This July, I celebrated my 32nd birthday. Although I’ve set my annual goals each January for years, I sometimes find it challenging to focus on the long term.
The last time I remember coming up with as much as a five-year plan was, perhaps oddly, in the middle of a job interview many years ago. I was fresh out of college and in need of work to begin paying back all those student loans. I snagged an interview at a call center for a payroll and benefits company – something I was, as a creative, not so enthused about!
Pro tip: when an employer asks you where you see yourself in five years, the answer they’re usually looking for is something along the lines of “Working for your company” or “Moving up the ladder in your industry.” The answer I gave during this interview was nothing of the sort.
“In five years,” I’d said, thinking big, “I’d like to have my master’s degree in English, and I want to teach college-level writing classes.”
It probably goes without saying that I did not get that job.
But after two years of thankless temp work, I enrolled in graduate school for my master’s degree in creative writing. By the time I graduated two years after that, I had interviews lined up at area colleges so that I could work as an adjunct. I taught college English classes and worked as a writing tutor for about four more years beyond that.
Today I no longer teach full-time; I’m in marketing now and still writing and doing creative work. Yet my somewhat unintentional five-year plan came to fruition, and it showed me that dreams that seem a bit far-fetched at the time can come true.
It’s been 10 years since I interviewed in that call center, and to me it’s no better time than to figure out where I’m heading next. After all, your word is your wand — what you speak or write can truly impact your future, like saying a spell with the wave of a magic wand.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that excitement ends at 40 – or any other age, for that matter. Nor am I a fan of lists that make you feel like a loser for not living up to some narrow idea of success, as if you won’t be able to accomplish anything beyond some particular milestone birthday.
Fortunately, this isn’t one of those lists. And hey, if you need something to add to your own set of long-term goals to accomplish by age 30, 40, or 100, feel free to take some inspiration from what follows. Here’s what I’m aiming for by age 40:
1. Write (and publish) a book
This one may sound obvious to those of you who know me. Although I’ve published some of my writing on a much smaller scale, it’s about time I completed something to release to the world.
(Update as of August 2022: I’ve published The Creative Arcana, a tarot-inspired grimoire to empower your inner visionary and bring magic to your art practice. Get it here.)
2. Make a film
Whether it’s a short film or a full-length independent movie, this one ranks right up there with writing a book. Bonus: I’d love to make a horror film, especially.
3. Sell some art
I’ve entered a local art show, Roco 6×6, twice and had my paintings sell, but the proceeds for those works went to the gallery. That’s a worthy cause, but I’d love to actually sell something on my own next.
4. Learn how to make a fancy dessert – and serve it to friends and family
I’m not much of a cook, but I love baking. I’m not entirely sure what I’d define as fancy, but I’m thinking something beyond cupcakes and cookies here.
(Update as of December 2016: I made kladdkaka, a type of Swedish chocolate cake, for Christmas. It’s not exactly a “fancy” dessert, but I did serve it to family.)
5. Act in a play, film, or other production
This is more for fun than a serious career aspiration. Plus it might help with my slight fear of public speaking.
Learn Something New
6. Become fluent in at least one another language
I took Spanish in high school, and at one point I tried to learn Swedish (I have relatives in Sweden), so these would be good places to start. Better fire up Duolingo again!
7. Take at least one type of class each year
To me, learning is a lifelong pursuit. This past year, I learned about reading tarot cards, and I went on a very magical retreat in June. In the past, I’ve taken writing workshops even when I wasn’t in school. Some time ago I immersed myself in all topics related to yoga; I even contemplated doing teacher training. What should I learn next?
8. Attend a conference
This is a pretty lousy thing to admit, given my past in the academic world, but I’ve never attended any kind of professional or academic conference. This seems like a necessity, professional development-wise.
(Update as of September 2017: In addition to working at the user conference my company holds every 18 months, I also attended Content Marketing World!)
9. Speak at a conference (or some other event)
Solo or on a panel, it’s time to get over any qualms I have about public speaking.
10. Learn how to meditate properly
This is likely impossible. The whole point of meditation, from what I understand, is to recognize that you’re going to have intrusive thoughts when you attempt to clear your mind, but you have to let them go when they come up without dwelling on them. Meditation is something I’ve wanted to explore for some time but haven’t been able to devote myself to yet.
(Update as of summer 2022: For about two years now, I’ve been practicing a short meditation each morning. And really, that’s all you need. I’ve also become a fan of guided meditations. Read about my morning practices, meditation, and more in my zine, The Muse Manifesto.)
11. Become a parent
This one could fall into a later category about taking a dare, but mostly it’s about learning. Some people consider this the final achievement to unlock the Adulthood level in the game of life (after getting married and getting a house – done and done). For me, it means taking a new journey with my husband.
12. Earn some type of passive income
Speaking of adulthood achievements, my savings could use a boost. It’s not something that will make me much money before 40, but it will further down the line.
13. Buy at least one piece of fine art
Our current “collection” consists of one piece, so it would be nice to get to at least two in the next eight years. (And I’m not talking about something from a pricey auction — we have plenty of great artists locally!)
14. Read tarot at a party or other large event
Ever since I began dabbling in tarot a few years ago, I’ve loved the idea of performing readings at a large party. Who needs a tarot reader for hire?
15. Start a lucrative business
Originally, I simply wrote “start a business,” but businesses can put you in debt if you’re not careful. This may or may not overlap with the previous entry. Whether it’s freelance writing or editing, tarot reading, or something else entirely, I’ll leave it open-ended.
(Update as of summer 2022: I spent about two years as a freelance writer and I was able to pay bills. Although I’ve since chosen to go back to full-time work, I’d say my time being an independent contractor was a success.)
Travel Around the World
16. Travel internationally
Shameful American confession: When it comes to travel outside of the U.S., I’ve only ever been to Canada – which, in upstate New York, is just barely out of the country.
(Update as of September 2017: Joe and I visited Stockholm, Sweden!)
17. Go camping
Another somewhat shameful confession: I’ve never been camping. What’s worse – I’m married to a former Boy Scout. I don’t exactly get along with the outdoors (bugs, inclement weather, no electricity, more bugs), but I feel I should try it at least once… maybe just for a day to start with.
18. Take a vacation with friends or a group trip of some kind
This June, I went on a magical retreat hosted by the lovely Veronica Varlow. In addition to meeting a bunch of wonderful women, it also marked the first time I’d taken a trip by myself. Whether I go back for another retreat or choose another destination, I’d love to bring someone with me next time!
19. See an ancient monument or historical site
This may fit under the international travel goal. Amusement parks and tourist traps are only so exciting on vacation.
(Update as of September 2017: Among many other things, Joe and I saw the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm. Very cool!)
20. Visit Salem, Massachusetts
I’ve been to Massachusetts before (Cape Cod and Boston), but I’ve never visited Salem, which is, perhaps, the ultimate magical destination. Barring a trip to Salem, preferably during the fall, I could always use one of these locations as backup. (Before you ask: Yes, I’ve been to Lily Dale. See number 35.)
Do Some Good
21. Take part in a demonstration or peaceful protest
Although there are a number of issues I care about, I always feel like I should be doing a lot more. I’m always happy to lend my support as an ally, too!
(Update as of June 2020: Marched to support Black Lives Matter on the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQIA Pride! Because ALL Black Lives Matter!)
22. Teach another class
As I mentioned before, I used to teach (mostly) full-time. I enjoyed it, but it’s hard to make ends meet solely as an adjunct lecturer. But would I teach again, either at a local college or in another type of classroom – even a virtual one? Hell yes, I would!
(Update as of April 2018: I taught The Art of Tarot, an introductory class on tarot reading, at the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts. I’d definitely be open to teaching more classes on tarot. Contact me if you’re interested in learning one-on-one or in hosting a class.)
23. Volunteer again
The last time I did some volunteer work was back in college, and since then, I haven’t made as much of an effort as I could be to help others. This doesn’t have to be a long-term project (though it could be), but I’d love to be able to give something back.
24. Do something positive every day for one year straight (meditate, journal, make art, etc.)
I’ve tried smaller challenges (a week, a month, 40 days, etc.), so doing something positive 365 days in a row seems like the logical next step, right? Bonus points if it’s something creative.
(Update as of 2019: Not every single day, but I filled in the 1 Page at a Time Journal over the course of an entire year. Here’s how the experience has helped me prioritize my creativity.)
Be a Daredevil…
25. Do something that scares the shit out of me
Skydive? Swim with sharks? Hold a tarantula with my bare hands? The latter may be a bit less risky than the former – I’m not looking to get killed or anything.
(Update as of August 7, 2016: I held a tarantula. Ah!)
26. Compete in some kind of physical competition
I’ll admit it: I’m not one for sports. And that’s precisely why I should step outside my comfort zone and try to compete in something. Run a 5k, enter a Bikram yoga competition, or try something random like curling – whatever it is, I’d better start small.
(Update as of July 2017: Admittedly, I’ve done this before by participating in the Baptiste Yoga 40 Days Challenge–three times, in fact–but I need to do something new. But also in July 2017, I hiked up a mountain–a first for me. Not exactly a competition, but it was challenging!)
27. Sail on a yacht
I’ve never been on one, probably because I don’t know anyone who owns a yacht…
27a. Get to know somebody who owns a yacht
28. Ride in a helicopter
For some reason, this seems easier to come by than a yacht, and yet I’ve still never ridden in one.
(Update as of October 2017: We rode in a helicopter! OMG!)
29. Get a tattoo
I am, sadly, tattoo-free, primarily because I’m too indecisive to commit to a design. Will I like it in 10 years? Or one year? Or next week? Time to say “Who cares?” and get some ink!
30. Stay out all night partying
I mean, I might have done this back in college, but now a wild Saturday night for me means staying awake until midnight. I need one last hurrah before I hit the big 4-0! (Side note: I don’t think not sleeping on the eight-hour flight from Newark to Stockholm counts!)
31. Celebrate 10 years of marriage doing something exciting
On June 10, 2011, my husband Joe and I got hitched in Las Vegas. On June 10, 2021, we’ll be celebrating 10 wonderful years of marriage (and, by that point, 14 years together). This entry may or may not involve a return to Vegas.
For what it’s worth, though, we celebrated our tenth anniversary together in 2017 by going to Niagara Falls, where we played mini golf and arcade games. So I don’t know exactly how exciting we’ll be when we’re a few years older.
(Update as of June 2021: Our “excitement” was going out to dinner together for the first time since March 2020. Thanks, COVID! On the plus side, we’re thinking of doing a vow renewal at year 15.)
… Or At Least Take a Minor Risk
32. Dye my hair green
I’ve had my hair almost every other color besides green. Honestly, even an emerald streak or two would suffice.
(Update as of January 2018: I dyed my hair teal! It was a washout color in between dyeing it blue. Hey, it counts! Later [I’ve forgotten which date], I did dye it a proper green.)
33. Find a workout I can stick to
See number 26. I’m sorry, guys, but the gym is boring. Please help me make that or something else more fun.
(Update as of 2021: Thank goodness for Yoga With Adriene. Her 30-day yoga journeys helped me get through 2020.)
34. Get a massage
I’ve never had one, so this is for those times when my inner-Type A takes over.
(Update as of June 2017: I got a deep-tissue massage, and it was the most heavenly and relaxing experience I’ve ever had. Why did I wait this long?)
35. Receive a reading from a medium
As of July 23, 2016, just a couple of weeks after initially conceiving this list, I’d say I achieved this in part when I got a public reading at the Forest Temple in Lily Dale, New York. Although I’m hesitant about getting a more in-depth reading for a number of reasons, it can’t hurt to try it once.
(Update as of July 2020: Joe and I, along with a friend, made a [safe and socially distanced] trip to Lily Dale for my birthday weekend. All three of us received readings in the public service. Mine — no surprise — mentioned writing!)
36. Adopt a dog
Note that I said “adopt” and not “buy.” Support your local animal shelter!
37. Make more good friends
What is it about getting older that makes it more difficult to make friends? Or is that just me? I love all of my BFFs dearly, but I wouldn’t mind having a few more people around to talk to.
38. Network with someone famous
Bonus points if it’s at a conference or on a yacht.
39. Set goals with Joe
I make individual goals every year, but at some point, Joe and I should sit down and come up with our own five-year/10-year/20-year+ plan. And hey, this also means planning vacations!
(Update as of January 2018: We did talk longer-term plans this year. That might be the closest we get, but we’re still on the same wavelength.)
40. Get interviewed by someone
I hope that I can do at least one thing in the next eight years that will make someone want to turn to me for advice – or, perhaps, to learn from my mistakes.
There’s something powerful about manifesting your future, but it means nothing if you’re not getting out there and setting the course for yourself. Do you set any long-term goals? Tell me what your five-year plans and bucket list items are in the comments.
6 thoughts on “40 Things to Do Before I Turn 40”
Very enjoyable. It makes me wish we could get together and have a great gabfest. We have so much in common despite the large age gap. Namaste from you third cousin, Sharon
Thanks, Sharon! I agree! Sometime we’ll have to meet up. I’ll include this as #41 on my list!
Love this! As a fellow creative with writing/painting/acting aspirations this list totally speaks to me, and I’ve found some stuff to add to my own list ( sailing on a yacht, hello brain, wake up you snoozer!) Also the tag ” Not a source of job interview advice” made me laugh out loud. It’s especially interesting to because I’m 23 right now and looking for a job, but I only get invited to interviews for dreadful corporate jobs- pretty much the same place as you where ten years ago. Your story gives me hope that I’ll find my way, too. Thanks so much for this! 🙂 xx
Thanks, Niselle! And seriously, don’t take that as career advice. However, sometimes honesty really pays off if you are interested in the job and can find a way to connect it to your passions. Good luck out there! ❤
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