Why 40 is the new 20

With many millennial women turning 40, it’s time to take stock of what the generation did right, and what could have been handled differently

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By Malavika Varadan

Published: Fri 13 May 2022, 12:08 AM

Definition of the term millennial: Anyone born between 1981 and 1996.

I am a proud millennial woman. Born in the year 1986. For the first 25 years of my life, I was almost always the youngest person in the room. That is simply a reflection of the rooms I was in, and the company I kept. But somewhere in my early 30s, and especially after I took on a full-time role of being a teacher, I started to almost always be the oldest person in the room.

The reason I bring up age is because I think it is relative to the room you are in, and is probably more relevant to how old you feel than the absolute number. I started thinking about age a lot this week because I read a post on Instagram that was titled ‘Millennial women are turning 40 and they are sharing their biggest learnings so you can learn from them’.

What were my mistakes? My big learnings? My schoolmates and colleagues — did they feel they were taking away the same life lessons as me from nearly four decades on the planet?

I asked around and what surprised me was just how many of us ‘millennials’, with different roles, different jobs and different stories — felt the same way.

Our learnings and mistakes could mostly be separated into these piles

1 Not taking care of our health: If only we had started yoga earlier and found working out younger. If only we had prioritised health and fitness over other useless things we wasted time and money on, we’d be able to do more without pulling a muscle.

2 Saving more: Putting a downpayment on a house, starting a fixed deposit, investing in mutual funds and understanding the basics of compounding before we hit our 30s. Moreover, having more confidence to have conversations about money with bosses, partners and friends would have saved us a small fortune and a lot of heartbreak.

3 Spending less time at dead end jobs: That too with toxic managers, with no growth plan, with no learning and no real benefits. I wish we were taught to ask more often what the company can do for us, rather than what we could do for the company.

4 Spending more time with family: It’s never enough, I know, but I wish I had spent more time with my father before he passed away. I wish I had spent more time with him, when I was with him, instead of looking at my phone or answering emails. I think our generation really started to understand how much of a currency time is a little too late.

5 Investing in ourselves: In learning new skills, in prioritising ourselves over romantic partners, in choosing to take care of our own needs before others’ and knowing that you truly cannot pour from an empty cup.

I look at this list and am struck by how I feel simultaneously very wise and very stupid. What I also feel is hopeful, because I believe we can get better — that we can learn and unlearn behaviour, that we can truly change the way we show up in the world, for our friends and for ourselves if we are more aware, more conscious. It’s what being alive is all about, right?

So, to any other 30-something panicking millennial out there, fear not. You may not have a retirement fund, or anti-ageing cream, or a family that looks like the two-parents-two-kids format, but hope is not lost. Forty is the new 20.


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