Truth be told, I’ve never really cared much about getting older. For starters, I’m the fourth out of five children, which meant most of my childhood was spent waiting for a chance to speak up (and then inevitably being told to shut the hell up). Later, in the business world, my age was remarked upon as a sort of anomaly: I was called wünderkind, boy wonder, or old soul. These monikers were intended to be flattering, but they always felt like a pat on the head.
Maybe because of all that, youth felt kind of like a burden—something I had to compensate for or grow out of to be taken seriously. (They say youth is wasted on the young, and maybe in my case, that’s perfectly true.) As my 30th birthday finally approached last week, I anticipated it the same way I would an online shopping delivery. I tracked the day and hour of arrival to a T, excited to finally be landing upon this milestone. When I woke up on my birthday, I was surprised there was no revelatory thunderbolt or sudden plunge into old age. My hairline had not receded (a humble brag, yes) nor displayed new signs of gray. The only real demonstrable change I felt was, to be honest, a sense of relief. Every other birthday I’ve had felt like just another excuse to party, but 30 felt different. It felt like an actual accomplishment.
It turns out that the 30s are an impressive decade for a lot of people. After polling some of my wiser friends about their own 30th birthdays, I was surprised to see their answers. “My 30s were the years I embraced that I was just going to be the version of myself that I wanted to be,” said one very successful lawyer. “I quit my job and finally understood that I didn’t need my work to define who I was,” my sister revealed. “The biggest thing was caring so much less about what other people thought—and that actually just continues the more you age. I love aging and settling into myself more and more each year,” said another friend. This was the sentiment most echoed by everybody I spoke to: “As a woman, I felt youth was celebrated to such a terrifying degree that approaching 30 was anxiety-inducing. But then, when I turned 30, I didn’t give a fuck for real. Some part of my patriarchal conditioning was shed instantaneously. I felt for the very first time that I belonged to myself.” And finally, one of my closest friends put into words exactly what I was feeling: “It’s nice to no longer feel like the young one in the room,” she said. “Until, of course, you’re the old one in the room.”
I didn’t do anything particularly momentous to celebrate my birthday, but I do have something up my sleeve: I enrolled in a Master’s program at Harvard Divinity School, where I’ll be studying the role that adornment (read: costume, beauty, body modification, tattooing) plays in religious custom and ritual. (If you have any leads or thoughts for me about this topic, please feel free to reach out on social media!) If my friends are right—that 30 is the time to fully embrace yourself and your path—then I’m cautiously optimistic about leaving the goals of my 20s behind for a different kind of journey altogether.
After receiving so much wisdom from my loved ones, I thought I’d share the 30 most important things I learned before turning 30. I hope some of these lessons resonate with you no matter your age. And if you have a lesson of your own you’d like to impart, I’d love to hear in the comments below.
You will never regret: taking the trip, reading the book, going to the museum. Do all of these things and do them as often as you can.
Just because your mother doesn’t bother you about it doesn’t mean you should skip your dentist appointments.
“Building credit” does not mean maxing out your credit cards.
...but buy the watch anyway, baby.
It’s ok to dislike people. It’s less ok to be unkind to them.
Your coworkers are not your family.
...this rule is especially true for bosses and anyone with the word “executive” in their title.
There are going to be times when a big, fat paycheck will seem worth “the trade-off.” Unfortunately, it won’t be. It is true what they say about not being able to put a price on certain things—your dignity and your sanity are worth more than you know.
When your gut says No, believe it.
Don’t burn the candle at both ends. Practicing a slow burn is the only way nobody gets scorched.
Speaking a lot and speaking loudly are not signs of intelligence; they are often signs of weakness. Remember that in your classrooms and in your meetings.
You will channel a lot of your hurt into your career, as though success were a salve for the wounds you’ve weathered. Eventually, you’ll realize that even your greatest accomplishments were formed from a place of pain rather than pride. Start your next chapter with that wisdom.
Write down everything your grandmother ever says to you.
When someone you love dies, somehow you can still feel them when you need them the most.
You have to forgive yourself in order to be a good friend, a good lover, and a good coworker.
You will constantly bump up against society’s rules for relationships, family, and sexuality. These rules were not written with you or your loved ones in mind. Throw them all out, recycle some, try some out for size, and then take note of what works best for you.
You are the only person living your life—figuring out what helps you feel good about waking up in the morning is the only way to enjoy it.
Getting an STI is not the end of the world, and it does not mean you are “dirty.”
For all the worrying you’ve done about finding love, you will instantly recognize it, even when it shows up in the unlikeliest of times and circumstances. This is a sign that you have always come from love; you knew it when you saw it, just like an old friend.
Love can (and will) be extremely hard work. Sometimes, the real value of your relationship will show itself in the most tear-jerking moments.
Your “fast metabolism” is temporary. Eat your vegetables.
Just leave your eyebrows alone.
The right barber will change your life.
Avoid listening to Britney Spears on full blast while driving. Your brake reflex is nowhere near as good as your choreography.
That third glass of wine is never a good idea. At least, not by the next morning.
Despite what your dad told you, weed is wonderful.
So are tattoos.
...and so is being gay.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away with your head held high.
It’s never too late to apologize, say I love you, reconnect, or completely start over. You will be lucky to do all of these things many times, and hopefully, many times more.