The 33 most important things to learn in your first 33 years

Turning 30 is a huge milestone that, to some, is a bummer. That’s mostly because we’ve been scared into thinking everything changes when you hit this number and it’s all downhill from there. No more milestone ages like Sweet 16, where getting a license or car is a right of passage. After that, the completely freeing (and now legal) 18th birthday means, as an official adult, you can vote and pick up the dinner tab. But first, “Can I borrow $30 to cover it, Mom?”

Then, all this build up to the 21st and then…nothing. Yes, I could legally go into bars and have an adult beverage with my friends but aside from that, nothing super exciting to look forward to in terms of birthdays. Years passed and when I finally hit the big 3-0, I expected it to feel differently. Everyone told me how depressing it would be, but to my surprise, I felt the opposite. In fact, now that I’m 33, I know the best years aren’t behind me; they’re right in front of me.

Here are the top 33 things I’ve learned in the last 33 years.

1) Love really isn’t that complicated so stop analyzing.

I’m not even kidding. You know you love someone if you’re willing to give your last bite, sacrifice the entire bed’s sheets, or you can’t imagine your life without them. It’s that simple so let go of that little spat that happened 4 years ago or risk missing all the good stuff that’s happening now.

2) Don’t spend every penny you make. Because LIFE.

Most of us live paycheck to paycheck – particularly if you’re of the creative mindset like me. But what I’ve learned is that life doesn’t care how much money you have (or don’t have). Things will happen. Blown tires, broken refrigerators, sick children, and more. Make sure you’re paying yourself first, that there’s SOMETHING in that savings account, for those days when life comes at you like a bull.

3) Not everyone is your friend and that’s OK.

There comes a point when you look at who’s in your life and who isn’t and you have to decide it’s enough. I’m a recovering people-pleaser so I know how much you want everyone to like you. But sometimes they just won’t. Getting older means learning to say “it’s cool” because I’ve got people who totally get me in my corner.

4) If you want a doughnut, have one.

For the love of everything healthy, it’s OK to have a doughnut every now and then. Food is supposed to be enjoyable. And while having a dozen at a time isn’t suggested (lesson learned the hard way), it’s not a deal breaker on your path to good health.

5) Everyone has flaws. Embrace yours.

If I had a penny every time I wanted to criticize myself for not being the most perfect being ever born, I’d have a lot of pennies and it wouldn’t change a thing about how I feel about me. The trick, over the years, was to learn to love my nose because it helps me breathe; to appreciate my laugh because it means I’m filled with joy. Everyone has something and all those somethings make us who we are.

6) Having more than two cats does not mean you’re weird.

I have worked for a veterinarian, humane society, and pet rescue so my accumulation of everything from cats to raccoons has been extensive at times. It doesn’t mean I’m lonely, it means I’m compassionate and want to help animals however I can. If that makes me a kooky cat lady, so be it.

7) Make time to breathe.

Life is cray and, at times, doesn’t give you a minute to think, let alone breathe. But you have to.

8) It’s OK to say NO.

All my life, I’ve had major issues telling people no when I really want to because I don’t want them to be mad at me. After years and years of feeling drained, I decided it’s time to join the D.A.R.E. motto of life and JUST SAY NO!

9) Find something that brings you utter, nonsensical joy.

Do you love to play the xylophone but are embarrassed? Maybe you secretly like square dancing but aren’t sure if you should spend your time at country bars late at night. My suggestion? Do whatever makes you happy. At least a little bit, every day. The payoff is worth whatever is holding you back.

10) Don’t apologize for being you.

You are you. You were born you, you will die you. Nothing will change that. So if there are people in your life who aren’t grateful for the gift you are, it’s their problem, their issue. But don’t apologize for who you are, inside or out.

11) Money really doesn’t buy happiness.

No, really. Some of the best times in my life were free. A walk on the beach, a good conversation with a great friend, hearing my children’s laughter echo – they don’t cost a thing – and more importantly, they’re what make life worth living. There’s not enough money in the world that can buy either of the three.

12) When you find people you trust, don’t let them go.

It’s important to have a solid support system. People that support you, push you, and give you a safe place to fall. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to keep a tight circle. For the ones that come and go? Forget ’em.

13) Let go of the past. No, really.

Things from our pasts may have contributed to the people we are now but it’s really important to use those experiences to boost you forward. Nothing changes what already was. But you can decide to let go and change what will be today.

14) Balance is hard. Do the best you can.

I juggle a lot – sometimes TOO much – and at times, it gets me in trouble. It’s hard to be 100% on 11 different things at the same time but this is where learning to say no helps. If your list keeps growing and there’s nothing you can do but grit your teeth and get through it, just do the best you can, even if you fail at some of it. Giving your all when the chips are stacked against you (the laundry needs washed, everyone’s hungry and you have 4 writing assignments due NOW)? First, breathe, then forget the clothes (or delegate), get takeout, and try to manage your time to the best of your ability.

15) If you don’t wash your hair every day (or every other day), it’s cool.

Shampoo, condition, blow dry, and smooth? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The more I wash, the drier, more coarse my thick hair gets. Plus, it takes awhile to smooth it out so if I know it’s going to be crazy humid for the next couple days, I’m just going to throw it up in a bun and make a date to wash it later because there are far more pressing matters to tend to (like anything else, really).

16) Look up from your phone more.

Things happen when I’m on my phone. My kids do something funny, my husband tells me something important, or my cat meows at me differently. Life is happening all around – not in that tiny, illuminated screen. Look up every now and then and you might realize just how much you’ve missed.

17) Find ways to laugh until your stomach hurts.

I think, the only way to navigate the tough times in life, is to laugh your way through them. Laughing really is the best medicine for so many reasons – the biggest being how much better you feel after.

18) Don’t just dream big, dream bigger.

Everyone has some sort of dream or goal they hope to accomplish but what if you removed the limitations in your mind? You don’t have to stop once you reach said dream or goal because there’s always something else that can be achieved. Don’t sell yourself short. You have to dream? Grow that dream, and with laser-like focus, don’t just make it happen, make it happen bigger.

19) No one cares about your cellulite/wrinkles/freckles.

Bathing suit season is my most feared because it exposes all the imperfections I can hide in the colder months. But another thing that comes with age and experience is that I’ve realized sometimes you’ve just got to put the bathing suit on and enjoy the beach because everyone out there is worried about their own imperfections to care about mine. And in worrying about the lumps and bumps, I might miss how much fun my kids are having as they splash in the waves. Basically? Get over it. You’re beautiful.

20) Leave the toxic people behind.

It’s hard to realize you need to cut some people because they’re stressful or damaging to you living your best life. It can be friends, family, or even that stray cat that just uses you for food but regardless, if you don’t want the negativity affecting the way you live and feel, it’s time to let them go.

21) If you love someone, tell them, show them.

Life is really short. Never let someone you love leave without telling/showing them you care. You just never know if it’s the last time you’ll see each other and I’m not one for regrets so, just do it. Trust.

22) Missing a TV show really isn’t the end of the world.

There have been some nights where a favorite show was on but something outside of the house was planned instead. Yes, we have DVR but maybe I didn’t want to watch it later! Looking back, it’s seriously OK to experience something in life instead of getting comfy in my jammies and hunkering down in front of the tube for one night.

23) Priorities will change the older you get, and it’s awesome.

In my 20s, going out every weekend was the thing to do. I looked forward to it and could stay up until sunrise without missing a beat the next day. But now? I’m tired! And I have work to do! And kids! And I like sleep! I still go out every now and then but for the most part, I’d much rather stay in than put on actual clothes and head out and I’m OK with that.

24) When possible, pay it forward.

I’ve struggled a few times financially and was lucky enough to have kind people to pitch in and help get me back on my feet. Living paycheck to paycheck isn’t easy and I think most people live this way. So when I can, I try to pay it forward. Buy the person behind me coffee, toss a couple extra dollars in a tip jar for a hard-working barista who’s obviously having a rough day but still maintains a smile, or offer to carry someone’s groceries out for them. It really is the little things that add up to a huge difference in someone’s day.

25) Finding your way won’t always be easy.

Life is hard sometimes! Sometimes you think you should go down one path when maybe you should’ve taken the other. It doesn’t matter because when the roads connect, at some point, it will all make sense and (hopefully) you’ll be where you were supposed to be all along.

26) Never quit. Ever.

Quitting is this thing I can’t do, no matter how much I want to at times. It’s a personal failure if I stop mid-marathon, or give up on a book while it’s on submission because it hasn’t sold yet, or forget the dream of having another baby because my body works differently. It may take more time than I want, and it might now happen the way I hope, but eventually, if I stick with it, some version of it comes to fruition. So trust me, just don’t quit. The only thing worse is never trying at all.

27) Those awkward/embarrassing times? People will forget.

You may replay the scenes over and over in your head forever but believe me – everyone else will eventually forget about it because they’re off doing their own awkward/embarrassing things they hope people will forget about.

28) Say you’re sorry.

Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s your fault, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Here we go, back around to that life is short thing because holding on to the bitterness won’t get anyone anywhere but in an infinite sour state of being. So as my Gram would say, “be sweet.”

29) Give people a chance.

How many times have you judged the proverbial book by its cover? And how many times, after actually reading said book, have you been way off? Yeah, me, too. Give people a chance. They might surprise you.

30) Stop comparing yourself to other people. Seriously.

It’s a known fact that even the supermodels and cover girls don’t look that way IRL so ease up on yourself. If you don’t run as fast as an Olympic gold medalist or aren’t as funny as a SNL cast member, who cares? You have your own strengths. Maybe you do a kick-ass job of doing hair or perhaps your THE best karaoke singer ever. Those other people you compare yourself to might rock, but so do you.

31) If you live online, back that stuff up.

Don’t risk losing everything you’ve ever written. Please. Take my word for it. Just. Back. It. Up.

32) Don’t be afraid to fail.

Failing means you’re trying. The greats have failed multiple times and it didn’t stop them from becoming great so it shouldn’t stop you, either. Got me?

33) You don’t have it all figured out, and it’s alright.

I’ve learned a lot but the biggest lesson is that I haven’t learned a thing. Life is a revolving, ever-changing road. And if you aren’t sure you’re doing it, right, it’s cool.

Maybe you’ve already surpassed 33 or maybe you’re not even close. Regardless, life is a lot about living, learning (sometimes failing), and evolving. So go ahead. Have that doughnut today, hug someone you love, and try to be better tomorrow than you are today. Life’s too short not to.

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