Kent Sanders | Unlock Your Creative Potential

Unlock Your Creative Potential

10 Life Lessons on My 40th Birthday

When I was a kid I would sometimes calculate how old I would be when the year 2000 hit. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be 26 years old! 40 years old seemed like a lifetime away. Yet here I am today, turning 40 years old. This has been a very reflective time as I look at where I’ve been and where my life is headed.

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Your 40th birthday is sort of a watershed moment, and for good reason: you’re not young, and you’re not yet old. In the span of a normal human life, it’s sort of a halfway point. They don’t call it “middle-aged” for nothing.

As an encouragement to you, my friend, and as a reminder of what I’m learning these days, I want to share 10 key lessons at the forefront of my mind these days. This is not just advice for those younger than me, but reminders for all of us about how to life a life that matters.

1. Know yourself.

The ancient philosophy Socrates famously said, “Know thyself.” But what does this mean? Knowing yourself means that you are aware of your strengths and weakness, your gifts and talents, your likes and dislikes, and you act accordingly.

At this point in my life, I know myself pretty well. I know where I’m headed and what I’m passionate about. I know my gifts and my goals. This knowledge helps me make decisions about opportunities and gives me direction for the future.

Too many people are stuck in jobs that don’t take advantage of their giftedness. I always question someone’s “calling” to a role or to work that doesn’t make them happy, or isn’t satisfying. Life is too short to be doing work that you don’t enjoy.

Know yourself well, and focus on your strengths.

2. Keep on dreaming.

I recently heard about a conversation between John and Bob, and they were talking about John’s wife Becky (not their real names). John was telling Bob about Becky’s dream of writing a book, and how Becky was starting to work on it. Bob sarcastically said, “Gee, don’t you think it’s time for Becky to stop dreaming, and live in the real world? She’s almost 50 years old!”

I felt sorry for Bob because he’s given up on his own dreams and settled for what life has thrown his way. He is a very unhappy person who is jealous of others who have success and have a vision for their lives.

Don’t give up on your dreams! The world belongs to those who dare to dream. They’re the ones who have the vision to see past today’s problems and look toward tomorrow’s possibilities.

3. Don’t equate your job with your identity.

I made this mistake for a very long time. When I would meet people, the first thing I mentioned was my job title, as if that was the defining fact about my life. If things in my job were going well and people liked me, I felt affirmed and successful. But if things were not going well and I was having problems, I felt like a complete loser.

It actually took a few significant failures to help me see that I was far too wrapped up in my job. My self-esteem was tied directly to my job success. I had lost sight of the fact that I was first and foremost a child of God. Most important after that came the fact that I was (and still am) Melanie’s husband, and Ben’s dad. All the other stuff is far behind in terms of importance.

4. Don’t take your health for granted.

I’ve always been a generally healthy person, but last December I had emergency surgery to remove my gall bladder. While it’s a routine procedure, it certainly didn’t feel routine to me! It was a wake-up call to start taking better care of myself.

Now that I’m 40 and starting to feel more aches and pains, I understand that I must start paying more attention to my health. That’s why Melanie and I have started using nutrition products from Genesis Pure. I feel so much better and have even dropped some weight in the past few weeks.

5. Surround yourself with positive people.

One of the most important decisions I’ve made over the last couple of years is to surround myself with positive, affirming, success-oriented people. This is not to say that I’m always surrounded with negative people, but I’ve been intentional about building relationships with people who can help me stay positive.

I’ve been blessed to be part of a couple of mastermind groups, and have been especially blessed by the community at

One of the best decisions you can make is getting involved with people who will lift you to a higher level, keep you focused on your goals, and speak positive words into your life.

6. Do something you love.

I have been very fortunate to work in jobs that largely match my gifts and interests. For nearly 8 years, I was a worship leader at a church. For the past 10 years, I have taught mainly in the area of arts and creativity. (My role at St. Louis Christian College has recently shifted a bit. My new title is includes Director of Online Programs, which involves overseeing our new online degree offerings. I’m excited about this new adventure.)

There are many people, however, who haven’t been so fortunate. You may be one of them. Are you stuck in a job or organization that doesn’t fit your gifts or passions? Do you long for something else?

If so, let me encourage you to begin finding ways to make the transition into work that you love. Sometimes we’re afraid to make changes because we don’t want to leave the security of a “stable” job. But honestly, no job is secure these days. I’ve had many friends the last few years who were suddenly let go from supposedly “secure” jobs.

The only true job security lies within you as a person who is adaptable, flexible, and passionate about the work you love. Every job is a “temp” job on some level. So you might as well be doing something you love, right?

Besides, you are much more likely to succeed doing work that you love, than work that you hate. And in the end, if you aren’t passionate about your work, you aren’t doing the company or organization any favors by staying in that role or position.

7. Stay in over your head.

When I first began my career as a worship leader, I was in my early 20’s. I was leading people who were mostly older than me, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was in over my head.

But gradually, I gained the confidence and skills I needed to be more successful. And by my late 20’s, I was honestly getting a little bored with the job itself. I loved the people I was working with at the church, but I didn’t find the job itself as challenging as it did a few years before. That’s why I transitioned into a teaching role. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really liked the people I was working with.

It’s also the same reason why I accepted the challenge of directing our new online program at St. Louis Christian College. I have been doing the same kinds of things for a decade, and I’m ready for a new challenge. I’m thankful for our college’s administrators and their willingness to shift some of my other responsibilities around so I can take on this new role. I feel a little over my head, but I’m confident and ready for the challenge.

If you feel totally comfortable in your ministry or job, as if you can do it with your eyes closed, it’s probably time for a new challenge. You should be doing something that scares you a bit. But rather than running from the challenge, you should embrace it.

Lean into the fear. Let it guide you and make you a better leader.

8. Take charge of your own life.

Have you ever seen someone who just seems to accept whatever life throws at them? They let everyone else make their decisions for them. They can see their whole life ahead of them, as if everything in inevitable. They do everything because that’s what others expect.

Every decision is based on what they’re “supposed” to do: whom they marry, where they go to school, what type of work they do, where they live, and so on. They never have the courage to make decisions for themselves, and much less, defy others’ expectations of them.

I’m here to tell you that there is one person in charge of your life, and that’s you. This doesn’t mean we discount God’s calling and guidance, or the wisdom of those around us, or the needs of our family. It does mean, however, that your life is not set in stone. Your future is not determined. Your future is created.

You are the master of your own ship. Your life is what you make of it. So make something awesome that serves others, gives you joy, and leaves the world a better place than how you found it.

9. Put your family first.

I pretty much botched this up all throughout my 20’s. I was not an attentive husband the first few years of our marriage. I was too wrapped up in my job responsibilities, grad school, and other things. Fortunately, I married a woman who is patient, but not afraid to tell me like it is when needed.

I still struggle with working too much, mainly because I genuinely like to work. It’s hard for me sometimes to set all that aside and focus on my family. It’s a lesson I have to seemingly re-learn every day.

When it comes to putting your family first, two things to come to mind that help me do that:

First, we pray together every evening. I wasn’t always intentional about leading my family this way, but the last several years, we have been very consistent about this.

Second, we say “I’m sorry” very quickly in our family. In fact, I had to apologize to my just a couple of days because I was a little irritable with him. Parents need to model apologies to their kids if they expect their kids to do the same.

You have your own ways of putting your family first. The important thing is to show by your actions that they’re loved and the most important people in your life.

10. Keep growing and learning.

Growth does not happen by accident. The only thing that happens naturally in life is death and decline. If you want to keep your mind active and sharp, you have to be intentional about it.

One of the best ways to do this is by reading. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader, you can put personal growth into place in your life with just a few minutes of reading each day. I recently wrote a post for my friend Rye Taylor you’ll want to check out: 4 Ways to Take Action by Reading More in Less Time.

These are 10 key lessons I’m learning as I turn 40 today. I hope you resonate with one or two of these and begin to put them into practice in your own life.

What other lessons are most important to you these days, no matter what your age?

About Kent Sanders

I help people unlock their God-given creative potential. I live with my wife and son in St. Peters, MO. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or YouTube.