Life lessons by the decade

When do you stop caring about what people think of you? What age is it OK to be proud of staying home on a Saturday night (#JOMO)? And when will you discover who your real friends are?

The lessons we learn throughout life – and when we learn them – will be different for all of us.

Though we are on individual journeys, there are some common life lessons we can learn in our 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to smooth the way.

In your 20s: Learn to set boundaries

In a decade where many people are solidifying their lives, loves and careers, the 20s can be full of questions.

Life Coaching Melbourne founder Sandy Ewing says learning to say “no” early on helps establish important boundaries that last a lifetime.

“This is one of the greatest life skills you can ever develop. It will help you have stronger relationships, communication skills and discipline, and an air of confidence,” she says.

“You will find that you don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ as much as if you didn’t have personal boundaries.

“On the other hand, people-pleasers inevitably suffer from low self-esteem and miss the opportunity to define who they really are – and want to become. “

As people approach 30, too many people begin to compare their lives with others’, Sandy says.

“Use the lead-up to this milestone to propel yourself forward in the areas of your life you are feeling inadequate, rather than falling into victim mode or blaming others for any shortcomings,” she says.

What I learnt in my 20s: Leah Swann, 50, author of Sheerwater

“In my 20s I was a bit of a ‘fence-sitter’ because I felt that as a young person I didn’t know better,” Leah says.

“Then I started work for a not-for-profit and found myself encountering shocking prejudice against the people I was advocating for. I realised fence sitting wasn’t going to cut it – I had to have an informed opinion, and be ready to defend it.”

In your 30s: Fire up

True happiness means a big house, successful career, a fancy car and well-dressed kids… right?

Sandy says it’s OK to want these things, but we should ask ourselves whether they are a true measure of success.

“The 30s are an ideal time to reflect on who we are becoming, and what a life of purpose truly means,” she says.

“Then reset your vision and goals accordingly with personal growth in mind.”

It’s also a good decade to step out of our comfort zones, take risks and accept responsibility for every area of our lives: “Humans are happiest when they are learning and growing.”

What I learnt in my 30s: Leah Swann

“I gave up the idea of trying to ‘have it all’ – which, when you think about it, is a bit of a silly and even greedy idea. I saw that with planning and care you could have amazing experiences – including parenthood, career and travel – but often not simultaneously,” Leah says.

In your 40s: Reflect on what’s working – and what’s not

“In our 40s, we are finally able to let go of what is no longer serving us because we realise it doesn’t matter,” Sandy says.

“Today matters. Being bitter about the past will eat up your energy and focus. Forgiveness is key. Unfortunately, many people struggle to let go of past mistakes or hurts.”

Sandy says after years of working hard, and perhaps raising a family, this is the decade to embrace a new era: “Give yourself every chance to create more wins while you still have a high level of vitality, health and mental capacity.”

What I learnt in my 40s: Leah Swann

“In my 40s, long-term friendships got tested. Friendship is about being there through bad times. It’s also about trusting that even when your friend goes through a ‘weird’ stage – a midlife crisis for example – they will come out the other side,” Leah says.

“When you value a friendship, you have to let a fair bit pass, give and receive robust feedback, and hang in there. And know when to let things go.”

In your 50s:

If the 50s were a bumper sticker, it would read: “It is never too late!”

So says Sandy, who believes that with an open mind and an open heart, anything can happen in this decade.

“Mind over matter in our 50s is key,” she says.

“If you keep physically and mentally strong, you will be more capable of ticking off a few more bucket list goals. Go for it!”

What I’m learning in my 50s: Kathryn Powley, 51, communications professional

“So far I have found I am less concerned about how people perceive me, and I am more confident in doing what I want to do,” Kathryn says.

“I am also getting my DIY on around the home, and learning how to fix things myself instead of relying on tradies, which is so satisfying.”

Written by Elissa Doherty.