It’s the eve of my 30th birthday. While I wait for the slap-in-the-face exit out of what’s been a character-building era of my 20s, I thought I would do something mature: share some of my scribblings I’ve noted to myself along the way. That’s what a 30-year-old would do… right?
1. Never assume anything.
My motto while travelling, taken right into my life thereafter. Sure, we can naturally presume things, but never act on those presumptions. Life’s always there to pull the rug from under you when you least expect it. Give everything the time of day, from assuming directions without a map; to a person’s life story in light of their external character.
2. Being good at something doesn’t mean you should do it as a job.
Knowing your personality is just as important as knowing your skill set. Choose a job that will help you grow as a person, building on areas of your natural strengths that make you feel happy and accomplished. Sure, you might be a perfectionist with a great attention to detail (I may be using myself as an example here) which would be great in something like an editorial environment. But perfectionist + unrealistic deadlines + low pay = Stress Central. Think deeper about your career choices: other factors may suck out the joy from something you once enjoyed.
3. Eat for health, not for vanity.
I remember the days of buying Diet Cokes, low-fat cardboard snacks and Atkin-dieting to a point where I was dreaming of backstroking through fields of carbonara. I was scared of healthy fats like avocado, coconut, peanut butter and olive oil.
Those fats are some of my favourite foods — foods that are now at the top of any health nut’s list. And I was restricting myself from them in my attempts to look thinner (despite feeling pretty grim).
Food fads come and go. Eat what you love and stick to the general facts of nutrition. Every body is different. I say that purposefully separate: every body. My body doesn’t load on kilos when I eat half an avocado drizzled in olive oil, but for my carb-loading colleague, it’s a fat loader. What’s important is to keep track of your blood results, ensure you’re eating the right amount of nutrients, and feel happy with your diet.
4. Let people choose their place in your life.
I think I spent so much of my early 20s disappointed in people’s actions: feeling they shouldn’t have acted or spoken in such a way because I would never have done so in their shoes. I felt they should have shown more integrity, loyalty and respect. I felt they should have treated me as equally as I treated them.
And while I was right in having those beliefs, I grew to understand that I had to accept it for what it was. The truth is, you can’t change someone’s actions to make yourself feel valued. Only you can justify your own value. Sometimes we need to be disappointed and accept that people have chosen a different place in your life. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. And if they are a bad person, then we can certainly say we have learnt something about ourselves in the process — and maybe that pain is worth the lesson.
5. Check-listing your life won’t (always) work.
Refer to #1. Sure, it’s good to have a life plan, but understand that there’s going to be roadblocks and hurdles along the way. Whether it’s planning a career, a family, or finding the love of your life — the way the story rolls may be a detour from what you have in mind.
6. Sleep and sun are important.
Like, duh, right? But seriously, the older you get, the harder it is to get both of these things in everyday life. Sleep deprivation and lack of Vitamin D lead to all sorts of nasty things like stress, anxiety and exhaustion. Get yourself out of the office for some direct sunlight. Take yourself to bed and try to clear your mind. Seek counselling, meditation or alternate therapies when your stress affects your sleep. Your brain needs that time to file away the crap in your head.
7. Find your source of meditation.
I don’t mean sitting cross-legged on a cliff face at sunset, humming ohms, thumbs-to-fingers. Like, sure, if that’s your thing then totally go for it. I mean doing something — anything — that gets you in a state of mindfulness, where you are focussing on something else other than what’s occupying your mind. For me, it’s hugging my dog or looking at pug and goat videos. It’s also cooking. Channelling your focus into something else will help you find another point of reality and calm your mind from whatever is overtaking it.
8. Don’t try and fit into a box (metaphorically).
You might believe in women’s rights, but like the idea of being a stay-at-home mother. You might be both religious and a believer in science and evolution. You might like being social, but need times away in reclusion. If you confuse people with who you are, then you’re doing the right job. Because you can only be the person you want to be; what other people perceive of you is their own problem. The only time it’ll be yours is if you try to change yourself to please them.
9. You’ll be able to count your best friends on one hand.
I remember my Dad telling me this when I was a teenager and I scoffed at him. And when I scoffed, he said that one day, I’d look back and realise how right he was. That time has come, primarily due to instances with reference to #4. But you know what? It’s cool. All that love you once shared across a mass of people just gets funnelled into a set of people that basically become family.
10. You can never stop growing.
Physically, yes. But mentally and spiritually, you will constantly find yourself in character-building situations that question your thoughts and beliefs and place you in scenarios you never thought you’d have to face. Some of them might even question the person you are and face you with the choice to change. It’s not always a pretty process, but it’s one you’ll inevitably grow from.
11. Embrace the mundane.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if you’re someone like me that likes to be mentally stimulated as much as possible. But in times of tragedy, just as we unfortunately experienced in yesterday’s Sydney Siege at Martin Place, it’s those mundane acts of life we come to appreciate: the long bus ride in traffic. The coffee queue. The 25 emails in your inbox. The ritual of going through the paces that we normally see as boring soon become a wonderful reminder that we are alive.
12. Living through financial strain is a good thing.
We all say we wish we could win the Lotto so our financial woes could be solved. But in the end, it’s not as much about the money we want, rather than the life goals we want to achieve.
My husband and I lived in Europe for over a year, working as teachers on irregular incomes. We prioritised our needs (rent, food) and saved our pennies for travel. As glamorous as our photos look, the prelude wasn’t pretty. I spent a month of winter feeling the cold through my shoes because I couldn’t afford boots. I worked 19 days straight so I could get enough money to visit my bucket-list topper, Zante, in Greece. There was even one time where my husband and I had 40 cents between us before pay day and spent our time estimating the weights of sweet potatoes, in the hope we could afford one.
My parents sent money for boots as a birthday gift (which falls in European winter). My 19-day workload got us to Zante, where my husband proposed to me. And that sweet potato ended up being 39 cents, which filled us with such ridiculous joy, despite how sad it truly was at the time.
Living through the hardships makes you appreciate the moments things go right for you. And that’s worth more than things being given to you.
13. Learn from people.
Whether it’s a skill, a story, a mistake – learn from it. We are all on different journeys and can teach one another about what we’ve learned along the way.
14. Be grateful.
I don’t want to get all Oprah on you, but it’s proven to help wellbeing. When you go to bed at night, think of three things you’re grateful for. Tell God, the Universe, your blanket — whatever. The point is acknowledging it and bringing yourself to a perspective to appreciate things in your life.
15. Push yourself.
If you’re having a bad day, push yourself to get up and/or get out of the house.
If you’re having troubles trying to do something, push yourself to better yourself at it.
If you’re procrastinating or holding back from doing something, push yourself to do it.
It’s not always easy, I know. I feel it right now as I type this and fear hitting the ‘Publish’ button.
But pushing ourselves is the only way we can prove to ourselves that we can do something. It’s the only way we can try and get on that road where we might actually say… “I’m proud of myself”.
And that, my friends, is something that almost took me 30 years to say to myself.