setting daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly goals for ourselves and following through with those as best as possible.”
Are you always struggling to find enough time? Do you feel guilty about putting off things that are important to you? Are your days so hectic they turn into a blur? Time-management is a critical life skill because it allows you to get more out of the most precious resource we all share.
“Time flies. Make use of your planner or calendar app. Be efficient and you’ll be rewarded with time to do work on projects you love,” says Christine Kim, designer at Aya Kitchens.
Basic home stuff: cooking, home repairs and first-aid
While some life skills are more conceptual and philosophical than others, there is something to be said about pragmatic competencies like being able to throw a meal together or change a light bulb. Those are the skills you’re always so grateful for when you need them.
“Develop basic cooking skills so you don’t starve yourself and can care for others. Five to ten simple dishes on rotation will go a long way. Basic things like changing a light fixture, patching a hole in the wall, fixing a leaky faucet and using a power drill will save you money and time,” says Kim.
“Before having to resort to panic and calling an ambulance, learn first-aid basics like how to stop bleeding on a deep cut, how to treat a burn and what to do when someone faints. While you’re at it, make sure to keep a stocked first-aid kit — you never know when you or a loved one will need it!”
Selling yourself and the value you bring to the world
Hendrix Black, co-founder and lead coach of Quantum King, a personal growth platform for men, says the most timeless hard skill most people should master by 40 is the ability to generate leads and make sales.
“There’s a wellspring of confidence that arises from knowing that you’ve developed the ability to generate value and impact for those you serve,” he says.
“A lot of people, men especially, will try to generate confidence out of thin air with stuff like affirmations, positive self-talk or even the right Spotify playlist. But in reality, it comes from a grounded experience of knowing you’ve put in the work to develop the most timeless (and valuable) skills you can to give yourself an edge no matter where you find yourself in life and business. It was true a hundred years ago, and it’s still true today. Those who know how to generate revenue for themselves or the business they work for, will almost always win.”
Truly assessing cost-reward when making decisions
“When I was 29, I was terrified of leaving my corporate marketing job, giving up my perceived status and a steady paycheck, and tumbling down some imaginary ladder I spent my entire twenties climbing up,” says Black, who completely changed his perspective on life and work after surviving a stroke. “Whether it’s your career or your relationship, few things are riskier than complacency or going through the motions of what you intuitively know won’t work. There’s a subtle betrayal of personal trust when you willingly continue to invest energy, skill, and attention in what no longer feels worthy of it.”
“In almost all cases, the risk of pursuing your next big leap in career or business is much smaller than staying where you’re at. Ego will try to keep you stuck by shoving the sunk costs in your face i.e., ‘I spent four years getting that degree,’ ‘I’ve worked my way up the company,’ etc.” . Don’t let it. All those things have been achieved through vast inner resources and capacities that can alchemize something far greater when put towards something you’re truly excited about.”
Managing money for freedom – not material things
If you struggle with managing money, you’re not alone. But while there is so much financial advice out there on how to do so, focusing on changing your relationship with money can pay off big time. “My parents were always great with money, me? Not so much. Like a lot of younger people, I spent more than I had on things that weren’t important and paid the exorbitant interest on credit debt before changing my relationship with money,” says Ryan Johnson, COO at Goalcast.
“The truth is, the best way to think about money is the options it gives you versus the things you can buy, and it is more powerful when you focus on how to save it and invest it than how you spend it. Don’t get me wrong—some creature comforts are nice. But if you save enough money to be able to quit a terrible job and not worry about the consequences, or have enough seed money to start your own company, you actually own freedom—far more valuable than a BMW.”
Setting goals and getting out of your comfort zone for them
Get in the habit of setting goals and you’ll live a much more intentional life. Learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and reap lifelong rewards. Both go hand in hand: In order to achieve your goals, you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone and master the art of taking action without ever feeling fully ready.
“Taking action before it feels easy and being 100% committed to any goal you set yourself to is such a valuable life skill. I see too many people playing small and being scared when they have so much potential and could be creating something amazing,” says Ana Patricia Bourgeois, business mentor for corporate women.