I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time and seeing as I’m feeling especially candid today, here it is finally. But first let me explain why I’m writing this post now (no it’s not my birthday). I turned 30 last December and over the course of this year, I’ve come to understand a bunch of things I didn’t fully understand or admit to myself before.
Now, as you can probably tell I’m not one to feel shy about my age or to feel upset about growing older. I think it has something to do with the fact that I genuinely believe I am way cooler and more fearless now than I was in my mid-twenties. I think most women in their thirties are, even if they don’t realize it; they finally know what they want for themselves and they’re not afraid to say it.
So I thought I’d write this post when I’d spent some time or at least a better part of the year being 30 (instead of when I’d just turned 30) so I could bare my soul and pour my heart out, all for the singular purpose of your entertainment of course.
Things That I Learnt At 30 & Wish I Knew Before
1. Your time here is limited.
There’s nothing like the beginning of a new decade, especially one that comes with the first strands of gray hair, to drive home the fact that you’ve only got so much time to do all the things you dream of doing. Your body is changing, your face is wrinkling changing, and your hair is graying changing. You’re getting absent-minded (or is that just me?).
There’s only so much time to climb that mountain, to write that book, to take that dream trip, to learn that language, to buy that house and to finally tell that special someone you love them. You can’t postpone your dreams and goals to some uncertain date in the future, because you don’t know that you’ll live long enough or be fit to be able to work on them later.
Sounds grim, I know, but it’s true.
If you haven’t done it yet, 30 is a good year to start owning your life, getting out of auto-pilot and taking control of where your life is headed.
2. Your body is changing faster than you realize.
No longer can you have donuts for breakfast, McDonalds for after-hours post drinks meals, and still flaunt a flat stomach in that sexy, fitted dress on weekends. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones with a fast metabolism in your twenties but the thirties definitely make you work harder to maintain the same physique.
If you have any fitness or adventure related life goals (such as climbing Kilimanjaro, or doing a thru-hike or getting a diving certification), you realize that the only way to get there is by improving your general athleticism and fitness level through regular exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle.
The good news? You can probably afford that gym membership that would have put a big, fat dent in your finances in your twenties.
3. You’re not a jar of Nutella.
You can’t make everyone happy. There’s no way you can pull off making everyone in your life happy all the time. You’re going to be questioned, criticized, doubted, or hated at least some of the time.
There will always be someone who disapproves of the way you dress, talk, act, walk, eat, cook, work, etc etc- you get the idea. There will always be someone to tell you that you aren’t doing enough. There will always be that one person who offers unsolicited advice. There will always be that one friend or colleague that frowns at your life choices.
But that’s okay.
Most times, people who criticize or find faults with other people’s life choices do so because they’re afraid of something that’s lacking in their own lives. I’ve been called overbearing by someone who clearly lacked self-confidence and timid by someone who everyone else thought was overbearing.
While I take any criticism as a chance to introspect and improve, were I to take every comment seriously, I’d crumble under the pressure of trying to please everyone.
4. You need to stop trying too hard.
Even if you’ve never been a people pleaser, something magical and liberating happens as you turn 30 and finally own it- you begin to acknowledge the beginning of the next decade as a time in your life when you don’t need to bend over backwards to please society/ family/ friends/ colleagues/ your boss.
Within a month or two of becoming 30, there was this switch that had been flipped in my head. I suddenly, quite unexpectedly, found myself thinking, “I’m 30 years old. If I can’t do this/ say this/ stand up for this now, then when?”
I’ve also seen it happen to friends who turned 30- somehow they’re more vocal about what they really think without worrying about other people’s perceptions of them. And I’ve always believed that if you haven’t pissed some people off in your life, have you even stood for something?
5. Your old friendships will evolve.
Of course they will, because guess what, you are constantly evolving, your priorities and tastes and hopes and plans and dreams are always in flux, constantly being molded and remolded into shape by factors both within and beyond your control. Well, that was deep wasn’t it?
But even though it might be hard to admit, your thirties is when you finally start admitting to yourself that you no longer enjoy the company of that friend who only talks about cooking, or the couple that’s always jet-setting around the world, or the girls who can’t discuss anything other than the latest designer bags, or that travel blogger friend who is gone for most of summer (that’s me).
And so whether or not you consciously try, you find yourself drifting apart from some people other than those who you’re, let’s say, meant to be friends with all your life because that friendship runs deeper than things you talk about.
6. Ladies, you’re going to turn into your mother.
After being determined in my teens and early twenties to be nothing like my mom, thinking in my late twenties that I’d be lucky if I could be anything like her, I’m ready to admit in the first year of my thirties that I am, in fact, turning into my mother.
I’ve got the same obsessive need to keep the house clean, to discuss what should be on the menu for the next meal while we’re enjoying breakfast or dinner, and I’ve often looked into the mirror to see my mother look back at me, down to the glasses perched on my nose. I even use her unique brand of sarcasm when my husband can’t find his things, which is all the time.
Seeing as this is happening and I’m thankfully picking up habits I didn’t even know I was registering, I’d like to think that there is still some hope for me because my mother was the absolute best, smartest and strongest woman I knew.
7. You could be nicer to your parents.
Maybe this is just me, but after spending my twenties in all the nonsense and drama that a romantic relationship entails, I’ve come to realize that if I’d made half as much effort with my parents to show them that I love them, I’d have got far more appreciation.
If you’re fortunate to have good, loving, encouraging parents, then their love for you is likely going to be the most unconditional, selfless love you’ll experience. That love will be your rock when the going gets tough, when your heart gets broken, and when you’re on the brink of falling into the belief that love, in fact, does not exist.
So if you’re in your twenties, working at your dream job, busy chasing love or travelling the world or focusing on your friendships and other relationships, then take a second to think about what you could do better to show your folks you love them. Then get on it.
8. Cooking is an invaluable life skill.
I was adamant in my twenties that I wouldn’t learn to cook. I thought I was fighting patriarchy in my own way because women are still expected to know how to cook. In my late twenties, I allowed myself the occasional wander in the kitchen and found that I actually enjoyed cooking when I was doing it at leisure and cooking what I liked to eat (clean, healthy, simple food).
In my thirties, I’ve realized that cooking is a great way to stay healthy and it’s a great stress-buster at the end of a long day. It keeps you far more active than slumping in your couch while watching Netflix.
Now, I’ve come to believe that it’s an essential life skill that you should have, regardless of your gender.
The good news? The internet and smartphones make it easier than ever to learn even if you don’t know what a saucepan looks like or you’ve never heard of a colander.
9. A little routine is good for you.
I’m somebody who thrives on change. Maybe that is why I’m better suited to a career as a freelance travel writer than one that involves a 9 to 5. But after loathing routine in my twenties, in my thirties I’ve come to realize that a little routine is healthy and even necessary for a full life.
Routine offers the chance and discipline to set up time to work on or create something of value, to work out and stay fit, to develop a skill or a hobby and to spend time with loved ones. Routine is necessary for persistence and consistency, without which you’re never going to reach your goals.
10. Uncluttering your life is important.
Everything in your life that takes up space, whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally, demands your energy and requires you to divert it away from something more productive.
In the first year of my thirties I’ve come to learn this: too much stuff in your home (wardrobe, refrigerator, kitchen, storage room, or make up drawer), too many relationships and friendships that take and don’t give, too many expectations and grudges- they’re all exhausting, energy draining clutter that you need to get rid of.
You need only so much, so give old stuff away to charity, and if you find that some doors to old relationships are naturally closing, don’t wedge yourself in between in desperation; you might be better off without them.
11. You don’t want to and probably can’t party as much.
“Let’s get crazy tonight,” might be how your weekends start but once you’re in your thirties, you realize that you don’t want every weekend to be about elbowing your way into an overcrowded nightclub where there’s barely any place to dance and it takes 40 minutes to get a beer at the bar. You suddenly have a special kind of loathing for hangovers and you’d rather be running on the beach on Sunday morning than recovering from last night’s drunken antics.
You probably want to be at a bar that’s lively but where you also have good service and you can actually hear your friends talk. You want to go out to that wine and cheese night. Or maybe you want to have friends over and gush over that elaborate cheeseboard you found on Pinterest. Hell, some nights you want Netflix and nothing else. There’s no shame in that, I tell ya.
12. Saying No gets easier.
I’m surprised how underrated ‘Saying No’ is as a life skill. I mean there are far too many people who can’t seem to do this and I think it’s only because we aren’t taught, as kids, about this critical skill that’s just as important as being tidy or punctual or polite.
Anyway, the fact is that saying No gets easier as you get older, perhaps in part by the number of unpleasant experiences you’ve had as a result of hesitating to do so and in part because of the number of times someone has said it to you. Like when you asked your boss for that promotion or when your best friend if you looked good in that dress.
I’ve never been a pushover and I’ve pretty much done what I wanted most of my life, but after I turned 30 it became much easier to refuse to do things that I didn’t believe in. Whether it was defying authority or outdated traditions or stating that I was going to do things my way, I don’t think I’ve felt quite as liberated and empowered as I feel now.
13. Religion is personal.
This is something I feel about very strongly: your relationship with religion and spirituality is your personal business. Not society’s, not your parents’, not your friends’, not even your partner’s. My own relationship with religion has changed several times over the course of my life but what has remained constant is my determination to keep it personal.
In my mind, it’s fairly obvious that as you grow from child to teenager to adult, you question different aspects of religion and come up with your own answers or keep seeking them. Maybe some people don’t question anything and follow what they’ve been taught or raised with, and that’s okay if that makes you happy. But I come from a culture where religious ideas can often be forced upon individuals directly or indirectly, and nothing else irks me as much.
And so, as I’ve turned 30, I’ve started being more vocal about my non-conformity to other people’s notions of what religion should be. I refuse to be told how I should communicate with a higher power, should I choose to believe that one exists. After all, we live in times where religion is a choice, not a necessity.
14. Memories are the stories we tell ourselves.
Our recollections of real incidents, over time, fade and become tainted by the overall stories of our lives that we like to tell ourselves. The details that our mind chooses to remember and how we remember them, whether it’s a childhood birthday party, or a certain sunset with a former love interest decades ago, or our mother’s Sunday cooking, or that time when someone broke their promise to us, it’s no coincidence that these are the memories we hold on to.
They’re carefully curated sub-plots in the story of our lives that we have already written so far. They contribute to how we see ourselves, and while they may not always be accurate or the full story, they’re, well, our story.
15. When you do what you love, you won’t can’t stop.
If you haven’t figured out the work that your heart beats for by the time you’re 30, then you need to disappear into the woods or mountains or wherever it is that you think you can have a long, hard talk with yourself. While your twenties might be fuelled by dreams of swanky cars, big houses, branded clothes and fancy jet-setting lifestyles, your thirties is when it finally kicks in how short life is and why it’s essential to have a sense of purpose and meaning in the job you do for 8+ hours a day.
I’m not saying that everyone succeeds at work that they’re passionate about. I’m just saying that if you haven’t even given it a shot by the time you’re in your thirties, then immediately is a good time to start trying. I found the work that I love in my late twenties and even though I’m fairly (but not crazy) successful, at least I feel a sense of fulfillment in what I do. I feel like everyone should have that or aspire to it in their thirties.
16. You’re always learning.
If you’re years away from your thirties and you often think to yourself that you’ll know better when you’re older, I’ve got news for you: that isn’t necessarily true. The world around us is always changing, relationships are dynamic things and society and culture are always evolving, and you?
You’re always learning.
You might have a handle on the things you struggled with in your twenties but there’s a whole lot of other things to learn in your thirties. Like how to negotiate a raise, or how to assert your right to change your minds about having kids, or how to set up a business.
17. Beauty is subjective.
I was far more concerned with my looks in my twenties than I am in my thirties. After over seven years of travel around the world, I’ve come to realize that beauty is subjective. Curves are sexy in many cultures, as is a little belly. Women in many countries aren’t obsessed with waxing every single hair off their arms and legs. Size 4 or 6 or 8 isn’t a standard you have to adhere to. Flats are good for your feet even if they don’t make your legs look slim and tall. To have a bikini body, all you’ve got to do is to put a bikini on your body.
Beauty is subjective and so you should dress like you feel, like you want to, in a way that reflects who you are. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t groom yourself or work out; I’m saying you shouldn’t be obsessed with some unrealistic notion of what beauty is because it means different things around the world. Eye opening, I know.
18. Your journey is your own.
If you spent your twenties competing with your peers, then your thirties is a good time to realize that comparisons are unfair and trying to keep up is futile.
Your journey is yours alone, as are your specific challenges and strengths. You might reach some goals later than others, you might have some failures along the way, and have other victories earlier than others. But you’re walking in your own shoes and not in anyone else’s, so don’t get caught up in a race.
19. You’re allowed to change your mind.
Sometimes the thirties are perceived as that time in your life when you’re supposed to seal the deal, to put the final stamp on things you once said you would do/achieve. But here’s the thing- as you progress into the next decade and ruminate over the wisdom acquired over your life so far, you often change your mind about things you believed in your twenties. Let’s say for a lot of people, stepping into their thirties means knowing exactly how they don’t want to live the rest of their lives.
You still with me?
The thirties is when a lot of people move on from working for someone to entrepreneurship, it’s when they decide to get married or separated or stay single, it’s when they finally begin to get a sense of whether or not they really want to have children (romantic notions of their twenties cast aside), it’s when they think about where they want to live and raise their kids, whether they feel connected to religion, and what financial investments to make. Often, pondering over these things and making related decisions involves a complete u-turn from former beliefs but that doesn’t make you unstable or fickle-minded in your thirties. It just makes you a little bit wiser.
20. Love’s ability to make you happy is overrated.
Having a great, loving, supporting partner who can also be your friend is amazing, I won’t deny it. It makes life more beautiful and meaningful in both expected and surprising ways. But given how many people go from looking for love in their late twenties to complete desperation in search of it in their thirties, as if it held they key to all happiness, I have to say this: Love doesn’t ultimately make you happy, at least not all the time. I don’t even think it’s possible to be happy all the time. Love will make you smile and laugh at times, just like it will make you weep and curse at others, and just like all of your other relationships really.
There is this idea that your life is incomplete until you’ve found someone to grow old with and being in your thirties without that person means it’s too late. There is also the idea that love brings the kind of happiness that is otherwise unattainable.
Here are my two cents: One, there isn’t a right or wrong age to find love. Thirty isn’t too late. You can find love at 16, at 25, at 40 and even at 85. But settling for someone because you’re scared to be alone and can’t find anyone else and can tolerate them are terrible reasons, in my opinion, to be with someone. Because I don’t know about you, but they deserve better. Moreover, familiar habits can become annoying in a year or two of living together, sparks fizzle out and appearances fade, what remains and keeps two people together is love, so it’s worth waiting for.
Two, only YOU can make you happy, whether or not you’re in a relationship. If you put the burden of your own happiness on a love interest or a relationship, that relationship will crumble under the pressure of expectations. So if you have everything else in your life (work, friends, family, hobbies, goals etc) set up in a way that makes you content, you can be just as happy being single as your married friends. In fact, I reckon there will be times when you’ll actually reach a level of happiness that is impossible for married folks (just ask them to confirm).
If you’re in your thirties, tell me, what has changed for you? What’s the one thing you learnt from them that you wish you knew before? If you enjoyed this post, please share it to Pinterest and let me know in the comments below.