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01 November 2013

The Forty-Year Old Threshold: "Should You Really Be Financially Successful by the Age of Forty or Is it All B.S?"

A few years ago, as an uppity young man struggling to find his niche in this competitive capitalist country ruled by oligarchs, I was in a conversation with two forty-something individuals.  One was financially successful. He has all the trappings of material wealth: a car, a big house, a condominium unit in Makati and a high-paying job. He regularly travels abroad using his hard-earned money, not from grants or money from relatives.  The other forty-something individual is financially secured as well but he was earning only around 20,000 pesos a month.  He has a car but it is for family use only and he often takes the jeepney, the train or the taxi if necessary.  However, you mention his name in his field of work, and people will be impressed. “Oh you know him? Wow, he’s one of the foremost authorities in blah blah blah.” 


In our conversation, one of the forty-something individuals informed me that if you had not made your fortune by the age of 40, especially if you started working at 21, then you would most likely spend the next forty years struggling financially.  He said that it only takes 20 years for a person to make his fortune.  If you are still not financially secured by 40, it means you have miscalculated during your twenties and early to mid thirties. You have made some bad choices. Perhaps, you job hopped too often or you stayed too long in a company that does not appreciate your value.  You may have also spent more than your means and you have never had a workable financial plan.  You can still catch up after 40 but it will be difficult because the market will have changed. He was already 41 back then and he said that the younger generation was more competitive and the industry had changed. He was also forced to change but because he was already set, he was at an advantage.  He said, “Imagine if you are 40 and you are still competing with the new twenty-somethings? It is hard.”

The other forty-something reacted. He said that not everyone is hell bent in earning tons of money and padding themselves with material wealth. To some people, being successful and respected in your field of work is also equally important.  He said that if you earned unquestionable credibility and respect from your colleagues in your line of work, that also can be considered success.  

This other forty-year old man is a well-respected professional. He has written several books and different individuals and organizations have sought his advice concerning his field of work.  In a way, he does not need the trappings of money because his intellect and skills are more valuable. If people wanted his services or his mere presence, people will provide for him. This sometimes includes hotel accommodations, travel expenses and dinner if the meeting will take place in a restaurant.  Most importantly, his words have value.  Most often, they have more value than a person who earns much money working in the same field.  This other forty-year old man also has a loving family. 

Fast forward, nowadays I see many young individuals who brandish their latest gadgets, brag about the bars they frequent, the amazing travels that they have taken, the beautiful people they surround themselves, and the countless outfits and selfies they post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  They reminded me of myself during my early twenties.  I did not have any financial plan nor did I have an inking to be an expert on anything.  It was all party and seeking attention. 

Luckily, I had a wake up call at the eleventh hour.  Am I successful now? Absolutely! I aimed to be a perennially ironic, sardonic, dissatisfied, sexually, politically, and religiously ambiguous self-publishing writer and cartoonist under a 20,000-peso budget.  If you are like me, then we did it! On the other hand, we may just be in denial and we are doomed to face a nervous breakdown once we hit the big 4-0!

For all you young people out there, how will your fortieth year look like? When you get to that threshold, will you like it?

Thankfully, those two forty-year old individuals that I discussed are not entirely correct. Life does begin at forty, especially if you have the right genes, the guts and the audacity to prove people wrong.

To paraphrase the American philosopher Richard Rorty, “fitness” counts. “Fitness” implies that youthfulness does not make you win.  Being constantly adjusting to the ever-changing rigors of life is the key to survival. This requires “fitness,” flexibility and some degree of madness.  

In the end, I think the “sufficiently fed and healthy individual” should define success on his own terms. Quotation marks intended.

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That being said, all these extrapolations only count if you belong to the “educated” and “employable” Filipinos.  Many Filipinos still live in the margins. They only matter during elections or as subjects of news items or human-interest stories. Beyond these, majority of Filipinos living in poverty are invisible and no matter how much they save, they may never escape their predicament.  Such is the country we live in, we do not live in one country, we live in patches: a patch of the First World here, a patch of the Third World there, a patch where the rich and the poor intermingle, and a patch of something indefinable.

If you are 21 years old now, by the time you turn 40, those patches will have grown from the size of a district to as big as a region. There will be more rich people in the future, but there will be more poor people as well. The gap will grow wider. I know because I have witnessed it.

Good luck to us all and advance “Happy Fortieth Birthday” to all Mister and Miss Twenty-something. I hope that I am dead by the time you blow that fortieth candle.

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2 comments:

  1. A couple of years ago, I lived in the shadow of worry. I worried I wasn't making enough money for myself and for my family. I worried that I would be 30 without a house in my name. Then two young people I knew died in their sleep--one 32 and the other 19. They were not very close to me but I knew them enough for their deaths to affect me and make me realize I could very well be worrying about days that might never come. While this is not an excuse to splurge like mad or do outrageous things, it did shift my perspective to living more and worrying less. I have enough confidence in my intelligence and abilities to know that when I am 40 (or 50, or 60), some people will still be in want of my services. And no, I don't mind not retiring at 40. If I could, I would still like to keep working to the very end, until the universe takes me back home. :)

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