life-stagesYoung woman and older woman at different life stages embracing in hug

Transformative lessons for each stage of life

It’s never too late to redefine yourself or to pursue new dreams. From your early 20s to your golden years, here’s how to live your best life at any age.

Life is a continuous journey of learning and self-discovery, with each decade bringing a unique set of challenges and lessons that can profoundly shape our path.

Psychologist and author Dr Rebecca Ray told The House of Wellness radio show that each season of our lives offers a chance to grow and adapt.

From the exploratory phase of our 20s to the reflective years of later life, understanding that each stage has its value can help us live more fully and with greater satisfaction — even if it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.

Whether you are entering adulthood, navigating midlife changes or embracing the freedom of the golden years, here’s Dr Ray’s guide to not just surviving but thriving through each stage of life.

Listen to psychologist Dr Rebecca Ray’s full interview on The House of Wellness radio show.

In our 20s: The importance of self-discovery

Dr Ray says our 20s get a bad rap.

“We pop out of adolescence and we land in legal adulthood at 18 and we think that we should have it all figured out by then,” she says.

Around this time, Dr Ray explains, we’re finishing school, trying to work out what we want to do with our lives and thinking that we should have some kind of life plan.

“And if we don’t, it can feel incredibly overwhelming,” she notes.

While our 20s are often viewed with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, Dr Ray says a range of neurological changes continue to shape our brains during this decade.

The left prefrontal cortex in the brain, she notes, is not fully wired until women are about 24 and men are about 28.

This part of the brain is crucial for logical thinking and decision-making, underscoring that our 20s are a critical time for exploration and self-discovery.

“The 20s are actually about solidifying our sense of identity but also (about) being able to experience lots of different things to work out what fits for us at an identity level,” Dr Ray says.

In our 30s and 40s: Embracing the tug of war

As we progress into our 30s and 40s, the stakes often feel higher, with increased responsibilities in both personal and professional spheres.

People may feel pulled in myriad directions, balancing career ambitions with familial responsibilities, while also facing potential midlife crises, burnout or being plagued with existential questions about life’s purpose.

During this stage, Dr Ray says the idea that “we learn a lot” can sometimes feel like a booby prize.

“There was a lesson, fine, but did I have to go through that?” she asks.

“Unfortunately, we do need to go through some growth — growth is really precious in every single decade.”

Dr Ray says embracing flexibility in our career and personal life can help us adapt to changes and challenges, and also help us find renewed purpose and fulfilment during these transformative years.

“So much of this conversation about the different decades in our life is about ‘how much do I feel like I’ve got a sense of personal agency here, in this place, in my life’,” she adds.

In our 50s and 60s: Changing career modes

As people live longer, healthier lives, many find themselves wanting to remain active in the workforce well beyond traditional retirement age.

Dr Ray says we’re in the midst of a cultural shift in the way retirement is perceived.

Instead of a complete cessation of work, many now view retirement as a phase to reduce workload or shift to different, perhaps less demanding, kinds of work, such as working part-time or consulting — not only for financial reasons but also as a way to stay mentally and socially active.

“We need to look at this from a number of different angles,” Dr Ray says.

“We’re in a cost of living crisis right now, so many people might be questioning whether or not they can afford to retire at a financial level.

“But if we look at it at a growth level, in terms of how we’re working throughout our lives, the age at which many people might once have been expected to retire can be a beautiful time of generativity because you know what sparks your sense of interest and inspiration.

“Staying working can actually keep the brain so alive and able to actually welcome in new things, new relationships, new connections.

“I think it’s actually a really powerful thing to do as long as you feel like you’re being able to do it on your own terms.”

In our 70s, 80s and beyond: It’s never too late

For anyone who feels stuck or believes it’s too late to make a change, Dr Ray has one powerful message: Age should not limit or define us.

“Psychologists call this a self-fulfilling prophecy — where you believe a belief so strongly that it then impacts your behaviour,” she says.

“If you believe you can’t change and then you don’t do anything to change, then obviously that reinforces that belief.”

Instead of wishing you could impart wisdom to your younger self, Dr Ray encourages everyone, no matter their age, to consult with their 80-year-old selves.

“If you could have a conversation with your 80-year-old self about how you’re living right now, the wisdom that you’ll get back from that person is whether or not you’re living in alignment with who you truly want to be,” she says.

“As long as you’re breathing, it’s not too late.”

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Written by Tianna Nadalin.