30 things I learned by 30

     The author celebrates her 5th birthday. Her Dad, James Rusek, is holding the candle. (Image courtesy of Marta Rusek)

    The author celebrates her 5th birthday. Her Dad, James Rusek, is holding the candle. (Image courtesy of Marta Rusek)

    At age five, while other little girls were dreaming of getting married and becoming mommies, I was dreaming of the day I would turn 30. There were certain lessons that I needed to learn along the way. I could probably share a million of them, but let’s start with 30.

    At age five, while other little girls were dreaming of getting married and becoming mommies, I was dreaming of the day I would turn 30 years old.

    I honestly couldn’t tell you why. What is most likely is that, by five-year-old standards, 30 represented the age when I would have everything I wanted (i.e., money, a good husband, a big house) and I would be truly happy.

    Now that I’ve turned 30, I am happy, but not for the reasons I expected. I am happy as a result of the journey, not because of the destination itself.

    Think of it as The Wizard of Oz resolution. Just as Dorothy learned that she could go home any time she wanted, I came to realize that I didn’t need to wait until I was 30 to find happiness.

    There were certain lessons that I needed to learn along the way. I could probably share over a million of them, but 30 lessons by 30 has a nice ring to it, so let’s start there.

    1. Your high school years are NOT the best years of your life.

    Think about it. Do you really want your life to go downhill after graduation? Didn’t think so.

    2. Get more sleep.

    The desire to get ahead at school or work may be strong, but unless you want to wreck your metabolism, cause memory loss, or make your immune system susceptible to colds, do yourself a favor and get a full night’s sleep.

    Don’t take my word for it. Ask Harvard.

    3. Be a smart saver.

    Keep two accounts that you contribute to on a regular basis: an emergency cushion and a retirement account. Put 10 percent of each paycheck into savings. Put another 20 percent toward your retirement. It may sting at first, but trust me, you’ll enjoy that good night’s sleep better knowing you started saving early.

    4. The most important conversations happen over lunch.

    A valuable lesson I learned, of all places, in the Peace Corps. My Gambian friends and neighbors were more likely to let their hair down and be more receptive to conversations about hand-washing and HIV prevention over a delicious meal than at a boring day-long seminar. I’ve found this to be doubly true in the Western world.

    5. It’s never too late.

    Frank McCourt didn’t write Angela’s Ashes until he retired from a career as a teacher in his 60s. My mother decided to get her bachelor’s degree in her fifties. Life may postpone your heart’s desire, but never rule out the chance that you’ll make it happen someday.

    6. Compete with the person you were yesterday.

    There will always be someone who can do more push-ups than you or have a better grasp of math than you do. Focus on the things you want to do better and go do them. Chart your progress, then marvel at your awesomeness when you achieve it.

    7. There is nothing worth getting addicted to … except chocolate.

    Most drugs rewire your brain, some will ruin your lungs, and others will kill you. Chocolate is safe and affordable, and it doesn’t require you to show your ID.

    8. Don’t be a spoiler.

    In 1999, I revealed the ending to The Sixth Sense to my waiting mother and aunt … and over 40 people standing in line to see it. Mayhem would have ensued if my mother didn’t whisk us away in her car. People are protective of their experiences with movies and television shows.

    9. You are your best advocate.

    Stand up for yourself. Assume that no one else will.

    10. Enjoy yourself wherever you go.

    Standing in line for the post office or waiting at the DMV doesn’t have to be a drag. Besides, that conversation you strike up with the cutie in line might lead to a really spectacular date later.

    11. Embrace failure.

    At age 30, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he founded seven years earlier. Before his triumphant return to Apple in 1997, he founded another technology company and purchased a budding computer animation firm named Pixar. Setbacks happen, even to innovators like Jobs. Let failure propel you toward something better.

    12. Take care of your teeth.

    Having healthy teeth reduces the risk of heart disease and false teeth. Floss early and often, my friends.

    13. Dump the dead weight.

    If a person doesn’t return your calls or isn’t as it excited by the prospect of making plans together as you are, move on. You deserve to be surrounded by people who are crazy about you.

    14. Always take the time to say ‘I love you’ to the people who matter most.

    Take two seconds to add those three glorious words to the end of a phone call, an email, or a meeting with someone you love. You never know when it might be the last time you say it to them.

    15. Buy your own diamonds.

    Nothing says you have to wait for “the one” in order to get a diamond ring on your finger. Same thing holds for having a baby, buying a house, or getting a Corvette.

    16. Turn off your phone.

    The world will not come to an end if you eat your cheesecake before you have a chance to Instagram it. Go to a movie theater without announcing it on Foursquare. Experience the world firsthand.

    17. You will arrive when you are meant to … or not at all.

    From the desk of the late writer Douglas Adams: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

    18. A bad day for you is a great day for someone else.

    The next time you find yourself getting irritated about waiting in line at Starbucks, take comfort in your ability to read and feed yourself. There are 775 million people in the world who cannot read and millions more who have no idea where they will get their next meal from.

    19. Always have a plan.

    Whether you’re taking a trip to Bhutan or making a decision on how to spend a day off, give yourself as many concrete options as you can. And prepare for the unexpected.

    20. Teach someone.

    One of the most beautiful experiences you will ever know is seeing the look on someone’s face when a concept that didn’t make sense before suddenly clicks … and you helped make it possible.

    21. Never mind the wedding — get excited about the marriage.

    I know more men and women than I care to count who are now divorced and still paying off the debt from their weddings. Save the lavish reception for your 50th wedding anniversary. Better yet, put that money into a house where you can look forward to those 50 years together.

    22. Trust your instincts.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi told his young protégé Luke Skywalker to “Stretch out with your feelings.” The Force may be a work of fiction, but your instincts are very real. Follow them.

    22b. Han Solo shot first.


    23. Treat every person you meet like a human being.

    Especially people who work in customer service. Ask them what their name is and how their day is going. It takes five seconds, and it really makes a difference in their day.

    24. Sex is a gift.

    I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who believed that sex was a gift from God. Call it what you will, sex is something worth sharing, so long as it is with someone who believes your body is sacred and deserving of respect.

    25. Every job is a learning opportunity.

    Even the worst job in the world has something to teach you that you can put to use later.

    26. Go for healthy.

    Don’t be defined by a dress size. Eat foods that help your body function effectively, and commit to doing something that gets you moving for 30 minutes each day.

    27. Education does not equal wisdom.

    Anyone can buy or borrow the money to finance a degree these days. Having the letters “PhD.” after your name does not make you a wise person. Living does.

    28. Be yourself.

    You may be tempted at one time or another to change yourself, in order to fit in or attract someone you really like. Resist that urge. Let someone fall in love with the real you. See #13.

    29. Forgive.

    A Quaker friend once told me that “forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.” The sooner you make peace with the fact that what’s done is done, the sooner you can move forward.

    30. At the end of the day, it’s just a number.

    Nothing means anything until we attach importance to it. For me, age 30 marks the beginning of a new year to live and learn. For some women I know, 30 represented an end to their youth and the beginning of a rapid progression toward old age.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d rather drink my hard-earned cocktail than pour it out on the curb to mark a bygone era. As Mame Dennis once said …

    “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

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