Today is my 30th birthday! It’s such a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to my 20’s, but I’m feeling a fresh sense of excitement moving into this new decade of my life!
It’s been said that our 20’s are the best time to make mistakes and to grow and learn. In my case, this was definitely true. Over the past 30 years, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes – but I’ve also learned a lot of important lessons that I know I will take with me for the rest of my life.
As difficult as it was to narrow this list down, here is a list of the top 30 lessons that I have learned in 30 years:
1. The only way to have a GUARANTEED return on investment is to invest in yourself
Over the years, I have invested both my time and money into many things that resulted in short-term happiness. I’ve invested in designer purses and handbags, clothes, shoes, partying, other people, etc. But the truth is that most of these things only brought me joy for a little while, and then I found myself looking for the next “fix”.
However, I have found that when I invested my time and money on myself, the benefits were always tenfold in my growth and happiness. For example, when I invested in my yoga & meditation teacher training or my holistic nutrition certification. Or when I hired a business coach to help me start & grow my business. Or when I traveled to new countries and explored the world. All of these things were an investment of my time and money in growing myself and becoming the next-level version of me. Clothes will go out of style; material things will eventually lose their luster. But I will NEVER regret the time and money I spent on bettering myself and expanding my mind.
2. Learn to block out the noise and instead, listen to your heart
There is SO much noise in the world around us these days. From social media to the news, to the ads we see, to the podcasts we listen to, and the people we surround ourselves with, we are constantly being bombarded with messages and opinions from others. But if you are not careful, you will allow these noises to penetrate your mind and start to negatively (and inauthentically) impact how you see & interact with the world. Take time each day to step away from the noise and listen to what your heart wants. Not what your parents want. Not what your social media feed makes you think you want. Not what the advertising agency says you “should” want. YOU. That is where your true magic lies.
3. You’ll never be 100% ready, and there will never be a “perfect time” to do anything. Sometimes you just have to take the leap and go for it
This realization completely changed my life. You are NEVER going to feel ready, and there is never going to be a “right time” to do the things that scare you. Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and go for it. Even if you totally mess up, or you feel like you’re not producing your best work right away, you can always improve and pivot later on! There’s a saying that you cannot steer a parked car. Forward momentum is vital – even if you have to make a few U-turns along the way (or in my case, a lot of U-turns). But I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do it just to start. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
4. We are not put on this earth just to pay bills, work for 40 hours a week at a job you hate, MAYBE take 2 vacations a year, retire, and die
I grew up with the understanding that there was only one way to be successful in this world. You go to college, get a degree, find a corporate job that you may or may not like (and if you don’t like it, suck it up), climb the latter, get a 401k, maybe take two vacations a year, and do this on repeat until you retire at 65. And ONLY THEN can you do the things that you enjoy in life.
Friends, this is no life to live. I truly believe that that cookie-cutter, assembly-line way of living will only lead to depression and living an unfulfilled life at the end of the day. We are born with passions and desires to do things that bring us joy, and society often tells us that we’re silly for going after what we want in life. We are literally standing on a giant rock hurtling through space. ANYTHING is possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
5. Gratitude changes everything
Amazing things started to happen once I decided to incorporate a daily gratitude practice into my routine. In all honesty, I used to think it was stupid and I repelled the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. But once I started, I started to notice a MAJOR shift in how I perceived the world and lived my life. Every morning I take out an old-school pen and paper, and I write down five to ten things that I’m grateful for that day. It can be as small as “I’m grateful for waking up this morning” or “I’m grateful for this cup of coffee”. I also like to take it a step further and write WHY I am grateful for each of these things.
When you do this, you start to train your brain to see fulfillment differently. True fulfillment begins when you celebrate and showing gratitude for all the incredible things you ALREADY have in your life, rather than always wishing you had something else. If you’re always reaching for the next best thing, you’ll never achieve real happiness.
6. Be kind, everyone is going through something you know nothing about
We never know what people are dealing with behind closed doors. People often act out irrationally at others because they are hurting on the inside. Even if people are rude to you, send them love and compassion and move on. They probably need it more than anyone. You never know what’s really going on in people’s lives. Be kind.
7. People will judge you no matter what you do, so you might as well do whatever the hell you want and what makes you happiest
At the end of the day, there is no universally “correct” way to live your life. Everyone has different goals and aspirations; different concepts of what success and happiness look like. And because of that, people will judge you and try to change you to be more like them. But we must continue to go in our own direction and follow our own paths, so that we don’t end up living someone else’s life, or helping someone else build their dream instead of our own. Make your life your own. Be proud of what you do with your time on this planet.
8. Life gets better when you stop waiting for other people to love you and start deciding to love yourself
This is one of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have. It doesn’t matter how many people like your Instagram posts. It doesn’t matter how many magazine covers you have. It doesn’t matter how “famous” you are. If you don’t like yourself, NONE of it matters! True validation can only come from inside of ourselves.
I used to care WAY too much about how others perceived me. I used to dress differently to “fit in” with other girls, I would act differently around different groups of friends because I thought it would help them like me more. But after a while, it becomes exhausting to constantly shapeshift and bend over backward to please other people. When I started being true to myself and not living my life to please others, that’s when I started to attract my soul-aligned friends and relationships. Everything changes when you stop seeking external approval and start being true to yourself.
9. Not everyone and everything you lose in life is a loss
Another hard lesson for me. I have had my fair share of people come in and walk out of my life. Some were easy, and others were extremely painful. But looking back, I now realize that most of the people who exited from my life were often toxic, and my mental health has substantially improved because of their absence. Remember, no one who is meant to stay in your life will ever leave. Read that again!
10. It’s okay to let go, to have boundaries, and to say NO
Did you know that “NO” can be a complete sentence? Your boundaries may upset people. Putting yourself first may piss people off. Do it anyway. Never feel guilty about putting yourself and your goals first because nobody will ever be as invested in your life as you are. Only you know what is best for you. You are the most important person in your life, and anyone who does not respect you and those boundaries probably shouldn’t be in your life anyway.
11. Magic happens when you learn to think positively and trust that the Universe is ALWAYS is working in your favor
Now I’m not talking about toxic positivity or only believing that the world is all butterflies and rainbows (spoiler alert: it’s definitely not). In fact, I believe that it’s very healthy to embrace all your emotions, no matter how “bad” they are (I actually don’t believe there is such thing as good or bad emotions). However, when you learn to embrace the positive aspects of negative situations, you will start to notice how things change in your world. When we are constantly looking for the bad, we will find the bad. Our brains want to find evidence to prove ourselves right. But when we are focused on finding the good, we will find evidence of the good. It’s all determined by your mindset.
12. People will betray you. People will hurt you. But never let that make you cold and bitter
Becoming bitter is the easy way out. It’s much harder to be the bigger person and to stay soft – but it’s always worth it. Remember that when people are mean to you, it’s usually just a reflection of something going on inside of them. Don’t ever take it personally. Instead of getting angry, send them love and healing vibes. The world needs more of that these days.
13. You are not responsible for the hurt and damage that others caused you, but you are responsible for healing yourself
Deep, right? We are NOT responsible for the childhood trauma we experienced, the bullying we faced while growing up, the people who cheated on us or hurt us and made us feel worthless, etc. You are not responsible for other people’s actions. However, you are responsible for healing yourself. There is a saying that I often refer to, and that’s “hurt people, hurt people”. When you allow the pain of your past to change you, there is a chance that you will then pour that pain onto someone else, and they will pour to someone else, and on and on for eternity. But we have the power to stop that cycle in its tracks! Take the time to heal yourself and your pain so that you can uplift the world instead of tearing others down. Talk to a therapist, hire a life coach, stop numbing yourself with alcohol & suppressants. What we resist, persists. Face the pain head-on and rise above it!
14. Starting a business is the hardest and most rewarding thing you will ever do
Starting and launching my own health coaching business has been no walk in the park. It has truly been one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Becoming an entrepreneur will force you to face your demons. You have to show up every day and get used to constantly pushing your limits in terms of comfort. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you are thinking about starting a business, go for it! It will be an emotional rollercoaster, but it will force you to grow and evolve in so many ways. I know I’m a better person because of it.
15. It’s okay to walk your own path – even if it goes against “normal” standards of society
Fun fact, I never want children. It’s something I have known for quite some time now. There is absolutely zero interest inside of me to have kids – and that’s okay! I also have no desire to ever work another 9-5 job or many other things that are “against the societal tide” so to speak. There is no set way that we should live our lives, even if society says otherwise. Live your life on your own terms, however feels best for you. Just because it’s a good choice for your friends, your parents, your neighbors, etc. does not mean that it must be right for you too. Have the courage to forge your own path in life. Make yourself happy first!
16. We are all on different timelines. Yours doesn’t have to (nor should it) look like anyone else’s
Someone once told me that it’s impossible for a sunflower to compare itself to a tulip. Sunflowers bloom in the late summer/early fall, while tulips bloom in the early spring. The sunflower doesn’t get jealous of the tulip, it just blooms in its own time when it’s ready. People are the same way. Some people will be successful in their early 20’s. Some won’t start their dream careers until their late 50s. Neither is bad. We all bloom at different times, and that’s okay! Never compare your journey to someone else’s. Bloom when you’re ready.
17. Invest in your health now, or you will be investing in your illness later
There was a time in my life where I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, drank until I blacked out 6 nights a week, took drugs regularly, and ate pizza for almost every meal. I never worked out and would get winded even just walking up a small flight of stairs. Hard to believe, right? My metabolism was pretty solid in my early 20’s but it eventually all caught up to me. I started getting sick ALL the time – colds, the flu, ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, you name it. On top of that, I started gaining a substantial amount of weight and I fell into a deep state of depression.
It was around that time that I discovered my yoga practice. A friend of mine told me that it would help me lose weight, so I gave it a try and ended up loving it! Yoga helped me overcome my crippling depression and taught me how to love myself. It even led me to start taking better care of myself including what I choose to eat, what products I consumed, and where I focused my energy. I can honestly say that I haven’t been sick in YEARS, and I feel the best I ever have in my life at 30. I don’t like to think about where I would be right now if I had continued that lifestyle. If you don’t have your health, you truly have nothing. Invest in your health now, or you will be investing in your illnesses later!
18. Learn to be present in your daily life
I know it can be hard to be fully present when there are so many distractions around us these days. But as Ferris Bueller so wisely said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. When is the last time you stopped to look around you and enjoy all the beauty that life has to offer? When is the last time you put down your phone and had a conversation with someone you love 100% distraction-free? If we aren’t careful, our thoughts will always be in a separate place than us and we’ll never really enjoy our life as it unfolds. Learn how to utilize mindfulness in your everyday life and start living for the now. It’s really all we have.
19. Never let anyone persuade you from going for your dreams!
I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a family member when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. I told them I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up because I loved animals so much. Their response? “Don’t be a vet, there’s no money in that field”. I remember feeling completely crushed by that statement and it has stuck with me for years. But here’s what I’ve come to realize. Money will come and go and there is so much more to life than just accumulating wealth. Also, job security is a complete myth. There is no guaranteed job in any career field in existence, so you might as well do what you love! Don’t allow someone to dissuade you from going after your dreams because they were too afraid to go after theirs, or because they allowed money to be the only driving force in their lives!
20. Comparing yourself to others is the greatest way to lose your true authenticity
I remember I used to scroll through social media and compare myself and my life to all the beautiful influencers on my feed. They had the fancy clothes, the lavish vacations, and adoring fans. But the more time I spend glorifying their lives, the more I started to dislike my own. And the more I started to change myself to be like these girls, the more I started to feel depressed and anxious. It led me down a deep spiral of self-hatred that ended in one of the darkest times of my entire life.
I’ve come to realize that if you want to love your life, you have to pay closer attention to yours instead of someone else’s. We are all different and we all have something unique to bring to the table. You’ll never be happy if you are constantly comparing yourself to strangers online. And to be frank, most of what people post on social media is bullshit anyway. Never compare your life to someone else’s photoshopped highlight reel.
21. Meditation and yoga will change your life
I know, I know. Coming from a yoga & meditation teacher, this probably seems cliché. But it’s true. Everything in my life changed once I discovered my yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practice. Meditation has helped me to see the world differently, and to respond to stressful or difficult situations rather than just reacting to them. Yoga and meditation helped me get out of a really dark time in my life and allowed me to recognize my power and purpose in this world. Don’t allow your preconceived judgments to prevent you from even giving it a try. I promise it will change your life for the better!
22. You will not be for everyone, and that’s a GOOD thing!
Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay! Do you like everyone you’ve ever met? Probably not. There is a saying: “you could be the ripest, sweetest peach in the whole world, and you will still find people who hate peaches”. But in the same note, you will also find people who love you fiercely and would do anything for you. Don’t waste your time trying to CONVINCE people of your value. Your time and energy are sacred. It’s a good thing to drive away people who are not for you because it draws you closer to the people who are actually aligned with you and meant to be in your life. Being disliked is simply a byproduct of being authentic to who you truly are. Repel away, my dear.
23. Appreciate each day because every moment we have in this life is a gift
Time is a gift, not something any of us are entitled to. Every moment is something to celebrate! Enjoy the sunshine, spend time with people you love, take the risk, go for walks in nature, see the world, notice the flowers, savor the moment, experience things outside of your comfort zone, do more of the things that bring you joy. Life is messy and challenging and downright difficult at times. But it’s also incredibly beautiful – a grand adventure that awaits us every single day. We will all end up on our deathbeds at some point. When it happens, I bet you won’t be wishing you worked harder & spent more time at the office, or that you spent more time on social media comparing your life to other people. Enjoy each day because tomorrow is never promised to any of us.
24. Take risks
When I was young, my mom used to tell me every day before she dropped me off at school “Take a risk today, Stephanie”. Now she didn’t mean a ‘go jump in front of a moving car’ kind of risk, but rather to do things that challenged me on a mental level. It stuck with me until this day. You can’t achieve greatness by staying in your comfort zone. Apply for the job that you may not be 100% qualified for. Ask the person on a date. Do the things that scare you. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no, or it doesn’t work out. But there’s also a chance that it could work out better than you could ever imagine. Take a risk today and see what happens. It might just change your life!
25. There is no such thing as failing. Just lessons learned
This was another hard one for me. I have failed MANY times in my 30 years on this planet. I’ve had failed businesses, failed relationships, failed classes, I’ve made incredibly dumb mistakes that I regret to this day. And if I’m lucky, I will continue to fail for the next 30 years and beyond. You see, I don’t see my mistakes and mess-ups as failures anymore. To me, they have all been important lessons and learnings on how to move forward differently. In fact, I’m SO grateful for all my mistakes, but I know they have made me stronger, wiser, and more resilient.
26. Stand up for what you believe in
I decided to become a vegan in my mid-20s. It came as a pretty big shock to everyone in my life – especially my friends and family. I have heard every comment in the book when it comes to complaining about my diet choices, and it used to bother me a lot. So much so that I would often scramble to change the subject every time it came up. But being vegan is a form of activism that I feel VERY passionately about, and I have decided that I will longer be quiet about it. My values are there for a reason, and if someone can’t respect those values, then they don’t deserve to be in my life.
When you stand up for things you believe in, it will get lonely. There will be uncomfortable conversations – even with people in your immediate circle. Do it anyway. Stand up for what you believe in, even if your voice shakes the whole time. Don’t be silent in the face of injustice. Use your voice to help others, even if it scares you. Once voice CAN make a difference in this world.
27. It’s never too late to do what you love and to try something new
Seriously. It is NEVER too late. I cannot stand the stigma in our society that you can’t try new things as an adult. Want to go change careers in your 40’s? Want to try a dance class in your 60’s? Why not? There is no drop-off point in life where the ability to experiment and learn new things just ends. Keep evolving and growing. And if someone judges you for it? I give you full permission to tell them to F*CK OFF!
28. If you find people in your life that are kind, caring, and love you despite your flaws, hold on tight to them
I had a really hard time making friends while growing up. I found that I didn’t really fit in at school and I was kind of a loner for most of my life. But in my mid-20s, I was lucky enough to find “my people”. People that accept me as I am, messiness and all. People that see my flaws and still care about me anyway. Friends who want to have impromptu wine nights and pajama parties. Friends who are there to celebrate all the highs and support during the lows. I can honestly say that I am engaged to the most wonderful man, and I have the most incredible support system. It’s taken me 30 years to get here, but I promise they exist. If you’re still trying to find your tribe – trust me, I know how frustrating it can be. But when you meet them, everything will click. Keep searching. And when you find them, hold on tight – true friends are far and few between these days.
29. Be the sunshine, even on the cloudy days
This is one of my favorite sayings, and something I try to live my life by. There is so much darkness around us these days. Just turn on the news for 10 minutes and you’ll be bombarded by hatred in our politics, violence in our streets, and anger in people’s hearts. If you are not careful, this world will try to make you bitter, cold, and constantly afraid.
But we also have the power to bring light and joy to others. Smile at a stranger, hold a door for someone, do a good deed for someone who cannot do anything for you, make someone laugh, give big hugs, make someone’s day. There is so much negativity in the world already, why not use your power to be the sunshine on someone’s cloudiest day? It might make a bigger difference than you know.
30. Don’t take life too seriously!
Life is hard sometimes, but it’s also beautiful and such an adventure. There is a 1 in 400 TRILLION chance that any of us are even alive right now. So enjoy each day, and live to the fullest. Laugh at yourself every once and a while. Make people smile. Bring the sunshine wherever you go. Every day is a gift, enjoy it.
Cheers to closing old chapters and starting new beginnings!
In love and light,
Photography by Shanti Knight