When I turned 20, I was not blowing out birthday next to my girlfriends and vowing that “this will be the best decade ever” like most millennials today. I was the weirdo who was eager for my 30’s. I thought I would be settled in life— with the husband, house, and kids. I pictured the dog running to great me as I parked my SUV in the garage, and walked into my clean home (with a view) after two weeks of vacation.
For some reason, I equated my age with my happiness and my life status as the accomplishment. The truth is that we’ve taken some steps that would appear backward to some: we stopped having kids sooner than I thought, we moved into an apartment instead of the house with the view, and we never rescued the dog. We walked away from stable jobs, to pursue our dreams, and God’s plans, and today, I am more happy then I’ve ever been.
What I’ve gained, far exceeds those puny dreams that I had in my 20’s. And since today I’ve slipped past the mid-point of my 30’s, I thought I’d share some nuggets— 35 to be exact. 35 things that I wish I knew a decade ago: truths that I wish I could send back to younger versions of myself.
1. What you’re earning now is probably the most money you’ll ever see (not earn, but “see), because once you have kids it starts to mysteriously evaporate before your eyes. Steward it wisely.
2. The brand new house with the super high sticker price— not worth it. Find something small and well below your means. Get a roommate, renovate, watch the market and sell. Repeat.
3. You’ll probably return to your roots in some way (literally or figuratively), know that it’s ok. It doesn’t mean retreating, or failure, it means being honest with yourself.
4. Speaking of being honest: life is better when you tell the truth. To your family, and friends, but most importantly, to yourself.
5. Be who you are, instead of changing to become what other people think you should be.
6. As far as friendships go, find a few girlfriends that you can go deep with. You don’t need a posse of 15, just a small handful. Invest the time, be vulnerable, celebrate together.
7. Finding friends takes effort. Going outside of your circles of comfort will be good for you. Make the first step.
8. You need women of all ages in your life. Older women to mentor, those of the same age and stage with whom to feel normal around, and those who are younger (hello babysitters!) to help you feel youthful, creative and fresh.
9. Vulnerability is more than just a trendy word. I heard someone say, “if it feels like you’re about to vomit, then you’ve reached true vulnerability”. That about sums it up. Its brutal, but freeing. Not many people will ever get to that point with you; celebrate those who do.
10. Write. Don’t make excuses. It’s not going to be great right out of the gate. You’ll find your voice (what you think it is now, that isn’t it).
11. Food is fuel, so choose ingredients wisely. But it’s also meant to be enjoyed. Find a balance that works for you.
12. Enjoy sleeping in. And binge watching shows till the wee hours of the morning. And lounging all day if you want.
13. Speaking on confidence— go to the gym. Yup, even if you can’t name a single piece of equipment, and don’t know what a burpee is. Find a personal trainer who will walk you through what to do. You are stronger than you realize. And your future body will thank you.
14. Your marriage will see changes as you and your spouse change. It’s ok, as long you allow each other time and space to grow.
15. Your husband was there before the kids. He’ll be around after they’ve moved out. Cherish him. Make sure your kids see affection and dates nights as regularities, not oddities. Sex will get better after kids. Chalk it up to being more comfortable in your own skin (and letting your husband seeing all your skin), or becoming older and less inhibited. Learn to make time for your love life. Learn to switch brains from mom to wife, use the lock on the door, make it happen.
16. Sex is not like the movies. It is exciting and beautiful, but sometimes you’ll feel clumsy and get embarrassed. Other times life will happen and you’ll end up in tears (not the post-sex kind). Your husband will still love you. Learn not to over-analyze those moments, and enjoy the other ones.
17. Remember what fuels you. Reading. Working out. Being outdoors. Whatever it is, fight for that time on the calendar. No one else will.
18. Kids can survive on cereal, mac’n’cheese and PB & J. So can you. It’s not advised for long periods, but it’s permissible during tough seasons.
19. Your kids are always watching, always listening. Especially once they can recognize their name. Speak of them as you want them to be/act/behave, not as they are currently.
20. Drink more water.
21. Eat more ice cream. And donuts. And pie. Life is too short to crunch on kale every day.
22. Try new things: painting, yoga, cooking classes. Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try to find creative ways to make them happen— at least once.
23. Moving is hard. It’s means new beginnings and that’s exciting and full of adventure, but there is grieving that happens at the same time. Allow yourself time and space to grieve thoroughly.
24. The kids grow up fast. Everyone tells you. In your heart you know it. But in the mundane moments with toddlers you’ll wish it away. Try not to.
25. Keep a wall calendar and pen up ALL THE TIME. You won’t remember to write things in the baby book, or in your journal. But major life accomplishments and milestones written on the calendar can be transferred easily the following January when the pages are full of scribbles.
26. Collect memories not things. It’s a great motto. And as far as the “things” you do collect— make sure they are beautiful and useful. Don’t fill your life (and spaces) with trendy pieces and junk; choose quality over quantity every time.
27. As far as style goes— it will probably change as the years tick by, and it’s ok to try new things, but don’t purchase based on trends, but on quality and comfort. Especially shoes. For the love— don’t buy expensive shoes for that one event that you’ll never wear again. Purchase shoes that you’ll get more use out of— even if that means a higher price tag.
28. Be ok when your body changes. The 21 year-old frame will change, as will your eating habits. Don’t fight it. You actually become more beautiful with age. Embrace it.
29. Keep journaling. It will amaze you the things that you think, dream, write about repeatedly. If you seen a trend, lean into that. If you see the same questions, frustrations, prayers, then perhaps you need to do some soul-searching, or changing.
30. Ask for help. You won’t want to. You’ll tell everyone else, and yourself that you don’t need it— but that’s stupid. Everyone needs help sometimes. Just do it.
31. The expectations you place on yourself are probably 10 times higher than what anyone else is placing on you. So, stop. Learn this mantra— “lower my expectations.”
32. It’s ok to say no. It’s actually good. For you, for your family. For everyone. Once you start, it gets easier to do.
33. It will also get easier to be unapologetic. You don’t need to feel bad, and you don’t need to give ten reasons why. Let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no”, “no.”
34. Your word is your word, and a promise is a promise— to your husband, your kids, your friends. Be careful what you promise so that you can maintain that integrity.
35. End the day with gratitude. List the things that you did well. The temptation will be to go negative and over-analyze all that you failed or didn’t finish. Don’t go there. Just start listing the wins: the load of laundry that got washed, dried, folded AND put away, the napping baby, the books read, the songs sung, the dance parties and donuts, the lessons learned, the quiet time, the snuggles, the smiles, and laughter. List it all—out loud, or in a journal, just don’t stop until you’re smiling like a fool.