The 15 Essential Skills to Master in Your 40s

Let’s be clear: you don’t have to be a licensed mechanic to be able to fix a broken-down car. You needn’t be a certified sommelier to pick a great bottle of wine, either. And one thing’s for sure: you definitely don’t have to be a seasoned standup comedian to tell a good story.

As someone on the cusp of middle age, there are some things in life—whether it’s applying first-aid at a moment’s notice, or simply knowing how to treat a woman—that you need to be able to do to be considered a well-rounded, knowledgeable, and dependable man.

1. How to Give a Compliment

A great compliment requires a delicate balance: Say too much, and you risk sounding disingenuous. Say too little, and you risk “damning with faint praise.”

Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor who has spent 22 years working with couples, says that a key to good compliment giving is to “be genuine.”

“Come from a place of positive energy,” she says. “Compliments are a gift that tell another person they are worthy of notice. Taking notice of other people is a powerful social skill that you need to master now that you’re in your 40s. It’s not all about you any longer.”

2. How to Do Basic First Aid

If you saw an accident on the freeway, or a frail old person take a tumble on the sidewalk, would you know what to do? You should. Whether understanding how to dress a wound or help relieve the pain from a second-degree burn, every man needs to be able to treat a wide range of daily injuries—and be able to act fast. If you don’t, sign up for a class through Red Cross to refresh your skills—and you might end up saving the day.

3. How to Tell a Story

You don’t have to be a brilliant comedian or charismatic actor to hold court at a meeting, wedding, or cocktail party. You should have a handful of fun stories that will entertain both friends and strangers, and know how to calibrate them, depending on the audience and circumstances (yes, you should skip the more ribald stuff at work events). “The best storytellers look to their own memories and life experiences for ways to illustrate their message,” writes Carolyn O’Hara in the Harvard Business Review. “What events in your life make you believe in the idea you are trying to share?”

4. How to Deliver a Speech

Whether you’ve delivered a few best-man speeches or given a presentation at an industry conference, you should be comfortable in front of a crowd by the time you’re in your 40s. Delivering a speech is not much different than telling a story, but with a few key differences: You should have notes in case your mind goes blank, know how to balance a casual tone without losing focus of the point of the speech, and know how to keep your audience engaged. 

5. How to Apologize

Now that you are in your 40s, you need to not only be able to admit your error, but also be able to strengthen trust and relationships in the process. “Learning how to sincerely apologize is an essential social skill that helps to decrease resentment and conflict in most relationships,” says Derichs. “Shame and guilt often get in the way of learning how to apologize.”

She breaks it down into five main steps: (1) Expressing regret (“I’m sorry.” “I feel badly about what I did.”); (2) Taking responsibility (“I was wrong. I’m sorry”); (3) Making amends (“I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right?”); (4) Showing remorse (“I’ll try not to do that again.”); and (5) Asking for forgiveness are all ways in which you can learn to apologize.

6. How to Keep Romance Alive

By 40, you’ve had a few long-term relationships and seen how the burst of passion early on subsides over time. But you should also have learned that it’s essential to put in the effort to keep the spark of excitement, spontaneity, and expressions of affection. Derichs recommends a few “moves,” each day: A 30-second hug, a 15-second kiss, even making sure you’re showered, shaved, and wearing a nice outfit.

“You did all of that when you first where dating, don’t stop now,” says Derichs. “Cook for your significant other or plan a date that is a complete surprise. Keep it simple — surprise is essential to keep the romance and desire for one another alive.”

7. How to Stay in Touch

The older you get, the more people have entered your life—far too many for one person to keep in close contact. By your 40s you should have a handle on how to keep in touch with people in a way that keeps them in your orbit, but doesn’t require a hefty time commitment. Set calendar reminders of friends’ birthdays and anniversaries (you can use Facebook to help remind you, but shoot a text letting them know you are thinking of them, rather than a generic social media post). Get in the habit of sending out relevant articles or bits of news to connections who would find it interesting (but not mass email). Organize the occasional meet up of old colleagues or friends. And remember: making time for your buddies is essential not only for good health—but also staying young.

8. How to Update Your Résumé

In your early years in the workforce, you would update your résumé when you needed a new job. But not only has the world of recruitment changed (with LinkedIn allowing for anyone to check out your career history with a Google search) but you should have also learned that a résumé is something that is best updated frequently.

“When you delay keeping track of your accomplishments and various developments in your career, when you do need a résumé it will be a scramble to remember some of the important activities and milestones that are uniquely special and distinguish you from the mass of other folks in job search,” says Roy Cohen, an executive coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.

9. How to Network

By 40, you’ve seen how valuable a personal network of like-minded, ambitious professionals is in helping you get a new job, promotion, or do your work better. You’ve also seen how much work building this network can be. You should know how to seek out places where those in similar professions will be (whether designated as “networking events” or simply places where others in your field gather) and be comfortable striking up conversations with strangers who could be responsible for your next big career move.

10. How to Pitch and Interview

Just as with your résumé, you should have learned to convey who you are and what you do in a crisp, compelling way—and have figured out how to keep it fresh and relevant. “It is not unusual for men in their 40s to lose track of who they are professionally,” warns Cohen. “They get on a treadmill and keep going with little time or commitment for reflection and insights. Men who are skilled at promoting themselves and their notable accomplishments land jobs faster.”

11. How to Buy Good Wine

Wine is an area where a little knowledge is hardly a dangerous thing. Don’t let the pretentious wine experts or volumes written on terroir intimidate you. Just get the basics down: A few regions and the types of wine they make well (Chardonnay from Australia, Chianti Classico from Tuscany), general characteristics you like (dry, bold, full-bodied, fruity), and let the guy at the wine store or the server at the restaurant take it from there.

12. How to Cook at Least One Fancy Meal

You don’t have to be Mario Batali in the kitchen, but you should have at least one impressive meal you know how to make. Tacos or pasta are fine for a random weeknight, but by 40 you should be able to make something that will dazzle a date or a dinner party: flavorful rosemary braised lamb shanks, perfectly cooked beef wellington, or something else that will have guests going “whoa!”

“That special person in your life will appreciate this more than almost any other way of celebrating, saying you’re sorry, or simply as the most awesome date ever that can practically guarantee getting laid,” says Ken Immer, president and chief culinary officer of Culinary Health Solutions.

13. How to Get a Last-Minute Table

When you’re not up for cooking, Immer also points out that a guy in his 40s should be able to get a table at a great restaurant in a pinch. It might be through a friend who works there or a professional connection who owes you a favor, but being able to book a nice table without much time will make the right impression.

“Whether it’s for that fancy date with a special someone or impressing the boss or a client, this is the kind of currency that can seal the deal when it’s make or break,” says Immer. 

14. How to Resolve a Conflict

Now that you’re in your 40s, more often than not, you’re the adult in the room. If you see an argument or fight breaking out (including ones you are part of), you should know how to defuse it and get to a place where all those involved feel heard—or at least aren’t punching each other in the face. Derichs advises identifying the “conflict management styles” of those involved.

“When conflict arises the first step is to decide whether to address it or let it go,” she says. “Conflict avoiders focus needs to be ‘what am willing to get into?’ A conflict approachers focus is ‘what I am willing to let go of?’ A general rule is that if the issue is troublesome enough that it is affecting your behavior or weighing on your conscience, it should be addressed.”

15. How to Fix a Car

Even if you don’t own a car or drive one regularly, knowing the basics of car repair and maintenance is likely to come in handy at some point in your life, if it hasn’t already. If you understand how an engine works, how to jumpstart a battery, change the oil, and change a flat tire, you won’t regret it.

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