I am 30 years old.
(I may have mentioned this once or twice.)
I woke up on my birthday with a pain in my back and a thought in my head: “Dang, I need the heating pad.”
I’m not sure what that says about the next decade.
Birthdays are a time of reflection. This year, I’m looking back at the wild and roarin’ (… or NOT) 20s, working out in my heart the lessons learned, what I wish I’d done differently and what I wouldn’t change for the world. Looking back will help me take the bold and crazy (… or NOT) 30s by storm, to approach these new years with more maturity, confidence and courage.
So this list of 30 – regrets, wishes, lessons, goals and joys – is for my 30-something-year-old self as a reminder to live and not just exist. It’s for my 20-something-year-old self so she can be brave. It’s an invitation for your 4-, 8-, 15-, 16-, 23-, 42-year-old self to come along and dream a little dream with me:
(in literally no particular order)
1. Travel now, travel often. Get a passport. Keep your car in shape for impromptu road trips. Rack up airline miles. I know it’s expensive, but deals are everywhere and memories are forever. If you’re in college, take advantage of student discounts or class trips. Post-college, it gets a little harder because those pesky bills get in the way. However, it’s OK to eat ramen noodles for dinner, get a roommate or two or take a part-time (or freelance or contract) job to save up money. If you’re like me and have a hard time finding a travel buddy, how about going on a tour? Even if you never leave the country, promise me you’ll go to the Pacific Northwest. I hear it’s beautiful up there.
2. Invest in people. Say yes to invitations – often. Relationships take time and you can’t always tell within one or two meetings whether someone will end up being your pal or not. Give them time to show you who they are; and give them the luxury of getting to know you in an unhurried fashion. This process takes longer after college, so be patient. Unless you’re sick, absolutely have to work late or already told someone else “yes,” not much good comes from spending the majority your time holed up on your couch watching Netflix. Do not ask me how I know this.
4. Relax. You’ll enjoy yourself more when you decide to: stop holding people to your own standards, understand that life is not all about you, stop planning for or worrying about things that haven’t happened yet – and probably won’t – and quit worrying quite so much what others think.
29. It’s good to live below your means, save your pennies and purchase wisely. That being said, it’s also OK to buy something just because once in a while. Not all of your life has to come from garage sales and thrift stores. Treat yo’self.
11. When you’re tired, go to sleep. If you’re hungry, make some dinner. If you’re feeling burned out, go home. But don’t focus on yourself and your needs so much that you stop caring for others.
3. Do everything well. Half-baked may be how the rest of the world operates, but there’s no law that says you have to, too.
27. Vote! Or at least think about your neighborhood. Your city. Your country. What would make it better? What do you want your representatives to do? Spend just a few minutes on the Google to research the issues; don’t just blindly follow a party because someone told you to. No one party has ALL the answers. Think for yourself, cast your vote and pitch in.
20. Don’t leave others out. If you’re married, don’t hang out only with your married or coupled-off friends. If you’re a single college student, don’t share your meals only with other single college students. If you’re young, don’t delude yourself into thinking that those who are… erm… less young have nothing to teach you. If you are less young, cheer on the generations behind you (we need it). Learn what stories other people outside of your stage of life have to share, and enjoy them for who they are. Remember, at our core, we all want the same thing: to be loved, and love means not excluding your fellow humans.
12. Read. And I mean read books, not just blogs or the back of the cereal box. Learn different ways of describing the same old things. Take imaginary trips around the world and back in time. You’ll become richer, wiser and humbler.
13. Listen to music. For many of the same reasons as reading, really. If music is what feelings sound like, then listening to a symphony or even Billboard’s Top 10 will help you know better who you are… which is immensely helpful information to have as you navigate this little planet with 7 billion other people.
14. And even watch some TV. I do not understand people who do not own TVs. I am baffled by people who are so fearful of talking pictures that they go to extreme lengths to limit their viewing time. Like anything, I think TV can be used for good or evil, and it’s up to you to decide how you’ll steward such a gift. Quality TV, like books and music, teaches us through stories, brings the arts into our homes and gives us a visual on human emotion. On a more personal note, I lost my hearing at a tender young age, and TV has always been one of my safe places. Closed captions mean I never miss the dialogue, watching what my peers were also watching at home gave me a way to connect with them and I learned more idioms, trends and cultural norms from my stories than from overhearing my peers. Don’t be afraid of your television set. Use it wisely.
30. Don’t be an idiot. I’ll let our favorite assistant (to the) regional manager take it from here:
22. Celebrate! Go to baby and wedding showers! Take your friend out for a drink after his promotion! Tell the whole world (or at least Facebook) how proud you are of your kid! This world is full of so many things that cause us grief that we often overlook the things that make us smile. Be intentional about finding the things that do.
15. Enjoy yourself. No matter what, someone will have what you (think you) want. If you’re single, someone else will be married. If you’re married, someone else will have kids. If you’re in college, someone further down the road from you will have a job and appear to have money and freedom. Or maybe you spend too much time looking back, missing your college days because now you’re in a job you don’t love, making money just to get by. There will always be something. Learn to make the most of your stage in life; don’t wish it away by pining for the next one. Chances are, you’ll get to a different stage, only to regret not enjoying last one more. There are wonderful things about being single, being in college, having that first job, being whatever age you are and living wherever it is you live – find them, laugh about them and live the heck out of them.
23. Laugh. Everyone has their own particular brand of humor, I know. Not everything every person says will make you roar. But maybe if we all paid a little more attention to just how quirky life can be, we’d find even more reasons to snicker, guffaw and chortle. Here’s a little something to get you started.
16. Drink water. Cherry Coke is delicious but it could make your hair fall out. Do not ask me how I know this.
17. Take a walk. Get to know your neighborhood or city. Besides the obvious physical benefits, it’ll clear your head and maybe even help you meet a neighbor or two.
8. You’re not invincible, and despite your best efforts to educate yourself, eat right and take care of your body, things can still go awry. Go to the doctor. Regularly.
9. Eat your vegetables. Grab an apple instead of a candy bar. Learn to love soups and salads. You’ll sleep better at night and think more clearly during the day.
10. … but have a cookie now and then.
24. Develop a palate. We don’t all need to be MasterChefs, but it’s handy to know some cooking basics, identify flavors and be able to throw an easy, inexpensive and delicious meal together. The more you learn to taste – I mean, really taste – your food, the more you appreciate it, the more you savor it and the more your waistline and wallet will thank you. America’s Test Kitchen has an online cooking school I’ve been wanting to try out — or we could all just hang out and watch Ratatouille (or as my nephew calls it, “Mickey Mouse That Cooks!”) together. Same diff.
6. Listen to your people. The people that love you sometime have to tell you hard things. This will be painful, but you will be the better for having people in your life who tell you the truth.
25. Go outside. If you know me at all, you are so confused right now. I’m allergic to nature and have an aversion to bug bites, so the great out of doors is not exactly my idea of a HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY FUN TIME ALL AROUND. Allow me to share a bit of family lore to further illustrate my point: When we went to Yellowstone a few years ago, I was in the back of the car reading a book. A buffalo… or moose… or some other riveting creature was spotted on the road and we pulled over to look at it. Everyone else clambered out of the car and called for me to join them. I looked up at the buffamoose, grunted, “Seen it,” and went right back to my reading. I would explain my sudden change of heart, but instead, I just ask you to please watch Ken Burns’ documentary on the National Parks. Thanks.
18. Be gentle with people. We are a fragile folk. An ill-timed word can send the strongest of friendships into a tailspin. One shrug of the shoulders, one “I should do that” left undone, one eye roll can have a damaging ripple effect. Be firm out of love when you need to be, of course, but be gentle. Talk to people as if you love them.
19. Show grace. We like to decide how people ought to be treated based on how they act… yet we expect others to treat us as we think we are (perfect!). Your friends will hurt you. Your family may disappoint you. The cashier may be snippy with you. But you know what? You will hurt your friends, disappoint your family and be snippy right back to the cashier. They are just as messed up as you are. You’re trying your hardest, aren’t you? So are they; give them room to grow. Love them when they mess up. Give them second chances. Don’t think less of them when mistakes are made. Speak kindly of them to others.
26. Be brave. One of the blogs I read often signs off with, “Happy Thursday, brave ones.” At first I thought it was cheesy, but now I find it encouraging. When I was… let’s say 7, I had a birthday slumber party. During the course of said party, I lost my temper (I was a precocious child, you see). I was quickly taken out of the room and given a firm talking-to by my mom. The gist of it, I’m sure, was that I was wrong and needed to apologize. I tearfully agreed that an apology was in order and prepared to go back into the room. I raised my hand to turn the handle… and hesitated. What would my friends think of me now? They probably hate me, I just know it. I can never come back from this. They won’t want to be my friends anymore. I am so embarrassed. I looked back at my mom, fear and insecurity all over me like tattoos. She just nodded as if to say, “You can do this.” This is sometimes what life feels like, does it not? Wondering what other people think, how silly we look, how much did we mess up this time? The admonishment to be brave, then, is the same push my mom gave me. “You can do this,” it says. It would be easy to cocoon ourselves in comfort and stick to what we know, but that’s the quickest way to stop living. So do the things that scare you. Go ziplining. Move across the country. Try a new recipe. Fall in love. Stand up to injustice. Have hard conversations. Forgive. And most importantly…
5. Say you’re sorry – and not some lame, half-witted apology like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I’m sorry you misunderstood me.” Worse, don’t offer something that sounds like an apology but is really an excuse. “I’m sorry I was so clumsy – I just got so excited and knocked your plate off the table, LOL!” Better: “I’m truly sorry I made you feel that way; that wasn’t my intention and I hate that I caused you to feel sad. Can I try again to explain what I meant?” Or “I’m so sorry I broke your plate! I feel terrible for not paying attention!” Then offer to pay for or replace what was damaged.
28. Don’t let someone else decide who you are. Don’t let Pinterest tell you that there’s only one way to decorate your wedding or host a party. Don’t let other moms tell you that you’re not really a good mom unless you use organic diapers, prepackaged food or have every hour planned out. Don’t let society tell you you don’t matter unless you’re married with kids, or a certain age, or a certain race. Don’t let your friends tell you that you’re only allowed to like certain movies, wear certain clothes or listen to certain music (friends that do that aren’t really friends). You are who you are, you like what you like and that’s all there is to it.
21. Do what you love. What you love and what you get paid to do may not always be the same thing… and that’s OK. Keep earning a living and find an outlet for your passions. Bake a cake for fun, start a YouTube channel to show off your music, get up early to write that book. Take an honest stock of your qualities and skills, be proud of them and don’t be afraid to use them. They are gifts to be enjoyed – by you and by others – and not shoved on some shelf to gather dust.
7. Do something for someone else just because you can. Make cookies for your co-workers. Treat your mom to dinner. Pay for someone’s groceries. Call or text a friend to let them know you’re thinking of them. Why do most of my “do nice” things involve food? I don’t even know, but that is what speaks to me. Maybe your do nice is more along the lines of babysitting, listening or shoveling your neighbor’s driveway. Whatever it is, do it with all your heart.
Those are my 30. What’s on your list? Please leave me comments as a late birthday gift. Thanks.