Tomorrow I turn 39. It feels like a significant birthday, like a milestone. As if tomorrow is my 40th, not my 39th. Maybe my mind is sending a strong message that I’ve only got one year left until the milestone really is here.

I watched with interest as a number of my friends crossed the 40 mark over the last few years. Some of them did so without flinching. Others… well, from the outside it looked as if they had a harder time. Mostly, for the ones who seemed to struggle the most, it appeared as though turning 40 was a bit of a wake-up call; a reminder that the clock is ticking and they’d better get a wriggle on with a few things. I started thinking about my own life as a result; how I would like to feel as I neared 40, and what would need to be done in the run-up.

An imminent birthday is an ideal time to reflect on the year just gone, to savour what you have right now, and cast your eye out into the future. This post is intended for these purposes.

Things I’m proud of

Becoming debt free. I set myself a goal when I was 31 to be debt free by 40. Not just your typical consumer debt like credit cards and student loans, but entirely debt free. Not owing a cent to anyone. Not long after we had taken on a £196,000 mortgage as we moved into a bigger home to hopefully start a family. This was on top of our existing £70,000+ mortgage. At the age of 33 and with £260,000 owing, becoming debt free by 40 seemed an impossibility. But with a year left before my deadline, and having recently sold our rental property, we’ll be in a position to clear the remaining mortgage before the end of 2018, something I’m both proud of and grateful for. How we got there is a blog post in itself, but I see being debt free by 40 as an opportunity to have more flexibility in my life, and to pursue what interests me most.

My kids. I get to share my life with a three year old and a five year old, two vibrant, energetic, funny, curious, confident little human beings. I’m so very grateful for them, and the time we spend together.

Stepping out into the abyss. Three years ago I quit my job with nowhere to go. I’d had enough of working for a company whose principles didn’t align with mine. My plan was to contract for 6-12 months, build up a buffer, and use it to support myself and my family whilst building my own product (improving a system I run for law firm). Things didn’t pan out exactly the way I envisioned (I ended up working remotely for a start-up in the US, with some brilliant people whom I learned so much from) but making that leap of faith was one of the best things I’ve done.

Regrets

Writing. I wish I’d developed a consistent writing schedule. You can see my attempts in my archives, but there are large chunks of time where my writing drops off the face of the planet. I can think of a number of reasons for the inconsistency: not making it my #1 priority, taking on too much, fear of people’s opinions and criticisms. I know how valuable thinking on paper is — which I do almost daily in a journal — but I wish I’d shared more of those thoughts and discoveries with the world more consistently.

What I’ve learned

Fear is all in your head. When I quit Facebook I worried that my social life would vanish. It hasn’t. When I quit LinkedIn I worried that I’d never find great work again. I have. Before giving up alcohol I feared I’d become a social nobody, that I’d be labelled a ‘boring bastard’ and excluded from social events. I haven’t (not that I know of ;-)). So I’ve learned that the fears that play out in your head are just that: in your head.

Do less. Historically I’ve tried to do it all and be the best at everything. However I tended to just burn myself out and get discouraged because I wasn’t able to achieve the lofty standards I set myself in all the areas I was ‘focusing’. I’ve learned that doing less, and focusing your efforts in a single direction is much better for both your sanity and your outcomes. I’ve spent the last few years ruthlessly culling from my life, from the things I own, to tools I use and the activities I say yes too. The result? More clarity and more time.

Learn who you are, and run with it. I’ve always felt the need to try and fit in, to do what the rest of the crowd is doing, especially in social situations. I’d reach a point where I felt I was done, except that everyone else was not, but I’d go along with the night for fear of missing out, or being left out in the future, But I recently read Quiet, which has helped me feel more comfortable with being an introvert.

One year from now

For now I’m playing my cards close to my chest. Tomorrow… I’m just going to enjoy the day!