When I turned 30 this past summer, a lot of people asked, “Do you feel different?”
My answer was no. I didn't feel any different, but for some reason, this milestone birthday was an abrupt wake-up call with respect to how I prioritize the people and things in my life.
On my birthday, a friend of mine texted, “Welcome to 30: the age at which you no longer give a fuck.” She was onto something.
On this birthday, I felt compelled to let go of the aspects of my life that were detracting from the things that truly matter. It was a transfer of energy from the fickle to the substantial.
I kind of felt like a “real” adult for once. And it felt good.
In your late 20s – and especially at 30 – you begin to appreciate the wisdom you've collected over the years and learn how to use it.
Here are a few lessons I learned from my friends and family on my way to 30:
1.Don't judge your friends.
We all make mistakes.
Pointing out your friends' missteps doesn't make you more mature. It makes you a bad friend. Instead of judging, find ways to help your friends up when they need a boost.
2. Specifically, don't judge your friends' relationships.
It's impossible to understand the intricacies of your friends' relationships. Unless it's a really bad situation, keep the hating to yourself.
3. Put your family first.
This includes friends who have become your family (#framily) – your “inner circle” if you will. Time goes by fast. Put the people who you couldn't live without FIRST, before anything and everyone else.
4. Prioritize your health.
Take care of yourself, and never take your health for granted. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Hydrate. Medidate. Oh, and #spoileralert, nine times out of 10 the party isn't worth the hangover.
5. Just show up.
In a world of flakes, be a dependable person. This one was a big struggle for me in my early 20s, but I am actively trying to get better at it. Don't be the person who bails at the last minute; be the person who goes the extra mile to be there.
6. Learn to let go.
Cut out people who negatively impact your life. Lately, I've been visualizing my time as a pie chart, with large chunks devoted to things like family, friends and career. Once you start looking at situations from a standpoint of opportunity cost, it becomes so much easier to eliminate the distractions that are quite literally taking you away from the things you actually care about.
7. Swallow your pride.
How much time is wasted talking in circles, or skirting around conversations because they are awkward, embarrassing or difficult? I've grown to respect direct people who can put their ego aside and candidly express how they feel. And by the way–the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
8. Write letters.
With a pen. One of my friends is a talented artist – among other things! – and she is the best at writing letters. She has written me several cards over the years and I save them all. There is something very special about creating something permanent in a world of ephemeral Snapchats.
The older I get, the harder it gets to make time for books. Make the time.
10. Give people gifts for no reason.
You really don't need an occasion to make someone's day. A card, a trinket, a coffee – it doesn't take much time or money to show someone you care.
11. Shower people with genuine compliments.
A couple of years ago a mentor recommended I read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The book genuinely changed my life. For me, the lesson with the most staying power had to do with giving props when props are due (my words, not Dale's). I learned to hold nothing back when it came to expressing my genuine admiration for others. As it turns out, making others feel good feels GREAT.
12. Go outside.
I live in New York. I mostly love it, although like all New Yorkers, my feelings toward the city are somewhat ambivalent. As much as I enjoy the convenience and excitement of an urban lifestyle, there's nothing like getting out of town and taking a long, deep breath of fresh air.
13. Get organized.
My friends used to rag on me that you couldn't see the floor of my room. I wish this were hyperbole, I really do–but it's the truth. I've since learned that a trip to IKEA is the first step on the path toward domestic sanity.
14. Stop making things so black or white.
I've been guilty of oversimplifying complicated situations in order to make better sense of them in my head. If that were the case there would be no great art, no enduring literature, and no beautiful music. Not everything can be tied up with a bow, or neatly explained. Sometimes, it just is what it is. And that's okay.
15. But also know that some things are simple.
If you're thinking about someone, tell them. If you need help, ask for it. If you want to change something, take an active role in doing so. Don't paralyze your actions because you're overthinking a situation. As the famed slogan goes, “Just do it.”
16. Don't be afraid to set big goals for yourself.
Last fall, a friend of mine walked 1,000 miles in less than five months. This meant logging eight to 15+ miles a day! Set big goals – you'll be shocked at what you can do.
17. Be cognizant of the battles of others.
Be kind. Conflict rarely happens in a vaccuum – be understanding, and learn to forgive and move on.
18. Don't look to money for happiness.
My college ex that had a remarkably optimistic worldview. He always used to say, “It's just money. I'll go make more.” At the time I thought this was a naive and overly simplified perspective (and maybe it is), but there was something to it. I don't know why any of us are here as much as the next person, but IMO it's sure as heck not to collect “stuff.”
19. Pay attention to a person's “do-to-say” ratio.
When assessing any relationship, professional, friendships or romantic, beware of large deltas between what people do and what they say. Prioritize the doers above the talkers.
20. Focus on how people make you feel (not how much you happen to like them).
A wise dating coach once wrote that it doesn't matter how much you like a person – you should always weigh how that person and your relationship with them makes you feel.
21. Be nice to service workers.
Don't be a jerk.
22. Wake up early.
This is super subjective, but the most successful people in the world seem to all wake up at 6 a.m. (if not much earlier!). I've trained my body to be up at six so I can squeeze the most out of each day.
23. Prioritize sleep.
In my early 20s I hated sleeping and considered it a colossal waste of time. Now, I sleep with a light-blocking mask, a lavender aroma-infuser and a rainforest playlist on Spotify. My body thanks me for it daily.
24. Don't be ashamed to cry.
My late grandfather cried all the time – out of joy, out of nostalgia, and yes, out of sadness. Over the years I've learned that crying doesn't make you weak–it makes you human.
25. Invest in life's small comforts.
My grandma had an affinity for “cozy” things: socks, PJs, slippers, etc. Although she's no longer with us, my mom keeps her tradition alive. Sometimes, when I come home for a visit, she will pop my favorite blanket in the dryer, so it's warm when I get to the house. The world is a cold, prickly place. It's nice to have a cozy blanket.
26. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Be thankful for what you have, instead of focusing on what you don't. Oh, and Instagram isn't real life – You can't buy your friends, and you can't slap a filter on a bad situation to make it better. Make the IRL version of yourself the best version of yourself.
27. Admit when you're wrong.
It's really not all that difficult to say, “I messed up. I'm sorry.” When (not if) you screw up, own up to it, learn from it and move on.
28. Turn your damn phone off.
This is a constant challenge for me as a “social media” person. Out with friends? Switch to airplane mode. As a side benefit, you might cut down on the number of regrettable texts sent within the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
29. Embrace the messiness of life.
I grew up listening to a lot of Springsteen. Bruce's characters are simple people who face extraordinary challenges – as we all do. His music has taught me that sometimes sadness can be beautiful, and you can't appreciate the peaks if you don't experience a valley from time to time.
30. Keep moving.
One of the opening passages in Phil Knight's new memoir discusses his passion for running and the need to keep moving in life. As a ten-time marathoner, I can really relate: “You run and you run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why,” writes Knight. “You tell yourself that you're running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.”
Perhaps lesson No. 30 is the one that's going to bring me into the next 30 years of my life. With every year that passes, I realize how little I know – and that's okay. Perhaps there's fun in the futile and ongoing endeavor to try to figure it all out.