Today I turned 36, that was almost my mother’s age when she left Vietnam. She traveled half-way across the world, and left everyone and everything she knew in order to give her family the opportunities she didn’t have. That level of self-sacrifice seems so adult and mature to me. I am half way through my 30s and I still feel like a little kid; not to say that I didn’t have my own challenges that I had to overcome. But I am going to take this opportunity on my birthday to reflect on the things I’ve learned in my 30s that I wish I knew earlier. I’ve condensed my ‘wisdom’ into a nice short list, one for each year:
1. It’s never too early to slather on sunscreen – I cannot emphasize this enough. You don’t notice all the skin problems in your twenties because you’re too worried about having that perfectly tanned look, but after you turn 30, all the sunspots and fine lines come out and you’ll wish you had been more diligent with the SPF earlier.
2. Exercise, exercise, exercise – For the longest time I hated exercise, and for the most part, I still do. I hate the monotony of routines and I really don’t have the dedication to go to a class. While I was young, I used that as an excuse not to exercise. As I got older, I started to notice that my health does not always stay the same. I have to work twice as hard just to maintain the status quo; granted, I didn’t work very hard before. Another thing I realized is that any exercise is better than no exercise. So now, instead of taking the elevator, I walk up the stairs. Even though it’s only a few minutes, it’s still better than nothing. I also walk to places when the opportunity presents itself. Instead of planning hard exercise routines and psyching myself out, I do small little exercises every day and try to incorporate it into my everyday life. I even got a mini elliptical that I love and fits into our closet. Instead of sitting on the couch watching TV, I can jump on the machine and watch TV. Don’t worry about how many calories you’re burning, just focus on being active.
3. Cherish your family – They will annoy you, they will challenge you, but they will also be the only people who will love you unconditionally. I am one of the lucky ones who have a very supportive family who I can lean on. Growing up, it was not always peaches and cream; I still remember being so angry and resentful that my mom was never there for us. What I came to appreciate later, was that she was always away working so that she could provide for us. After I left home, our relationship improved a million fold. I also love having sisters who are more like my best friends. We tell each other everything. Family will always be the cornerstone of my life. Not everyone is as lucky to have a supportive family. But family is really what you make of it. It’s people who love you, support you and are there for you, blood relative or not.
4. Be selective with your friends – In your teens and twenties, you are constantly going through many life changing situations that require you to meet new people and make new friends as you go through school or start a new job. But as you get older, your priorities change and you start to lose touch with some of the friends you’d made before. In the age of Facebook, it’s hard to completely lose touch with anyone, but it is even more important to be selective with your friends. As time becomes more of a commodity as you get older, you will want to make sure that you share your time with the people you care about. You also want to make sure you surround yourself with friends who are supportive and loving. In your thirties, ain’t no one have time for frenemies.
5. Say ‘Yes’ – When an opportunity comes along, just say yes. Sometimes it can be intimidating or scary, but if you don’t say yes, how will you know? This applies to traveling, your career, moving away, or agreeing to a date with someone. Regret is always harder to live with. See the world with every opportunity you can.
6. Be Happy – I left the most general advice to last, but I think this is the most important. A lot of people stay in situations that make them unhappy, whether it’s relationships or jobs. The inertia is hard to fight, but things that make you unhappy now will not change unless YOU make a conscious decision to change them. Life is short, you should do what truly makes you happy and forget about what everyone else says. Don’t ever be embarrassed or scared to do anything, live for yourself.