Most of the years from high school graduation to middle age are spent on things we don’t enjoy but that we think mature adults are “supposed” to do. We get jobs we don’t like to pay bills for stuff we don't actually want. We settle for toxic relationships because, on the outside, they look the way we think they should.
At the age of 32, after 12 years living that hollow version of a life, I quit. I decided, at the point most people are giving up and settling down, to do just the opposite. I decided to chase my ridiculous, unreasonable dream.
I'll be 35 this year, and I find myself musing on the things I've accomplished since I pivoted my whole life three years ago — and all the goals I want to achieve before my 40th birthday.
Yes, it's normal to get tired. It's understandable to get so downtrodden by the vagaries of fate, by outcomes that look nothing like you planned, that you accept what is and stop striving for what could be.
But I know that giving up when it feels hard leads to some of life's biggest regrets. In the hopes that when you reach 40 you can look back with pride and satisfaction on the life you've lived so far, and forward with joyful expectation to the road ahead, I've created this "bucket list," if you will, of choices to make before you hit that milestone. If you can say you've done all these things, you can feel confident you've lived life to the fullest.
1. Prioritize the people in your life as though this were the last day you had to spend with them.
My father died suddenly in 2012, and for the first time, I truly understood that we are promised nothing. All we have is today, this moment. Prioritize with that in mind.
2. Love with your whole heart.
Growing up, I wasn't taught or shown what it means to love without reservation or fear, and I missed out on the happiness love can bring when you truly open yourself to it.
3. Forgive those who have hurt you.
I didn't have a great relationship with my father, and he died before I forgave him. It's a regret I'll carry with me forever. The time before I forgave him was time I wasted because it poisoned me with bitterness.
4. Give willingly with no expectation of reciprocity.
Several people have helped me when I needed it most. Those people taught me what true friendship is. You never know when your kindness could be the difference between someone ending their life or choosing to try for one more day.
5. Travel to places outside your comfort zone.
I'm an introvert, and my first international trip to the Philippines stretched my ability to be flexible and embrace the unknown. It's only when we challenge ourselves that we really grow.
6. Ask for what you want.
I wouldn't be writing this article today if I had let my fear of failure keep me from putting myself out there, being vulnerable, and asking for what I want.
7. Be the proof that other people can change their lives for the better.
When I took the plunge and got everything I ever wanted, it motivated everyone around me. It inspired people to believe that they could do it too. That was one of the most satisfying elements of the process.
8. Purge negativity from your life.
It took letting go of my onetime best friend to see how heavy a weight negativity is. Once I let go, my soul felt lighter.
9. Find a finish line.
In a four-year period, I lost 170 pounds through healthy eating and running. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon was a life-changing experience. Whether your goal is to run a 10k, swim a mile, or complete an Iron Man competition, you'll discover a deeper motivation than you might've ever realized you could.
10. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
For most of my life, I've measured my progress against someone else's. To internalize that this is my journey and can't be compared was incredibly difficult but one of the most liberating experiences of my life.
11. Try every kind of food you can get your hands on.
I just got back from a trip to Morocco, where I tried foods I had never seen, couldn't identify, and felt a little nervous about. But every time I've tried new and exotic foods, my palate and understanding inevitably grow more complex and nuanced.
12. Give meditation a shot.
I started meditating for 20 minutes each morning, and it's helped me tame the chaos of each day. It's taught me the power of living in the moment.
13. Don't ever give up date night.
Setting aside time each week to spend quality time with my wife has allowed us to survive and grow consistently during these last 17 years of marriage. It's one of the key traditions that's continually drawn us closer.
14. Quit a job that doesn't fulfill you.
I hated my work as a delivery driver. Once I quit, it took a year to heal. Now I help others heal as a life coach. I saw how working a job that didn't fulfill me had affected other areas of my life, and had a deep impact on my psyche.
15. Celebrate the success of someone else.
I've never had any problems celebrating my wins, but when I've celebrated the accomplishments of others, I come away from the experience more fulfilled.
16. Teach your kids the things you wish you were taught.
I've taught my children that their dreams are possible, and now I've lived that truth. Show your kids how to live. Actions speak louder than words.
17. Experience a moment of absolute gratitude every day.
At least once every day, I stop and reflect on all the things I have to be grateful for.
18. Do things that scare you (emotionally, that is) — as often as possible.
My biggest life lessons have come from facing things that I fear. I'm not talking about skydiving, necessarily, unless that has some special symbolism for you. Learning to feel the fear and love anyway, trust anyway, try anyway, has been perhaps the most important element in the achievement of my dreams.
19. Learn from the experiences of those older and wiser.
I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with my grandfather growing up. I'm grateful to have been able to see the importance of that, and make up for lost time before he died last year.
20. Never give up on your dreams.
This is the message my father and grandfather left me before they died. It was their wisdom that affirmed my choices, and directed the ones I'll make in the future. Giving up on your dreams is the biggest regret you can have, and it will last your whole life.