Feeling stressed by the pressure of life goals? Here are nine things you definitely DON’T need to achieve by the time you’re 30 or 40
We spend our 20s nonchalantly knocking back mezcal and flitting between jobs, relationships and flat shares – with plenty of travel besides.
But heading into our 30s and 40s, we’re expected to leave such fripperies behind.
Rather than languish in a pleasantly directionless mull, we’re suddenly meant to snap to it and achieve. Out of nowhere, we’re compelled to throw ourselves at variously pre-defined life markers, both large and small, with all the discipline of a thoroughbred race horse.
Why do we place such emphasis on these skills and so-called “achievements”? And do they really have any bearing on a life well lived? We break down the evidence:
Being the top dog at work
The myth: All those years of sweaty commutes, lunches al desko and generally thankless toil will be rewarded with your place at the top of the career ladder. Finally, you’re the one calling the shots! You can draw up budgets, get a fancy business card and post thoughtful updates on LinkedIn that speak to your weight and grativas (in a humble way, of course).
The reality: You’re exhausted the whole damn time. Everyone’s asking you questions that you don’t have the answer to. You’re living in a perpetual state of low-level state shock because you can’t believe THIS grey-scale vacuum of management and minutiae is what you grafted your entire career for. You hanker back to a time when you were carefree and junior, and could leave for the pub at 5pm to gripe about your boss.
Remember: Wing wo/man is more fun than top dog.
Having a spare room for guests
The myth: Where once upon a time you were happy to let any impromptu guest crash on the sofa come 2am – possibly clambering over them to get to the kitchen – in your 30s and 40s, you’re expected to have a room. Not only that, but said abode should be filled with fresh white bed linen, an Insta-worthy plume of flowers and bottled drinking water. If you can possibly arrange it, there’ll also be a cool, optimal breeze.
The reality: You spend the three hours before your guests arrive furiously shoving debris into a recalcitrant wardrobe and googling, “how to get car hair out of duvet”. You both resent the time you’re spending trying to emanate impossible, hotel-like standards and simultaneously feel anxious that you can’t do exactly that. You waste frantic minutes wondering who you can pay to iron your bed sheets, and whether a quick squirt of lavender oil will do instead.
Remember: Like Cindarella, the best guests disappear before midnight.
Becoming a beacon of wellness
The myth: Your 30s and 40s are about snapping into shape, sharpish. Now that you’re a grown-up, your fridge is no longer littered with half-eaten chocolate mousse or discount pizza. Instead, you are a wellness goddess with a passion for probiotic yogurt and a gift for tracking saturated fat content. You rise at 5am every day to balance your chakras and bust out a few quick circuits before work.
Read more: 6 amazing things I discovered in my 30s
The reality: Your habits remain roughly the same as they’ve always been, only with a little more money to prop them up. So that £3 bottle of Lambrini becomes a crisp, aromatic Chablis with notes of honey and pear. Freeze-aisle veg transforms into organic fare from your local farmer’s market that you feel virtuous just wandering around. You might invest in a pair of good-looking, motion control running shoes but they’ll be lucky to make it out the box more than twice.
Remember: It’s the life in your years that count.
Marrying the love of your life
The myth: A wedding is the absolute zenith of lifetime happiness. If you love someone, the only way to prove it is to splash out roughly £4,000 on a finger food buffet and hog roast, populated by people you both adore and barely know. You’ll then skip merrily off into the horizon together, poor but forever united in your show of ardour for hipster bar signs and all things lace.
The reality: The cake testing is fun, real fun. Whether to go for salted caramel buttercream or a tiered tower of artisan cheeses is a dilemma everyone should face in life – wedding or no. So too is wasting copious hours curating your Pinterest page with photos of artful place settings and lily of the valley bouquets. What’s not so fun is the near-nuclear fallout you and your beloved will inevitably have over, a.) How many people to invite, b.) How much to spend, and c.) Whether “your song” is more Des’ree or Foo Fighters. Your happiest day, consequently, may well be the one directly after the wedding.
Remember: Getting married is nice but changes nothing, and can prompt arguments.
Building a skincare routine
The myth: After a lifetime of sleeping in your make-up or chucking water at your face in the morning, you somehow develop an anti-ageing skincare “ritual”. Scoped to the precision of a UN Charter, this rigorous regime involves countless expensive lotions and a newfound appreciation for the status of your pores. Your skin becomes effortlessly hydrated, balanced and glowy – so much so, that people stop you in the street as if you were Cher, asking what your secret is.
The reality: You swing wildly between wanting to “look good for your age” and fuming at the pressures dreamt up by a multi-billion-dollar industry that fuel that very same urge. You scrutinise your wrinkles with all the rigour of a forensic scientist; but in the same breath think, “sod it, I like rosé wine and sunshine too much for this shizzle”. You may occasionally pick up a half-price cleanser at Duty Free, but this is as far as you go to developing a skincare “portfolio”.
Remember: Skin is what keeps your insides in; don’t over-complicate.
Becoming a productivity powerhouse
The myth: “Must try harder” may have been the motto of your school reports, but in your 30s and 40s, your motivation rivals that of an eccentric Silicon Valley mogul. You rise at 5am for a cold shower blitz (stimulate those neurons) before journalling your tasks for the day ahead. You drill down your time into 10-minute power blasts that are religiously tracked by app, leaving no room for error or diversion. People, meetings, To Dos: all are seamlessly corralled within your steamroller churn of productivity.
The reality: You feel an unwarranted sense of pride for downloading that time management app you saw recommended in Business Insider, but then forget your password and never use it again. You invest heavily in a set of coloured pens for your bullet journal and spend a happy evening of doodling before comparing your version to Instagram’s, and instantly losing heart. Your morning “routine” consists of scrambling around the house for your keys while fruitlessly dabbing at your shirt to get the toothpaste out.
Remember: No amount of productivity feels as good as a lie-in.
Applying on-point interior design skills
The myth: Never mind the fact that you’ve killed every single house plant that’s come your way since the early noughties. Your 30s and 40s spells the start of serious design kudos. Almost overnight, you’re expected to hold court on Farrow & Ball paint, or where on eBay stocks the best Moroccan-style kitchen tiles. You may even be sequestered to oversee a loft conversation or two, drawing from a hot bed of knowledge that just magically appears.
Read more: How to say no without feeling bad about it
The reality: Your enthusiasm for interior design far outstrips any actual skill or staying power. Sure, you *like* the idea of upcycling that junk yard mirror but two hours into a botched paint job, and you’re gasping for an escape route (and a beer). You may devote hours of screen time to DIY home improvement programmes, but frustratingly, that dedication doesn’t translate into an ability to stable together floor boards (or whatever it is you should be doing). Even using a spirit level is a deceptively complex task.
Remember: Done is better than perfect; if in doubt, wing it.
Keeping your cool in a debate
The myth: Yes, you were a hot head when you were younger. Who isn’t? Come your 30s and 40s, however, you morph into the kind of rational, level-headed soul who has flawless debate skills on tap. Instead of yelling over others to make your point, or getting hysterically angry/upset, you coolly and articulately put forward your case, leaving the entire room agog in the process.
The reality: In meetings, you spend your life interjecting “yes but –”, “can I just – “, “what if – ” like a hyperactive puppy, delivering not one iota of meaningful contribution. In arguments, you think of the killer comeback 10 minutes after it was required. Intelligent debates around Trump or Brexit inevitably descend into ill-informed slanging matches of the ilk that would leave Jeremy Paxman distinctly unimpressed. In other words, it’s business as usual whether you’re 15 or 50.
Remember: Shouting can sometimes be healthy.
Being the hostess with the mostess
The myth: In your 20s, you considered lasagne, cider and a few tea lights the height of dinner party sophistication (or the least, the limit of what you could be arsed to achieve). In your 30s and 40s, however, you transform into a Nigella figure; ready to welcome people into your home with a wide smile, fragrant home-cooked brownies and an abundance of warm hospitality. You effortlessly work the room, introducing people and making witty small talk. Guests go home happy and full of cheer.
Read more: Ed Stafford’s advice on thriving in your 40s
The reality: You get nervous and over-drink to compensate, making small talk a dream that is forever out of reach (mainly because you’re too busy furtively slugging cooking wine to remember anyone’s partners’ names). You forget all about the vegan contingent and haplessly wonder whether Marmite crackers will substitute a cheese plate. You and your co-host get exhausted from the effort of appearing full of goodwill while sniping on the sly. Guests go home drunk, and somewhat hungry.
Remember: It’s better to be thought a crap host than go ahead and prove it.
Images: Movie Stills DB, Shutterstock