I turned 30 this April, and the weeks leading up to my birthday were mostly characterized by self-reflection, insomnia, then the continuation of self-reflection during the sleepless nights said self-reflection brought about. (In the end, it turned out to be one of the best birthdays ever.) Don’t worry, I’m aware of the fact that I’m not reinventing the wheel with the list below – my point was to simply jot down some of the lessons that being on this planet has taught me so far.
1. Health is wealth
As one of the many smaller and bigger impacts of COVID, health became the new currency: one I didn’t even do anything to earn, did not appreciate, did not care too much about at all ever before. It’s important to be good at what you do, it is important to tend to your family’s needs – it is also important to take a walk after work, do a quick workout if you only have 30 minutes to devote to your wellbeing. Nurturing your body includes the food you eat, how much you sleep, how much you move that body, or what you let yourself stress about. The gift of health is so often recognized in its absence – but it doesn’t have to be that way, if you do the smallest favors to keep this human machine working.
2. Family is your fortress
When I was born, as the first child to my parents, a young couple full of love and hope, there were some unexpected complications that sort of gave my life – and our family’s life – a rough start. As a result, conscious or not, my parents became the jittery kind of Mom and Dad, always on the lookout, always wanting to protect their little one. Of course, in due time, I was ready to get out of the nest and explore the world for myself – which is pretty much what I’ve been doing in the past 10 years. It was only recently that I realized that Home became a word with capital H, and that it’s not only me needing my parents, they need me too. Whether it is time to devote to your loved ones, effort to find the right gift for a birthday, helping them out with something you have more experience with than they do (e.g traveling in my case) – it takes time and effort to learn to be part of your family dynamic as an adult.
3. Forgive (Yourself and others)
My literature teacher in high school used to say: “Making a mistake, that’s absolutely human…forgiving, that’s a superhuman skill..” This does not only apply to forgiving others: forgiving ourselves can be an equally hard or even more difficult task. Don’t blame others for their mistakes and don’t beat yourself up for yours, either. (Sounds fair, right?)
4. Notice and appreciate the little things
Sure, there are those GREAT moments, the big successes, the important life events, but also? There’s the one when you spot a cute bird on a tree when you take out the trash. When you make someone laugh (spit takes are the greatest!), when you see a child running up to their mom . Every time I walk my dog, I see strangers smiling at us – at him for the most part because he’s so darn cute! – so you get what I’m saying. These tiny moments drag us out of the monotony – make sure you catch them.
5. There is always an opportunity to grow
Besides my full-time job, every now and then I take on other projects as a freelancer. It’s usually copywriting for some business, and my most recent one was writing blog articles for a gardening company’s website. I live on the fourth floor in a city of 2 million people. An ex-boyfriend of mine once persuaded me to plant tomatoes together – one desperate try to have at least one thing we can both enjoy doing – but that’s exactly how far my gardening skills go. (Hint: he did 98% of the tomato project.) And it’s not even that I don’t like it, it’s just something I haven’t had too much to do with so far. Which is exactly why it was good to write about it: it gave me the opportunity to work more with SEO content, to learn about something I know practically nothing about, to see some of my habits in a new perspective and think about what other activities I should integrate into my life. This, by the way, happens almost every time when I take on something I’m not too familiar with. Which is probably why I like going for these opportunities. If you usually opt for the topics you’re at home with, I highly recommend breaking that habit once in a while – surprisingly enough (nope), what you don’t know too much about can help you grow in ways you wouldn’t have imagined!
6. Now is the best time to start
If I would have to count the hours I’ve wasted thinking I wasn’t ready to do whatever the hell it was I kept thinking about doing…Finding the perfect time to start a new hobby, a new business, move to a new place – etc, etc – is an illusion. Or worse: it’s the excuse you can throw in to convince yourself not to take action. And by the way, whenever you start something new, of course you’re going to suck for a while. But if you don’t start, you rob yourself of the chance of ever getting better.
7. Don’t take anything for granted
Your loved ones, your home, your car, your comfort, your career, your friends, the food in your fridge (or your fridge, for that matter), the lessons you learn, the times you feel down but then you come back stronger, the human ability to create, to love – shall I go on? Do not take anything for fucking granted.
8. Nobody is going to live forever (You and your loved ones included)
The closest person I’ve lost during the past 30 years was my great-grandmother whom I loved dearly. She lived a long, happy and fulfilling life that ended in a peaceful way, She was surrounded by her loved ones, didn’t feel any pain, and even with her death, she was kind enough to give us some time to prepare ourselves for what you can never prepare yourself for, not even in such “calm” circumstances. Of course, it was – still is – hard on our family, she was sort of the glue of our bunch. I was 28 when she died, and in some ways this was the event that marked the end of my childhood: this was when I really began to think about how the people I love the most won’t live forever.
The second part, equally important, of the same train of thought: I won’t live forever, either. Before my 30th birthday, I couldn’t sleep for about a week. Something was buzzing inside my head, and I think this might have been the realization that kept me up night after night. (It’s one of those painfully obvious facts that we try so hard to ignore – and so when we do let ourselves dwell on them for a bit, it’s a kick in the stomach!)
9. Celebrate the small victories
If you tackle something at work, get that chore you’ve been putting off for so long finally done, clear up a misunderstanding with a loved one, run 1 km further or 30 seconds faster – just give yourself a mental pat on the back. Do not let yourself turn into a machine that only acts and acts and acts without registering or comprehending the meaning and impacts of your movements.
10. Put yourself first
My Mom set a great example for us in so many ways except one: how to take time for yourself. She’s always put our family first, but truth be told, now that she’s over 50, she’s beginning to feel the consequences of not taking proper care of herself. I have had a long line of discussions with her about this, trying to talk her into actually starting to devote more attention to herself. Taking time to maintain your health both physically and mentally is not selfish. Not doing anything for a day, not cooking dinner every night, not preparing a kickass menu for each Sunday for the family feast and just sit around, watch a film, read a book, listen to music instead is not selfish. And it wouldn’t make you less of a person or less of a mom, either. If my Mother had given us only half of her time and energy, we still couldn’t have – wouldn’t have – complained.
11. …and learn when to put yourself second (third, fourth?)
That being said, you should also know when not to put yourself first. Which, the other extreme of the pendulum compared to my Mom, is me. As I have lived alone and not adjusted too much of my life to anyone’s needs – okay, I’ve had live-in relationships and all, but even during those I didn’t have to make major sacrifices or give up my own comfort for someone else’s – I became quite reluctant about doing so. I adopted a puppy right after Christmas in 2020, he’s a seven-month old big boy now, and caring about him was probably the first real experience of that: of doing things you wouldn’t at all do – clear up poop – if it was up to you, yet you try to deal with those moments with love, patience and understanding.
12. It depends on what you think
It’s a blessing and quite a burden, too. Whatever decision you need to make, whatever discussion you’re engaged in, whatever argument you’re trying to make – it’s up to you to choose the values you want to base your life on, it’s always up to your definition, what you give meaning to and what you don’t. Is being fit important to you? It might be, but it doesn’t have to be the same for others. Is being successful in your career something you want to devote yourself to? Okay, others work to earn money without striving to achieve something more – and that is okay. Some people get married because they believe in it, but it doesn’t mean that others who don’t could not have just as balanced and loving relationships that may last for a lifetime. You have to know where you stand with regards to certain topics, of course, but if you expect anybody else to be on the same page, you might end up disappointed more often than you’d like. What you think is not The Thought of the Century – everyone is entitled to have their own opinion.
13. Let go of could have beens
Unless you know how to build a time machine, you’d better stop wasting your time dwelling on what happened in the past. (CLICHÉ ALERT!!!!)
14. Self-advocacy is not something you need to apologize for
Knowing when to apologize was a skill I acquired much earlier than knowing when not to do so. My parents are both humble and warmhearted people, which is wonderful most of the time, but it can also blind one from realizing when they’re being taken for a ride. Love, patience, good intentions – these are all often exploited, but you don’t have to just sit there and take it. There are times and situations where you must stand up for yourself, and don’t let it make you feel guilty afterwards. If somebody steps over your boundaries or doesn’t respect you, your work, your family, etc., you don’t have to apologize for speaking your mind. Who else would do that for you, if you can’t do it for yourself?
15. Don’t lose your grace and composure
As an adult, you can find yourself in situations where you feel like it would be so easy to shout at the top of your lungs, to curse, to give someone the finger, to tell that rude fucker who insulted you at the store or the idiot who took your parking spot to go fuck themselves – and sometimes yes, that is exactly what you need to do. Unfortunately, that would make up about 20% of the everyday scenarios. The other 80%? That will require a massive amount of holding-it-together instead of giving into the temptation of screaming someone’s head off. Also, I learnt to value silence: Jesus, there is such power in silence! During my childhood, when some argument arose, my great-granny used to say “Count to 100 before you say anything”. I know what she meant, but it took me a loooong time to get here. (About 30 years as the title suggests.)
16. You’re not the center of the universe (Like it or not)
I’m going to borrow the words of David Foster Wallace: in his famous 2005 commencement speech he gave to the graduating class at Kenyon College, This is Water, he said:
“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.“
Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of the fact that, sadly enough, if we stopped existing today, the world would go on exactly the same way, except for those relatively few people whose daily lives we truly touched.
17. Choose what you put energy into (‘Cause what you put energy into will grow/help you grow for sure)
It’s pretty simple – or it would be, if we weren’t surrounded by this constant noise and pressure to look, think, be in a certain way. Multitasking seems to have become the new key to success, though it can prevent people from really being able to focus on one thing at a time. Learning and getting better at anything in the world takes time, practice and concentration. I hear influencers talk about how they read 280 books last month (i is for irony) by applying speed-reading methods. Well, how much of what they read would they actually be able to recall, you think? Unless you’re a polymath, you won’t be good at everything. If you become good at one or two areas in your life, you should already consider that a serious achievement. And the first step to get there is choosing what you care enough about to devote not only your time and energy, but your full attention to it as well.
18. Stop praising the past
I’m sure you’ve heard your parents, grandparents talk about how when they were young, the world was so much better, easier, a much happier place altogether. Nostalgia puts everything in a good light, and it’s good to be aware of that. If you praise your past too much, it will make your present look worse – and your present might not be that bad, either. Sure, have fond memories and keep the good moments, but don’t let today slip by while you’re dreaming about the good old times.
19. Relationships are complicated (Deal with it!)
Meaningful relationships are usually complicated. Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic partnership, if it lasts long enough, you’re bound to go through different cycles. We all change as time goes by, and our connection to those closest to us will hopefully evolve, too. I used to be a very chatty person, but in the past few years, I have become much more withdrawn which had a positive impact on the way I communicate and engage in a discussion. I became much calmer, less eager to prove myself or my abilities to others, which allowed me to pay more attention to the person I’m talking to. (The classic story is how when you introduce yourself to someone, you tend to focus on the way you state your own name instead of the other person, which is exactly what that other person is doing at that moment, too? I guess I stopped listening to how I say my own name, is what I’m trying to say.)
20. Some need to find their passion, others are good with having a job
Starting a business is not for everyone. Having a creative career is not for everyone. Having a career, for that matter, is not for everyone. (Maybe it’s not for you, either.)
Some people are totally fine with doing their job for one purpose alone: earning enough money to pay their bills and have some fun. And that’s okay, it doesn’t necessarily make them less curious about the world, less interesting, less funky.
21. There are hardly any ultimate truths
If you’re around your thirties, you probably realized this already. I can remember myself at the age of 20, how I was so sure about certain values, how I had relatively strong convictions – and bias – about what was good or bad. I’m talking about the grey area here, the not so obvious questions of life that we all have to answer individually. Some turn to religion for this, some to science, but we all seek our own truths in one way or another, probably throughout a lifetime.
22. Know when to stand up for yourself and when to walk away
Sometimes it’s just not worth getting yourself all worked up. You need to assess the situation first and decide whether it does or does not deserve your attention. Last year, there were a few months towards the end of 2020, a year full of frustration for everyone, during which I had several experiences with textbook asshole behavior, mostly received from complete strangers who I can imagine were looking for the nearest outlet for their own frustration. Not in the least conscious way, of course. To any of those rude comments, I could have responded with the same type of tone or content. But I didn’t. It doesn’t mean that I allow other people to treat me like shit because I don’t. It simply means that you’ve got to choose your battles wisely.
23. Don’t fake it (Whether it’s an orgasm or your happiness)
Whenever I tried to fake something, it turned out to be time completely wasted. If you’re not happy with your job, your relationship, yourself, take a good look at the situation and figure out what is up. Don’t sweep it under the rug, don’t bullshit yourself – and/or others – because that will impact your life in a much worse and much longer way than any breakup or career transformation would.
24. You will worship something (Get used to it!)
Going back to David Foster Wallace’s speech for another thought here:
“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”
– please, do read the rest of this part about worshipping – read or listen to the whole speech, if you have a chance. I do so whenever I feel discouraged or confused, and it has always managed to restore my faith in humanity. (As they say.)
25. If you don’t understand yourself, you won’t understand the world
When I was 25, I met someone who turned my world upside down. A lot of what I believed in, values I was brought up with, the kind of life I automatically assumed I would want to have were suddenly questioned. And it took me about five years to answer most of these (some, at least) and to come to terms with my answers as they differed from the opinion of friends, family or even my previous self. It’s not a done deal: as I move forward in my life, I will have to revisit these answers and most probably adjust them a bit, ask them from a new perspective – understanding yourself is a process, not a one-time task you can tick off the list.
26. Accepting is not the same as giving up
You have to know and accept certain parts of your life or your personality. It doesn’t mean tough that if you were not satisfied with these, you have to accept the way it is and give up on improving them. No-no-no. Improving any given thing in the world starts with recognizing its flaws.
27. Own who you are
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
I spent so much of my time on this Earth wanting to be someone else, instead of embracing who I was. (Again, time completely wasted.) There is always someone better, smarter, more successful, prettier, taller, younger, richer – you name the adjective. And….? The people who love you do so because of who you are at your core (if you’re lucky and surround yourself with the right crowd). Comparing yourself to others can help you tackle some challenges maybe but doing it on a continuous basis can quickly wreck your self-esteem – at the end of the day, it’s best to be content with who you are and the way you live. (And if you’re not, go back to #26 and make things happen to change that.)
28. Stop chasing whatever you think is worth chasing
During the first wave of COVID, I decided not to visit my parents for the sake of protecting their health, which meant missing out on my Dad’s and my own birthday, spending Easter together – a tradition we’ve always kept – and basically not seeing each other for close to three months, Even though nobody got sick or ended up in hospital, not having the opportunity to see them was bad enough. My boyfriend at the time, a civil engineer and talented entrepreneur, kept talking about the amount of money he was losing every day because the virus slowed down their construction project. I remember sitting there, not quite comprehending how, at this crazy time when so many people got sick, died or lost someone they love, his biggest concern could still be money. (It’s his business, no judgement, we just weren’t on the same page.) I guess it’s fine to have ambitions – I do, too – and to work your ass off to reach certain places prestige or money-wise, but it’s good to be careful and not let our horizon shrink to those few goals or aspects.
29. Overthinking can hold you back
For me, it comes and goes, the cycles of unbearable overthinking, the kind that can massage any simple decision into the most abstract idea. It does prevent me from acting, and I usually need to be left alone for a bit till I crawl my way up from the rabbit hole and emerge again, ready and eager to do. As I am conscious of this behavior, I try to work on it, notice the little telltale signs of having too much stuff swimming around in my head. Sometimes it works, other times, well, I take another ride to the rabbit hole and back.
30. Your age is just a number (-Wink-)
Of course, you don’t say this when you’re 22. No, of course not. Right before my 30th birthday, I had a week or two when all I did was praising the past, those times when we were out partying three times a week, when we were living a life that was so free and careless. By the same token, my twenties sucked from so many perspectives. I was at the beginning of my career, working three jobs and still going to university on the weekends, my life was a mess for the most part, and there were still so many things I had to learn about myself. This struggle, wanting to find your place in the world, never really ends, I guess, but your twenties are usually the most disorganized and inconsistent period of your own secret Netflix limited series. I’m just as much fun now as I was during my twenties – or even more, actually. (40-year old self, just so you know, I expect to hear the same from you in ten years.)