40 Lessons Learned by 40

Life is full of lessons and there’s no better time than the start of a new year to reflect on them! In the following piece, entrepreneur Rupal Patel MBA2013 shares 40 takeaways from her life and career so far. 

Looking back on 2020, it was a big year: I turned 40, had another baby, ramped up my business, did a lot of high-profile public speaking, and started writing my book (take that, COVID!).

During such a tumultuous year, I relied heavily on many lessons I learned during my four decades of life, and I’m sharing the lessons here to remind all of us that anything really is possible, even in strange and difficult times.

There are no shortcuts to success, but a life better, more thoughtfully, and more happily led are what I know you will gain from what I share. I say that with the confidence that comes from experience (I won’t say “age” just yet!). So get reading, get going, and here’s to making the most of 2021 and beyond.

1 – Mindset is everything

Get your head “right” and everything else will come. If you do nothing else, do this.

2 – Work on your money blocks

We all have them, and if you’ve never heard of them, I recommend you get googling. It’s amazing how things we don’t know are there can hold us back.

3 – Be careful who you take advice from

There’s that great quote about opinions and (*ahem*) certain orifices… everyone’s got them, but not everyone is qualified to share them as confidently or widely as they do. Make sure whoever you listen to has been there, done that with regards to what they are giving advice about.

4 – Trust but verify

This is true especially about colleagues, co-workers, or employees. Default to trust, but make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do. Some (maybe a lot of) people will only do the bare minimum or do what they can get away with.

5 – You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with… CHOOSE CAREFULLY!

Sit and reflect on this for a few minutes, and do a mental inventory of your five. Either they’re helping you move forward, or pulling you backwards. There is no standing still.

6 – Curate your environment

This is true about your physical and mental environment. Get rid of the garbage and fill your space with high-quality thoughts, things, people and places. We respond to our surroundings far more than we may realize.

7 – Be deliberate with your yes’es

Don’t fall into the trap of yes’ing your way through life; be careful and selective about where, how, and with whom you invest your time and energy.

8 – Be thoughtful and decisive, without being hasty.

Successful people are quick to make a decision and slow to change their mind; unsuccessful people are slow to make a decision and quick to change their mind.

9 – Demand a true partner at home (or in the office)

Don’t settle for a half-a$$ed commitment from anyone in your life. Share the mental, practical, financial, and administrative load equitably.

10 – Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you

This one is self-explanatory, but too easily ignored when egos get in the way.

11 – Never stop learning

When you stop learning, you stop growing.

12 – Commit to the process, not the outcome

Results come LAST. Get comfortable with repetition, tedium, and tradeoffs.

13 – Take the pressure off yourself

Setting goals and deadlines is important, but remember goals and deadlines are also arbitrary. As long as you keep moving forward, it’s okay if things take a little longer or come out a little differently than you expected.

14 – There is time…

Everything doesn’t have to happen this year, and you don’t have to do all the things. Choose a few things you care about and commit to them. There is time for everything.

15 – …But don’t wait too long

Finding the balance between urgency and contentment is a life-long practice, so practice until you find what works for you.

16 – Put yourself “out there”

When you shine, you give others permission to do the same, so don’t hide your light under a bushel or minimize yourself to make others feel better. No one is served by you playing small.

17 – Anything is possible

You can retire by 38, do push ups while 8 months pregnant, have successful careers in widely different fields, make a lot of money and not turn into a jerk, live your dream lifestyle, and so much more… I know because I’ve done all of it, and if I can, you can. The trick is to learn how, find role models, coaches, supporters, communities where what you want to achieve is the norm. And if you can’t find a role model “out there”, then…

18 – Be your own role model

Prove to yourself what you are capable of. Be the first person to do what you do. Roger Bannister didn’t let a lack of role models stop him from becoming the first person to run a 4-minute mile, Madam CJ Walker didn’t let a lack of examples keep her from becoming the first woman (and first black woman) millionaire in America in the early 1900s. You don’t need to “see it to be it”; sometimes you have to be it so others can see it.

19 – Work smarter, not harder

Better to do 1 hour of “smart” work than 100 hours of “hard” work. Think of ways to do things faster, easier, and with less input from you instead of punishing yourself with more, more, and more.

20 – Focus on what you can control

Don’t get mired in hand-wringing worry when problems arise; focus on what you CAN do and keep moving.

21 – Decide against fear

As with the above, control what you can control and don’t let fear get in the way.

22 – Expand the life of your mind

Being alive and being human is about so much more than financial or professional success. Take time to regularly feed your brain big thoughts, ideas you’ve never come across, artistic fuel, inspiration from other fields. You don’t have to become a polymath, but we all owe it to ourselves to be interesting and interested in the bigger world.

23 – Watch what you are proud of

Measure what matters to you and don’t worry about vanity metrics.

24 – Have a plan, but be flexible

The world likes to take liberties with even the most meticulously detailed plan, so have a Plan B, Plan C, and maybe even a Plan D.

25 – Be “there” now

It’s so important to have goals and aspirations and ideals that we are striving for, but the trick to being happy (most of the time!) is to find the right balance between striving for what you want and contentment with what you’ve got.

26 – The compound effect can work for you or against you

Even small decisions, accumulated over time can have massive impacts. For example, spending just 15 minutes a day on something adds up to almost 4 days’ worth of time over a year. Be careful with the “small stuff” and the “big stuff” will take care of itself.

27 – Track your stats

You need to have an objective measure of what you are and are not doing; don’t live an unexamined life!

28 – It’s all been done before… but not by you

It’s so easy to get disheartened when we are doing something because it seems it’s all been done before. And the truth is, it has! But whether you’re writing a novel, opening up a café, or taking a new leadership role, only YOU can bring your you-ness and your take on things to the world. And that is enough.

29 – Saturate your mind

Our brains are computers so Garbage In = Garbage Out. Saturate your mind with high-quality, high-value thoughts, ideas, conversation, and inspiration and see the difference it makes.

30 – Sometimes it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

31 – Release the guilt and own your decisions

There will always be conflicting pulls on our time, energy, and resources. But instead of torturing ourselves with guilt, let’s be grown-ups and own our decisions, consequences and all.

32 – Protect what you already have

It’s easier to keep what you’ve got than it is to get more. So value and take care of your time, your income, your relationships, your investments, your customers, your health, everything you already have before you go looking for more.

33 – ASK – If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The worst that can happen is you’ll get ignored or hear “no”.

34 – Don’t (always) focus on the void

It’s important to keep our eyes to the future and the goals we want to achieve, but it’s equally important that we recognize how far we’ve already come and how much we already have.

35 – Set and enforce boundaries

You have to be your own strictest guardian otherwise the rest of the world will live your life for you.

36 – Batch, batch, batch

There is a simple power in doing like activities in batches (checking email, making phone calls, paying bills, etc.) instead of frittering your time jumping from one task to another task. Batching will keep you sane and more productive than you thought you could be.

37 – Pay yourself first

This means emotionally, physically, and financially. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Think of it as being self-full instead of selfish.

38 – Run your own race

Comparisonitis is a bastard and will keep you from making progress and doing the things that are important to you. Don’t live your life with your head on a swivel. Or as my dad would say “Live an absolute life, not a relative one.”

39 – Capture your year

There is nothing like keeping track of the lessons learned each year and crystalizing what went well, where things could have improved, and learning as much as you can from your experiences. If you don’t capture what you learn along the way, life can end up being a series of repeated mistakes and opportunities for growth lost.

40 – PERSIST and keep going

One of my favorite quotes captures this perfectly:

“Never give up on a dream just because of the length of time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

And one final bonus lesson that has been my personal mantra: Say yes to adventure! Accumulate great stories instead of great things. From performing in London 2012, to working at the CIA, to starting multiple businesses, to living on a farm in the middle-of-nowhere Costa Rica, I’ve never said no to an adventure, and I’ve never regretted it once. We only get one shot. Make it count. And make it fun!

About the author: Rupal Patel, MBA2013, is a serial entrepreneur, business coach, professional speaker and author. Her upcoming book “From CIA to CEO” draws on her CIA training in adaptability, high-pressure performance, and agility, and combines those unique insights with the business grounding of her entrepreneurial journey and her leadership work with clients over the past six years. It is a one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking read for anyone who wants to think bigger, lead better, and be bolder in all aspects of life and business.