Growing older is no picnic. But the lessons we learn in our 30s and 40s shape the rest of our lives. And as a fortysomething, I’ve discovered one lesson I can’t live without.

The Reality of Life as a Fortysomething

Fortysomething isn’t nearly as fun as you think it will be.

There are no more diapers to change and your living room floor is no longer blanketed with thousands of sharp, tiny toy parts (yeah!). But at some point in your forties, you will wake up and realize that there are things you are never going to do in life:

You’ll never be president. Or a professional athlete.

Unless you’re already in the field, it’s unlikely that you will ever be a doctor or a lawyer.

When the jackpot gets big enough, you buy a lottery ticket. But in the back of your mind you know that if you haven’t made a bazillion bucks yet, it probably isn’t going to happen.

The Viagra commercials make middle age look like a lot of fun, but life as a fortysomething really boils down to this:

Your options are limited. 

Does that sound depressing? Maybe it is. But I suppose that’s where the cliche of the midlife crisis enters the picture.

To cope with the things they can’t change, fortysomethings go nuts about the things they can change.

Some people exchange their houses or cars for newer, flashier models.

Other middle-aged people change their spouses (sometimes for the same reasons they change their houses and cars).

Still other mid-lifers  trade in one mediocre job for another just to make a little extra cash or to land a slightly better title.

The sad truth is that the changes we make in middle age can be spiritually and personally destructive. In a desperate and misguided attempt to exert control over something, we try to upgrade our lives and end up doing tremendous damage to ourselves and the people we love in the process.

Downsizing: The Key to Becoming a Better Fortysomething 

What if the limited options you experience as a fortysomething aren’t a curse, but a blessing?

I like to think that my dwindling list of dreams is a sort of message from God. Trust me: it helps to frame the twinge of emptiness you feel in middle age as God’s way of saying that the key to happiness now — and for the rest of your life — is downsizing.

Downsizing is a good idea for everyone, regardless of age. But I think it’s especially important for us fortysomethings to take a hard look in the mirror and downsize several areas of our lives:

1. Downsize your REGRETS.

Anyone who says they don’t have any regrets is fooling themselves. We all have regrets. But at this stage of your life, it’s not worth dwelling on the careers you didn’t pursue or the things you never found time to do when you were younger. Save your regrets for big stuff like the people you’ve hurt or the relationships you’ve screwed up — and then do your best to set things right as soon as possible.

2. Downsize your POSSESSIONS.

As a fortysomething, you should have learned by now that more stuff won’t make you any happier. In fact, the desire to buy bigger, better and newer stuff may be the reason you’re stuck in a job you hate. Don’t wait until you retire to reduce and declutter. Start downsizing your possessions now and start untethering yourself from things that may be holding you back from living the life you really want to live.

3. Downsize your SCHEDULE.

The idea of downsizing your schedule sounds difficult. But admit it: a lot of your commitments have very little value.  They’re duties, activities and events that feed your ego and meet social expectations. As a fortysomething, you know that life’s too short for those kinds of games. Downsize your schedule and focus more on the people and things you really care about.

In the early ’70s, Janis Joplin sang that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Let’s hope she’s right. Let’s hope that by downsizing our lives now, we can experience a level of freedom that makes the second half of our lives even better than the first.