30 lessons from being 30

Posted by kdow on Jan 8, 2015 4:49:31 PM

It was Monday. A small yellow rectangle with a left-aligned cake icon greeted the day. It was my birthday. I am now in my thirties.

I’m not a fan of birthday celebrations, so to hide from the desperate pleas from friends to arrange a party (I dislike the idea of arranging a party to celebrate one more 365-day routine) I went on a short trip to Scotland to enjoy some food & scotch.

One tradition that seems to ring through for 30 year olds who are considered barely millennial like myself, is to write a blog post of lessons learned after 30 trips around the sun. So, here you go — in no particular order.

Stop worrying.

I spent a huge amount of time in my late teens & early 20's worrying. I worried about relationships, part-time jobs, college. Everything was worrisome. Everything was going to be awful. I was stressed.

By now, I’ve realised that I spent too much time worrying. In a strange way, letting the cards fall as they may is the best way to approach a huge number of scenarios. Of course, working on them is going to help make the cards fall a certain way.

Have bags of humility.

“Be humble” is sort of a big corporate buzzword bingo way of getting people to not be dicks. But it’s true. As you get older you begin to roll your eyes at people who brag about themselves in any way, shape or form.

Stay humble, and people will respect you more.

Be better.

This sounds like another corporate bullshit statement derived from a consultancy meeting, but honestly, your only job in the world is to be better than the last person/thing/situation, etc. If you end up having kids, your only job is to be better than your parents. If you start a new career, your only job is to be better than you were in your last career, etc.

Keeping this kind of attitude will ensure you’ll strive to be great at everything you do, and will make sure you keep learning. Which is a nice segue into…

Always be learning.

If you’re in sales your mantra might be “always be closing,” thanks to Glengarry Glen Ross. But in life, you should “always be learning.” The old adage of being the smartest person in the room being a bad thing is very true. If you’re the smartest person there, get out.

If you’re surrounded by smart people (which you should be), strive to learn from them. Ask questions, read books they recommend and listen to podcasts they listen to. Never stop learning. In fact, make a list of 3 things you learned this week. Keep doing that. Look back on that list in a week’s time. Rinse, repeat.

Eat your greens.

I was lucky to always have a job & disposable income in my 20's, so as a result I ate & drank my way through the decade. At the start, that was fine. I was active enough to stay fit & healthy — and as such, thin. But as my 20's wore on, that activity level dropped as I got into real jobs etc. But now? I could eat anything and immediately gain bloat.

Eat & drink well and then you’ll be happy. You’ll be healthy & your brain & body will return the favour in dividends.

Set goals.

A few years ago I was embarking on my masters degree. I was a full time programmer in a company that really didn’t know what to do with a programmer. So I decided to set myself a goal: change jobs.

In order to do that I needed to stop worrying so much about an MSc piece of paper. So I did. And now I’m much better off for it. I have a real career now & I’m so happy I set that goal. Now I have some goals for 2015 (begin learning German, travel more, get married — among other things) that’ll help shape the year.

Don’t follow others; if you do, follow the right people.

This title is a little facetious. Following people into battle in college, work, social circles, etc. is all part & parcel of life. But don’t follow people needlessly. Pick your Generals (to beat this war-theme into the ground) & follow them where necessary. You should always have mentors & look up to people. But don’t needlessly be a follower.

I’ve seen a lot of people simply follow the herd & end up in a dead end. Before it’s too late, don’t be that person. I know so many people in-or-around their 30th birthday and they’re in a rut. A lot of the time that’s because they followed folks into a cul de sac in life & can’t get out now.

Love what you do.

Enthusiasm is a gift you give to others, but it also benefits you. Doing something (a course, a job, a nixer, whatever) that you’re passionate about makes you happy. It can also infect those around you & inspire them to be happy about it too.

Loving what you do is also a key indicator that you’re good at it. If you love something & you’re good at it, then the chances are that you won’t feel like it’s work. Win-win!

Work on relationships.

In my late teens I had about a billion relationships, but at some point in my 20's I ended up focusing on one. And I’m a much better person for it. Being in a relationship is work, but it’s probably the most rewarding work you’ll ever have. Thankfully, I’m now engaged to be married. Most people I know are not that lucky — and like I said earlier, they’re in a rut.

A relationship I ignored was my family. There are various internal-ranting reasons for that, but that’s something to work on for the future. They’re all you have at the end of the day. So work on those relationships that mean something. You’ll regret it otherwise.

Try new things.

I remember in college going to Subway to get a sandwich. I ordered my usual plain chicken-with-cheese combo. One of my mates put his head on my shoulder and said in a drawling voice, “plaaaain please. So plaaaain that it’s grey please.”

He was right. I was a fussy eater as a kid. And in my 20's I dropped that (in part thanks to my relationship!). I’ll eat anything other than fish (unless it’s sushi or calamari, weirdly) & mushrooms.

But this extends beyond food. Trying things is great. You only have to do it once to form an opinion!

Invest in you.

Spending time & money is something people do continuously throughout their lives. But taking some of that time & cash to spend it on yourself will return dividends in the future. Investing in healthcare, education & anything else that will benefit you is wildly important — and not that obvious when you’re 21.

Read & write.

Reading is something I never did as a younger man. But now I love my kindle & have an over-stacked bookshelf in my house. Reading fiction, biographies or anything else is great brain food.

Supercharging that brain food by writing is great. For example, this blog post is probably not going to inspire literary genius in anyone. Nor is this blog post going to do much for me, but it’s good to write. It’s good to practise. Communication is so important, so knowing how to do it effectively is a huge skill these days.

Your value is your network.

If I had known this years ago I would be a much better person today. But knowing that your value to others is often simply your network changes everything. Maintaining relationships, friendships and cohorts is so valuable to both you & everyone around you. In a professional environment, it’s almost the number one thing you can survive with.

Live in the moment, for the moment.

This is just a way to say “let the cards fall how they may,” but I wanted to give it it’s own piece of internet real estate.

It’s pretty self-explanatory but worth noting that being at a concert and spending the entire time framing a perfect shot with your iPhone is not living in the moment. That’s an attempt at gaining status from Instagram. Enjoy yourself instead.


People tell you to dream big & pursue those dreams all your life, but at 30 I can honestly say that now — and only now — am I equipped to actually do anything with my dreams. Granted, my dreams have shifted to more realistic things. But that’s just fine.

Failure is good.

“Fail good” is a phrase I hear a lot. If something doesn’t work out, that’s fine. At the very worst you’ve learned a lesson. At the very best there’s always an undo button.

Never be happy, strive to be satisfied.

Being happy is an indication that you’re done with something. Being satisfied indicates you’re always striving to improve.

Strive to improve. Always.

You’re going to die.

I’m fortunate (or maybe not?) that my extended family includes very few old people. Unfortunate because my grandparents died when I was young (before I was born on my father’s side) & that some of my family died too young (50's). Fortunate because I’ve not been to many funerals in my life.

As a result, mortality isn’t something I’ve had to address much. And while I’m not even at my half-way mark in life (hopefully), knowing that one day you’ll be dead is a good way to remember that you need to make the most of your life while you have it.

You will oscillate.

I could make a sex joke here but I’ll keep it real.

You’re going to have opinions change. You’ll oscillate wildly day-to-day. Know this before you brush someone away because they had an opinion.

Use the stairs.

Our MD recently had a bad accident and is hobbling in pain. I’ve lived with a bad back my entire life. One day that might become worse & I won’t have the opportunity to walk up the stairs to burn some extra calories or get a better view of the city on the bus.

Sit on ideas.

The best ideas I’ve ever had got better when I sat on them. Rushing into an idea often makes it less useful.

You’ll never have it figured out.

At 30, I’ve certainly got nothing figured out. I’ve a plan, and a general route to get to my destination, but anything could happen. In my 20's, lots happened that diverged my route — mostly in the positive. But being open to diverging paths & different ideas is important. You’ll never have it all figured out.

Money can’t solve complex problems.

If you have money you can buy ingredients. But it can’t make you use them properly to make a nice lasagne. You need more than just money for that.

That’s my weird analogy to say that being fixated on cash flow isn’t going to solve all of life’s problems.

Calm down.

There’s nothing like being hyped up in your 20's and trying to get shit done. But that often leads to weird decision making. Calm down, sit down and maybe have some tea. Being more calm in a situation makes you better.

Drink tea & coffee.

Matcha green tea is unbelievable and a recent discovery of mine. But tea generally is a great way to wind down. Especially in a warm room in winter in front of a book. It’s one of the reasons I invested in a beanbag.

I also love coffee. But not any old coffee. Real, hipster, organically sourced coffee brewed by the coffee monks of Dublin.

Not knowing is fine.

When I was younger I got really frustrated by not knowing things. I once got so frustrated at maths when my Dad was helping with my homework that I stormed off in a huff. These days, the things I don’t know merely map out a route for me to follow so I can learn more things.

Say what you’re thinking.

Being honest and open to discussing your opinions is seriously healthy. Sometimes it takes a bit of caution to broach some subjects with some folks, but it’s a healthy pursuit.

Look after your brain.

At 30, it took way too long for me to realise that mental health was so important. As such, today, I try to make sure my mental health is in a good state. Look after your brain. Feed it, love it.

Sort the signal from the noise.

As a technology user, it’s often difficult to sort out what inputs you’re receiving from all the channels you consume from. TV, internet browsing, social media, news, radio, etc. These are all sending signals to you. But a lot of it is noise. Being able to sort out what’s good, bad or important is really valuable.

At 30, I don’t watch much TV. I play too many video games, but I try to only take inputs from valuable sources.

Be a listener.

No one ever said “I hate him/her, they always listen.”

Being attentive and listening is important. It becomes more important when you’re older. In fact, one thing we do when interviewing people for work is make sure we can test that the candidate is an ‘active listener.’