5 Things to Stop Worrying About after 40
I've worried about things my whole life. Will I get a girlfriend? Will my marriage survive? Will I have enough money to retire? What happens if I lose my job? Do I have cancer but don't know it yet? Are my kids safe tonight? What's that strange rash on my neck?
A loud insurance executive once explained the fallacy of worry and problems. He said,
“There are two types of problems: real ones and imaginary ones. The most destructive are the imaginary ones because we always imagine the worst. And since the worst almost never happens, we end up going nuts for nothing! If you're going to worry about something, make sure it's real, and make sure it's big, 'cause everyone loves a rich nut!”
I've worked full-time since I was 16, so that's 34 years of worrying about work. And with three marriages and three kids under my belt, I've had plenty to worry about.
Or have I?
So far, no one has died. I've only lost two jobs (they did me a favour – I hated both of them), and my marriage is going very nicely.
Some of my worries will always feel valid. Number one is the safety of my kids, my wife, and the rest of my family. A close second is their happiness and their appreciation of this gift called ‘life'. It's fleeting, it's unpredictable, and I want them to enjoy every little bit of it.
It's sometimes tough, but I believe it's our main job, here – to find joy in every single day, no matter how small or simple. There's plenty of value in the saying, “Plan like you'll live forever but live like you'll die tomorrow.”
My Top 5 Worries To Let Go Of
When will I die?
Neither your wealth, fame or myriad accomplishments will stall or withhold death's visit.
The sooner you embrace the universal finish line, the sooner you can begin to live. As Twain said, “People ought to start dead, and they would be honest so much earlier.”
In around 120 years (medical advances aside), every person alive on Earth right now will be gone. Every triumph, every war and every little worry will evaporate and be forgotten. The sales meeting, the job interview, divorce hearing, hospital admission – they will all live in the past.
Those who experience a brush with death tend to reassess life's priorities. The fallacy of their concerns becomes clear, and they resolve to reframe them or abandon them altogether. Like someone who's mastered their inbox, they either deal with them on the spot, they delegate them or delete them. Done.
It's one thing to be afraid of dying – it's natural to fear the unknown – but it shouldn't make us afraid of living. If anything, it should bring a sense of urgency to it. So live while you're alive.
I wish my partner/boss/kids would do X.
If your boss wants to fire you, there's not a lot you can do about it. If your partner cheats on you, the horse has already bolted. If your 19-year-old daughter shacks up with a man you fails to meet your standard, I doubt you'll be able to change her mind.
Few people will ever share your perspective on life. No one will agree with you on everything.
We're all shaped by our experiences, our genetic composition and our emotional intelligence. Those three factors alone make it impossible to predict or control the behaviour of others. Sure, you can exert influence or control for a while (name your favourite dictator or religion), but we're all free agents in the end.
The best we can do is to be our best selves. There will always be injustice. There will always be misunderstandings. Give generously and without expectation of reward. Don't attach your happiness to the actions or decisions of others – find it within yourself. See it in the gifts all around you – in nature, in the service of others, in the freedoms you enjoy. Find something that matters to you and give it your time, your energy and your creativity.
At the end of the day, you answer to the person staring back at you in the mirror. Make that person proud – not of the accolades or the trinkets acquired – but of the willingness to rescind control and live a simple, contented and generous life.
Will I have a heart attack or get cancer?
“We become what we think about.” Earl Nightingale's famous 1957 recording, ‘The Strangest Secret', struck a nerve in me thirty years ago and remains one of my most valuable lessons.
We mightn't get what we want in life, but we tend to manifest what we obsess about – good or bad. Nightingale explained it like this:
“The human mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.”
The problem is, we tend to plant fear, anxiety and confusion instead of concrete and worthwhile goals. We deliberate over problems that may never occur, and we replay experiences and potential experiences in our minds as if it will help us somehow.
If all we think about is our health, we lose our ability to be present. And since our subconscious latches onto our dominant thoughts, it'll soon deliver what it is we're thinking about.
Yes, we should take care of our bodies and our minds. We should apply simple habits to eat well, hydrate, move, sleep and laugh, but that's what they should be – habits. Obsessing or worrying about anything rarely produces an agreeable outcome. By establishing a few healthy habits and then letting go of the outcomes, we enjoy the present. And that's the best approach to health I know.
What will happen if I lose my job?
If you jump off a tall building, you will always go down; you'll never go up. Some laws are immutable. Likewise, if you spend more than you earn or you try to out-do the Joneses, you'll always be broke.
Worrying about money is normal, but for many of us, it's actually one of the simplest areas to fix because we spend way too much of it to begin with. Studies have shown that beyond $USD70k p.a., the happiness that any additional money brings starts to fall off a cliff.
If our basic needs are met, we tend to be happy. If we measure our success (and thus our happiness) against others, it will always elude us. Uraguay's former President said many people were ‘poor' because they ‘need' too much. They're never satisfied. He donated most of his income in favour of a modest lifestyle, and he said it gave him the time and freedom to live a happy life.
The two simplest ways to improve your financial health are:
- Change your pleasure threshold (what you think you need in order to feel pleasure). This recalibrates your pain/reward ratio – the amount of money you're willing to spend to deliver a ‘reward’.
- Develop multiple revenue streams. Losing your sole source of income is debilitating, humiliating and stressful. Having a side hustle (or two) dramatically reduces this. If one thing falls over, you simply direct more energy to the others.
Of course, debt is a huge source of stress. Unless it's tied to growth assets (like real estate), it will only diminish you further. If you carry any form of consumer debt (credit cards, car loans, store cards, etc.), your first job is to kill them.
Read how to do this here:
- Debt is Killing your Dreams
- Good Debt, Bad Debt and Ugly Debt
- Trapped by debt? Go on a killing spree!
- Why are we afraid to discuss money?
Worrying about money (indeed, anything), won't move the needle. Only doing something will. And for most of us, addressing our worries around money isn't complicated.
- Kill all your consumer debts (read the posts above or buy my book, Breathe Again – Debt Free in 3 Simple Steps)
- Simplify your life and what you think you ‘need' to be happy
- Fire the Joneses
- Create multiple streams of income (consider freelancing or starting a simple business)
- Once your consumer debts are gone, set aside at least 15-20% of what you earn into solid investment classes. You need only read three books on this: The Barefoot Investor, Michael Yardney's Guide to Getting Rich and Unshakable.
Will I ever get rid of my problems?
We're obsessed with perfection. We yearn for a smooth life. We devote decades to knocking down walls and slaying our dragons. Yet with each evolution, each rung up the ladder, we realise our problems aren't eliminated – they're only replaced with new ones.
Let me give you the abridged version. You cannot avoid problems. No one can. No matter how rich, successful, respected or healthy you become, you will always have problems.
Suicide rates continue to climb despite the abundance all around us. Depression is a complex animal – I know this from experience. But problems aren't the problem. Rather, it's our relationship to problems that trips us up.
And so the job isn't one of problem avoidance but problem selection. Over time, you learn to choose your problems – you even create a few as well. You look for bigger ones and better ones, and you give those smaller ones to someone else to solve.
A simple example. Our house sits on 3,000 sq. metres of land. Lots of grass to mow. The house came with a ride-on mower but it broke down twice in the first six months, costing me $1,000 to repair. It also took around three hours each time to mow the lawn and trim the edges.
Solution – sell the mower, pay a man to cut the grass, and win back 60 hours of my life each year. I decided I didn't like this problem so I gave it to someone else. Now it's Michael's problem.
Another example. I invested five years of very late nights and long weekends into building a property portfolio. It ended badly and I lost everything. But I learned a few valuable lessons and I rebuilt my life. It's now a sunk cost and a small chapter in a very large book.
Instead of crying into my Scotch, I took what I learned and chose more interesting problems to solve. My wife and I have some property, but it's no longer the focus of my attention – it's a more passive thing.
The problems I now seek to solve are less selfish and as a result, more satisfying. You're reading part of it right now, and I'm grateful that you're doing it.
Worrying never solves a damn thing. Only action does – either in the direction of the problem or towards something you can control.
Watch how quickly a person's life changes when they realise their time is almost up, or when they lose their cherished partner. I've seen many people's lives do a dramatic about-face when a parent becomes gravely ill. Instantly, they realise they have little to worry about. They're mum or dad would gladly trade their child's worries for another year on this planet.
This is your one and only shot at this experience – you'll never return to this blue ball.
However, you can draw a line in the sand and start a new chapter – free from senseless worry. It is and has always been, entirely up to you.
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Also published on Medium.