Decoding Life: 10 Eye-Opening Lessons from My Thirties

Ever felt late in understanding life’s critical lessons? Dive in to discover ten transformative life lessons most of us only realize in our thirties. Curious about what you might have missed or what lies ahead? Read on!

Tokyo
Beautiful Life 101
18 min readOct 29, 2023

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Introduction

Entering the Thirties: A Reflection

You know, they often say that life begins at 30. As I stepped into this defining decade, I couldn’t help but ponder over this popular adage. It was a brisk morning, and I was sipping my freshly brewed coffee by the window, reminiscing about my twenties. Oh, what a roller-coaster ride it was! I laughed, cried, loved, lost, and, most importantly, learned. But was I ready for what the thirties had to offer? Could life genuinely “begin” now?

As I watched the sun peek out, spreading its golden hues, I realized something vital. Life doesn’t necessarily “begin” or “end” at a particular age. Instead, it continually evolves, teaching us lessons, some subtle and others more profound. The thirties, I deduced, were not about a new start but a deeper understanding — a phase where the essence of life’s journey becomes clearer, and we, hopefully, grow wiser.

The Essence of Continuous Learning

Mark Twain once remarked, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The journey into my thirties felt akin to unraveling this “why.” It wasn’t just about aging a year older or ticking off milestones. Instead, it was about peeling back layers of experiences, understanding life’s complexities, and appreciating the lessons masked in daily occurrences.

Every wrinkle, every laugh line was a testament to the stories I had lived, the challenges I had overcome, and the wisdom I had gained. It’s said that with age comes understanding. But I’d argue that with age comes a renewed curiosity — a thirst to understand better, to dig deeper, to truly decode life’s myriad lessons.

1. The Liberation of Knowledge Over Materialism

Growing up, like many of my peers, I had a well-defined checklist for life — a good job, a swanky car, the latest gadgets, and an address in a posh part of the city. For years, I chased these tokens of success, believing they’d bring happiness. As the twenties rolled by, each check on the list felt like a step closer to joy.

Enter the thirties…

One day, while rummaging through my garage filled with boxes of unused electronics and forgotten fashion purchases, I stumbled upon an old diary from my college days. As I flipped through its yellowing pages, I was transported back to a world filled with dreams, aspirations, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. The diary was brimming with quotes from iconic figures, ranging from Einstein’s “Imagination is more important than knowledge” to Socrates’ “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Each page told stories of late-night discussions about the universe, human psychology, and the intricacies of love.

A profound realization dawned upon me. Somewhere along the way, while collecting items I thought mattered, I had stopped collecting experiences, wisdom, and knowledge — the things that truly enriched my life. Materialistic possessions, though shiny and enticing, had a short-lived allure. However, every book I read, every new skill I learned, every stimulating conversation I had, stayed with me, shaping who I was and how I viewed the world.

I remembered a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” And it was as if Mr. Franklin was speaking directly to me. The satisfaction from a new phone fades the moment a newer version is released. But the joy from gaining a fresh perspective or a new insight? That is everlasting.

So, I made a conscious decision. While I didn’t forsake the comforts of modern living, I started valuing experiences over objects. Traveling to new places, enrolling in workshops, reading diverse genres, and reconnecting with old friends became my new tokens of success.

The thirties taught me an invaluable lesson: Life isn’t about how much we have, but how much we know and grow. Material possessions can bring momentary happiness, but knowledge? That enriches our soul, and its joy is truly timeless.

2. Self-investment: The Ultimate ROI

Ah, the sweet age of the thirties! It’s that magical time when many of us start to prioritize different things. One of the most valuable insights I’ve stumbled upon during this decade is the realization that the best investment you can make is in yourself. Remember the wise words of Warren Buffett, who once said, “The best investment you can make is in your own abilities.”

Think about it. When you put money into stocks or real estate, there’s always an element of risk. The market might crash or property values might plummet. But when you invest in yourself? That’s something no one can take away from you.

Physical Well-being: Gym Memberships

Consider gym memberships. In our twenties, many of us sought gyms for the sheer aesthetic of it — abs, muscles, the ‘perfect’ figure. But entering the thirties, the perspective shifts. It’s less about the mirror and more about the heart. It’s about feeling good, being healthy, and increasing our life’s longevity.

Gym memberships aren’t just about looking fit; they’re about feeling fit. They’re a promise we make to our future selves. As you sweat out on the treadmill, you’re not just burning calories; you’re burning away future medical bills, health complications, and days spent feeling sluggish and inactive.

Mental Well-being: Therapy

Similarly, investing in therapy isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a symbol of strength. It’s a recognition that sometimes, life throws us curveballs we aren’t quite prepared for. And that’s okay. In a world that’s always go-go-go, therapy offers a pause — a moment of reflection.

Like a car that needs an occasional tune-up, our minds need a check-in too. Therapy helps declutter the mind, making space for happiness, clarity, and peace. As the renowned Carl Jung put it, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Intellectual Growth: Reading

And then there’s reading. Ah, the joy of getting lost in a book! Reading isn’t just a pastime; it’s a voyage. Every book you pick up is an opportunity — a chance to live a thousand lives, visit a hundred places, and think a million thoughts.

When you buy a book, you aren’t spending; you’re investing. Investing in knowledge, perspective, and wisdom. As Sir Francis Bacon rightly said, “Reading maketh a full man.” And in a world filled with fleeting digital content, the depth, solace, and insight offered by books remain unparalleled.

So, the next time you hesitate before buying that gym membership, booking a therapy session, or picking up a book, remember: These aren’t expenses; they’re investments. Investments in a happier, healthier, wiser you.

3. Time: A Matter of Priorities, Not Scarcity

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I just don’t have the time”? I’ve been there. Often. But during a casual evening, a simple incident changed my perspective forever.

I was at a coffee shop, hunched over my laptop, juggling work emails, when a friend dropped by. As we chatted, she mentioned a book she had been reading about screen time and productivity. On a whim, and partly to prove a point, I decided to check my daily screen time right then and there.

I was taken aback. My average screen usage for the week was over five hours a day! A majority of it was on social media, mindlessly scrolling through news feeds, looking at pictures of friends on vacations, and watching videos that added no real value to my life.

In that moment, I realized something profound: It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time; it was that I wasn’t using it wisely. Those five hours could have been spent learning a new skill, reading, exercising, or even just being present in the moment.

Suddenly, I remembered the words of Seneca, the Roman philosopher, who wrote, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” Time, in its essence, isn’t scarce. It’s our priorities that make it seem so.

From that day on, I became more conscious of my screen time, setting limits, taking breaks, and most importantly, asking myself before any activity: “Is this the best use of my time?”

The results were remarkable. Not only did I feel more productive and focused, but I also found pockets of time I never knew existed, leading to a more balanced, enriched life.

It’s a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. But then again, that’s the beauty of life. There’s always time for change, as long as we prioritize it.

4. The Power of Autonomy: Living on Your Own Terms

When I was a kid, I used to visit my grandfather’s farm during the summer breaks. My grandfather was an independent farmer who owned a modest piece of land where he cultivated crops year after year. I still remember the scent of the fresh earth after a rain, the chirping birds, and the shimmering horizon, but most of all, I remember my grandfather’s stories.

“You know,” he’d say, pulling a fresh carrot from the ground, its roots trailing tiny clumps of earth, “This land is like life. You decide what you want to plant, and you work day in and day out nurturing it. No one tells you which crops to grow, or how to grow them. That freedom, my child, is both a privilege and a responsibility.”

Much like my grandfather’s farm, life offers us a piece of land — our personal domain, our time, our choices, our consequences. Just as the farmer decides which crops to sow and nurture, we have the power to determine the path our life should take. “Do I sow the seeds of hard work, or laziness? Do I irrigate with patience or flood with haste? Do I protect my saplings from external influences or let them wither in negligence?”

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

However, with this power comes responsibility. You can’t blame the neighbor or the weather if your crops fail. You own your mistakes, learn from them, and then, with hope in your heart, you replant.

In the age where everyone has an opinion about what you should or shouldn’t do, where societal pressures and norms often dictate our choices, living life on our terms becomes revolutionary. Like the farmer, we must diligently tend to our land, defend it from unwanted influences, and cultivate it with care and love.

5. The Digital Distraction: Your Phone’s Dual-Edged Sword

Jennifer was ecstatic. She had just entered into a relationship with Mark, a colleague she had admired from afar. Their love story blossomed over shared memes, GIFs, and constant online conversations. Social media was their playground.

Initially, everything seemed picturesque. Their morning started with a ‘Good Morning’ text, sprinkled with heart emojis, and ended with digital kisses. They’d tag each other in funny posts, share their favorite songs, and communicate their moods through memes.

But as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, the digital world started to overshadow their real-life interactions. Their in-person dates became less about getting to know each other and more about creating ‘Instagrammable’ moments. Conversations, instead of flowing naturally, were interrupted by notifications, each ping pulling their attention away, leading to fractured dialogues and superficial exchanges.

One evening, during a romantic dinner, Jennifer realized they had spent more time on their phones than talking to each other. The digital realm, once a bridge connecting their hearts, had now become a barrier.

“We are more connected than ever before, yet more alone.” — Sherry Turkle.

The incessant need to update, check, and engage on social media became an addiction. An addiction that began affecting their relationship’s quality. The once cherished morning messages felt robotic, the tagged memes seemed repetitive, and the shared songs lost their charm. They were living for an online audience, and in the process, losing each other.

It took a mutual friend pointing it out for them to recognize the chasm that had grown between them. They decided to set boundaries, designated phone-free hours, and started engaging in activities that didn’t require digital devices. It wasn’t easy. The lure of the virtual world was powerful, but their determination to rebuild their connection was stronger.

In time, they learned the value of being present. They rediscovered the joy of uninterrupted conversations, the thrill of shared silences, and the beauty of genuine, unfiltered moments. Social media still had its place, but it no longer dominated their relationship. They had learned that while digital love is delightful, real-life love is irreplaceable.

6. The Myth of the Perfect Timing

Imagine standing by the seashore, bucket in hand, waiting for the tide to bring in the most exotic, colorful shell. Each wave brings a variety of shells, some plain, some broken, and a few that catch the eye. But you stand there, patient, for the perfect shell. The sun dips below the horizon, the day turns to dusk, then dark, and the bucket remains empty. What you may not realize is that while there may indeed be an exceptional shell out there, there are plenty of beautiful ones that have already washed ashore. If only you’d picked them up.

Life is very much like that shoreline. We often wait, bucket in hand, for the perfect moment, the ideal opportunity, or the ‘right time.’ But the truth is, there’s rarely a ‘perfect’ time. “Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” This wisdom from Napoleon Hill reminds us that waiting might mean missing out. Waiting for the perfect shell, the perfect time, or the perfect opportunity is an illusion, a mirage in the desert of procrastination. Embrace the moments you have, for they are fleeting.

7. Embracing Life’s Unpredictability

Let me tell you about Emily. A young professional, always calculating her moves, ensuring that every step taken would align perfectly with her life plan. One day, out of the blue, she received a job offer from a company she had never heard of, in a city she’d never visited. Her friends advised against it, saying it sounded too risky and uncertain.

However, something inside her whispered a different tune. Emily remembered a quote she’d once read by Neale Donald Walsch: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” With a deep breath, she decided to take the leap into the unknown.

Fast forward a couple of years, and not only did this “unheard-of” company turn out to be a rising star in the tech world, but Emily had risen through the ranks and became one of its key players. Moreover, that unknown city? It stole her heart. She met people who became family, discovered hidden gems within the city’s nooks and crannies, and even met the love of her life in a quaint little café downtown.

Emily’s story teaches us that sometimes the best opportunities are not the ones we plan for but the ones that come knocking unexpectedly. Like a serendipitous rain on a sunny day, the unknown can shower us with rewards, only if we dare to step out and dance. So, when life throws you a curveball, instead of ducking, think of it as a pitch you could hit out of the park. Who knows, it might just be the home run you never knew you needed.

8. Self-love: The Foundation of Wholeness

Have you ever stumbled upon a calm, serene pond on a breezy day? At first glance, it might look like an ordinary body of water, but if you lean a little closer, you see your reflection staring back. And not just any reflection — it’s clear, undistorted, and genuine. Such is the metaphor of self-love.

Self-love is that pond: calm, deep, and undisturbed by external judgments. Just as the pond reflects our truest image, self-love shows us who we genuinely are, flaws and all. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” once said the great poet Rumi. And he was spot on. We spend so much of our lives erecting barriers, thinking we need the approval of others, when all we truly need is our own.

But how do we achieve this? The first step is understanding. Recognize that, like that pond, your worth isn’t determined by the number of stones thrown at you or the leaves that fall into your waters. Your value is inherent. The next step is acceptance. Once you understand your worth, you start to accept yourself for who you are, not for who the world wants you to be.

The beauty of self-love is that it doesn’t demand perfection. It’s about looking inwards, appreciating your journey, and embracing every part of you. Think of the pond again. Does it waver when a stone is thrown into it? No, it merely ripples, adjusts, and becomes still again. So when life throws stones at you, remember to ripple, adjust, and find your calm.

9. Love’s Complexity in Relationships

Sarah and Michael were the epitome of the phrase “opposites attract.” Their love was like that of a movie, passionate and intense. They were each other’s confidants, and their bond seemed unbreakable. Everyone around them envied their connection, thinking it was the ideal relationship. And indeed, their love for each other was vast and deep.

But love, as vast as the oceans, also has its tides.

Sarah was an early riser, relishing the tranquility of dawn. She believed in the mantra, “early to bed, early to rise.” Michael, on the other hand, was a night owl, thriving in the silence of the midnight hour. She was into healthy eating and yoga, while he was a firm believer in the joys of comfort food and late-night movie marathons. She dreamt of traveling the world, seeking adventures in unknown territories, whereas he found solace in the familiar streets of their hometown.

Their differences weren’t just limited to habits. Sarah envisioned a family, a house filled with the laughter of children, while Michael cherished the idea of a free, nomadic life with just the two of them. As Victor Hugo once said, “Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.” And they were convinced, but their visions of the future began to diverge.

Love was never the issue. Their love was pure, raw, and genuine. But, as time passed, their daily habits started causing little ripples in their ocean of love. The difference in life goals began to seem like tidal waves. Conversations that were once filled with dreams and aspirations slowly turned into negotiations and compromises.

The lesson from Sarah and Michael’s story isn’t that love isn’t enough. It’s that love, while essential, needs to be accompanied by understanding, compromise, and shared dreams. For, as the great Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once remarked, “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

10. The Refreshing Break from Routine

Marie was an accountant, diligent and methodical, who lived her life with the same precision she applied to her work. Her mornings started promptly at 6 AM with a cup of black coffee, the radio broadcasting the daily news, and a quick scan of her emails. By 8 AM, she was at her office desk, and by 5 PM, she’d be headed home, often bringing some leftover work with her. This routine, unchanged for years, felt like the cogwheels of a well-oiled machine.

Yet, as her thirties rolled in, Marie began to feel a disconnect. The same routine that once brought her security and structure now felt imprisoning. Days blended into one another, memories began to feel monochromatic, and weekends merely became extensions of weekdays. Evenings at home were just about finishing work, watching an episode of a show, and going to bed to start the cycle all over again. “Isn’t there more to life than this?” she mused.

One day, on a particularly challenging work afternoon, she stumbled upon a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The words struck a chord. Was she merely existing and not truly living?

Determined to change things up, Marie decided to break her routine. She began with little changes. Instead of rushing to work, she took a longer scenic route, enjoying the beauty of nature and her surroundings. She swapped her solitary lunches with social lunches, reconnecting with old colleagues and making new friends. Instead of bringing work home, Marie enrolled in a pottery class, discovering a passion she never knew she had.

These shifts, seemingly minor, had a profound impact. Not only did she feel more invigorated, but her interactions with others also became richer and more meaningful. She rediscovered joy in the small things — the chirping of the birds, the laughter of children playing, the beauty of sunsets. She learned that while routines have their place, it’s essential to occasionally shake things up to truly experience the wonders of life.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Marie remembered another quote by Emerson. With renewed zest for life, she was indeed carving her own path.

Bonus Insight: The Simple Pleasures

James had always been a night owl. He thrived in the late hours, with the world silent around him, and the night sky peppered with stars. But on one particular evening, after a long and tiring day, he craved simplicity and tranquility.

He decided to stay away from the digital screens that usually captured his attention. Instead, he took a favorite book off his shelf, one he hadn’t read in years but remembered fondly. Lighting a scented candle, its soft vanilla fragrance wafting through the room, he wrapped himself in a warm blanket and nestled into his armchair.

As he flipped the pages, the words took him to another world. The soft glow of the candle flame made the words dance, and the scent created an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The distant sounds of the city — the occasional car passing by, the subtle chirping of night crickets — all added to the ambiance.

He recalled a quote by Haruki Murakami: “Sometimes I feel so- I don’t know — lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space with no idea where I’m going.” In that quiet moment, with his book and the gentle fragrance, James felt grounded, connected, and at peace.

He realized that sometimes, the simplest pleasures, like reading by a scented candle, can provide the most profound sense of contentment. It was a gentle reminder that amidst the chaos and hustle of life, moments of peace are not just welcome but necessary.

Conclusion

Reflecting on the Enriching Journey

As the sun sets on another day and I pen down these reflections, I’m reminded of a beautiful line by Robert Frost: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” The journey into the thirties has been a testament to this simple yet profound truth. Life, with its ebbs and flows, has continued to move, teaching, testing, and sometimes even teasing.

But as I look back, I realize that every step, every stumble, every leap has added depth to my story. The thirties have not just been about age or time. They’ve been about revelations, about understanding love’s complexities, the power of self-worth, the importance of breaking routines, and the joy in simple pleasures.

Embrace Your Personal Life Lessons

To you, dear reader, wherever you might be on your life’s journey, remember this: age is but a number, a marker. What truly counts are the stories you live, the lessons you imbibe, and the love you share. Whether you’re stepping into your thirties, waving it goodbye, or are miles away from it, there’s a world of wisdom awaiting you. Embrace it, for in understanding these lessons, we truly begin to live.

“Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forwards.” — Søren Kierkegaard. Here’s to living forward, understanding backward, and cherishing every moment in between.

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Tokyo
Beautiful Life 101

A Dev, a passionate learner and Self-Improvement, Psychology, Philosophy, Stoicism... enthusiast eager to share my knowledge.