30 Things I Learned by 30


Greets, peeps! Welcome to the officially re-launching of my personal website, running adjunct to my company’s site: GradMoney.Org.

Wow. It is crazy that I'm here already; today is my 30th birthday! By now I thought I would feel, and be, a lot of different things, not the least of which is feeling like a real adult…and also a millionaire. But hey, nothing in life comes easy, but I have high hopes that I will get there one day on my own accord.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting back on the last 30 years of my life and I really surprised myself, in that it took exactly three decades for me to fully comprehend much of what makes me tick. Knowing all that I know now, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself how mundane certain worries are and how other things are a much bigger deal.

There is no time machine to save us, unfortunately. However, much of what I have experienced in the last 30 years can easily be applied to those who are younger than me (heck, even those who are my age and older). Wisdom is not something we are born with, and much of the time the younger crowd ignores the advice of the wise. Such is how life goes for us all, and the old adage is true: “youth is wasted on the young.”

While I would hesitate to call myself “wise,” I would not hesitate to call myself “seasoned.” (As in seasoned with the passage of time, not like a piece of meat.) So, as my birthday present, I ask that you read these 30 things I have learned in the last 30 years and I hope that you will take at least one or two of them to heart. Also, if any these really resonate with you, please share your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I would love to know your experiences as well!

So without further adieu, here you go…

1. Moisturize. All the time.

No matter how old you are, you never outgrow a good moisturizer. Unless you want to look older than you actually are, moisturizing will slow this down to a large extent. The earlier you start, the better. Find a good one and stick with it.

2. Give 110% in every thing you do.

Often times it is how you handle the most mundane tasks that determines just how much of a hard worker you are. If I’m given a really easy assignment at work, I not only complete it, but I also add something extra beyond what was asked. If you are asked to cook a meal, always bake a cake too. People won’t remember if you complete only what is asked, but the won’t forget the extra work you do.

3. You will need to cook as an adult, so you had better learn today.

Sad but true; you will go broke if you eat out every night. Additionally, you can only survive on ramen and Spaghetti-Os for so long. Knowing how to cook will open many doors, both socially and economically. You will save money in the long run and will impress your family

and friends. Not to mention, you can always impress your mom with the fact that you know not to serve crunchy fettuccini.

4. Consuming alcohol responsibly will open many doors.

If the boss asks you to come out for drinks – go! Don’t shrug off work invitations simply because you don’t want to drink alcohol. On the other hand, do not drink to the point of being obnoxious. I have a hard time trusting people who don’t drink and who drink too much. Knowing your limits when it comes to booze is good indication of self-control; this is important is both your professional and social life.

5. Travel.

Oh, the places you should go! Travel is my therapy, my medicine, and my life goal. Nothing on Earth will make you feel more free, will give you an education unlike any other, and really put your own insignificance into perspective. I’ve lived and studied in two countries before I was 22, and I’ve traveled to more than two-dozen countries all over the world. It never gets old – go and do it before you are no longer able.

6. Being a friend will help you make a friend.

As someone who grew up with very few friends, it was really hard going out into the world – in particular another country – without much knowledge of what it really takes to be a good person and make friends. Much to my surprise, it was really easy once I took the initiative and became the friend I always wanted. After leaving high school, I acquired so many friends all over the world, in college, in my community, and in my workplace, that it really made me forget what it was like to be without them.

7. Animals are often better than people.

Over the years, I have had three cats: Tiggie, Figaro, and Wallace. The best part about cats, and animals in general, is that they give unconditional love and accept you the way you are right now. Whenever I was sad, angry or depressed, my cats would come from wherever they were, sit in my lap, and listen to my problems. They wouldn’t tell me to stop crying, they wouldn’t tell me to change who I am, they don’t scold me or tell me to lighten up – they accept you they way you are at that moment. Friends will get tired of hearing about your problems, but animals never do.

8. Question everything.

If someone never asks the question “why?” they are just not interesting enough to be my friend. Never accept the world the way it is – always ask the question “why?” Keep your mind open and never assume that people are static, that religions or cultures are stupid, etc. – asking questions is what will save the world. It’s best said in my favorite Korean proverb: “Even if you know the way, ask one more time.”

9. Learn about a faith other than your own.

I was born, raised, and still am a practicing Roman Catholic. It goes without saying that I have a good idea about my own faith and my own interpretation of what Christianity is all about, but other faiths have always fascinated me. Back in 2007, I became captivated by Buddhism in particular. One Sunday, I traveled to Buddhist temple in South Korea and

spent three hours praying and meditating with the monks. When I came back to the U.S., I spent a few years studying Buddhist scriptures and found great solace in the Dharma teachings. In the end, I came to believe that we are really all praying to the same God – just with a different name and a different form. Never go out in the world thinking that your view is the only view: this is what leads to prejudice and violence. Before passing judgment, seek understanding, and never stop asking “why?”

10. It's okay if you never figure life out.

In my youth, I often listened to adults who were into their 80s and 90s because I thought they might provide me with some kind of epiphany about what our purpose in life is and what our existence is about. Much to my dismay, none of them spent nearly a century on the Earth with any real answer to the question: what is our purpose in life? I don’t think we are ever meant to know for sure, but in the end we get set on a path and every life is an important one.

11. Have your own list of "go-to's."

Make sure you have a go-to drink to order when out with friends, have a go-to karaoke song, a go-to TV show to watch, and a go-to topic of conversation when meeting new people. (Note: politics, religious, and the weather are horrible go-to topics of discussion and should be avoided at all times.)

12. Never dish out what you can't take yourself.

The Buddha once said, “Whatever you think, you become.” Whatever energy you put out into the world, it is returned to you equally. No one is immune from Karma, it is basic physics: for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. If you show kindness, you will receive kindness. If you throw stones, you better move out of your glass house.

13. Be nice to others and yourself.

Along the same line as #12, it’s obvious that you should be nice to others, but it’s less obvious that you should also be nice to yourself. This is one that I continue to struggle with, and I’m sure many people are in the same boat. Look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and say, “I accept myself unconditionally, right now.” It’s hard to do. If you do this 1-2 times per day for a whole month, you will experience all of the negativity your mind can muster. One day, it will click, and the bad voices will stop. I haven’t experienced this yet, but every psychologist I’ve gone to assures me it will happen someday. Hey, it’s worth a shot.

14. The only life you can control is yours.

There was a girl from my college who spent a good 70% of her day giving unsolicited advice to her friends, and blowing certain statements or actions made by her friends way out of proportion. The keystone of every conversation had to do with how she didn’t think other people were living their lives properly. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked her, “What do you gain by concerning yourself so much with how other people live their lives?” It was as though no one had ever thought to ask her this question. Your advice and judgment should only apply to one life: your OWN. You can lead a herd of horses to water, but you’ll never force any of them to drink. Sit back, and have yourself a drink.

15. If you paid big money for a shitty lunch, don't go there again.

This is the definition of insanity. And I am guilty. Yes, it was convenient to go get a to-go box from a mediocre buffet. No, it was not worth $13 two days in a row, or ever again.

16. Smart is sexy.

You could have the prettiest face on Earth, but if you’re stupid I’d rather you not exist. I’m attracted to beautiful minds and minds that operate like my own. If your boobs sag, if your butt’s too small, if you nose is too big, then you can always fix this. You can’t fix stupid.

17. You are beautiful (no matter what you wear on your face or do to your hair.)

However, if you have a desire to change to be sexy, you should know that no matter what you look like there is always at least one person who thinks you are beautiful just the way you are. Think I’m wrong? Most of the time they are total strangers as this video from Dove demonstrates:

Whenever I go out in public, sit in a restaurant, or ride public transportation, people stare at me. This used to make me angry. I would think, “Why are you staring? Haven’t you ever seen a fat girl before?” One day a stranger noticed me noticing them staring at said, “Please forgive me for staring, but I think you’re beautiful, you’re the nicest thing on this train to look at.” Your friends and family already love you; imagine how beautiful you must be to them.

18. Treat rich food like sex.

Most European cultures, in particular the French and the Italians, eat super rich, delicious foods and yet are not overweight in the least. On a trip to Italy to visit my friend in Milan, I went to my first Italian pizza parlor. My friend was beautiful: tall, skinny, with perfect teeth and hair, and she ate an entire pizza on her own. Why? Because pizza in Italy is less about the crust, and more about the toppings which are rich and full of flavor. They may eat minimally or modestly during the week in order to have one, deliciously rich meal once or twice per week. Food is like a lover: the longer you anticipate being with them, the more exciting it is once you finally get together with them. Sexy, huh?

19. Pray and meditate.

Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door shall be opened. We never stop seeking answers throughout life, especially during times of despair or major life changes. Prayer has helped me through the darkest moments of my life. I’ll never forget the first time God spoke to me: it was my first night during my semester abroad in South Korea. I was pacing in my room at 1:00AM, my luggage was missing, my roommate was out somewhere else and apparently spoke no English, I was jet lagged, I was not able to call or communicate with my family or friends back in America, I had no money, I didn’t speak a word of the language, I knew not one person, and I was terrified and in tears. So many worries plagued my mind, so I prayed, and it was the first time God answered me. It was a voice in my head, my own voice. It said, “Jenny, I love you. But go to sleep.” Almost immediately I felt at peace, because when I thought about it, God was right: that was literally the only thing I could do to calm my worries at that moment. That was my one and only bad day in Korea. I pray you find answers too.

20. That whole "love will find you" thing is actually true.

So much of my 20s – heck so much of my teens – were wasted crying over guys who I wanted to love me but they just didn’t. I had my heart broken more times than I care to admit, but ultimately all of these times are all forgotten once you finally find the love you

are meant to find. Finding love is not a race, though many people treat it as such and end up marrying the wrong person believing that they have to settle. Sometimes it may not be with another person, maybe you learn to love being alone and just enjoying the company of friends and family forever. But more likely than not, you will find someone for you. My fiancée waited 46 years before finding me – fortunately, I didn’t have to wait quite that long. You will know you are in love when you don’t have to ask yourself, “Am I in love?” Trust me.

21. Understand what makes you sad.

Sad to admit that for all the years of therapy I’ve had, I only began to figure these out for myself in the last year or so. I have really low self-esteem, I know this, but more importantly I know “why” I have low self-esteem. This is an important step to recovery, and hopefully my 30s will provide the answer to what can I do to undo the damage done by traumas of the past. Don’t dwell too much on the why, but really understand what triggers the waterworks.

22. Experiences > Things

The best things in life are not things: they are experiences. Most of my peers in high school saved up money from their part-time jobs to lease a new car. Virtually all of my life savings were spent on traveling all over the world, staying at nice hotels and eating at nice restaurants. Cars are nifty, but even at age 30 I haven’t bought a car for myself. Instead I have a whole slew of interesting, cultures friends, and countless stories.

23. Even if you are screwed up you can still help others.

I often thought it was ironic, and slightly cruel, that my expertise and career is based around investing in the stock market and saving for retirement, because my own finances are no models of perfection. Just because your life is not perfect, it does not mean you cannot extent a hand to help others avoid your own pitfalls. Additionally, even if you a totally broke, you can still lend a hand to help someone else. The goodness comes back to you tenfold.

24. Be nostalgic.

Whenever I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch I remember how awesome Saturday mornings were when I was a kid. Whenever I smell lilacs I think of our backyard in Vermont during the month of May. Contrarily, I hate the smell lilies because it reminds me of my grandfather’s funeral. Remember the bits and pieces of your past that make you happy and that make you sad – both are important to your personality and knowing what makes you tick.

25. Nurture the right friendships.

So much of my youth was spent trying to make friends or really to get people to like me for me. It was really all a waste of energy. Those you are your friends will keep being your friend no matter the distance or events in your life. I’ve met plenty of people and have plenty of acquaintances, but few true friends, and this is likely for the best.

26. Quality is relative.

This speaks for itself really. Sometimes a $4 bottle of wine is a million times better than some $100-recommendation at a fancy restaurant. I happen to really love IKEA furniture, despite having to assemble it yourself. Many people call it cheap. I only call the prices cheap; not the quality. Everyone has their own definition of quality, so it’s silly to ever argue about whose definition is better.

27. It's not crazy to talk to yourself.

I do it all the time: at home, in the shower, when I’m out for a walk. People may look at me like I fell off the turnip truck, but talking myself through my problems, ideas and solutions is one of the most helpful practices ever. I’m not suggesting that you start talking to yourself, but just know that if you already do it, you are not alone.

28. Get scared.

Just don’t give yourself a heart attack in the process. Some people would rather go skydiving then speak in front of 1,000 people. I recently gave a TED Talk, and many people asked if I was nervous to speak in front of a crowd. For me it’s not giving the speech that scares me, that part is the easiest for me. It’s the anticipation that scares me. Waiting on stage, ready to make an entrance is like standing in the plane door before the jump. Once you’re in freefall, the fun starts and the fear ends. Experiencing fear is sometimes the best way to get an endorphin rush and make you feel accomplished.

29. F.O.M.O. is stupid.

(That’s the Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO effect.) I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve said “no” when my friends have wanted to go out and all I wanted to do was lounge around in sweats, watch an old movie and eat Chili’s takeout. Don’t worry about missing out on anything; there are plenty of opportunities to have fun with them at another time.

30. Family ALWAYS comes first.

It's so important that it's the pinnacle of this article! Your family is more important than any job you will ever have, than any position you will ever hold, and any amount of money in the world. Savor every moment with your family, don’t fight with your siblings, forgive grudges, and never forget that their love is why you are alive. Call your parents for as long as you can…you never know when God will call them home.

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