30 lessons from 30 years

This year, I was spared the expected 30th-birthday crisis – perhaps because it had already snuck up on me on my 29th – and so this post is born out of gratitude. I’ve traded the usual personal essay format for this listicle, the product of three weeks of churning. (As it turns out, brevity demands far more discipline!) Presenting 30 lessons I’ll carry with me as I continue on my sojourn, otherwise 30 pieces of unsolicited advice for younger folks:

  1. You are going to be wrong about many things, including how life will turn out.
  2. Your dreams do not have to take the form of a career.
  3. There will come a time when you will care more about being happy and being a good person a lot more than you care about being successful.
  4. You won’t magically grow up to be someone you like. Virtue requires lots of practice – start early!
  5. It’s more important for you to like you than for others to like you.
  6. Don’t aim to be skinnier. Aim to be healthier, stronger, happier.
  7. Take care of your body so it can sustain your spirit.
  8. Put on your seatbelt. And wear sunscreen.
  9. And you might want to sort out your finances, too.
  10. If you learn to appreciate many things (e.g. nature, art, music, silence, long commutes), you’ll enjoy more of life.
  11. Have conversations with children. Or create art with children. Even better, both at the same time!
  12. Heartbreaks don’t last forever.
  13. Heartbreaks also don’t have to destroy you. Let them expand your capacity to love, which includes letting go and wishing them happiness apart from you.
  14. Don’t hold other people, especially children, to standards you yourself can’t meet.
  15. You don’t have to like everyone, but respect them as fellow human beings anyway.
  16. Listen to understand, not to respond.
  17. Ask questions to learn, not to outsmart.
  18. There is much to learn, even from those whom you assume know less than you.
  19. Before you condemn something (e.g. the Catholic Church, or all of modern art), make a sincere effort to learn more about it.
  20. Don’t stop someone from crying just because it makes you feel uncomfortable.
  21. Don’t stop yourself from crying either! Let those tears go. As my therapist would say, “What are your tears trying to tell you?” Listen.
  22. Forgive generously, even if forgiveness wasn’t asked of you. Leave the door open for reconciliation.
  23. And forgive yourself even if others can’t forgive you.
  24. Take ownership of your pain. It doesn’t matter who caused it. The wound is yours, and you decide whether to nurse it or to let it fester.
  25. The antidote to despair, as it turns out, is humility.
  26. Hope is not an emotion. Choosing hope over and over again is hard work.
  27. Not everything needs to be done well. Sometimes it just needs to be done.
  28. There’s no need to have a good day. Simply have a day, and that is good enough.
  29. Befriend solitude and hiddenness. These are often where true growth will take place.
  30. If all else fails, just remember that soon you will be dead.

Does any of the above resonate particularly strongly? Or what you add to your list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 🙂

I’m monumentally grateful to have peacefully settled into a new year, especially recalling how I hadn’t wanted to be alive to see my 23rd birthday, and then my 25th, and then again my 27th. At each of those points in my twenties, life had felt so unbearable, and existence itself so inhospitable. I can’t take credit for still being alive today, nor for the above list of epiphanies, as I’ve gotten here only with the dogged support of the people God has placed all along my path. Thank you for helping me to discover that joy can coexist with sorrow, and to rediscover life as an inherently good gift.

I’m sometimes glad that 30 years are past and haven’t gone by without my learning something in them for the future, and I feel strength and zest for the next 30 – if I last that long … Yet at the same time a period of life is over, which makes one sad that this or that will never come back. And it isn’t weak sentimentality to feel a certain sorrow now and then. Anyway, much only begins when one is 30, and it’s certain that not everything is over by then. But one doesn’t expect from life what one already knows from experience that it cannot give. Rather, one begins to see much more clearly that life is only a time of fertilisation, and that the harvest is not here.

Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo (8 Feb 1883)
‘The Sower’ (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

18 thoughts on “30 lessons from 30 years

    1. I’ve learned so much from your too, K! You’re definitely one of those people God sent to help whip this girl into shape – in a loving, maternal way of course!

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  1. What a great list! And #24 is along the lines of something I heard on a podcast earlier this week that has stuck with me. I think hearing it twice means I should think deeply on it. 😀

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  2. I enjoyed reading your list and they all resonate with me, even though at 58 I’m nearly twice your age – you’ve learned much more than I had by 30. I used to teach primary school and I miss having conversations with children so much. Number 7 – like so many, I thought myself invincible when I was younger, pushed myself constantly, and am now paying for it. Number 16 so many people never learn that one. And number 30 underpins my philosophy – accept what you can’t change, don’t waste time thinking ‘what if…’, this is where you are, move on and make the most of where you find yourself, because it’ll be over soon enough. Number 26 is one I had to learn more recently, with the chronic illness I developed in my early 40’s. Some of them (27, 28..) I’m still learning or trying to learn. I’m glad you’ve had a peaceful new year and I hope you’re managing to find joy as often as possible.

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