40 Skills Everyone Over 40 Should Know
Head into your 40s well-prepared with these essential skills.
Let’s be clear: you needn’t be a licensed mechanic to be able to fix a broken-down car. You needn’t be a certified sommelier to pick a great bottle of wine, either. And one thing’s for sure: you definitely don’t have to be a seasoned standup comedian to tell a good story.
As someone on the cusp of middle age, there are some things in life that you need to be able to do to be considered a well-rounded, knowledgeable, and dependable person. With that in mind, we’ve compiled the essential life skills that you need to master right now—and once you’ve honed your game, don’t miss the The 40 Best Ways to Conquer Your 40s.
With any luck, you’ve already got some cushion in your savings by the time you hit 40. However, regardless of whether you’ve been maxing out your IRA contributions for years or are still trying to pay off your student loans, it’s essential that you know how to budget by the time your 40s roll around. As a rule of thumb, setting aside 20 percent of your total income will leave you with some healthy retirement savings, a cushion for when emergencies inevitably arise, and a fund to dip into for gift-buying season. Speaking of, if you still haven’t wrapped up your Father’s Day shopping, check out the 20 Best Ways to Give Your Dad the Gift of Time.
Cook a Signature Dish
Those nights of 25-cent ramen noodles should be little more than a distant memory by the time you’re in your 40s. In fact, by the time you’re 40, you should have at least one signature dish that you can whip up in a hurry to impress a date or friend. Some easy dishes that guests will always love include a well-prepared spaghetti carbonara, a perfectly-seared steak, or vegetarian-friendly stuffed peppers loaded with quinoa, lentils, and herbs. And when you want some inspiration, start with these 40 Dishes Everyone Over 40 Should Master.
Paint a Room
You may think you know how to paint, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do it well. Save yourself money and enjoy the ability to transform virtually any space in your home in no time by learning the basics of a perfect paint job by the time you hit 40. A few basics: tape the area properly before you start, lint-roll your paint roller before dipping it in your pan, and paint in a V pattern as you go.
Change a Tire
A popped tire shouldn’t mean a trip to the mechanic for an expensive repair by the time you’re in your 40s. If you know how to drive a car—whether or not you own one personally—you should know how to change a tire. For a quick primer, This Is the Safest Way to Change a Flat Tire.
Negotiate a Raise
When you’re in your 40s, you’re in your peak earning period. According to a report from PayScale, women hit their income peak at 39, while men follow suit at 48. This means that it’s essential to know how to negotiate a raise during this crucial period in your life so that you can make the most of your peak earning years.
Give Someone a Compliment
When you’re in your 20s, sidling up to someone at a bar and saying, “Cool shirt” might be your idea of a great compliment. Twenty years later, it’s important to know how to pay a compliment that means something.
Giving a great compliment means praising something specific about the intended recipient (beyond what they’re wearing), but knowing when to rein things in to avoid crossing the line into creepy territory. “You’re amazingly dedicated and I appreciate your hard work” will likely come across as sincere and endearing, but “You’re the prettiest employee we’ve ever had” definitely lands in “HR complaint” territory. And by the time you’re 40-something, it pays to know the difference. And for more on what you should say, here are the 40 Best Compliments to Give People Over 40.
Mix a Cocktail
Pouring a beer is a skill unto itself, but knowing how to make a great cocktail is even more impressive. By the time your 40s roll around, know how to muddle mint for a mojito, shake a martini, or pour a not-too-bubbly French 75. To get started, check out these 20 Cocktails Every Man Should Know How to Make.
Administer First Aid
Those skills you got a preliminary introduction to during your scout training will serve you well when your 40s roll around. When you’re in your 40s, it’s high time you knew how to properly dress a wound, do the Heimlich Maneuver, splint a broken finger, and perform CPR.
Your career is hitting its apex in your 40s, so there’s no better time to be networking with other people in your field. Knowing how to network means more than showing up to mixers, however: when you’re in your 40s, it’s time to have a strong handshake, a well-designed business card, and an elevator pitch about your business ideas at the ready to make those connections you’ll need to take your career to the next level.
Build a Website
While you’re unlikely to wake up on your 40th birthday suddenly knowing how to code, you’d be well-advised to know how to build your own website. Luckily, programs like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy to build a site of your own without requiring a computer science degree.
By the time you’re in your 40s, it’s always good to know a few ways to entertain your guests that don’t involve turning on the TV. Knowing a few card games, like poker, gin rummy, blackjack, can help you and your guests stay entertained with few supplies in virtually any setting. And when you’re ready to hit the casino, be sure you know the Single Best Way to Double Your Money in Vegas.
Start a Fire
With any luck, you have a working stove accessible to you by the time you’re in your 40s (and hopefully, well before that, too). However, it’s still worthwhile to know how to properly start a fire as well—a great skill to have whether you’re roughing it on a camping trip or just trying to cozy up the cabin you’ve rented for the weekend.
Take a Decent Photo
Those grainy selfies you’re used to taking are unlikely to earn a spot on anyone’s mantle when you’re gone. Learning how to take a good photo, including knowing how to find decent light, getting a good angle where cheekbones pop and double chins are effectively obscured, and making sure everyone has their eyes open is a skill well worth learning.
Grow Your Own Vegetables
Even if you’re not about to start living off the grid, knowing how to grow your own vegetables is a skill every 40-something should have. Even if it’s just a few tomato plants growing on your terrace, knowing how to grow your own food will help you save money on groceries and may even come in handy if you find yourself living somewhere without a great farmers market.
Drive a Manual Car
Unless you’re never planning to travel outside of the United States, it will serve you well to know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. In fact, according to Edmunds.com, in Europe and Japan, more than 80 percent of cars are manual.
Read Legal Documents
If you’ve been glossing over the terms and conditions sections when you sign up for a new service, it’s time you stopped. By the time you’re in your 40s, it’s high time you started knowing exactly what you’re affixing your John Hancock, whether that’s a terms of service agreement or an employment contract.
A few self-defense skills can go a long way. Not only will learning self-defense help keep you safer, it will also boost your confidence, giving you the “don’t mess with me” attitude that might just help you avoid being a target.
Give a Thoughtful Gift
Picking a great gift means more than telling a shopkeeper your price range and handing over your credit card. By the time you’re in your 40s, it’s important that you know how to pick not just an expensive gift, but a thoughtful, personal one—the kind that’s sure to be cherished by its recipient for years to come. And when you’re looking for a present that’s sure to impress, pick from these 100 Wow Gifts for the Person Who Has Everything.
The days of cockeyed paintings hanging on your walls should be long over before your 40s roll around. Get yourself a level and a good hammer and don’t be shy about using either.
If you want to eventually retire—and who doesn’t?—knowing how to invest your money is a great first step. Investing now, whether you’re personally managing your portfolio or have hired an advisor to do it for you, will serve you well in the long run, helping you maximize your money and leaving you a healthy amount of cash for when you’re ready to stop working.
Break Up With Someone Gracefully
Ghosting, breadcrumbing, or benching someone you’ve been dating may fly when you’re in your 20s, but it’s not a good look in your 40s. If you’re dating in your 40s, it’s time to get comfortable breaking up with somebody, even if it pains you to do so. Not sure what we’re talking about? Get familiar with these 20 Online Dating Terms Older People Don’t Know.
You may have learned how to do it in driver’s ed, but if you look at most city streets, you’ll notice that very few people actually know how to properly parallel park. However, mastering this essential skill will not only spare you the ire of your fellow drivers, but might just save you from a few pricey trips to the body shop, as well.
Dance at Weddings
That Macarena you’ve been trotting out at weddings for the past 15 years has outworn its welcome. By the time you hit 40, it’s high time you knew how to dance—and we mean really dance—whether that means breaking out a foxtrot or showing off your signature version of the Electric Slide.
The cheapest bottle of wine in a shop is rarely the best one, and you should definitely be judging on more than price by the time you hit 40. See if your local wine store offers tasting classes and learn what you enjoy in a glass of wine, as well as gathering some skills on how to discuss a great glass of pinot or port without sounding like you’re bluffing.
Tie Multiple Tie Knots
Those sloppily tied neckties just won’t cut it anymore when you’re well into adulthood—and your skill set should extend well beyond a simple four-in-hand. If you’re eager to look polished throughout your 40s, it’s time to know how to tie a proper double Windsor and tighten it appropriately.
Perfect Your Résumé
A sloppy, typo-filled résumé—or worse yet, one written in Comic Sans—just won’t cut it when you’re looking to get hired in your 40s. By the time you hit this crucial decade, it’s essential that you have a polished copy of your CV on hand.
Change Your Car’s Oil
Sure, getting an oil change isn’t exactly an expensive proposition, but it’s still worth knowing how to do yourself. Even when you don’t have time to stop into a mechanic to get your car serviced, you’ll feel good about being able to do it yourself, keeping your car on the road and running smoothly along the way.
The difference between being a good cook and a great one is the number of mediums in which you’ve honed your skill. Being able to fire up a dish on the stove is well and good, but being a grill master on top of that is even better.
Nobody likes going in for a handshake only to be met with a weirdly soft touch. By the time you’re in your 40s, your handshake should be three things: confident, firm, and short enough not to creep anyone out.
By this point in life, odds are you’ve assembled more than a few wardrobe pieces worth a little bit of money—or at least a lot of sentimental value. If you’re eager to preserve them, it’s time to learn how to properly mend your garments, from picking up dropped hems to sewing on missing buttons.
Sure, we all know how to listen, but not as many of us are good at it as we might imagine. If you want to make the most of your 40s, it’s high time you learned how to actively listen—not just wait for your turn to speak—to retain your place as a valued confidante among your friends.
Speak in Public
Not everyone is going to be a great orator in their lifetime, and that’s fine. However, it’s important to know how to speak in public by a certain age, whether you’re delivering a presentation at work or giving a toast at a friend’s wedding.
Buy a Properly-Fitted Suit
Those sloppy suits you wore to your first interviews right out of college just won’t cut it in your 40s. It’s high time you not only owned a well-tailored suit, but knew how to buy one, choosing a color, cut, and style that works for both your body and your general look.
Take Constructive Criticism
It’s hard to take criticism, no matter how old you are. However, by the time you’re in your 40s, it’s time to discover how to take constructive criticism well, meaning you’re not just nodding along while your boss or significant other tells you the things you should be working on, but taking that advice to heart without hearing it as a personal critique.
Make Money With a Side Hustle
A little extra money will always come in handy in the long run. Now that you’re in peak earning mode, it’s the perfect time to get a side hustle going as well to help maximize your savings.
If you live in a home with drywall, odds are there are a few spots that look a little worse for wear. The good news? Learning to patch drywall is pretty simple and can make your living space look a whole lot more put together with less than an hour of work.
Fix a Leak
There’s no reason you should be paying a plumber $200 to fix a minor leak by the time you’re in your 40s. Knowing some basic plumbing, like fixing a leak, will serve you well today, tomorrow, and when you encounter all those drippy faucets down the road.
Clean Your House
Sure, you probably vacuum and mop from time to time, but are you really cleaning your house from head to toe? By the time you hit your 40s, it’s essential that you know not only how to clean your house, but how to clean it really well and keep it looking spotless between deep cleans.
Write a Proper Thank You Note
Thank you notes may seem antiquated, but they’re a quick and easy way to make the important people in your life feel appreciated. Before you shoot off another thank-you text, try penning a paper note expressing your sincere gratitude instead.
It’s always hard to admit you’ve messed up, but doing so with style will serve you well in the long run. Before you spend another decade serving up wimpy “I’m sorry”s, make a vested effort to learn how to apologize sincerely. This means owning up to what you did wrong, accepting responsibility for how it affected the other person, and saying “I’m sorry” in person in a tone that conveys just how much it means to apologize to them. And when you want to be a better person in the long run, start with these 20 Easy Ways to Be Less Mean.
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