I’ll be turning 34 in ten days—meaning, I’ll soon be unmistakably in the “mid” thirties camp. Strangely, this transition from “still young” early thirties to a solid adult status feels smooth and positive. By contrast, every other birthday since 28 had made me deeply anxious. 🙀
But with the benefit of experience, I can attest that life definitely gets better as one gets older. For one, I’ve accomplished a number of my dreams, such as publishing my novel and using my platform to advocate for animals, buying my first home, and finding love. This doesn’t mean you get to hang up your hat and relax, of course—I still deal with all manner of struggles on the daily. But it’s more that, as you age out of the “new adult” category, you hit the next stage of evolutionary abilities like a level 2 Pokémon, and you can set higher goals with more confidence.
Without further ado, here are some lessons I learned from tackling level 1 accomplishments—and how I plan on applying them to future endeavors at every age.
Focus on two things: your mission and your quality
If you take away just one tip from this list, I really think it should be this one. I was reading Elle Decor one day a few years ago, and read an interview of a Nigerien starchitect Kamala Masomi where she advised young architects to “develop your mission and your voice.” It has stuck with me ever since. Your mission is why you’re doing what you’re doing. Your quality is how you’re doing it. To me, that means honing your skills and working toward a greater good. Think about it: if you’re excellent at what you do, and you’re doing it for a higher purpose, you will be successful sooner or later.
High risk, high payoff; low risk, low payoff
Once, I co-hosted a “How to make a living while making art” webinar for emerging writers. I advised them to dream big, go for broke, and write as if you’d die otherwise—no safety nets. My co-host then directly countered me, explaining that she got a stable job as a professor (in a subject she didn’t study, in a country she didn’t plan on living in) precisely so that she wouldn’t have to write desperately, and it could always remain something she did for joy.
I actually don’t think her approach is wrong per se—only that my approach has led me to make a (good) living writing. Again, not a criticism—I think some people prefer not to be relentless in pursuing their goals. And there are lots of different paths we can reach a point of satisfaction and fulfillment. But in my opinion, if you want to reach for the stars, you have to take a leap of faith. You can’t always try to have one foot on the ground and still expect to fly.
…But don’t burn yourself down to the ground
In my twenties to about age 32, I burned out in my relentless pursuit of my goals. I was so busy I could feel nuts and bolts flying out of my head. I became physically sick very often and didn’t feel joyful. Once I made the radical decision to prioritize my well-being, my work actually gained more traction and more opportunities flowed in my way.
Sleep is the best anti-ager
Along those lines: a friend told me that her doctor advised her to sleep between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. at all costs, because that’s when your body regenerates. I have found that to be true. I don’t always fall asleep at 10 o’clock sharp, but I start my winding down process at around 9 p.m. to get as much high quality sleep as possible. It has made a huge difference in my aging process—my eye area has never looked better!
It’s worth taking your health seriously and figuring out its quirks
Around 30 is when a lot of bodily changes take place, and not just the obvious gray hair, fine lines, and elasticity. Many women experience their first onset of new allergies during this time. For me, this was the sun (seriously?!). I also have chronic foot pain from dance, which started as a teenager but now feel much more impossible to ignore, at my age. Newsflash: your body is not invincible, and it’s up to you to preserve it. I pay waaaay more attention to how to make my body feel good, compared to say, five years ago. (And close to zero attention to how “fat” I look—seriously, who. cares.) That means Epsom salt soaks, toe spacers to reduce bunions, tennis ball roll-out, supplements like Omega-3 and zinc, tart cherry juice, etc. etc. If you’re in your teens and twenties and this sounds so boring, I know—but just you wait.
Don’t skimp on skincare and hair
I wish I had my current skincare regimen when I was in my twenties. I would have saved myself loads of heartache! These days, when I find something works, I always use it to the end and restock it. This means: cleanser, scrub, pumpkin peel; rosewater toner, essence, hydrating serum, antioxidant booster (brightening), eye cream, oil plus zinc powder for DIY sunscreen for day, and night cream; plus lip balm. That sounded like a lot of work and $$$$ in my twenties, which was why I let things run out and had gaps in my skincare—which led to blemishes and issues, which led to actually spending more in the long run. I also realized around age 32 that more expensive shampoo and conditioner really do merit the price tag. With a great haircut, a high-end shampoo and conditioner can let you do that wash-and-go routine. It’s also the key to looking more pulled together, just instantly 10% prettier. What do I save money on? I spend way less money on salon manicures and pedicures than in my twenties.
The love you give is the love you get
If you’re ready to meet someone and it’s just not happening, consider how ready you are to give love. You attract love when you’re nurturing and have that giving energy. Even non-romantically, like volunteering and adopting a dog or a cat. I think this is more important than loving yourself first or posting the most amazing profile pics on Tinder.
The more you give, the more you get
Along those lines: I once met a highly successful celeb stylist / entrepreneur at an American Ballet Theatre gala. I asked him the secret to his success, and he said, “When things are not going right, give.” That really left an impression, and I believe it’s true. If things are not going your way and you feel tempted to curl inward, help others and give back. If things are going your way, help others and give back. The more you help, the more help you will receive—I know how true this is based on a number of distinct experiences in my life.
When you hit rock bottom, you bounce back higher
The worst day of my life was January 27, 2016. The second worst day of my life was November 5, 2019. They were both such nightmarish days that I won’t ever forget those dates as long as I live. However, both times, the terrible days were followed by long stretches of what can only be described as incredible good luck. Lesson: When you’re going through no good, very bad day (week, month), just know that this too shall pass and you’ll be amazed at how good things are waiting for you, right around the corner.
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling