By the time most people reach 40, there’s an assumption of maturity. Surely someone who’s been alive and on this planet for four decades has a pretty good idea how life is supposed to work, right? Well, not necessarily.
People don’t stop making bad decisions just because they reach some mythical age where they’re supposed to know better. You may be one of the lucky ones you make all the right moves all the time. Or you’re like the rest of us and you’re prone to the occasional mistake. It’s okay to be human—it’s expected, really—as long as you have the self-awareness to realize when you’re off track and make the course correction.
Here are 40 common mistakes made by people over 40, many of which can lead to disastrous consequences if you’re not careful. You may not be guilty of every offense on this list—we hope not anyway or it’s a miracle you’re still alive—but there’s a good chance that at least a few have slipped through the cracks. Let today be the day you change yourself for the better.
Have an affair
Aside from just being a terrible thing to do to your spouse—if your marriage was that rocky, maybe try couples therapy first—it’s profoundly stupid to think that you’re going to get away with it. It could be a tweet or it might be a photo of you with your secret someone that ends up on social media or it could be rumors passed through an IRL whisper network, but somehow, someway, you’re going to get caught. Don’t believe us? Just check out the 17 Dumbest Ways Men Have Been Busted Cheating.
Skip your annual checkup
Waiting until you have alarming symptoms to see a doctor is a luxury of youth. Making an appointment for an annual check-up with your primary caregiver is a practice you should be following religiously, regardless of how you feel or whether you think your condition has changed over the last 12 months. Let your doctor be the judge of that.
Eat junk food like you’re a teenager
Your metabolism probably isn’t the calorie-burning machine it was when you were a teen and you could eat an entire pizza covered in cupcakes without gaining so much as a pound. Like it or not, it’s time to start paying closer attention to what you’re putting in your mouth, and realizing that every nutritional choice has consequences.
No. This is not open to debate. “But I only do it when I’m socializ—” Nope. “ I vape, so it’s way healthier than—” Nope. Stop smoking. Every cigarette or puff of a vape pen is just doing damage, at your age more than ever.
Work on the weekends
Here’s a dirty little secret: Working on weekends is not going to give you more job security. Nor will it guarantee you a big promotion or that raise you’ve been hoping for. All you’ll accomplish by working on the weekends is proving to your boss that you’re a pushover, or at the very least that you care more about your job than your home life or family. Setting healthy boundaries is about protecting yourself and making sure your employer remembers never to take you for granted.
Overshare on social media
Before you post any update or comment or photo or link, ask yourself one question: Would I feel comfortable sharing this if I thought the only one reading it was my grandmother? If that photo of you chugging tequila on your Cancun vacation or that post about how the politician you disagree with can put his head somewhere unpleasant seems like something your Gram-Gram would find delightful, than sure, post away. Otherwise, practice a little discretion.
Pull from savings like it’s free cash
A savings account is not the place you store cash until you realize you’re short on groceries or you don’t have enough spare cash to go out drinking this weekend with your pals. The whole point of a savings account is that it’s saving your money, so you don’t spend it unless you absolutely, positively need it. If not having money means your only other option is “I guess I’ll stay home and watch TV tonight,” then trust us, you don’t need the money.
Exercise without stretching
Warming up isn’t just some annoying activity your high school gym teacher invented for no good reason. It actually loosens and strengthens your muscles so that they perform during a workout the way they’re supposed to. Failing to adequately stretch before exercise in your 40s isn’t just asking for aches and pains the next day. You could do permanent damage to your body that severely limits your ability to stay active in the future.
Be okay with your dad bod
That whole “dad bod” trend from a few years ago? Yeah, that was a bunch of baloney. Nobody actually finds it sexy or adorable. It just makes you look like an old guy who stopped taking care of himself. There’s nothing sexy about that. And what’s more, a dad bod put you at risk for any number of health ailments in middle age, from heart disease to diabetes to high blood pressure. And if you’re looking for ways to shed a few pounds, learn about these 20 Weight-Loss Techniques Successful Dieters Share.
Forget to use sunscreen
You don’t need to be at the beach to be concerned about sun protection. Harmful UV rays can do damage to your skin even when you’re just out for a walk in short sleeves and shorts. Especially as you get older, your skin is something you should be watching carefully and looking for any changes in moles or other abnormalities. And your skin is definitely something that doesn’t need a cool tan to make sure all your friends know you had a killer vacation. Stay pale and live into your senior years instead.
Drink more than your limits can handle
We’re not suggesting that you need to give up your favorite adult cocktails entirely. But at this point, you should be aware of your limits and what your body is and isn’t able to accommodate. Just because you really enjoyed those first two glasses of wine doesn’t mean that the third and fourth glasses won’t send you to a very, very bad place. And a 40-year-old’s hangover is so much more miserable than anything you experienced after overindulging in your 20s.
Not being sure the last time you went to the dentist
Was it last year? A few years ago? 5 years or more? If you can’t even ballpark the year when you last sat in a dentist’s chair, it’s been too long. Your teeth, just like the rest of you, aren’t getting any younger, and they need a little more tender loving care than they used to. You know what’s a bad look on a 40-year-old? A missing front tooth because he put off the dentist for too many years and his tooth rotted to the point that pulling it out was the only option.
Careless email and texting
Life moves fast, but not so fast that you can’t take a few extra seconds to reread what you’ve written in a text or email, just to make sure you’re not saying anything you’ll regret or making grammatical errors that make you sound like a 4-year-old, and double-checking to be sure you weren’t about to accidentally hit SEND ALL or include anybody in the recipients who shouldn’t be reading it. One tiny mistake can haunt you for a long, long time.
Having no emergency plan
Whether it’s the quickest route to the hospital or a box filled with bottled water and flashlights should you lose power during a storm, you’re at an age when you should be ready for anything. Assuming they’ll be somebody else to save you is how people end up in dire situations. You’re the one who has to take responsibility when life takes an unexpected turn.
Demanding that everyone share your political opinions
Spoiler alert: There are millions of people in the world who disagree with you politically, and a huge number of them are probably people you know. You are not going to change their minds or make them “see the light” about how very, very wrong they are. Just the opposite, in fact. You’re going to anger them off to such an extent that they’ll go out of their way to avoid you in the future. Trust us, this is a lose-lose situation. Agree to disagree and just move on already.
Get “just a little” plastic surgery
It always starts with a nip here or a cut there from a plastic surgeon, just to tighten up some problem spots, and before you know it, you’re getting your whole face done and supplementing body parts that were just fine on their own. You’ll never meet a 95-year-old who says, “I sure am glad I got that procedure done. It made all the difference.”
Not practicing safe sex
Just because you’ve decided that you’re old enough not to worry about unplanned pregnancies anymore doesn’t mean that your body necessarily agrees. Believe it or not, reproductive organs don’t put up a “closed for business” sign the moment you turn 40. Just like it didn’t work in your youth, simply thinking, “I don’t want this to happen,” without taking the necessary precautions, doesn’t mean you’re out of the unplanned pregnancy or STD danger zone.
Decline to get a flu shot
If you don’t believe us that getting a flu shot is important, maybe you’ll believe the CDC, who put together this helpful guide to how a flu vaccine works and why it’s safe and effective and can help you avoid ending up at the ER because you’ve contracted a particularly nasty strain of the flu, and suddenly you’re the 40 year old in a hospital gown, getting their fluids intravenously and saying,”I don’t get it, doc. I never used to get the flu before.” In fact, if you’re on the fence, This Is Why You Need to Get Your Flu Shot ASAP.
Forget to say “I love you”
Does that make us sound like a sappy Hallmark card? We don’t care. You should be saying those words more often—not to everybody you know, of course, but the people you truly love, who mean something to you. One of the biggest lessons of reaching 40 is realizing how quickly it happens. Weren’t you 20 just yesterday? Those twenty years went by in a blink of an eye. Imagine how quickly the next twenty will go. And then you’re 60, wondering why you didn’t tell your spouse or your kids or your mom and dad how much you loved them a little more often.
Don’t have a hobby
Having a project just for you, whether it’s collecting vinyl records or building train sets in your basement or obsessing over the statistics at baseball games, is not just a way to pass your free time. According to a 2016 study conducted in Japan, older adults with hobbies live not just longer but healthier lives.
Taking anything and anyone in your life for granted
Nothing is a guarantee in this world. Once you start assuming that everybody around you will always be there, regardless of how you treat them or whether they feel ignored or unappreciated or taken for granted, you’re just setting yourself up for an uncomfortable reminder that people, even the people you thought would be there forever, can in fact disappear.
Say “I’ll put off that trip overseas until next year”
We all have it: There’s someplace in the world you’ve always wanted to visit—someplace exotic or full of history, or maybe the country where your ancestors originated. It’s on your bucket list of places you need to see before you die. But it’s easy to put those trip plans on hold, especially in your 40s, when your life is over-scheduled and you’re juggling too many responsibilities and even sneaking away for a few hours to see a movie seems like too much. You’ll go overseas next year, you tell yourself. Then, that turns into “maybe next year,” and then “okay, definitely next year,” and then one day you wake up and you’re 90. And you’re not going anywhere.
Having no retirement plan
Nobody wants to think about retirement in their 40s. You’re too young, and loving your career too much to ever think about giving it all up. But planning for your retirement doesn’t mean filling out an application for a room at the retirement community. Your retirement could be twenty, thirty years away, and it’s still a good idea to start setting at least a little money aside for when you’re finally ready to hang it up. Being 40 and not having even a single dime in your retirement account—or, for that matter, not having a retirement account—means you’re living in a fantasy world.
Ignore your doctor’s advice
There’s a reason pharmacy bottles don’t include directions that end with “unless you don’t feel like it.” Whether or not you’re in the mood to listen to your doctor when they prescribe you a medication, or make suggestions like, “Let’s work on getting your blood sugar down,” you should be taking him or her seriously. They’re not just spitballing ideas. Listening, and earnestly trying to make changes, might be the most important thing you ever do. 40 can be a turning point in your medical history, and you can either head towards a healthier, happier life, or one that leads to many more visits to your doctor.
Put off spending time with your parents
Remember when you were a kid and you found out your parents were in their 40s and it seemed impossibly old, like Obi-Wan Kenobi old, and you couldn’t imagine anybody being more ancient? Well, now you’re 40, which means your parents are considerably older than that. You see where we’re going with this, right? If you’re still not convinced, reach out to any of your friends whose parents have passed away. We bet they’ll tell you that the one thing they want, more than anything else in the world, is one more conversation with their mom or dad.
Do your taxes yourself
It’s not that you aren’t capable. You’ve learned how to use TurboTax, and you’re super meticulous about cataloging your receipts. But as great a job as you’re doing, an actual tax accountant could save you serious money. Our tax codes are complicated for a reason, and sometimes you need a professional who dreams in numbers and has the IRS on speed dial. It’s not about admitting defeat; it’s about being older and wiser enough to realize that there’s no shame in paying somebody else for their expertise. It’s that kind of outsourcing that gets you a bigger tax refund.
Refuse to learn about new technology
Nothing makes you age faster then getting grouchy and stubborn about any new technology that you don’t understand. Computers are going to get more complicated, and cell phones will have fancy new features that won’t immediately make sense to you. That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually an exciting thing, as long as you approach it from the right mindset. The moment you shut yourself off to the possibility of technology changing, that’s when you become the old geezer who calls his grandkids to ask how to work a VCR.
Go on a crash diet
Diets that promise to help you lose weight fast are always a bad idea, even when you’re young and dropping pounds quickly isn’t as damaging to your system. But after 40, you should aim for losing no more than one to two pounds every week. More than that and the best case scenario is that you’ll just gain it all back when the diet’s over. Worst case, it could lead to nutritional deficiencies, muscle loss, and a slower metabolism.
Drive like a stunt driver
There’s an adrenaline rush to weaving in and out of traffic, hitting speeds that you know are way too fast and giving only a momentary glance to yellow lights. Yes, we get it, it’s fun to pretend you’re Steve McQueen. But the thing is, that kind of driving only works in the movies, and even then only by professional stunt drivers who know what they’re doing in highly coordinated and pre-scripted scenarios. You, not so much. Your reaction time is not what it used to be, and there is nothing sadder in this world then a funeral for a 40-year-old who died pretending they were Evel Knievel.
Let stress get the best of you
Stress is always deadly, but it’s especially something to be wary of when you’re 40 or older. All that stress can do damage to your heart and push your blood pressure towards dangerous levels. If you can’t eliminate or decrease the things causing you so much stress, then look for ways to change your reactions to it. Maybe you need an outlet like exercise to channel all of that nervous energy, or treat yourself to a weekly massage.
Remember when you were a kid, and you felt indestructible, and the very idea that you could ever die someday seemed inconceivable? Well, if you’re paying attention, it probably doesn’t feel so inconceivable anymore. You’ve still got a lot of life left in you, but you know now how fragile your body actually is. At least we hope you do. If you’re one of those 40-year-olds who think nothing can hurt you and you’re still as bulletproof as the year you were 13, you’re in for a big crash sooner than later.
Do anything stupid to impress a stranger
“Well, I know eating these laundry detergent pods will probably be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, and there’s a pretty good chance it’ll kill me, but I better do it anyway because a bunch of people I don’t know on the internet will be super amused by it, and I definitely want to put my own health at risk to make sure strangers who don’t know me or care about me at all are briefly entertained,” said no sane 40-year-old ever.
Flirt with coworkers
Whether you’ve got a wedding ring on your finger or you’re single and ready to mingle, it doesn’t matter. Flirting with a co-worker is like putting a banner on your office door that says, “I’d really like to have a tense meeting with HR, thank you very much!” There are so many ways this can go wrong, so many ways your advances can be misconstrued or go too far without you realizing it. The workplace should be left for work, and a 40-year-old should be experienced enough to understand that.
Use drugs recreationally
Reaching your forties is not the time to say, “I should try cocaine for the first time.” No, you actually shouldn’t. And the same goes for abusing prescription drugs. Not that it’s okay when you’re younger, but youthful ignorance and indiscretion allow for a few more huge life mistakes than being 40 and old enough to know better. You’re getting sympathy from no one if you picked up an illicit habit just in time for your 40th birthday.
Quit your job on a whim
Your career should be something you actually care about it, but that doesn’t mean if you wake up one morning not feeling like going to work that you should immediately quit and go looking for your passion. Hey, we think it’s great that you always wanted to be a novelist, but novelists don’t get things like health insurance or 401k accounts. These are probably things you’ll miss in a week or two, when the reality of not having a regular paycheck sinks in.
Insist you still want to be a parent someday but just not right now
That excuse may’ve worked over the past two decades, but nobody’s buying it anymore. Sure, there are fertility drugs and treatments that can help people conceive long after their reproductive prime. But do you really want to spend thousands of dollars for something you could get for free? Also, the longer you wait, the more you’re going to end up becoming the parent that strangers ask, “Are you his grandpa?”
Assume you know everything
If you think you’ve already learned everything worth knowing, you couldn’t be more wrong. Even if you haven’t set foot inside a classroom in decades, you never stop learning. If you truly approach the world with a curious mind, you’ll discover something new, something remarkable and unique and surprising, every single day of your life. But if you’ve decided to stop learning, you’re volunteering to become a dusty antique way ahead of schedule.
Get into a fist fight
Repeat after us: “My life is not a Chuck Norris movie. I do not need to settle every disagreement with fisticuffs or a roundhouse kick to the jaw. I am not an action movie star and pretending otherwise could and likely will land me in the ER.” Just repeat this like a mantra anytime you feel the urge to express yourself with your fists.
Some people mistakenly believe it’s an easy way to wipe the slate clean and start over financially. It may eliminate your debt, but Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t like a magician’s trick that disappears all of your worries in a puff of smoke. The damage to your credit, not to mention the 10 years your bankruptcy filing will remain on your public record, could do more harm to your financial reputation in the long run.
Use the phrase “I’m too old for that now”
Just stop right there. The only thing you’re too old for is doing a Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon impression, saying, “I’m too old for this [stuff]” every time you’re asked to do something you’d rather avoid so you decide playing the age card is your best bet. The truth is: 40 is not old unless you decide that it’s too old and you’re ready to sit on a rocking chair and complain about young people before watching Matlock reruns. But that choice is entirely in your power. And if you’re keen to make it your best decade yet, here are The 40 Best Ways to Conquer Your 40s.
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