I’ve grudgingly left the 25–29 age bracket.
As I age, birthdays feel less important and more like an ordinary, average day. I feel like I’ve grown (well, somewhat), however, so here are 30 life-lessons I’m still learning as a newly-minted 30-year-old.
1) Staying “happy” is an impossible goal
Especially when happiness is so subjective, not only for others but also for yourself. The conditions for happiness are constantly changing, too, so we often find ourselves *not* happy.
In reality, we’re not built to be happy all the time. Science posits that we are constantly looking out for threats because this is necessary for survival[i]. This is why we sometimes feel weird, and things are going too well, when all is smooth. Basically, if nothing is wrong, we will find something wrong.
I’m not saying we live in misery or sadness throughout. Instead, I’ve learnt that seizing the microjoys — like a good cup of coffee or a funny ad on the street — helps you get by.
2) Picking up and letting go
Which brings me to the second: living “lightly”.
For the longest time, I’ve clung to problems and feelings with the grip of an octopus. I still do, actually, and tend to overthink. That habit is really tough to kick, but, as many have said, can you change anything by ruminating? If you can’t, your energy is better spent elsewhere.
When something is wrong I still want to fix it ASAP, but I think I’m better at compartmentalising now. I acknowledge my emotions, take a deep breath or sigh, and try moving on.
3) Feelings are valid but not factual
This is one thing I’m very, very cautious about now. Feelings and emotions are valid and important: they point out to deeper issues at hand or protect us. However, they are not facts.
I can feel like a complete failure, but that may be inaccurate. I may feel like my colleague hates me because he did not greet me, but he could just be feeling unwell.
Don’t let your feelings swallow you whole.
4) Everything in moderation
Drinking too much water can kill you. Drinking too little leads to dehydration. Too much work leads to burnout. Too little work (and motivation) leads to “rust out”. Everything needs moderation, basically.
Does moderation need moderation, too?
5) Financial literacy is very important
When you turn 30 in Singapore, two things await you. One of them is the notification that you need to re-register for your IC. The other is the CareShield Life letter.
All these remind me of the need to have rainy day savings, retirement funds, and, on the whole, a sound financial strategy. Or, if you don’t have one, to at least begin planning.
6) Living in the present moment
I spend a lot of time in my own head, worrying about this or reflecting on that, until I forget to stop and take a deep breath.
Today, I’ve realised how the trees right beside my window seat are a bright shade of green. When dappled in sunlight, I could lose myself in their colours.
Life is unpredictable and you never know what will happen tomorrow. Take the time to ground yourself in the here and now.
7) My parents are not invincible
I’m growing older, but so are my parents.
Some days, a leg feels weaker. On other days, I spot their growing amount of grey hairs and feel a twinge in my chest. When the signs are this glaring, there’s no more running from the fact that I must become more responsible. They took care of me; I have to look out for them now.
8) Comparing makes you miserable
Am I better than the me yesterday? Am I doing alright?
If it’s yes to both, then it’ll do. It’s best to define success on your own terms. Focus on yourself!
9) Your beliefs will change as you grow
I’ve outgrown some habits and hobbies I thought I’d keep for as long as I live. Similarly, your values or guiding principles will change. People you know may be surprised, but you do you.
10) Don’t stay too sedentary
A lot of health issues that occur later on in life can be prevented, or at least minimized, with a more active lifestyle. Our bodies are breaking down all along; we just don’t feel it until everything hits us like a five-ton truck.
11) Remember that no one knows what they’re doing
I certainly don’t know what I’m doing any more than I did when I turned 20. Maybe that’s because we encounter new challenges in every life stage or because the challenges increase exponentially as we age.
Either way, there’s a saying that we spend our life learning how to live. I think that’s rather true, isn’t it?
12) There’s a lot of work behind someone’s success
Sure, some people take to things like a duck to water. Then, there are the geniuses and prodigies. The rest of us? We get by through very hard work, and most of that work will be unglamorous and tiring.
I took two years to get to a satisfactory mastery in my crafting hobby and three where I could create work that could sell. In between, there was a lot of mess and failure and repeating the same process, day in, day out. The people who achieve ‘overnight successes’ or just seem really ‘talented’? That’s probably the case for them, too.
13) Mistakes are “missed takes”
This is a wonderful piece of advice from my lecturer I carry with me to this day. You can try again after a mistake, or you can learn from it to avoid making the same one again. Life is a continuous journey, and sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. So long there’s some progress, don’t beat yourself up too heavily over things — especially if they’re things you won’t worry about five years on.
14) We put the most pressure on ourselves
Here’s something I’ve discovered and grown to accept over the years: I am a slower learner than most. In every workshop I’ve been to, I’ve taken a long time to grasp what’s taught than my peers. During the most recent one, I had to pay surcharges because I took two more hours to complete my piece.
Despite my panic, however, my friend waited for me very patiently. The coaster also turned out fine, and I even ordered more kits out of interest. That’s a pretty good outcome, I think!
15) Staying hydrated is important
Did you know that thirst can be mistaken as hunger pangs? And how inadequate water intake can lead to fatigue, brain fog, poorer digestion and more?
I faced many of the symptoms/side effects above when I drank less than the recommended intake. Due to hectic lifestyles, we stay sedentary for hours at end. If you find yourself glued to the table and have not fetched yourself some water in the past hour, do it now!
16) Use the good things
If you feel like wearing the fanciest necklace you have or spritzing that expensive cologne, go ahead. You’re only on Earth for a limited time, and many items we cherish have shelf lives. What’s the point of hoarding them until they lose their scent or get forgotten? If you look and feel your best, it’s easier to keep going when life throws nonsense at you.
17) Accept that perspectives will differ
When younger, I was determined to leave fights and debates the winner. Cue memories of arguing with a friend about how she got to know a song (I remembered introducing it, but she remembers discovering it). The thing is, is it important to “win”?
If it doesn’t, and you stand to lose more moving forward, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.
18) Assume the best of everything
Not saying that you have blind faith and trust in everything or everyone, but I’ve learnt over the years that thinking the world is out to get you really does you no favours. I try to remember Hanlon’s razor (a philosophical adage): “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. Or neglect, depending on the variation!
19) Leave the ‘what ifs’ behind
At 30, my life isn’t what I thought it’d look like. Sometimes I think back and wonder: what if I’d taken up that opportunity? What if I didn’t sleep in my science classes? What if I chose a different major?
The thing is, you can’t change the past. The only thing you can do is chart your path forward and make those missed takes count.
20) Take stock of your belongings
I’ve learnt that I have many things in spades (such as an abundant amount of stationery) until I can forget certain items exist. Spend some time each year going through your belongings, especially your wardrobe! You may be able to create new outfit pairings with what you already have.
21) Life will be uncomfy
We hide all our dirty laundry and struggle behind closed doors. If we speak to those we know, though, we will reinforce the knowledge that there will always be discomfort and mess in life. It can come from stepping out of your comfort zone, but sometimes you don’t ask for the things that hurtle your way. Life isn’t fair like that.
22) Listen to advice, but don’t follow it wholesale
Sure, a different perspective from a trusted person helps. But the only person living with you 24/7 is yourself, and only you truly know what motivates or concerns you (even the things you may be unwilling to admit).
23) Sitting upright helps you feel better
Aside from helping to maintain a good posture, sitting upright also helps you emotionally, too!
According to science, studies have found that sitting upright helps you feel more confident and reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression[ii]. If you work your facial muscles and smile, too, you’ll get a dopamine and serotonin boost[iii]. Try it out for yourself!
24) Closure doesn’t solve everything
When unpalatable things happened, I used to think I had to know exactly what went wrong, how they went wrong, how to improve and never make the same mistake again.
But, sometimes, knowing too much weighs you down. Chances are, it won’t change the outcome too. And life doesn’t fit into nice boxes: most times, I discovered that the desire for closure created more resentment and bitterness in me.
You may not get the answers to everything, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
25) Sleep is very much needed
I used to pull really late nights (admittedly, I still do) until I couldn’t. These days, my body just shuts down by 11 pm, and I cannot think properly to finish my tasks.
If you can, don’t attempt “revenge procrastination” or work yourself to the bone. You’ll pay for it in the morning and in the years to come.
26) Don’t look for validation from others
Of course, it’s okay to be happy at your supervisor’s praise or feel buoyed by friends’ compliments. When your happiness and confidence depend on what others think of you, however, you give up control over your own emotions. The approval of others is fleeting and unpredictable.
Instead, treat these as a bonus and work on being secure in yourself. That’s what I’m doing my best to do!
27) Do your own due diligence
What the majority believes to be true isn’t necessarily the truth. What seems best may not be. Read up, do your own research, and always be mindful that everything is multi-faceted.
28) People aren’t mind readers
I used to think people should know and anticipate my intentions without me elucidating them. They can’t. Usually, their perspectives and opinions are coloured by their worldviews. These worldviews will differ from yours. They may not know you dislike a way of speaking until you tell them, for example.
Sometimes, they also have too much on their plate and are struggling not to drop it. It’s unwise to project onto others.
If you’ve communicated your objectives as clearly and thoroughly as possible, that’s great! You’ve done your part. Whether the other party listens AND acts on them is another story: depending on the objective and their capacity, people have the right to decline/disagree/debate respectfully.
29) Always be grateful
It’s not easy when problems pop up unexpectedly. If you can, find one thing to be grateful about. It helps put things in perspective and lift your spirits!
30) I (and you) are still figuring everything out
It’s not a one-size-fits-all; what’s suitable for me may not be suitable for you. You may vehemently disagree with what I share here, too. That’s fine. We are individuals with our own thoughts and beliefs. These could change as I continue to learn and grow, too.
Despite this, I hope I’ve helped you gain some insights or inspired some thoughts! <:
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