At the end of this year I turn 30. Or the big 3-0 as I keep describing it to people, in the hope it will make it less of a Big Deal. But it is a Big Deal, no doubt about it. Our 30s are a defining decade, with habits formed during this time setting the tone for the rest of our lives. With this in mind, I made the decision to set down some goals to make sure my 30s are more fabulous, more happiness-filled, and more empowering than ever.
1. Nurture your tribe.
Research has found that whilst it feels great to surround yourself with a big gang of friends in your 20s, by the time you reach your 30s it is the quality, not quantity of friends that has the biggest impact on emotional well-being. Over time, my circle of friends has settled into a wonderful group of people who between them have known me at almost every stage of my life…and I intend to keep them!
2. Be honest with yourself.
Because if you can’t be honest with yourself, how can you be honest with anyone else? In the past I’ve tried to convince myself something is right when every fiber of my being says it’s not. I’ve also learnt that if you stand true and firm in your convictions your life will reflect openness.
3. Find a career you love.
Like a lot of people, I took the first job I was offered postgraduation. Seven years down the line and I have finally made the leap of faith required to go freelance. Two words — transferable skills. With a decade’s worth of work experience under your belt, your 30s are the time to jump ship and find a career that will make you love Monday mornings.
4. Save some time to be lazy.
I love the ancient Buddhist saying practice not-doing and everything will fall into place. It might sound counterintuitive, but the art of not doing very much at all has been shown to increase productivity in the long run. I intend to relish every moment of Sunday afternoon sofa-time from now on, guilt free.
Now I am a mother, travel in my 30s will be an entirely different experience. Having lived as a child in a culture different to my own, I can’t wait to share the horizon-expanding, soul-refreshing joys of traveling to other countries with my children.
6. Quit bad habits.
If, like me, you find yourself saying every January ’This is the year I stop doing X, Y, or Z,’ now is the time to make it happen and make it stick.
7. Learn another language.
Like most people, I have a passable knowledge of at least one other language from my school days (’un jus d’orange s’il vous plait’). Now my 30s are in sight, I feel determined to really immerse myself in a new language — something that has been proven to improve brain function, make you think more creatively, and even understand the human heart.
8. Eat breakfast.
It really is the most important meal of the day. If, like me, the thought of cardboard cereal and dry toast doesn’t float your boat (and frankly, why would it?), why not try some of these simple and delicious ideas.
9. Face your fears.
Fear of failure. Fear of losing. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of flying/public speaking/heights/dentists/needles/clowns. For me, a childhood encounter in a sandpit left me morbidly afraid of snakes. Now I have a child who always wants to visit the reptile enclosure at the zoo. I wouldn’t want one as a pet, but it’s nice not to shirk at their mention anymore, and that’s pretty liberating in itself.
10. Learn to love your body.
Generations of older women (my own grandmother included) bequeathing their worldly advice on younger counterparts have taught me this: one day I will look back at photos of myself (yes, even the ones where I spent hours agonizing over my outfit choice) and wonder what on earth I was even worried about.
11. Find what makes your soul happy.
For me it’s fresh air, the ocean, dollhouses (really), family, and creating. If you don’t know yet, get yourself on Pinterest. Before you know it you’ll be knee-deep in inspirational boards. Experiment. Take a surfing lesson. If you can nail this now, you’ll have an instant go-to happiness fix for the rest of your life.
12. Be kind to yourself.
Be kind to others too, of course, but my 20s have taught me that if you can’t prioritize your own happiness you can almost guarantee no one else is going to do it for you.
13. Distance yourself from negativity.
Looking back, I have wasted too much time trying to please/placate/gain approval from people for whom nothing would ever be right. Life is too short to be surrounded by those who drain your energy and belittle your identity. Make time in your life for positive souls who make you feel like the very best version of yourself.
14. Have a mountaintop moment.
* Doesn’t have to be at the top of a mountain.
** Doesn’t have to be anywhere near a mountain.
When I lived in the city, I used to sit in coffee shops and watch the world go by. Now I live by the sea and get my sense of perspective and ’eureka’ moments from beach walks. Delight in solitude, and discover the benefits of spending time alone.
15. It is never too late to start again.
It is never too late to change your mind/retrain/leave a bad relationship/move abroad. Speaking from experience, if it gnaws inside you now, you can guarantee it will still be there in 5 years’ time, and all you’ll have is the regret that you didn’t do it sooner.
16. Get your finances in order.
When I look back on the financial exuberance of my early 20s, I only wish that I had had the foresight to plan for the time when I would value savings ahead of nights out. Sure, I still treat myself now and again. But I now realize that it is experiences and people — not handbags and shoes — that bring long-term happiness.
17. Learn how to de-stress.
For several years I had insomnia that came and went, a mind that would race only at 10:56 p.m. and not a moment before. Just as there are a million different stress triggers, there are countless ways to de-stress too, so find what works for you. For me, it’s grown-up coloring books until I bore myself to sleep.
18. Cultivate self-discipline.
If, like me, your 20s were the decade of excess, now is the time to scale back both financially and socially. Go shopping without maxing out. Enjoy a few drinks out with friends and still be up before 9 a.m. You get the best of both worlds and will feel like a bona fide adult having learnt the valuable lesson that moderation is golden.
19. Stop comparing yourself with others.
Just stop it, right now. Having done exactly that for a good chunk of my 20s, I now know that it is completely meaningless to compare wildly different goals with the endless possible trajectories to get there. Know yourself, know your goals, and go your own way.
20. Read lots of books.
Modern life is so busy, sometimes I have to make a conscious decision to read for pleasure. But that feeling of sinking into an unputdownable novel is truly unbeatable. Besides, reading makes us better people. Fact.
21. Learn how to say no.
As human beings we are hardwired to please, and like most people I often find saying no a real challenge. Saying yes is fine up until the point where we disregard our own needs. So before I commit to anything I ask myself three questions: Do I want to do this? Am I able to do this? Do I have time to do this?
22. Exercise daily.
Yes, daily. It doesn’t need to be a hardcore gym session (not sure that I’ve ever done that). But building movement — a yoga sequence every morning, a brisk walk every evening — into my daily routine boosts my well-being and will make it easier to keep the good habits up by the time I reach 40.
23. Healthy eating.
Eating well is the single biggest investment anyone can make in their future health. Health is something I’d really like to keep for the long-haul, and so this is a non-negotiable resolution for me.
24. Write a letter to your future self.
I’ve always loved writing — there is something about the process of reflection that helps cultivate gratitude and increase self-awareness. Setting down these goals gives me an added incentive to be the best person I can be today, and make my future self proud.
25. Take photos.
Actually, I take photos all the time — what I really need to do more is print and display them. Here are some great ideas. Photos capture a moment in time that we will never get back again, and in 20 or 30 years I know I’ll be glad I did.
26. Never stop learning.
The mantra if you’re not growing, you’re standing still really strikes a chord with me — investment in yourself is never wasted. Whether it’s taking an online course, evening class, or reading around a subject that fascinates you, knowledge takes us out of ourselves and makes us more rounded human beings.
27. Wear sunscreen.
Seriously. I grew up in a hot country and this was drummed into me from an early age.
P.S. Don’t forget your ears!
28. Stop apologizing.
It’s a pretty basic concept — if I have done/said something that was wrong/hurtful I will apologize, always. Things no one should ever have to apologize for: saying no; prioritizing yourself; not knowing something; on behalf of someone else; asking for help; being untidy; bumping into someone; being busy; being you.
29. Don’t settle for mediocrity.
Because we deserve every happiness this wonderful world has to offer us.
30. Never stop setting goals.