I went through most of my twenties in sullen dissatisfaction. I knew this would be a period of uncomfortable growth, that I would stumble hard and fast while I try to find my footing in the world. The saying “thirties are the new twenties” stuck with me as the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted that stability. I thought, by thirty, surely I would have it. I’d be a solid me, not this uncertain wisp just wisping around trying to maintain some semblance of a form. I’d have a solid career, my own apartment, and many invitations to classy dinner parties where I would meet the interesting friends of my interesting friends. However, in my late twenties, I was already resigned to the fact that turning 30 wouldn’t magically grant me the ideal life of an adult who has her shit together. I didn’t do anything to deserve it, either, but I don’t blame myself anymore. Instead, I am proud of myself for making it to this level of me and, more importantly, being kinder to this me. A lot of this era in my life was me holding on, simply trying to keep it together, and I’ve succeeded.
Resignation isn’t necessarily disappointment, mind you. The last year in particular was a fitting end to my twenties, reminding me that things can always get worse but I grow stronger to balance that all out. Instead of imagining a better life for myself, I started to see the life that I have right now more clearly as a state of being rather than an obstacle I must pass through—because we can’t pass through this. This is life. Meaning this is being. Passing through it would take us to death, the end of our journey. That’s why they say it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey. Because once we “get through” the journey of life, then, well, we’re dead.
So all we can do is recognize, gather, and learn from the lessons to make life a little bit better while we’re living it. To help others, I have collected some of these lessons and will share thirty with you in three parts, whether you’re turning 30 or not like me. Here are the first ten:
No one has it all together all the time
You look at the characters in TV shows, your own friends, and strangers on social media, and they all seem to have it together—at the least better than you. But what I’ve learned is that everyone is simply doing their best. They may seem to have a better vision or grasp of life, but life is like an untamed horse that slips through your fingers to keep you on your toes. No matter the age, there will be times when everyone feels like they’ve lost a handle on life and everything is spiraling out of control. Once one area seems to be strengthening, another falls to the wayside. That point in life we are all striving for, a point in which we feel stable and “grown up” all the time, may very well be a myth.
Being tough isn’t being strong, but be what you can
Tough isn’t the same as strong. Tough is putting up a defense, thickening the skin, and becoming “rough around the edges,” anything to protect the inside from the outside. It’s about the struggle, the blood, sweat, and tears. Strong is multi-dimensional. It’s being sensitive, brave, and resilient. But more than anything, it’s about being vulnerable. It’s hard to open yourself up to all the pain that the world has to offer, but if you do so anyway with the knowledge that you can handle it, maybe even with softness and grace, then you are strong. I can’t necessarily say one is better than the other, rather toughness comes from necessity and strength comes over time. All we can do is be whatever we can, whether it’s tough or strong, wherever we are and whatever cards we’re dealt.
Use your energy more wisely
You hear “Time is money” a lot, but time is not a currency we can control. What we can control (to a better degree, anyway) is our energy. After all, if we don’t protect our energy, it’ll take longer to get something done. Ask yourself what fuels you? What drains you? How can you make sure these two sides of the same coin are balanced out so you are constantly in motion when the coin is flipped rather than collapsing, unmoving, to one side? I used to think I needed more time and more sleep, but when the occasion called for it, I realized I didn’t. Actually, I had had too much time and sleep; what I’d been missing was purpose. When time to myself became limited, I became more grateful for what I did have and thought of how I could best use it. More sleep didn’t mean more energy because I didn’t use the time that I was awake to fuel my creative and joyful self through meaningful activities. I was asleep even when I was awake.
Stop trying to prove yourself to others
From the day you are born, you start calibrating yourself to the expectations of others in a natural human attempt to belong in society and learn how to behave. This means you grow up to seek validation from others and prove yourself to them. By the time we realize what’s going on, it’s too late to stop these instincts and habits. They’ve become an integral part of our identity. While it’s good to maintain certain things like manners and kindness, there comes a point when you have to stop caring about others and people pleasing. It turns out others are doing the same thing. We’re all exuding a certain image to appeal to one another in a certain way we believe is the most socially acceptable. It’s a game of ping pong, an endless loop. The way to escape this is to forge your own path away from the others because disapproval from people who disapprove of themselves means nothing.
Find your own spirituality
People always think about physical health. More and more they are thinking of mental and emotional health, but they forget spiritual health. This doesn’t mean only religion. I am not a follower of any institutionalized religion, but everybody should have their own set of ideas that are bigger than themselves. Whether you immerse yourself in astrology, a higher self, manifestation, and anything else “woo-woo”; whether you resonate with the soul of the earth through natural wonders; whether you believe in a mix of different religions or nothing at all—find what resonates with you and guides how you live in this vast world.
Listen to your rational voice, not your “what if” voice
Anxiety makes this difficult, but after some practice, you’ll notice more and more when your brain talks over your heart and gut. When you find yourself in a negative spiral of thoughts, you may start forming a detachment to them, especially when you find yourself also saying things like, “I know that’s unlikely, but…” “That probably won’t happen, but…” “I know I’m worried about nothing, but…” etc. These disclaimers are from your gut, which is trying to sneak in assurances whenever it can before your brain amplifies its “what if” voice to drown it out. Sometimes, the quieter voice is the more confident, reliable one. If you ever find yourself in an emergency, will you find yourself listening to the person screeching out orders in a panic or the person taking things in stride with a mellow voice (and clearly more experience)? It’s the same with the voices inside of you. You can’t overpower your brain to drown out its negativity, but you can hone your listening skill to pick up the smaller voice telling you it’ll be okay, and then to trust in it.
Everyone is going through something
People are naturally self-centered beings. We think primarily about ourselves, our pains, our weaknesses, and our troubles. This is understandable because we are literally in our own heads, but we can’t get stuck there. We lash out at others in moments of weakness without realizing everybody is suffering in their own way, even if it’s to varying degrees. I remember when, at one of my first jobs, I was inflated with a sense of self-importance. (This is interesting to reflect on now; I see other recent graduates behaving similarly, and it makes me smile because it’s a natural product of youth, a mix of dissatisfaction, uncertainty, ego, and eagerness to prove yourself.)
At the time, there was a new worker who came to work under me, and I was abrasive and critical. We eventually became very good friends later on, but I didn’t realize until years later that during his first week, he was trying to do his best at his dream job, all while mourning the loss of his dog and living alone in a completely new area. Although my criticisms were valid, my abrasiveness was not. This was an immediate lesson for me to always consider what others are going through because most people do not wear their hearts on their sleeves; the world rarely allows for it.
Don’t be self-important but steady in your self-worth
That job taught me that I am replaceable, so I can afford to be less self-important. Most people are replaceable. My leaving the company didn’t stop its work flow or hinder it, as far as I know. If anything, my departure was a temporary blip, forgotten shortly after. That doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer, you simply stay humble about your strengths rather than think you’re the greatest thing that happened to something or someone. This enables you to remember your flaws but, more importantly, work on your strengths. Because of the high I felt at that company, I felt like I dropped to an immense low in the struggles I faced afterwards in figuring out my career and future. My confidence shrunk and I felt very helpless. However, I picked myself up over time and reminded myself of what I thought made me great earlier on—without letting it get to my head this time.
Take your time with it
Mindfulness and slow living became very big for me over the last year of my twenties, particularly because of COVID. They helped me to feel more in control of my day and emotions instead of rushing through things as our generation is wont to do. This, in turn, makes me less anxious and more grateful as I savor each movement I make and moment I breathe. So many people can’t wait for this day to end, for the weekend to come, for winter to turn into spring, etc. Too many people rush through life like it’s something they want to get over with, especially because society prioritizes efficiency and productivity. But as I said before, everything we live through is life itself. If we rush through it, we’ll rush through life, and it’ll be over before we know it without experiencing it. So savor everything with all of your senses. It might not be possible all day, but take a chunk of time everyday to practice this.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
A lot of complaining goes into playing the victim in your life and a lot more energy goes into being passive than you might think. Rather than letting life stomp you down, kick you while you’re down, and force you to stay down, think about what you can do, even if it’ll only improve your life by 1%. It’s inaction that kills us all because inaction is, in itself, death. Action is life, so take it whenever you can and your life will seem like one after all. You just need a little momentum. There is always something you can do, big or small, so take that step. Another problem may be that there are so many options you are frozen by all the possibilities and “what ifs.” You can always walk down a different path, but you can’t stand still for too long. Take rests, but keep moving.
I hope these lessons are helpful, and I will see you next time on my journey to turning 30 with part two! In the meantime, share what lessons you’ve learned or what lessons I’ve shared that particularly resonate with you below.