9 reasons why your 40s will be incredibly productive

9 reasons why your 40s will be incredibly productive
12 May 2021

Many friends and professional contacts are using their 40s to slow down. Worse still, some even check out and head for the golf course.

Equally, many companies hire senior staff with a bias towards people in their 30s.

That bias towards younger people is insane, because ‘grey hair experience’ is the most effective risk management tool that money can buy“, a successful company-owner friend said when we discussed this over a glass of wine.

To which I added, “I love having all this past experience at my disposal. Thanks to everything I have seen and done already, I am now able to cut through challenges and hurdles like they were butter.

Call us biased, given we are both in our 40s.

You could also say we have first-hand experience (and are in a position to speak openly).

I can’t tell you who I hung out with that evening, but trust me in not spending Saturday evenings in the company of underachievers.

The following nine points illustrate why it’s great to use your 40s to build your career or business, and why you should consider hiring or working with people of that age group.

1. You honestly don’t give a fuck

In your 20s and 30s, you are worried about other peoples’ opinion and pleasing others. If someone younger says they don’t give a fuck, it’s probably because they read a self-help book of that same name, but not because they’d really have the personal strength to mean it in the moments when it really matters.

Once you are in your 40s, you are much more likely to genuinely don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.

You are more likely to care about results, i.e. you’ll go straight for the kill instead of dithering about.

Most likely, you will also say things as they are, because you’ll be less concerned about being “liked”. You want people in your team who have both the judgement and the personal fortitude to point out the things that others are too afraid to point out.

It feels liberating, saves you a lot of time, and gives everyone much better results, although potentially with a few younger bystanders getting bruised along the way.

2. Your network is worth millions (literally!)

If you have been reasonably good at keeping in touch with people, you will have grown a massive professional and personal network purely through the passage of time. Over the years, hundreds of people accumulate in your network simply because you inevitably meet people as time progresses. If you were an active networker, you may even have several thousand usable contacts.

Many of them will stem from genuine joint work, and a small percentage of them will have come from joint successes.

Being able to approach existing contacts about a business matter is five or ten times easier, quicker and more effective than hitting up someone new.

It’s even more powerful in the case of existing contacts with whom you have had a genuine joint success. I’d make a handwaving guess they are 10-50 times more valuable to you, in terms of being open to receiving your proposals.

You do the math. Take a few hundred (or a few thousand) professional contacts, value each of them at an average of ten hours spent together in the past, and then multiply it by an hourly rate.

Say you have 1,500 contacts with whom you have already spent ten hours each; that gets you to 15,000 hours or the equivalent of eight years of full-time work. Let’s say each hour is worth USD 100, and you end up with a network that would cost USD 1.5m to recreate.

Being able to approach existing contacts about a business matter is five or ten times easier, quicker and more effective than hitting up someone new.

Never mind the costs for lunches and dinners and the impossibility of replicating this in a short time.

Then throw in the additional value of anyone with whom you have previously generated a joint success.

Once you are in your 40s, your network probably has a replacement value in the millions.

It’s a massive asset and one that can generate a return for you. Think about it that way!

3. The contacts of your contacts are a powerful multiplier

This is a sub-aspect of the previous point, but it’s absolutely worthy of dedicating a separate point to it.

Each of your contacts will have their own network. People you know well are much more likely to allow you to tap into their network. If each of your 1,500 contacts allowed you to tap into a carefully chosen subset of 100 of their contacts, that’d be 15,000 people who are available to hear from you.

Putting something to use that already exists is so much easier and more rewarding than building something from scratch.

The precise numbers don’t matter, it’s the mechanics you need to keep in mind. This possibility MULTIPLIES the value and potential return of your network.

Both my unnamed co-conspirator and myself can confirm from first-hand experience that the math behind this point is extremely attractive and powerful. Not the least since this is another asset that is already in place. Putting something to use that already exists is so much easier and more rewarding than building something from scratch.

If you head to the golf course instead of putting this asset to use, you waste an extraordinary amount of potential. Put another way, think about what you can achieve if you put these assets to work for another ten to 20 years in something that you truly enjoy doing. And if money isn’t driving you anymore, use it for something that helps others.

4. You have genuine credibility and a tangible track record

Sure, anyone in their 20s and 30s will also have exciting achievements to their name. No disrespect to that.

However, credibility is something that compounds. With each year that passes, your credibility grows at a much faster rate than during your earlier years. Provided, of course, you keep going.

In another article, I wrote about knowledge compounding (check #3 in my “44 things I know because I am now 44“). Contrary to much popular wisdom, you are learning faster in your later years. It’s similar with your credibility.

In your 40s, you can build on a lot of accumulated credibility, and your track record will likely span quite a wide range.

Many people told me (and my friend) that we did amazing stuff in our 20s and 30s and that we were way ahead of our years. It was all very flattering at the time. However, we are now both laughing when we look back at our struggles, innocence and naivety during these times.

In comparison, using your credibility and track record in your 40s is so much easier and yields much bigger results. I’ll name one specific example from my own recent experience at the end of this article to illustrate the point. The 40s are your time for making transformative leaps forward.

If you aren’t putting this to use, then you are giving up just when it’s getting interesting.

5. You will have lost serious amounts of money (either your own or someone else’s)

Nothing teaches you as much as a genuine failure and a serious loss.

By the time you hit your 40s, you will likely have produced at least one massive failure along the way.

In my case, it was a luxury cosmetics brand I had wanted to build with friends in Russia. That was probably the single most painful business experience of my life, in terms of personal pain it caused on multiple levels. Today, I always like to refer to it as my USD 7m MBA: “I burned through USD 7m and had nothing to show for except the lessons I learned.

In job applicants and business partners, I rate it very highly if someone has had one or the other spectacular failure in life. My friend agrees. Nothing teaches you more than truly painful experiences. In business, that usually means having driven a company to the wall or having lost an entire investment. Getting fired for the RIGHT reasons can also be among it, provided you got fired for the right reason.

If I kept a personal balance sheet, I’d put that cosmetics company project on there as a USD 7m intangible asset. Failures eventually become assets, because it will have taught you a tremendous amount about how NOT to do things. However, that requires you to keep staying in the game so that you can put these painful lessons to use.

6. You don’t have ego issues anymore

Once you have both won and lost a few major battles, you cool down on fighting battles for the sake of ego.

You simply become a lot more chilled and objective.

When you have to judge projects, employees and business plans, not being dragged in the wrong direction by your ego is another valuable strength.

Once you hit your 40s your ego seems to magically go away when it comes to decision-making and choosing which hills to die on (or not to die on). That’s a negative asset removed from your personal balance sheet purely by waiting for the wisdom of age to arrive on your doorstep.

7. You have seen entire business cycles

Good times are eventually followed by bad times, even though that seems impossible when things are going well.

Bad times are eventually followed by good times, even though that, too, seems impossible when things are going badly.

Once you have reached your 40s, you will likely have seen two or three complete business cycles. The perspective this gives you on long-term plans is a strength that I wouldn’t want to miss anymore. It’s hard to explain and can really only be appreciated once you have arrived at that point. It’s something to look forward to! By then, you will have learned that sticking to proven values will eventually pay off, even if it’s sometimes difficult in the face of fads and fashions.

When you have to judge projects, employees and business plans, not being dragged in the wrong direction by your ego is another valuable strength.

Did you see Warren Buffett stick to his value investing when he was called a dummy during the first dotcom boom in 1999/2000? He held course regardless because he had seen it all before. Just check how things have continued for him since then, or consider what would have happened had he given in to the prevailing Zeitgeist.

Your grey hair should probably also appear on your personal balance sheet. It’s an asset you could value at a few million, at least. Good investors strongly value this type of track record.

8. You will pursue nothing but gratifying work

Once you are in your 40s, you will have likely experienced at least one of the following major events:

  • Death of one or both parent(s).
  • Someone you knew dying way too young.
  • A major gratification, whether financial or otherwise.

Your priorities will have probably shifted as a result. You may have come to realise your own mortality and, as a result, stay well clear of work that you don’t enjoy. Or, you may have gained a bit of financial freedom already, which enables you to pursue only the work that genuinely interests you. Or you may have realised that having money – beyond a certain point – has a dramatically lower value than aspects such as personal freedom.

This point may not hold true for everyone, but it does for many.

Having the ability to stay clear of the wrong kind of work will energise you in pursuing whatever it is you have settled on.

Take that and combine it with the previous point – you’ll be a near-unstoppable force of nature!

9. No need anymore for Yea-sayers in your life

In your 40s, you will have realised what you are (and aren’t) capable of.

What you know you are capable of yourself, you’ll do yourself.

For everything else, you’ll hire people who challenge and complement you, rather than agreeing to everything or provide validation for your ego (see point #6).

The first draft of the article (created on London's Kensington High Street).

The first draft of the article (created on London’s Kensington High Street).

Imagine the alternative and run with what you’ve got

We all lean towards moaning about getting old, including myself occasionally. Keep in mind the alternative. Not getting old would be a lot more boring, as it would involve being stuck inside a box six feet under.

There are similar sayings in Judaism, Islam and Persian culture, that if you retire, you start taking the shovel to dig your grave. Once again, the ancients knew instinctively what modern-day statisticians needed computers for to confirm. During the first two years after people retire, their mortality rates spike. That’s independent of their age – it’s retiring that is the crucial factor, as this 2016 study (among others) showed. A long life is attributed to having family, friends, and something meaningful to do.

The amazing possibilities and assets you have available to yourself in your 40s is another key to having a long life.

Much as I did all sorts of cool stuff earlier in life, my capabilities back in those days simply paled in comparison to what I can pull off now.

Ever since having had a taste of my 40s, I have been telling slightly younger friends that reaching this particular decade is something to truly look forward to. Witnessing the fourth floor of life is amazing. I had not expected it or even thought about it in advance, but that’s a realisation that struck me as I got there. I’ve got a good 1,200 days left to my 40s, and I am extremely diligent with putting each of these days to good use.

As a case in point for all of the above, I recently managed a fundraising round for a fledgling enterprise. In my 20s and 30s, raising these funds would have probably taken me three months. This time, I kind of did it in 24h. It did take a bit longer to sort out the technicalities, but on the same day I sent out the first pitch, one recipient called and wanted to take it all. Mind you, that was on a Sunday!

I thank points #2, #4 and #8 for that, primarily. All the other points mentioned in this article played a support role, since these things all hang together.

Being 46 and having all these assets at my disposal is something I find extremely exciting. Much as I did all sorts of cool stuff earlier in life, my capabilities back in those days simply paled in comparison to what I can pull off now.

My friend agrees.

Neither one of us has to pitch for work, by the way. We came up with this article in the hope of inspiring all sorts of people and companies to consider (or reconsider) the advantages of people in their 40s. Having had a quick look at Google, most of the other articles about being in your 40s sound defensive, or deal with semi-retirement and the like. It was high time someone wrote about it from our perspective.

And it was fun scribbling down the framework of this article after a glass of Montepulciano on Kensington High Street, just as London was waking up again from its pandemic slumber. I was keen to use the photo above as a memento of a fun, interesting evening.

With special thanks to my co-conspirator!

P.S.: I reserve the right to write similarly glowing articles about my 50s, 60s, ….

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