Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

40 Life Lessons I Learned Before My 40th Birthday


It’s April 26, 2016, which means one thing: I turn 40 years old today!

And, I’ve gotta admit: I did some living in my first 40. I’ve lived around the world, traveled to as many countries as years I’ve been alive, earned six college degrees, wrote a few books, raised me some kids, and between all that, I made a $@&%load of mistakes. When you roll all those life experiences together, there’s some lessons learned in all of it.

Thus, in honor of my 40th birthday, I do hereby wish to share with you the wisdom gleaned from my first 40 years (in no particular order).

40. A little bit of healthy regret can be good for you.

I have a hard time identifying with the people who say they have no regrets. Me? I screwed up a lot of things, and I unapologetically regret it. A little bit of healthy regret can remind you where bad choices lead, and help prevent you from going back there again.

39. You’ll have a lot of acquaintances, but very few friends.

And that’s okay. Just make sure you figure out which ones are friends instead of acquaintances, because there will come a day when you’ll need to know exactly who’s who.

38. If you live too much in yesterday, you’ll miss out on today.

I’m a person of nostalgia and yesteryear, but have realized that I wasn’t fully present in many situations because my mind was too stuck in the past. Don’t miss out on today– you’ll look back and wish you had been more present, I promise.

37. If you think, “When this happens, I will finally be happy” you’ll find the goal post always moves on you.

If I wasn’t living in the past, many times I was too focused on the future. It was as if my happiness depended on achieving, arriving, or completing. But when I finally got what I was looking for, I discovered I had a way of inventing some new thing I had to get to. It would be a much better way of living to just find a way to be happy and content, right now.

36. It usually feels better to respond with kindness.

I look back and wish I could go and do-over all those situations where I failed to respond to people with love and kindness. I’m certainly sorry for the times when my impatience or frustration caused hurt feelings or wounded relationships, and realize that it surely feels better to respond with kindness.

35. The sooner you stop craving their approval, the happier you’re going to be.

Let me tell you: we’re all dancing for someone’s approval, and I did it until I was 35. But let me tell you something else: the moment I stopped caring what they thought of me, and realized I didn’t need their approval after all, my life got instantly better. In fact, the longer I go not needing their approval, the happier I get.

34. If you’re 20 and get so drunk on cinnamon schnapps that you puke your guts out, the 40-year-old version of you will still hate the smell of Big Red gum.

And that’s a true statement.

33. Just let you be you and let them be them.

Seriously- there’s only one you. Don’t cheat the world by trying to be someone else. We don’t need two of them. I wasted way too many years fighting the desire to be someone else, but in the end, I like being me much better.

32. Don’t ignore your fears– listen to them, and learn from them.

I learned a lot about myself when I began asking “why are you?” in response to feeling afraid of things. Asking why invites you to know yourself on a deeper level, and when that happens you can often overcome many of the fears that invited you to dig deeper in the first place.

31. Sometimes swearing really loudly will make you feel better.

Really– try it. See? I bet you feel better already.

30. Some people are super toxic, and no matter what you do you won’t be able to change them.

When you meet these people, you’re going to need to give yourself permission to set up healthy boundaries in your relationship with them. If you don’t, the toxic mess will eventually infect you too. It’s even okay to say that you can’t be in a relationship with them at all.

29. Think it over a while before you get that tattoo, because laser tattoo removal hurts like a @#%#!.

Seriously. The pain is almost indescribable. Feels like getting snapped with a rubber band that is coated with bee stings. And fire. It’s coated in fire.

Plus, it’s really expensive.

28. Online dating: yes, that picture is really them!

But there’s a 50/50 chance it’s actually them from like 5 years ago.

27. Grounding your kid from TV for a week is like basically grounding yourself from TV for a week.

But making them give you a back rub or clean your car for you, works out to be a much better deal. Don’t be afraid to sneak a few benefits out of their bad behavior.

26. What you experience tomorrow is directly linked to the choices you made today.

So if you want better things to happen tomorrow, learn to make better choices today. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but making good choices today can really improve your chances for tomorrow.

25. Time doesn’t *actually* heal anything.

They say it does, but it doesn’t. It might make it sting less, but healing takes conscious work that you can either neglect or participate in. Sooner the better, trust me.

Get a counselor. Surround yourself with trustworthy friends. Read some books. The sooner you do your work, the sooner you’ll be free.

24. You can’t hurry love (and if you try, you’re probably not going to like the end result).

Just let it happen. If it does, great. But if you force it too quickly, well, a lot of us have read that book and already know how the last chapter ends. Whatever you do, don’t make any major decisions until you’re on the other side of the blinded stage that leaves you thinking less than clearly.

And don’t dismiss your friends when they tell you they see red flags all over the place.

23. If it’s not going to matter six weeks from now, try to not too angry about it.

For real. Anger takes energy, so save it for the things that will matter years from now instead of weeks from now. I’m going to be working on letting a few more things just roll off my shoulder, knowing that either way it won’t matter in a few weeks.

22. An apology with an excuse isn’t really an apology.

When we say, “I’m sorry, but” the excuse we add at the end negates the apology. Learn to simply say I’m sorry, and move on. Making excuses for why you did it just delays healing and growth.

21. No one is going to lay on their deathbed and wish they had worked longer hours.

But plenty get there and wish they had spent more time being present with the people they love. Plus, in my next 40 I’m spending less time with my face buried in my phone.

20. Turning your favorite hobby into a job can ruin your love for it, because now it’s a freakin’ job.

Instead, save your deepest love to be an outlet for you– outside of work.

19. Changing your hair so that you feel attractive can help you snap out of a funk sometimes.

So if you’re in a funk, give it a try– it’s always been something that has helped me feel better about myself. New clothes can do this too, especially if you find them on clearance and stack a coupon at the same time.

18. Revenge feels good at first, but only until you realize it was really, really mean to do that.

And the second feeling totally ruins the first– so just skip the revenge and learn to let go.

17. Driving a new car feels awesome, but not as awesome as driving a used, reliable car that doesn’t have a payment.

I doubt you’ll ever see me locked into a massive 5 year loan over a car again, because buying a cheaper one with cash is a much lighter feeling.

I don’t care that it doesn’t look as cool. It gets me there, and I haven’t had a car payment in about 6 years.

 16. You’re going to fail at some things. One of those things might even be marriage. This doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you human.

Learn from those failures, but don’t let them define you. I lost a lot of years letting this not only define me, but allowing it to scare me out of doing certain things in life.

15. The main thing all of my failed relationships had in common was me.

My sister said this to me years ago, and at first I resisted internalizing it, but have realized it’s absolutely true.

It’s easy to point a finger, but much more beneficial to stand in front of a mirror.

14. Traveling is the best form of education you can invest in.

I’ve been traveling internationally since I was 14 years old, and I’ve learned more from traveling than all my years in academia combined. It’s a cure for whatever ails you.

13. People who travel a lot do so because they’re purposeful and intentional about it.

If you want to become a traveler, you have to actually pick a date and make it happen. Talking about doing something has a way of becoming, “Yeah, we always said we’d do that but never did.” Set a date. Save up. Buy the tickets. That’s how people become world travelers.

12. You can’t always help who you fall in love with.

But that doesn’t mean you should co-sign a car with them, or do a variety of other things– including marriage. I mean, for real– really, really think it through.

10. Don’t let other people define who you are.

Instead, develop a healthy self-identity that can stand up to the shifting sands of time and the fickle opinion of others. I’m tired of letting other people (or even my own brand) define me. I want to be me. And I’m going to be me in my next 40– and I’ll do it without excuse or apology.

9. Living with less so that you’re more free to be generous breeds a surprising level of contentment.

I spent my 20’s being selfish and materialistic. I spent my 30’s trying to live more simply and give away as much as possible. I like how I felt in my 3o’s infinitely better than anything else. I want to be financially stable, but I want to keep giving away as much as possible.

8. Forgiveness is something that sets you free from carrying around whatever it is they handed you.

When we forgive, we’re not letting them off the hook– we’re just refusing to carry that baggage any longer.

7. Don’t let yourself feel ashamed or embarrassed because of what someone else did. Especially if they did it to you.

That’s not yours to carry around, either.

6. Learning to constantly ask yourself, “What is the wise choice?” is a great way to avoid some heartache in life.

I wish that I had learned to ask this question earlier in life. But I ask it now– and I spend much more time thinking about a decision before executing it.

5. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, so give yourself permission to feel them.

Just feel them, and sort through them. But whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up for feeling them– because feelings aren’t right or wrong.

4. Sometimes you just have to keep going. Somehow, some way, strength will come.

I don’t know how, but it does. So don’t quit. If I can do this, you can too.

3. They say sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But I call bullshit.

You heal a lot faster from a beating than you do hurtful words. I’d honestly take a good sound beating any day of the week if the alternative was a hurtful word from someone I love.

And while you can’t control others, you can control you– so practice not saying them.

2. You don’t know how long they’ll be here, so say it now.

I left some things unsaid in my first 40 years. I’m going to work at reversing that in my next 40.

1. It actually *does* go by fast, so figure out how to be present.

This moment, right now, is your life. It’s just a string of small moments that you either embrace or let fly by you. Learn to shed the distractions, and be present in this present moment– because one day this moment will just be a memory.

I’ve learned a lot in my 40 years. Some was because I had good examples. Some was because I had bad examples. Some were born out of wise decisions and others were born out of my own colossal failures.

Yet, each of these 40 lessons has a story behind it– stories I’ve lived.

I pray that the lessons I’ve learned will sink deep into my spirit, and that these next 40 years will be lived with intentionality, passion, and a little hard-earned wisdom.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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20 Responses

  1. Your article made me suddenly realize that I am writing a thesis on After reading your article, I have a different way of thinking, thank you. However, I still have some doubts, can you help me? Thanks.

  2. Meh… I turned 59 on Valentine’s Day, so get off my lawn, ya rotten kid… *teasing*

    O/T, but congratulations, Dr. Corey!

  3. I think Porch Monkey took Ben at his word in #31. But he did it in previous posts rather than here :-> There’s just no figuring how people’s minds work : )

  4. A belated happy 40th! Being only one week from my 51st, I can say that turning 50 is an even greater time to reflect and take account!

    I laughed out loud at ‘change your hair’ – I went for the hair perm shortly before my 50th, followed by a natural “oh I think I’ll colour my beard too” since everyone was calling me ‘Billy Connolly’ lol. Blue or pink, but red and yellow drew my wife’s disapproval – there are SOME things you don’t do if it annoys your beloved, like getting any more tattoos!

    I also really clicked with the ‘buy a used reliable car’ – I bought one 4 years ago for £2000, and now it has over 200,000 miles on the clock, BUT it’s a BMW 530D!! A real beauty, ultra-reliable, AND it turns heads! 🙂

    But seriously, I have just found myself migrating away from the ‘angry churches’ with the ‘angry pastors’ and the unseen toxicity has leaked away from my soul. I’m a lot less angrier than I used to be. Part of that process was reading your stuff, Benjamin. Thank you.

  5. Happy Birthday, Ben! My biggest regret is having had a relationship with the Word of God rather than with the God of the Word. There is a world of difference in the two, but I’m just realizing that. Better late than never : ) Love your honesty and candor. I too have found swearing loudly to be therapeutic ;->

  6. #32) “I learned a lot about myself when I began asking “why are you?” in response to feeling afraid of things. Asking why invites you to know yourself on a deeper level, and when that happens you can often overcome many of the fears that invited you to dig deeper in the first place.”

    This would be #1 for me. Many times I’ve let my fears paralyze me, staying with jobs, relationships or situations because I was afraid to change, to learn new skills, to do without toxic people, to make changes or move on. I’m almost 60, but I’m just learning that lesson now. Well done on getting it 20 years before I did.

  7. I’m 61, & I agree with all of your points. Mostly, 30 & 32. And, really, why is it that it takes so much of life to figure out this stuff? If I had ever challenged my identity earlier, I would have avoided quite a bit of heartache.

  8. The best we give to God and others is to become our own best, authentic selves. What a gift at 40. Happy Birthday.

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