T Nation

40, Nothing to Show for It

Here I sit, 40 years old with $750 in savings and $20k in debt. And my life is miserable.

The ex and I got divorced 2 years ago and I had to sell the house and hand over all the profits from the sale, plus half my 401k and will be paying alimony for another 2 years.

My life is miserable for the most part. I have a dull corporate job that used to be enjoyable but now that I’m managing people and projects it’s just one obstacle after another. Sure I have my wins and I’m on a solid career track for getting the job done, but every day is just another hassle.

The wife and I couldn’t conceive so I’m childless, living alone in apartment downtown. The city around me is teaming with energy and people going out having fun, but I’m on my own.

I calculated that I’ve made 1.1 million over the past 20 years, but I have nothing but a woefully underfunded 401k.

My luck with women is horrible. Despite being an intelligent guy who makes decent money, they can see right through my facade and I rarely get past the first date. Occasionally I do get lucky but it never goes anywhere. I have to maintain a strict masculine composure which the women do love, but once I let my true self show it’s adios amigo.

I lift regularly and can bench and squat my own weight and get regular compliments on my slim but semi muscular physique, but one look at my face shows I’m tired. I haven’t slept well regularly for 3 years and it shows. You can just see the hopelessness in my dull and tired eyes.

I should be proud of my career, and I am to a certain extent. I’ve made it farther than I ever really expected. Mostly through hard work and grit, but also due to my higher than average IQ. At the end of the day all my projects wrap up and then I realize once again it’s just building sand castles by the shore. The tide rolls in and it’s back to work again on the next gig.

I don’t have any hobbies beyond lifting and poker. Nothing. I just do those things over and over.

I have no mission or purpose. I just show up, get shit done and then go home. I’m a highly functioning person with life long low level depression.

What can I do guys? Any advice or ideas? I gotta switch shit up soon.


It’s not unusual to judge yourself harshly. You say you make decent money, so your finances should work themselves out. Start saving 20% for retirement right now, and you should be fine.

I’m 46, and have many of the things you don’t (family, kids, lots in savings, lots in 401K, well over $1M equity in my house, awesome job that pays well) but I still suffer many of your sufferings. I am stressed, question myself, and get into ruts. Sometimes I feel I have no mission or purpose. I dwell on things that I shouldn’t, and I don’t always appreciate everything I have.

So, what’s my advice? I have found that yoga and buddhism to help me stay centered. I have found the biggest help is seeing your thoughts for what they are - made up thoughts. I used to believe my thoughts and let them control my happiness, now I try to just watch them float by. Give it a try. You won’t be “cured”, but you will learn to see the ebbs and flows of life for what they are: temporary.


Alright man, I really agree with @antiquity. Number 1 strategy is to start saving. It’s also really possible to have everything you want but to still be deeply unhappy. Here’s some ideas of what I would do in your situation:


I’m not sure what your salary is, but start saving as much as you can. To take control, you need to work with the things you can change and work around the things you can’t. You gave up half of your 401k? Can’t change that. How much is in there now? Does your work do any matching for your 401k? What kind of debt do you have? Are there any areas of spending you can cut down on without decreasing your standard of living and happiness?

Mindfulness and Happiness

Like antiquity said, try things like meditation or mindfulness exercises. Exercise also helps with mental health. Engaging in social interaction is important as well. I’m not sure what you like, but join groups that do things you like. Meetup dot com is great for this. If you like books, join a book club. If you like board games, join that sort of club.

Don’t close yourself off to women you are currently meeting, and maybe introduce yourself to both women and men at the social things you get involved in - not because you want anything from them but because socializing is good for mental health and happiness. Also you said “once you let your true self show” people don’t want to date you anymore? Some women like guys that are less “traditionally masculine.” And you said yourself that you are an intelligent guy who makes decent money and have a good body. Where’s the facade? You should be confident because you ARE an intelligent guy who makes decent money. And you said you have no hobbies? Seriously - try some things out. You might not want to and yea it might suck to put yourself out there and try different things, but fuck, it’s better than doing nothing. And you’ll meet people and probably (if you try enough things) find something you really like doing. And dates can come out of those sorts of things too.


Ok so for exercise, keep doing what you’re doing (as long as you enjoy it).

How’s your diet? Are you proud of what you eat? Does what you eat support how you want to look and feel?

For sleep, don’t eat a big meal or exercise within a few hours of your bedtime. Don’t use a screen within 1-2 hours of bed if possible. Try to do meditation or deep breathing to calm yourself down before bed. Limit caffeine and alcohol. I’m sure some of your sleep issues are due to anxiety and depression. Ask your doctor about a depression medication (I’m taking wellbutrin).

It’s going to be ok. If your life is miserable, then it can only get better from here

Thanks antiquity, I appreciate your response.

I’ve tried several philosophies and they do help. After the divorce I embraced Stoicism which really helped to calm the emotions and understand that there are things that we can control and others that we cannot.

At this time I’m not really emotional, but closer to emotionless. I don’t think that’s healthy. I’ve looked into the void and brought it in. And it’s just empty.

Previous to that I embraced optimism. Not positive thinking but optimism. The idea that with the right frame of mind and hard work amazing things can be achieved. It helped at work immensely, but does nothing to change my family life.

I would take up reading.


Aside from what was said above, do something bigger than yourself. You sound like you have some time to kill between work and bed - volunteer.

I’m on a non-profit and am also on the planning committee for my 20 year reunion - small potatoes, but it helps me branch out with people I haven’t spoken to in 20 years and at the end I get to go to the party I want to go to and see people having fun and enjoying something that was my brain child.

The non-profit board I sit on benefits underprivileged kids in the community and hopefully put them on the track for college.

Find something that’s fulfilling that and bigger than you … do NOT do it for recognition other than seeing the look on other people’s faces and know you helped brighten someone else’s day. I’m not religious but I’d recommend you read The Power of Positive Living or Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Fantastic advice to improving your life in a deeper way (hint: it mostly has to do with helping other people).

Quick background for myself: I too am in a corporate role, am 37, and it’s not my “dream” job. Unlike you, though, I relish the day to day challenges - partly because I’m helping make other people’s jobs easier. That’s actually part of the reason I volunteer for the couple side-projects I’m on. I know I can bring experience and insight to a project that the other people involved just do not have. And as another added benefit, I get to gain the insight and experience THEY provide that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’m sure others will give you some good advice and I hope you take the advice that helps you out the most. It sucks to feel the way you do - I’ve been there - and it takes a lot of work to get out of it. Sounds like you already know that, though. Anyway, best of luck to you … keep us posted my man.


We KNOW – you read … GOOD for you!

What’d you think of Five Rings? I gotta read it again man … so much meat there in so brief a tome.

Just finished it off a few days ago. Really enjoyed it. I am always a sucker for the aphorism style. Super easy to digest.

Yea, I mainly digested it via audiobook … hence I want to re-read it in type.

What’s next on your list?

All solid advice muskratlifts. Seriously, solid.

I’ve been paying off debts for the past year and a half, it’s going to take me another 10 months to pay off what I owe and then I’ll go back to contributing to my 401k.

I should go out and try meet ups. I’ll give it a shot.

As far as confidence goes I don’t know what to say there. I used to do PUA in my 20’s and can go right back into that mode, just long enough to get laid maybe a few times with a chick. But once I let it down I have very little.

I may have a form of asperger syndrome. I can sit and write code and crack problems for hours and enjoy it. It’s relaxing. I had to teach myself how to read body language, facial expressions and tone of voice so well that I’m better than most. It’s served me extremely well in business and in consulting but does nothing with women. I can read and feel exactly what they’re thinking but unlike business I have little to offer because they want more than someone who can solve problems. I just have trouble bonding and although I want to be with someone it’s difficult to go through the fake dance and I feel like a fraud.

I eat better than most but I need to go further and eat more fruits and veggies. It’s so simple but I don’t get enough for proper nutrition.

I do enjoy lifting. I have to restrain myself because once I get the endorphins going and feel the T rising I tend to go and go. And then I get adrenal fatigue later and my face just looks worse. I’ve been doing the StrongLifts 5x5 program and it really helps. I know that nutrition is extremely important for recovery.

I’ll try to put down the phone before bed but it’s really all the responsibilities at work that kill me. I can always take care of myself but I have a dozen other projects/people I need to solve for and it’s just overload.

I might need to quit management and just go back to engineering. The money just isn’t worth it.

But I do need to socialize more but I know that it’s very difficult to bond so that makes it less worthwhile.

I am in the middle of a few right now. One is a collection of lectures Nietzsche gave at University and the other is Schopenhauer “The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims”.

Thank you polo77j.

I’ve read many books. Among the best I’ve ever read is Man’s Search for Meaning which talks about just that: helping others is the best treatment for depression. It’s difficult because I know that when I help people they really don’t care about me, just what I can do for them. But I’m sure it will help and at least I’m not sitting idle.

Yes I have lots of time on my hands. Before I was married I had a startup with another developer friend and it was really starting to get traction. It failed for a number of reasons but I was really good at it and it gave a mission and purpose.

But volunteering is excellent advice and I know that I have a lot to potentially contribute.

Look man, most people don’t bounce back from divorce like this. It’s been two years, it’s still raw. It’ll probably just take time. You can try to change your mindset. It’s still going to be hard, but that’s okay. Keep chugging on, and keep on making good choices (gym, saving, volunteering, whatever), you’ll turn out okay.

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Thank you.

As a Christian, I see everything you wrote and see part success and part failure. The failure part is you trying to fill a void but not feeling satisfied. Perhaps it’s time to consider that there’s more to this life than self gratification?

The church I attend is doing a series called Blessed. Last week’s quote of the day was “Blessed people are blessed to bless people.”

Bless others and seek God’s blessing for yourself (don’t expect humans to return the favor). In short, give without expecting anything in return.

The good news about all that financial stuff is that it doesn’t matter when you die - and we all die. There are plenty of miserable millionaires out there.


I tried the Christian path in my life whole heartedly when I was younger. Unfortunately I had many of the same experiences I’ve described above.

Basically they would always “promote” me and put me out there for leadership roles. I was a youth pastor to college students and gave sermons at a few small weekend conferences. I read the New Testament 7 times and had parts basically memorized. I also discovered that I can be slightly charismatic in front of a crowd which I’ve also repeated in the business world.

The church put more pressure on me like everywhere else. I know in business that they are “using” me to further the company goals and bottom line but that’s understood. In the church it can be a little murkier in that the people there sometimes hide their motives for what they ask you to do.

I wasn’t selfish or into self gratification, heck I was celibate for a while there. I tried my best and took on many burdens but I never felt grace. And once again whatever they gave me to do I was able to accomplish it but it never ended, there was always more. Once one activity was done it was on to the next thing. And the leadership part was not easy for me.

I was blessed with many talents. What I’ve said above is true. But due to childhood trauma I am not able to take the stress my talents or intellect would seem to be able to handle.

I really believed and lived the best Christian life I could. But many of the people were phony, did not love me, whatever I did they wanted more. And I’m sorry I never felt the grace of god.

This is mainly perspective. I learnt this lesson early in my career. I was grumbling about how we are doing busy work, never actually achieving anything other than going through the grind.

Then I witnessed a team member talking our work up. Other people wanted to hear him talk about what he had achieved, how he did it, what was next.

I looked at it like smoke and mirrors that would all blow up but you know what? It never did. Because if you talk it up and make it matter or seem like it matters then eventually it will. Your work will be important because it probably is if you look deep enough.

Around your work, have a narrative about why it’s important and how it helps others in your organisation. Write it down.

Soon, you’ll have a great compendium of good work you have done. Yes, your brain will tell you it’s all bullshit but that’s what our brains do - they’re assholes.

After that, one or two small improvements (I like the new hobbies one) in your life each 4-6 weeks quickly mounts up to give you the frame of a very purposeful and rewarding life.

You say you read up on stoicism, yet you let THIS affect you? You can not control how or what others think so why do you let this unknown (let’s be honest, you do not know this, you THINK this is true and it affects you) control your thoughts and actions? Go read Letters from a Stoic again. Go read all of Epictetus.

If you have difficulty separating the possibility that those who you are helping/serving may not care about you - go read Aurelius - Book 2, passage 1.

Best of luck.

Poker? Is money involved?

Have you seen a therapist? I think it might be really helpful to you to have someone to help you sort through all of this. Is it your tired, empty eyes that chase women away? Or that you express significant depression as soon as you become comfortable? Someone to help brainstorm ways to manage all the things you need/want to do and help you maintain patience and hope while you slog through.

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Disclaimer: I’m just a random person on the internet so beware of following my advice.

Are you working in a large corporation? If yes, then I assume they have overseas postings. Usually, these positions are well renumerated, especially if they’re in shithole countries as people are reluctant to go there.

Apply for a job in a shithole country, the cost of living will be dramatically lower and the salary will be (probably) higher so you’ll be able to save a lot.