Life Lessons to Excel in Your 30s

Rules to Live Your Thirties By.

On my 30th birthday three years ago, I had written 30 life lessons my twenties had taught me. From exercising regularly to fixing a hung laptop before anything else to not running after money but finding my calling and chasing experiences were the core learnings of my 20s.

As I’m about to turn 33 in less than two weeks, I found myself riding the life lesson wave again. “How am I managing life in the 30s” question stared at me.

Contrary to how it might look like, I always say that age is just a number(as many of my friends told me when I asked them to contribute to this article). Ignoring my steeping age that rushed towards my 30th birthday like a break-less ambassador car and blocking my parents who looked at me as if the time for me to do anything good had gone by, I shifted my life gears in my late 20s — changed my career, left my apartment to travel long-term, found the love of my life, took physical health sincerely, and finally chose life skills over money and ignored short-term gratification.

Though my late 20s lifestyle has poured over into my 30s, life feels different now.

I don’t go out on dates with random guys or wait till Friday to meet my partner but I stop myself from pulling my hair when my husband says he doesn’t remember if he had to remember anything. I don’t wonder if I should become a chef or open a WordPress or Tumblr blog but I soak in the cold graveyard silence of editors. I ain’t figuring out which backpack to purchase but I keep a check on what I buy so I can pack and leave at a day’s notice. I don’t think about joining a gym but I do take my morning routine as seriously as a guy considers cologne on his first date and a girl her facial.

As the battles I fight and the weapons of war have changed, the life lessons from my 20s aren’t enough to ride this new decade with peace and grace.

Here I am noting down my most profound learnings and ideas I have stuck to since the turning of the decades from the twenties to the thirties. I also asked my friends — who have seen enough 30s— to comment on what has kept them going(and some in their early 30s). Let’s read.

What should the thirties lifeboat carry to sail through the storm?

1. Protect yourself from unwarranted negativity — draw boundaries.

While in the 20s you still mull over what others say or think about you, in your 30s, you can be more confident about yourself. You know yourself better.

After a conversation, you might wonder, Why was he so rude? Or she didn’t have the right to tell me that I don’t invest enough in my relationships or my decisions would make my father’s blood pressure rise.

You realize that the other person berated you or was disrespectful for no reason. Their behavior was uncalled for.

Trust that instinct. Even if you doubt you were at fault, you cannot let yourself be insulted or harmed emotionally —personal differences can only be solved by criticizing positively and not by soaking the other person in guilt and hatred.

Remember — “If someone’s ungrateful and you tell him he’s ungrateful, okay, you’ve called him a name. You haven’t solved anything.” — Robert M. Pirsig

And my experiences say close people damage more.

Be careful. I’m not suggesting you break up with these people(some strongly recommend the bye-bye route though). But you need to draw boundaries — the sooner the better. Else you would end up with so much leftover negativity that you would viciously circle in a toxic pool.

Create distance. Confront negativity. Embrace healthy conversations. Talk less. Meet less. See less. If the berating continues, you may have to cut off completely.

Listen to this song: I’m only human after all. Don’t put your blame on me.

2. You can finally stop putting yourself at the bottom of the ladder 

I value myself the least sometimes just to be nice to others.

You don’t come last and now would be a good time to respect yourself.

3. Trust your instincts.

Experience turns into instincts. Intuition is that voice in the back of your head telling you to walk out now. Trust this new depth every now and then. You won’t regret it.

4. A lot of people will be jealous of you. Don’t mind.

Don’t let them hurt you. Walk as if you own the room even if everyone else hates your guts.

5. You will be influenced by the people around you. 

The people you surround yourself with have a lot to do with who you can become. Treat people like treasure.

6. If you feel out of place, you probably are. But don’t leave, yet.

If you can learn or meet good people, stay. Complacency is a hurdle in growth.

7. Stop comparing yourself to others. 

Friends’ priorities would have evolved by now. Someone is getting married. Your college friend shifts cities. A friend is struggling with her father’s sickness. Your best friend becomes a chef.

By 30’s we start realizing what we have and what we would probably never have. There might be other 30-year-olds sitting on cash pyramids or playing with 30 kittens or posting a daily video of their Antarctica cruise having lunch with humpback whales.

Their choices led them to where they are and your choices led you to where you are. Be happy for yourself.

As a 32-year-old IIT Delhi graduate and friend Shweta told me about her 30s wisdom, “You cannot have everything. Time is limited and you need to figure out the one or two most important things in life and go for them. The most difficult part of this idea is that you are not going to be great at the aspects you de-prioritize, and you need to accept that.”

Have faith and do what feels right rather than looking around and thinking, but he sold his startup to grow broccoli?

8. Believe in the choices you made. Focus. — The first thing on what to do in your 30s list.

The 20s were all about trying everything and finding those one or two things. I settled on writing and traveling. Now things to do in your 30s are: accepting the choices, sticking to the process, and focusing.

You can’t do it all. Stop evaluating. Do the deed. Breathe.

My 40-year-old friend Victor told me that one of the things that have helped him to manage his life is, “Setting objectives and goals for my life. When I achieve one goal, I have to set a new one or I start to live like a car without direction.”

9. When the going gets hard, believe in the process blindly. 

Anything good takes time.

Remember driving down a hill with hairpin bends after sunset? While driving carefully, you trust the other drivers, right? You need a similar kind of unwavering trust while doing your best.

10. Your life is significant. 

Even something as tiny as an electron has value or a purpose, actually the tiniest of the things might have just have created the universe. One electron attachment or detachment and you would find sodium turning into salt and iron turning into rust.

Question the purpose but never refute it.

11. Stop saying I will take the risk later.

When? 30s is still the best time to jump.

Find a career you love. Or start working towards one that you might end up loving. Learn swimming. Drive a helicopter. Take those risks.

I wouldn’t say it is now or never for everything is possible. But it is now or much harder later.

12. Opinions aren’t facts. Stop treating them that way.

An acquaintance once gasped when I told her I don’t believe in god. And I was shocked by her open mouth and wide eyes.

Never say how could someone say that. People, including you, say what they have to say.

Watching others passively will keep you calm and help you co-exist.

13. Suggesting something ludicrous? The other person might not be outraged by the idea. Try before getting intimidated.

What if the unknown young boy from Wasseypur, Zeishan Quadri, hadn’t approached the successful director Anurag Kashyap with the story of the Gangs of Wasseypur(those who haven’t, need to see this movie)? Or what if Bradley Cooper didn’t approach Lady Gaga for the actress role in A Star is Born assuming she was just a singer? There is a Tamil Nadu farmer who grows half an acre of millets just for hungry birds.

Outrageous is the new normal.

While marrying a 6-year younger guy and contacting clients way out of my reach and hearing them request me to work for them, I realized anything is possible.

You cannot afford to think what if all the time. Try.

14. Anticipation is like constipation, only worse. 

Anticipating future conversations and events is a favorite pastime of us all.

What if he doesn’t call or what if my boss doesn’t like my dinosaur figurine or what if the attendant doesn’t return my money? — We are living an imaginary future while ignoring the present.

When we anticipate, we think we are protecting ourselves. But the more we anticipate, the more we get sucked into the vicious circle of going over the same thing again and again, giving the topic much more time than it deserves and worrying endlessly. And our worse worries mostly never come true, and even if they do, we find a way to get out.

Have a rough plan for a rough day, then stop thinking. Deal with things when they happen. Otherwise, you will feel forever constipated.

15. Even if you are bursting with anger and can’t stop yourself from replying right now— don’t press reply.

We feel differently later.

This one habit can stabilize your relationships in your 30s.

16. Stop expecting others to understand your journey.

Most probably you don’t understand their problems and joys either. Quit feeling like a victim and walk on.

We must take responsibility for ourselves, and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become — Josh Waitzkin.

17. If a friend call after ten years and you are up to your neck in meetings — pick up the call. Leave grudges for elephants.

Or call back later. Screw that. Pick up the call.

Good buddies and rich biryanis should always be welcomed with open arms.

18. Don’t get guilt-tripped by parents

Many of my 30-year-old friends told me horrible guilt-inducing parental stories. Just one missed phone call or a life lived differently or a divorce or a work failure made some of them the most horrible son or daughter. I receive tonnes of comments on my Indian marriage conundrum article from many 30-year-olds who are depressed because their parents don’t appreciate their achievements as they haven’t married yet.

You aren’t a bad son or an irresponsible daughter unless you have tried to harm your parents intentionally. You aren’t a bad sheep for avoiding your parents. Well, who would want to call when a promotion or foreign trip would call for tears and blame gaming?

Do what you have to do to stay happy and worry-free. You live your life and they live theirs. Simple physics.

19. If you have a positive family, get closer.

Let go of old knots. Tie new threads. Be there.

20. Just because you live life on your terms doesn’t make you guilty undercharge.

In your 20s, you were still trying to explain. You can now stop justifying yourself and live.

If you don’t follow the ubiquitous customs or don’t do a conventional job or want to marry on your terms, or all of it together, you don’t have to feel at fault. You aren’t wrong or any lesser than conventional people some of whom at times won’t leave a chance to prove that you are an outlier and they are better. Remember — a lot of people don’t even know what they are doing.

You are a little ball of mischief. You are a little slice of hope. Treat yourself such. Accept you are different. And don’t give a damn if others don’t understand.

21. Working out is harder than before. But remember that the word exercise is Googled 1.2 million times every month for a reason. 

In your twenties, a one-month gym membership could bring down your weight by five kilos and reduce your width by 1.9 inches. But our thirties body is more rigid. Even a 3-mile run cannot make up for a half-kilo prawn curry that we gulped down at dinner.

Exercising regularly and rigorously is the only way to stay fit, eat what you like, look good, feel better, and have energetic days and peaceful nights. There are innumerable benefits of working out but by now you have heard them all.

As a 33-year-old friend and senior from college Amit told me about his 30’s, “When we are younger, we don’t pay enough attention to our bodies and its well being. 30s makes us realize that our body needs attention. And when you start putting time exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping properly, you feel a different kind of energy. I feel more healthy in my 30s, and I wish I would have done it sooner.”

Don’t delay any further.

22. Nothing has to be wrong with you for you to meditate. 

My lovely 32-year-old friend Shweta (whom I mentioned above) told me that when she talks to her other friends about meditating, they joke that she doesn’t need to meditate for there is nothing wrong with her.

Most of us think all the time. Meditation is an ancient Indian technique — approximately dating back to 5,000 to 3,500 BCE — and to meditate means to stop thoughts momentarily and be in the present. Nothing has to be wrong with anyone for them to meditate.

I overthink. First I thought that as a writer my job is to think. But when I took a ten-day Vipassana meditation course, I realized how much calmer and cleaner a mindful life is. Now I practice mediation frequently(still not regularly though).

I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say I have found a weapon to deal with hard days and a reliable routine that helps me perform 197 percent on regular days. After meditation, I feel like my mind filter has been cleaned, and I become joyous — despite all my problems.

The Thirties is a good time to start meditating for our life starts stretching in multiple directions of marriage, startups, caring for old parents, et cetera. We don’t even realize how taut we feel sometimes. Meditation helps rebound back.

If there is one thing you want to take from this list, let it be that you will give meditation a chance.

23. Working on your personal development rather than grumbling about others will take you a long way.

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing — Annie Dillard.

We gossip or we look inwards and grow. Now whenever I have to understand why my friend can’t stop smoking I don’t say how irresponsible he is but I look into books to figure out how can I help him (The Power of Habits — A life savior book).

This is the time to build a habit to read personal growth books/blogs a few hours every week. Reflect on your behavior. Make your life easy by understanding people (and yourself) rather than trying to change others or blame them all the while.

Start here with my personal development articles.

24. How you do one thing is how you do everything. Do one thing right.

Shortcuts leave us further from the destination.

25. Trying to find a real connection with everyone is an overkill.

Gone are those days when I wouldn’t talk to people I disliked and tried finding the best buddy in every walking human.

Get along peacefully for a tiny bit and then run for your life.

26. Not everything can be solved by talking.

Life is easier without explaining or talking sometimes.

27. Before worrying about anything, remember — everything is temporary.

Worries of today become memory vacuums of tomorrow.

I observed how frantic I was about who said what or losing some friends and egotistical boyfriends. But these things become past before we know. So now I try to give everything its due furrows.

How many things from your twenties do you care about now? You would feel much differently two years down the line so don’t fret much.

28. Rather than shouting at someone or getting angry, leave an honest business review. Or tweet.

I have, finally, learned from my bank and telephone network experiences that there is mostly no point in screaming your lungs out loud.

Stay calm but tweet that you are enraged.

29. Impatience cannot be dealt with impatience. 

Block the hustle without losing calm. Else what is the point?

30. Don’t let external pressure filter through into your cozy inner self. 

Mental protection is as important as physical.

A 33-year-old artist friend Mrinalini told me, “While working on a project, I dug up some ancient masks. And these old masks reminded me of all these crazy emotions we feel when we are in our 30’s. Sometimes we are angry, sometimes nonchalant, unperturbed, sad, and confused. The moods are always going to be up and down. But at the center of it all lies a calm monk. The idea is to balance yourself through these varying emotions and get to a state of neutrality. Don’t negate the states and never suppress emotions. Let them flow. But don’t get affected beyond a point.”

I see that state of neutrality as that cozy inner self. The external need to be processed before it could reach our interior where it can cause damage.

Like if I have a tough freelance client or a piece of news bothering me, I do feel all the above emotions but I resolve them before they could make me stay awake at night.

ancient masks.jpeg
Ancient masks Mrinalini studied.

masks she drew showing all 30s emotions.jpeg
Masks she drew.

 

31. Tell all unimportant people that you are busy. And for all the important people, you are busy in the morning.

The above two make morning personal health routine and work set smooth sail every day. Do try.

32. A schedule gives a feeling of control. Invest in creating and following one. 

A schedule might just change your 30s that seem to be going crazy with all the added responsibilities.

As a 36-year-old friend, Nimish said, “What has changed everything in the 30s is the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time. My sleep cycle and sleep quality have improved. I am less tired and more energetic. I am also able to work in a much better schedule.”

33. Breaking the routine is important to get connected with our surroundings.

We lose touch with our surroundings when we run on habits. Breaking to reconnect is as crucial as automating.

34. Fighting with your partner about who they are is like crying over a salty ocean. 

I have finally started letting go of my husband’s microsecond memory and his attention to salient only.

We all come in unique flavors, and even though we can change our irritating outwardly habits, we cannot change who we are. How can my partner remember things he doesn’t even care about?

If you need a whole wheat loaf, first you replace only 30 percent of all-purpose flour with wheat flour. Replacing the entire all-purpose for whole wheat would change the loaf and it might not even rise well. You might have to recreate the entire recipe.

The person you wish she could turn into is not the person you fell in love with. And your partner’s entire circuit would go haywire if you meddle too much with the wiring.

So quit fighting about basics and optimize what you can.

35. Appreciate even the tiniest of your achievements 

That we aren’t on Page 1 of Hindustan times or can’t fly like Batman are stupid things to think and even stupider to say. Our achievements stand no less than anyone else’s. The trick is to try our best.

And even if we won’t pat our back on getting the project shortlisted or finally getting that lettuce thread out of our wisdom tooth, then what is the point?

These tiny pats and celebrations make us jump for the higher grape. So stock some wine and go out often.

36. A better tomorrow is today — The best mantra of all.

Whenever I worried about getting a job or publishing a blog post or my blog crashing down, I realized how the journey was the key. For when I arrived at the destination, I was already looking at the next stop. A job meant a good performance, a published blog post meant marketing, and an up-and-running blog meant going back to work.

Appreciate what you have so far. And don’t make it all about the things of consequence else you would be like a train that only departs and never arrives.

37. Blaming others never makes life easier, it makes everything harder.

With age, the emotional baggage seems to add up. But it is up to you to poke the blame bubble now and then.

38. Not everyone is against you 

Every time a handyman shows up at my place, buried but disappointing plumber and internet service experiences wake up to life. But now I am learning that having some faith doesn’t hurt.

People might be scared or moody or querulous but they might not be against us or aren’t taking advantage all the time. So let go of that protective shield once in a while. Relax.

Don’t be scared to wipe your experience slate clean and start anew.

39. Say no often.

40. Empathy isn’t always good.

Stepping every time in someone else’s shoes might scare you of their reaction.

Step out. Wear your own shoes. It is their turn now.

41. Dance.

When was the last time you danced?

When I dance I become jello. Dancing can reconnect you to your body and is known to make us happier. Put on some music and go crazy often.

42. Expecting reciprocation of a gesture done with love is as ridiculous as a mango tree demanding lychees.

In our twenties, we expect our friend to gift us a notebook for we sent her Shantaram.

But the other person didn’t ask for anything. You did something nice for them because you felt like it. Don’t make your gesture anyone’s responsibility when finally now you can afford it all (I’m talking beyond materialistic gifts).

43. Let us accept that we mostly don’t know what is happening.

I’ve seen some 30-year-olds swaying in a swag of their new mansion or a bright BMW. And soon I see them crashing and taking a head fall.

Staying modest helps for we never know it all.

44. Investing in a good coffee machine is as important as getting a good house.

 Well, for some of us at least.

45. A long warm shower or a cold ice pack on our face can fix more than we believe.

46. If a long warm shower, a good massage, a nature walk, and meditation haven’t fixed you, reach out to a mental health professional.

47. Love is not overrated. 

If you give love a chance(or many chances), it will prove you wrong. Now is the time to hold onto it. Haven’t got it? It is never too late to find love. [Tips on approaching men and asking out women.]

48. But love can’t guarantee a peaceful life. That is up to you.

Giving adequate space to your partner is as important as filling the cake mold only up to its half capacity. Else the cake will rise and spill over, like your relationship would when things get heated.

49. Let go of small things. 

I’m still learning how to do this one but seems like it is the secret to all peace. Damn it.

50. Save. Save. Save. 

My savings save me on days when I can’t get enough freelance work or don’t have the energy to work after publishing heavily on my blog that is taking baby steps to earn.

Saving for the future is like jumping into the ocean with a lifejacket. Now you try to swim or float or stay, you won’t drown.

51. Want to alter your life in 30s? Read good books. 


52. To run your life, keep the system running

Oranges won’t walk into your home. The bathroom won’t vacuum on its own. Families, offices, a nomadic couple — all manage their daily life because they do a set of things every day that keep the system running.

Don’t count the daily chores time as wastage. Instead, learn to find joy in these simple activities for at the end of the day sometimes those moments spent together are all we have. [Read what actually matters in this Le Petite Prince inspired piece.]

53. Be Kind to yourself.

The world won’t go upside down if you make one mistake. Don’t get stuck in the loop of what you could have done differently.

Remember — Every failure is one step closer to success.

54. Build habits. One word solution for it all.

The hardest of things becomes easy when turned into habits. If you haven’t tried, start with this piece on importance of habits and then go onto these tiny and healthy habits you can adopt in your 30s.

55. Sleep when nothing works.

56. Going into nature often can keep you hydrated.

57. The world doesn’t halt when we feel sad. But we can pause.

First, you will sulk, but when you take some time off and breathe, you will see your life in a new light.  Follow that light. (Travelling in your 30s? No? You should. Read how travel can transform life.)

58. Be thankful when you can’t be anything else.

Say thank you. Soon, you will ask yourself, “what am I saying thanks for?”  And you will realize how much you have to thank the universe for.

A friend Veronica — in her late 30s — said: “Focus more on the positive of life and learn to be happy with simple things. And the motto should be don’t worry, be happy. The most important is to accept each stage of life, live it, and, most of all, enjoy it. Every day, every year is a gift, and we should not focus on getting old.”(translated from Spanish)

ना हार में ना जीत में, किंचित नहीं भयभीत मैं — Neither am I scared of losing nor of winning

— is the best message for this decade. Courtesy a 32-year-old friend Himanshu.

Starting over in your 30s? Read my narrative on finding my passion and changing careers from engineering to writing.

tulips showing the journey ahead for life in your 30s.jpg

Thanks to all my friends who contributed to this article.

How is life in your 30s? Let me know in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Komal Singh September 17, 2020 at 7:09 am

    As someone who is about to head into her 30s, this was such a fun read! Thanks for your tips!

    Reply
  2. Pratik August 31, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Excellent list. Very relatable.

    Reply

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