There’s a reason the age of 30 carries so much baggage. According to popular tradition—by which I mean—what your parents keep telling you—finishing that third decade of existence means becoming an adult. You’re supposed to have it all together. You’ve escaped the goatee-sporting, Vans-wearing , hipster twentysomething life and graduated into responsibility. You’ve become financially stable, psychologically sound and socially adept. You’ve become a grownup.
But like jamming the straw into a package of CapriSun, the process is never as easy as it looks. The journey to adulthood is a mystical, winding path, and MapQuest is absolutely no help in getting you there. You need advice. You need solid instruction. But kinking up the issue is the fact that, as you age, things are never quite as black-and-white as you remember. Sure, absolutes are still important (adultery: wrong; genocide: bad; kittens: cute), but it’s hard to be such a stickler on the details. Life at and around 30 can be contradictory.
This article originally appeared in issue 17 of RELEVANT.
And that’s why some of the advice you’ll receive in the following list may seem a tad conflicted. Make money, but give lots of it away. Make time for other people, but save time for yourself. Don’t become a slob, but don’t be slave to appearances. Don’t get too bungled up in the questions, but don’t forget to keep seeking answers. Enjoy the complexity. Relish the ride.
So here’s your handy guide to nine major things you need to know before you hit 30. And while you can’t exactly get maturity, wisdom and common sense from a list, it’s at least a place to start. Welcome, kids, to Grownupville.
1: LIFE IS SO NOT ABOUT YOU.
If Day 1 of Rick Warren’s gazillion-selling The Purpose-Driven Life can begin with this statement, then so can this modest list. The best approach to life is one that realizes that you are only the center of your universe, not everyone else’s. Successful adulthood means living a life of generosity, of service, and of concern for the people around you. Step outside your own interests. Put others’ needs ahead of your own. Get over yourself. Opening your hands to the world around you is the key to maturity.
2: CREDIT CARDS ARE DANGEROUS.
If you’re like most people, you got hooked in college (after all, they were offering a free T-shirt!). Then you graduated with a garbageload of debt. A few years later, you’re still paying it off and gnashing your teeth at the interest rate. You’ve been told time and time again that this is stupid—so I’m not going to yell at you about it—but take the advice you keep hearing, and get your credit cards paid off. Stop using them like free money. Until you get to the point where you can pay your bill in full every month, don’t sign that receipt.
3: STUFF WILL NEVER SATISFY.
Sure, that new stamp-sized phone/microbrowser/meat thermometer looks really slick, and all the cool kids have one, and Kanye’s kickin’ it with one in his new video, but let’s face it—will it really make your life that much better? If you’re bored, depressed, or unsatisfied without all the gear, you’re also gonna be bored, depressed and unsatisfied with it. Things might perk you up for a day or two, but they don’t give you any sort of permanent boost. They don’t bring you joy. Joy comes from community, faith, love, purpose. And those? Come from God.
4. SAVE NOW WHILE YOU’RE YOUNG.
It looks like Uncle Sam may be getting pretty stingy by the time we’re ready to start pricing Winnebagos and planning for that vacation to Branson. So … are you saving yet for retirement? If not, get to it. Contribute to your company’s 401(k) plan. Set up a regular or Roth IRA. Start saving, and do it now. The financial decisions you make over the next few years will grow to astronomical proportions a couple of decades from now. If time = money, then procrastination = a lot less money.
5. YOU NEED TO READ MORE.
And I’m not just saying that because I’m a writer. There’s some fun stuff on TV. Video games are a great escape. Movies can be cool. But when it comes to gaining knowledge, enhancing your vocabulary, improving your concentration and stimulating the brain, there’s nothing better than a book. Yes, an actual book. Not a cereal box or a gaming manual. Browsing the Internet or flicking through magazines—even this one—doesn’t count either.
6. WHAT YOU EAT MATTERS.
Metabolism slows with age. Abdomens, butts, thighs and other formerly desirable body parts start to expand. You can’t just eat anything you want anymore, so start paying attention to what you’re shoveling in. Put down that pizza and pick up some yogurt. Mix in a salad. Lay off the bacon cheeseburgers. And for Jared’s sake, stop categorizing Cherry Garcia as an FDA-approved serving of fruit.
7. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS.
It’s not about you, but it’s not about keeping up with them either. Stop comparing yourself to others. There will always be people your age who are more successful than you, wealthier than you, and better-looking than you. And if Jesus was clear about anything, it was that flawless skin, a sweet ride and a highfalutin title on your business card were keys to the Kingdom of God. Wait … he didn’t say that? Interesting. Guess I’ve been watching too much TBN.
8. GET USED TO SAYING “NO.”
The older you get, the better simplicity looks. Prioritize. Rather spend time with your family than go to yet another church worship band rehearsal? Then scale back on your responsibilities, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it. Tired of the hours and marathon-length sprint of your job? Don’t hesitate to downshift on your career. You can’t do it all. Choose health, sanity, loved ones and a “life to the full” above anything else—no matter what the conventional wisdom. Quality of life beats stress any day.
9: MAINTAIN CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS.
Ask any old person what’s been more important to them through the years. Career? Residence? Bank account? Nope. It’s the people they love, the ones who traveled through life with them. Strong, well-adjusted adults stay connected to a strong, well-adjusted blend of friends and family members. As the thirtysomething hill gets closer, make sure you’ve got someone to climb it with you. You don’t dare do it alone.