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The 11 Biggest Life Lessons You'll Learn in Your 30s

by
author image Jody Braverman
Jody Braverman is a professional writer and editor based in Atlanta. She studied creative writing at the American University of Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland. She also received personal trainer certification from NASM and her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from YogaWorks.

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The 11 Biggest Life Lessons You'll Learn in Your 30s
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Thirty — it's the age where you're expected to have your entire life in order, even if you don't necessarily feel like an adult yet. But there are some amazing things about entering your third decade. For one, you get wiser. You learn more about yourself and gain a greater understanding of the world around you. You’ve learned what’s important and what to let go. There’s no class that teaches this: It’s the school of life. But we have the notes for you right here, so pay attention.

1. Don’t worry what others think.
Happy girl with a red scarf in the winter

1  DON’T WORRY WHAT OTHERS THINK.

Humans are social. We rely on others for our health and happiness. But some of us go too far, spending our adolescent and young-adult years in fear of what others think. But when you live in this place of self-doubt, you’re not really living.

But now that you’re in your 30s, it’s time to focus on being your true, authentic self. Who cares what a stranger on the street thinks of what you’re wearing? That comment from a Facebook friend you hardly know? Inconsequential. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, do what makes you happy and what makes you you. Not everyone will like you, and that’s OK.

2. Be kind to people.
Friends embracing each other

2  BE KIND TO PEOPLE.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” are words to live by. Don’t let little things, like a guy cutting you off in the supermarket line, get your goat. Before you shout obscenities at him, take a second to consider what he may be going through.

Give everyone you meet the benefit of the doubt, just as you would wish them to do for you. Thank the cashier at the gas station, smile at your elderly neighbor, offer to help a stranger with a heavy load, send a friend some flowers just because. It may seem impossible at first, given the sheer number of difficult people we have to deal with on a daily basis. But with practice it gets easier. And not only will you make someone else feel better, but research shows you’ll increase your own happiness, too.

Read more: 10 Essential Life Lessons Every 20-something Needs to Know

3. 
With friends, it’s quality over quantity.
Two women standing in the back of open car turning

3 
WITH FRIENDS, IT’S QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.

In your 20s, it was all about how many friends you had and whose parties you got invited to. But most of those people weren’t long-term friends. "As maturity increases throughout one’s 30s, and as attachment to [one’s] family of origin decreases, individuals might find themselves searching for deeper relationships," says licensed therapist Kirk Honda.

If you’re starting to feel this pull, it’s time to cull your contacts for those who really matter. Rather than spreading yourself thin trying to be friends with everyone, focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with a handful of special people. If you’re lucky, these will be the people who stick by you through your 30s, 40s and beyond.

4. Take care of your health.
Young woman in variation of vrischikasana pose, home, cat near

4  TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH.

The increasing responsibilities of work and family in your 30s can cause your stress levels to skyrocket, which in turn, wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to fight illness. So take care of yourself by eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep.

“Nourishing your body with the right balance of nutrients can help you think clearly and can actually help you manage stress,” says registered dietitian Heather Mangieri. Stay away from too many sweets, processed foods and sugary beverages, and eat a primarily whole-foods diet containing lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean meats and fish.

And make time for exercise. “Exercise not only improves physical condition and helps fight disease, it also helps maintain mental health and reduce stress,” says Mangieri. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio exercise most days of the week, and do some strength training like lifting weights in the gym, doing body-weight exercises at home or taking a challenging yoga or Pilates class.

Then reward yourself with a good night’s sleep — seven to nine hours. You'll have more energy, feel better physically and mentally and be prepared to tackle life’s challenges.

Read more: 9 Life-Changing Quotes From Famous People Over 50

5. 
Start saving for retirement now.
Two businesswomen working on computer in office

5 
START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT NOW.

Retirement may seem like a long way off, but it’s closer than you think. If you don’t start saving now, you’ll find yourself dependent on your kids or a meager social security check. According to Atlanta-based financial advisor Missie Beach, there are three things you should be doing right now:

1. Participate in a 401(k) plan: “Many employer’s match a percentage of the amount that you contribute to your 401(k) plan," says Beach. "Would you turn up your nose at a three-percent raise? Well, you are if you’re not participating in your company’s 401(k) plan.”

2. Contribute to a Roth IRA: Depending on income requirements, you can contribute after-tax money to a Roth IRA that will grow tax-free.

3. Send any raise straight into your 401(k): “I always recommend sending that raise directly into your 401(k) before it ever hits your bank account," says Beach. "That way you feel no pain and no deprivation."

6. Love is more important than money.
Parents giving their kids piggybacks, waist up, closeup

6 LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY.

A common end-of-life regret is that people spent more time chasing after wealth than they did cultivating meaningful relationships and being with people they love. “Our society privileges wealth over all things, which distracts us from our true nature: to seek meaning, love, attachment and creativity,” says licensed therapist Kirk Honda.

While your 30s are a time for climbing the corporate ladder, building a business and securing your and your family’s financial future, don’t miss out on what’s important. Take time out to visit your parents, make time to meet up with your best friend for dinner, go to your son’s talent show and your daughter’s hockey game. Use your creativity to show your partner just how much they are loved.

7. Don’t believe everything on social media.
Multiracial group of people with cellphones

7 DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

If “comparison is the thief of joy,” social media is its getaway car. While it's opened unparalleled access to information and connection, it's also become a theater of exhibitionism. A friend gets a promotion, another one gets engaged and yet another goes on a glorious tropical vacation the likes of which you can only dream of.

Just know that for every beautiful picture you see, there’s the reality of human existence behind it. Everyone has their struggles, their dull days, taxes and chores, crying babies and sleepless nights. In short, the pretty pictures are just one moment in a lot of moments that make up a life. Be happy for your friends’ successes and joys, but don’t let them be a measure of yourself. Rather than spend your 30s coveting someone else’s life, get out there and live your own.

Read more: 8 Ways to Use Social Media to Win at Life

8. You can’t have it all.
Young couple walking at their house together

8 YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL.

As a kid you spent a lot of time daydreaming about being an astronaut or a veterinarian or a cowboy — or a cowboy astronaut who practices veterinarian medicine on the moon. But now you’re an adult, and you have a degree (or not) and a career (or not) and responsibilities (pretty likely).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals and aspirations. But there simply isn’t enough time to do all the things you dreamed of as a kid. Take this time in your 30s to identify what is really important to you. What are your three top goals? Once you’ve narrowed them down, put all your energy into achieving those dreams or getting good at those skills.

9. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Underwater photo of girl with board dive under ocean wave

9 DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS.

You followed all the rules — got the degree, got the job, got the house or condo — but you’re still unsatisfied. You’re only in your 30s, yet you feel like your life took a wrong turn somewhere. You’re not alone.

Sometimes the familial and societal expectations of what we’re “supposed” to be lead us away from what we were meant to be. But it’s never too late to change direction. Think about what you really want, not about what other people want for you. Don’t be afraid to make changes, whether it’s something small (such as taking an evening horticulture class) or something big (like giving up your high-paying job to teach kids in a rural area). Find your purpose and feed your soul.

10. Don’t expect to (ever) have all the answers.
Young woman sitting on grass in sport clothes, cityscape in background

10 DON’T EXPECT TO (EVER) HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

You might feel like you have less of a grasp on what’s going to happen and what your future will look like than you did in your 20s. And that’s OK. Life is uncertain, no matter what age you are.

Once you accept this and learn to live with it you can release your tight grip on needing to know what’s next or what’s the right thing to do. This also means lowering your expectations. Not in an “I don’t care what the heck happens to me” kind of way, but in an “I’m OK if this doesn’t go exactly as planned” kind of way. This will help you immensely when a few years from now the relationship you thought would end in marriage has ended in heartbreak and the job you thought would catapult you to success is going nowhere fast.

Read more: 10 Quotes From Star Athletes to Get You Motivated

11. Love and respect yourself.
Young girl in lake on inner tube

11 LOVE AND RESPECT YOURSELF.

This may be the most important lesson you’ll learn in your 30s and in life in general. In order to achieve anything in life you have to take care of you. This isn't selfish; it's necessary.

Don’t beat yourself up for your perceived failures and flaws. Take a step back and look at the facts. When you make a mistake, don’t engage in negative self-talk. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and that offers opportunities for growth. And take time each day to do something nice for yourself, just as you would do for another person you love. Above all, realize that you are completely unique. You are the only one of you out there.

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What do you enjoy most about your 30s? Are you happier with the relationships you have now? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: 17 Quotes That Make Life Better

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