Starting over at 40 with nothing? 6 things you need to know

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There’s something dreadful that happens when we turn forty.

No matter how much we try to dismiss society’s standards of success, somehow we get a jolt when we reach this age. It’s as if there’s a sign that says “Game over!” and we are forced to take a hard look at our lives.

You could feel like a total failure if you haven’t accomplished a lot in life, and if you’re flat broke too? It’s just heartbreaking.

Look, I know you’re losing faith in yourself. And It’s not easy—it never was—but with the right approach you can turn your life around at any age, no matter your circumstances.

In this article, I will help guide you to the things you can do to turn your life around at forty when you’re penniless and not yet where you’re supposed to be.

1) Acknowledge your gifts

Sometimes, we get so fixated on what we don’t have that we overlook the things that we do have. If you’re starting from nothing, you need everything you can get, from the motivation and morale to whatever resources you might still have on your side—so don’t let despair take these away from you, too.

Here are the three basic gifts that you have:

You’re at zero

Zero is a good place to start if you want to get your life together. It might feel like starting from zero is going to be miserable but on the contrary, it’s actually the perfect place to start.

You might be broke, but at least you’re not shackled down by a million dollars of debt! You’re free to allocate all your money as you see fit instead of having to worry about keeping up with payments.

So you’re not married? The upside is that budgeting is far simpler when you only have yourself to support… and, hey, at least you’re not trapped in a bad relationship! That would be hell on earth indeed.

So yes, things could be worse. You could still be paying for thousands or millions of dollars of debt while stuck in a toxic relationship with someone who doesn’t really care much for you.

If you think about it this way, zero really ain’t so bad, really.

You’re flexible

Because you basically have nothing much going on yet —no investments and big loans and a company that would collapse if you change direction—you’re free to go wherever you please and experiment with your life. You’re actually more free than you think!

You have flexibility and freedom from baggage.

You’re not locked into climbing one particular career ladder, so you can pick and choose what to pursue for a living.

You can pack your bags and become a street musician in Morocco without feeling guilty.

Yes, you’re not yet where you want to be in life and you’re broke, but unlike those who’ve cemented their lives—those with their fancy job titles and mortgage to pay, you can now start on your journey with much ease. You can even sprint towards it if you please.

You still have time

It might not seem like it but the truth is, you still have time.

You’re forty, not forty-one, and definitely not ninety. That means that although you’re not so young anymore, you’re not too old either. Anything is still possible if you put your heart and mind into it.

You’re panicking right now because you feel like you’re running out of time, but for every year that you have, you have 365 days. That’s still a lot if you use it wisely!

If you start saving up today, you will still be in a much better place a year from now and if you keep at it, you’ll definitely be financially secure in five years or even sooner!

You might feel a little unmotivated because it will take you a long time to get there, but here’s another gift: you’re much wiser now and more determined than ever before.

2) Do the internal work

You might think action is the most important thing, but what you don’t know is that how you think is equally important. Don’t rush to do the first “move” without doing the internal job.

Break down, forgive, and carry on

Don’t sugarcoat how bad you truly feel about your life. Allow yourself to feel awful about your circumstances because you’re allowed to do it (at least for one more time). Make it a big one. Go beat yourself up about the many questionable life choices you made.

But don’t stay too long in this state. After a day or two (or preferably, in an hour), stand tall and roll your sleeves because you’ve got a lot of work to do.

You need to break down and hit rock bottom so you start looking up.

It’s time to be a little graceful and accept where you are completely. Learn to even laugh about it. But while you chuckle at your circumstance, you have to start seeing it as your new starting point.

Have the right mindset to attract success

Prepare your mind, prepare your soul, condition your heart for the journey you’re about to take.

It’s not just some new age-y spiritual thing, there’s scientific proof that the law of attraction works and that our mindset and general outlook could greatly affect our lives.

You have to be as specific as possible. One good trick is to use a blank check. Put your name, services that you rendered, the amount that will be paid to you, and the date you’ll receive it.

Put this check on your refrigerator or any place where you can see it often. Believe it will happen.

It would also help if you read a lot of self-help books that could guide you on attracting success. The mind is a lazy organ so you have to remind it every single day that you’re built for success. Otherwise, you’ll go back to the old patterns of negativity.

Clear your mind

For you to make any change that would propel you to the life that you truly want, you must say goodbye to the old version of you and that includes some of the thoughts that you hold on to.

Imagine that you’ll do some spring cleaning but instead of trash and useless clutter, you’ll clear your mind from the garbage that it’s accumulated throughout your forty years of existence.

Maybe there’s this voice in your head that says you’re never going to make it because you’ve tried and failed so many times before. Maybe you think all businessmen are boring people and therefore, you don’t ever want to start any business.

When we’re forty, we’re more or less set in our ways, but especially with how we think. Our bodies change from the moment we wake up but our minds tend to go back to their comfortable patterns.

Erase everything. Clear out the bad voices in your, clear out your prejudices. That’s the way to welcome change.

Focus on yourself

Imagine yourself at a party with 1000 other people. Everyone’s dancing and laughing and having a grand time but you find yourself alone in a corner. All you really want to do is curl in your bed with a good book.

Now apply this to your life now. Imagine that adulthood is a big party where everyone is trying to have fun. Unlike the party where you’re supposed to always blend in and stay a little longer, you’re free to do whatever you please.

Go ahead and do what truly makes you happy! Nobody cares.

And you shouldn’t focus too much on them either. Forget about their pretty homes, their job promotion, their brand-spanking new car, their kids, their awards, their travels, their perfect relationships. Be happy they have it but don’t feel sorry for yourself.

All you have to care about, especially right now that you’re forty, is your own happiness—the version of happiness that’s truly your own.

Get inspiration from the right people

Instead of looking at all the “successful” people who are your age or younger than you, get inspiration from the late bloomers who’ve succeeded later in life. They are the people who you should aspire to be!

Maybe you have an uncle who’s had a lot of failed businesses but then he attained success in his 50s?

Then there’s Julia Child who made her first book at 50, Betty White who only became famous at 51, and many other people who became successful after forty.

When you’re feeling too old to work on something, go read books about these people, study how they got to where they are, and know that you’re not in bad company.

Late bloomers are some of the coolest people in the world.

3) Get as real as possible

You’re forty, not thirty, and definitely not twenty.

You’ve lived long enough that it’s about time for you to be honest with yourself. Doubtless that by this point in your life you’ve gone through a lot of failures and victories that you can—and should—learn from.

Look at your problems straight in the eye

Think back to those times where things went down the gutter and try to assess where you went wrong, or how you could have made it right.

It might be painful to face all your “failures”—yeah, go ahead and beat yourself up for a minute—but you will also see that a lot of them are beyond our control and every single one of them will have a lesson to tell you.

Get a pen and paper and make three columns. In the first column, list down the things that you did right and are happy about (surely there’s plenty of them). In the second one, list down the times you screwed up. And in the last one, list down the things that are simply beyond your control.

Go ahead, spend one after doing this. Focus your attention on where you went wrong and ask yourself how you can prevent this from happening again.

Maybe you’re so generous and your family treats you like you’re an ATM. Then maybe to prevent this from happening again, you have to talk to them about it and be firm with your boundaries.

Instead of beating yourself hard about your decisions, put all of that energy to the here and now.

Inspect a little closer

Sometimes what we may have once thought to be the “right thing” will later turn out to be the very thing we did wrong. And sometimes, we may think it was within our ability to control things, but on closer inspection…. It simply wasn’t.

If you analyze your life as honestly (but tenderly) as possible, it will be the beginning of better things ahead.

Go to the left column where you put the right things that you did in life.

Maybe you think that falling madly in love was a good thing, but what if that relationship was the reason you quit your 6-figure job, for example.

Ask yourself if the ones you considered good decisions are actually good, and if those you considered bad decisions are actually bad.

Take a look at your assets

What do you have aside from the time and flexibility?  What are the things and who are the people who can help you while you rebuild your life and your finances?

Financial security. How much do you really have in assets and cash? Is there someone who still owes you money? Do you still owe someone money? Do you have insurance?

Your relationships. Who are the people closest to you? Can you rely on them? Can they lend you money when you really need it? Is there someone who can mentor you as you start a small business?

Your skills. What are you really good at? What skills do you need to have to really improve your life? How can you have them?

By knowing what you have, you’d know what you can use for your new journey.

Know what you really need

You’re preparing for a new journey so you have to know what you truly need even if it seems like you’re asking too much. Go ahead, just list them down.

Do you need $10,000 to fix your car so it’s easier for you to find a job? It’s not really unreasonable if you want to start a new life.

Do you need to move to another state or another country or do you need to move back to your parent’s house so you can save money while you figure things out?

I know you don’t want to spend another dollar but take note that there are expenses that are actually necessary.

By figuring out what you really need, you’ll know your priorities and you’ll have clearer targets.

4) Create a new life map

Rewrite your story, rewire your brain

You know yourself better now and you are much sure of what you want so it’s probably time that you rewrite your story.

If you’re to tell your story to your future grandchildren, you’d want to impress them a little bit, don’t you? You don’t want them to listen to your sad life story that’s filled with failure. Instead, you want something inspiring, even if it seems like you’re lying to them.

Find a good lens to view your life. Imagine what future you want (yes, you still have a long future ahead of you) and start your story from scratch. Make sure it’s a success story of how you’ve risen from literally nothing.

Be as detailed as possible. Don’t filter.

This is how you will live your life and by this, you’ll not only help yourself but also inspire people.

Focus on the most urgent goal (to improve finances)

What you’ve written above is your ideal life. For that to happen, you must first deal with the most urgent problem: you’re broke.

If your goal in life is aligned with something that can make you earn money (to climb up the career ladder, for example), then this is pretty much covered. Stick to your story.

But if your dream is something that doesn’t directly give you money (you want to be an artist, philanthropist, etc), then you have to devote your time to deal with the finances first before you can even start focusing on your calling.

I do not mean you have to abandon your dreams, you just have to fix your most urgent problem. I know it doesn’t sound so enticing but if you’re forty and you want to start over, you have to take care of your problems first before you can even try for the ideal life.

It seems like a trap, but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are just two things you should do in the next months:

  • Find ways you can earn money fast. For the next few months, just focus on how you can add more money to your bank account. It will allow you to have more breathing room to think clearly and most of all, it can boost your self-esteem, which can hopefully help you make better choices.
  • Budget like crazy for a few months. Challenge yourself not to buy anything except food for at least a month or two. If it becomes a habit, great. If not, then by that time you probably have some money to splurge on a good cup of coffee from time to time.

Once you have some money in your bank account, you can now breathe and plan your future properly.

Design the life you want

One of the most important videos I’ve watched is 5 Steps to Designing the Life You Want by Bill Burnett.

What I love about that talk is that it encourages us to not worry so much about this one life we’re living. It takes us out of our ego and lets us experiment.

Try to imagine yourself as a designer. You’re free to do whatever you want with your life and you shouldn’t take failure seriously because after all, it’s just one prototype. There’s still another one. It encourages us to be brave and to experiment, which is what you should be doing now that you’re forty and nothing seemed to work before.

Design three kinds of life. Choose one, then test it out in real life. See if it works. If it doesn’t, try the next one. But you have to be scientific about it. Be aware when to try harder and when to abandon the design.

5) Take baby steps, one day at a time

If you want to make big changes fast because you still want to catch up on your peers, you’ll spiral and go crazy.

Desperation will also lead you into making some incredibly rash and harmful decisions. There’s no need to rush anyways—you’re already “late”, and you’re more likely to set yourself even further behind if you make mistakes in trying to catch up to everyone else.

Go ahead and take all the time you need to do things right but make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

Take small steps. Work towards the future but keep your mind in the present. It will help you get things actually done.

If you get overwhelmed, you’ll either get paralyzed or burnt out.

This article from Princeton University talks about the reasons people procrastinate, and one of them is because people don’t feel confident about themselves, and because they get overwhelmed from trying to do too much at once.

Remind yourself that, when it comes down to it, anything can be broken down into smaller chunks that you can chip away at with ease. Keep chipping away at these small chunks and eventually, you’ll have conquered the thing that once seemed impossible to achieve.

Take one step today, another step tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be big or life-altering! It just has to happen.

6) Be consistent – make better habits

Consistency is key. This applies to your daily life, work ethic, and of course— your finances.

Sometimes it might be tempting to celebrate and splurge because you managed to hit your goal of having $2000 sitting in reserve at the bank. But think about it—if you treat yourself, you’ll have to spend some of that money you’ve saved up. You’re several hundred dollars short and a few weeks or months behind schedule.

And when you have more than enough money to spare, it might feel like keeping track of every single dollar spent and earned is an unnecessary chore. But it’s not—the reason why billionaires have as much money as they have is because they didn’t stop caring about money when they had “enough”.

They continue to care for and track their income, even as they throw their excess at the luxuries they can afford.

All the things that served you well when you had no money and helped you get on your feet will continue to matter even after you’ve found your stride and managed to walk through life with ease.

After all, simply because you have money now doesn’t mean you will continue to have it in the future.


Life could be harsh and it’s good that we always try to improve our lives, but at the same time, you should also know that change doesn’t happen overnight.

It could take longer than you may want—you might swear that it takes forever!

But when you’re trying to improve yourself and your standing in life, it’s only natural that there would be many things involved. Some of them are out of our control, and sometimes it might even be down to sheer luck.

What it is for you to do, however, is to “fail better.” Learn from the past and try again.

But at the same time, as cliche as it may sound, be content and happy with what you already have. You’re still here in this world and life goes on. Have a goal in mind, take one step at a time, and you’ll eventually get there.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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