First off, nothing magical happens when you turn 30.
That sounds dumb, but it’s worth mentioning. The word thirties hangs over most of us like a solemn marker of adulthood, as if you’ll wake up on your 30th birthday with wizened eyes and a headful of sage wisdom.
The truth is, everything on this list is worth doing in your twenties (or your teens, if you’re so inclined) but we talk about it like this because though nothing magical happens on your thirtieth birthday, 30 years is enough time to work out some of life’s kinks and pick up on some good habits.
All that’s to say, there’s no reason you should have all this mastered by the time you’re 30. But, then again, there’s no reason not to try.
Waking Up Earlier Than You Have To
What do Twitter/Square founder Jack Dorsey, Richard Branson, Apple’s Tim Cook, legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Condoleezza Rice and dozens of other successful leaders all have in common? They get out of bed before 6 a.m. every morning. Even Aristotle advocated waking up early, famously quipping, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”
Through college and in our twenties, hitting the snooze button is a staple of Saturday mornings and workweek rushing around, but there’s a reason so many influential people get started early. Waking up before you have to lets you find time to pray, exercise or just spend a few minutes alone before the craziness of the day begins.
Starting to save money not only sets you up for a more secure future, it can also help instill financial discipline as you enter into your prime earning years. And, if you start at a young enough age, it can also add up fast: According to CNN Money, if you put aside $3,000 a year from ages 25-35 in a tax-deferred retirement account, by the time you hit 65, you’ll have $472,000 in the bank.
Actually Caring About What You Eat
Most people in their late twenties have come to the harsh realization that for reasons that are totally unfair, your metabolism has a tendency to slow down with age. Basically, we all will hit a certain age when we can no longer eat an entire pizza and drink four Dr. Peppers without feeling like garbage shortly afterwards. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life—and some junk food every now and then—but your thirties are a time to create, and sustain, healthy patterns you’ll carry throughout adulthood.
Making Margin in Your Life
By the time you hit 30, there’s a good chance the routine of family, job, bills and adulthood limits the free time that was once a part of twentysomething life. Creating margin—to read, volunteer, pray, travel or just do the things you want to do—is easy to neglect with the stresses that come along with being a thirtysomething. Do yourself a favor: Make margin in your day-to-day life, and don’t try to fill every waking moment with more busyness.
Creating a Pattern of Giving in Your Finances
Life is expensive. Even if you’re settled into a good-paying career by the time you’re 30, paying down student loans, owning a home, buying a car, paying the bills and balancing a checkbook may not leave much left over. But along with your tithes, establishing a pattern of giving (to charities, ministries or even to friends and families in need), can serve as a constant reminder of who your money actually belongs to.
Becoming Friends With People Much Older Than You
For most people, up to your late twenties, most relationships with people much older than yourself are predicated on some sort of authority structure—your parents, your teachers, your bosses, your pastors. But by the time you’re 30, actually becoming friends with people you look up to not only adds new dynamics to mentorship, it also broadens your social circles.
Letting Go of Baggage from Bad Relationships
Don’t let baggage from bad breakups, arguments with old friends or hurtful comments from the past haunt you into your adult life. Even if reconciliation isn’t possible, forgiveness always is.
Being Content With the Life You Have (While Still Trying to Accomplish Your Dreams)
It’s never too late to try to write that novel, start that business, travel the world or launch that social activism campaign you’ve always dreamed about. But even if your life goals haven’t happened by the time you’ve hit 30, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be content with the life you have. Finding the balance between ambition and contentment isn’t easy, but it’s part of living with big dreams.
Reading the News Every Day
Before you can change the world, you have to be informed about the problems facing it. Reading headlines online, listening to NPR or just tuning into the evening news can be a gateway to knowing how to make a difference and instituting real change.
Learning to Unplug
It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of working long hours, being tied to the phone or just binge watching shows on Netflix during every minute of free time. None of those things are necessarily bad in doses, but if you’re spending your whole life plugged into a device, you may be missing out on some pretty great experiences.
Finding Organizations or Causes to Support Long-Term
Partnering with organizations like WorldReach (who allows you to sponsor children) and Charity: Water (who lets you tell your friends to donate instead of getting you a birthday present every year) or finding a cause like ending human trafficking, supporting education or assisting the homeless can represent more than just one-time gifts or temporary passions. Your 30s are a great time to find causes, organizations and campaigns to be dedicated to throughout your life.
Making Exercise a Lifestyle
You don’t have to join an expensive gym or jump on the next fitness trend bandwagon to make exercise a part of your life. Ride your bike to work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Join a community sports league with friends. Making exercise a regular part of your schedule helps it to become a lifestyle, not an afterthought or another chore you have to make time for.
Actively Combating Spiritual Complacency
At some point, most Christians will deal with spiritual complacency. We get into a routine, and it’s easy to allow actively trying to grow in your faith to become a side note to the day-to-day realities of adult life. Make it a point to stay challenged spiritually—read good books, stay involved in your church, seek ministry opportunities, get a mentor and a mentee. As other parts of your life grow, make sure your faith does too.
Being Intentional With Relationships
The older you get, the more time becomes a precious commodity. Unlike the college days, when you’d see your buddies between every class, once you get plugged into a job and family life, it can be hard to make time to see your friends. In your twenties and thirties, be intentional about getting together with friends and relatives (who are also probably pretty busy), and invest in relationships over obligations.
Buying Things That Last
For many people in their twenties, paying extra to purchase high-quality items—from clothes and accessories, to furniture and appliances—just isn’t practical as they are settling into new careers and finding their financial footing. But as you save more and become more established in your job, purchasing quality items (and fewer of them because they last so long) puts the emphasis on sustainability and craftsmanship instead of fast fashion disposability.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.