31: Life Lessons of a 31 Year Old

31, now what?

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Some people say being in your 30s means being past the best decade of your life. You’ve graduated, started your career, possibly bought a house or got married. There’s also the thing about travelling abroad and ‘finding yourself’. On that note, it perhaps might seem anti-climactic from here but hear me out. In the midst of all these things, you might have thought deeper about other aspects of your life like what you have achieved so far and what you would like to achieve (existential problems) to what you wanted to wear on a daily basis. Therefore, by the time you’re 30, your values, ideologies, likes/dislikes are well formed and shape you for a long time to come. Did I say that being in your 30s potentially means change is harder than ever before? Well it is but nowhere near impossible so for all those who would like to make a change can do so at any age, the goal is to get started. My previous article “30 Things I Learned By Turning 30” highlighted various lessons I had learned and aimed to capture a small perspective of what it was like to transition as a person over the past decade. This article will not break down points, but rather give a summary of what I’ve learned over the past year officially being in my 30s.

One new point I will add by turning 31 is that I am more focused towards my goals. There is less uncertainty now than even a year ago but also the pandemic has become a sobering experience that highlights what I have achieved so far and what is left to achieve. It made me sit down and really think about what I wanted to do with myself. Therefore, I learned to let go some of the things I may have planned on doing (travelling being one) and instead focused on attaining tranquillity and put my head down and became more focused on my career goals. If I’m truthful, this actually helped me a lot in directing my energy on more important issues and drifted me away from getting too comfortable with myself and becoming complacent. It’s a well known but often accepted cliché that lockdown has taught me to value the simpler things and that becoming more focused is better than spreading yourself too thin. I am guilty of having too many interests and pondering whether I should explore those streams or focus on building the foundations instead. Therefore, I learned to adhere to schedules and organise myself marginally better.

The reality is that goal setting is far more important than I ever imagined. Sure, I had a million different things I wanted to do like any ambitious person, what would serve me better and what would distract me from the things I wanted to achieve were important questions I asked myself. I recall reading far too many articles on self-improvement and productivity than ever before. It was just a hot topic since many were confined to their homes. So it got me thinking about myself and whether I could learn a thing or two. Indeed, I found out task efficiency was important and delegating tasks was far better to me than initially imagined as one of my psychology course lecturers would always say “don’t take on too much at once, if possible, assign others to do less important tasks so that you have more time to yourself for self-improvement etc.”. This aggravated me when I first heard it however as time went on, my mind adjusted to this belief and you know what? It worked! I was less stressed and had more time to get my daily tasks complete. So for all those who are perhaps struggling with time management, I urge to streamline your schedule and focus on what matters and leave what doesn’t. You can always come back to it. There’s definitely those who struggle with delegation that’s okay, it’s more important to attempt it rather than seek for perfection. Back to goal setting, there are variety of ways we can implement our goals but the most often cited is the SMART model. This model allowed me to adhere to a schedule and helped me to analyse how important/not important my goals were to me. For those who don’t know, the SMART model is a common business-oriented model that is used by teams/individuals and anybody wanting to be more focused with their ideas on a piece of paper. Whatever is on paper will be implemented in your life. It’s a short-term strategy and one that usually contains quick results.

However, existentially speaking, has there been any difference between turning 30 to 31? The answer is no. After all a year doesn’t make much difference but it’s nonetheless a step forward. I certainly don’t feel different, I am happy with who I am and where I’m going. So in my own understanding, if I am moving forward then I am happy. Stagnation can sometimes incur negative consequences, ones that I am not willing to experience. As is well known, life is not a destination, it’s a journey. We are so quick to rush towards our goal that we miss the stages that lead us towards that goal. Perhaps slowing down a little and being mindful of and appreciative of one’s progression is part of one’s happiness. I was terrible for rushing towards the end goal that I didn’t care about the process. Part of that was anxiety of the given moment and a need to escape from it. Once the goal was achieved I would either move on from there or contemplate a new goal until I felt ‘ready’ to achieve the new goal. This cat and mouse chase has been prevalent my entire life and it’s a common theme for many people. It’s difficult to settle yet also hard to move; a paradoxical vortex that persists for as long as you allow it.

Moving on, one important point I would like to emphasise is that the pandemic has changed many things and how we operate as a society. Therefore, goal posts have changed and I amongst others have re-analysed what it means to live and work. The usual workplace farce and operations have mellowed in to a hypnotic bubble of semi-formality: the shirt and tie on top and shorts on the bottom whilst navigating your attention on the screen with numerous other portraits confounded amongst a single screen in front of you. This has changed the entire way we work and has muddied the boundaries of work and home. The home has now become your workplace and living space. Managers and bosses are prone to call you at random hours or to act as big brother to ensure your conformity to work schedules/projects. This has left us wanting to turn our notifications off more than ever or even the entire internet for some. Too much of a good thing can be futile. I spent more time on a screen than ever before, minus my teenage years (of course). My posture morphed in to a nice comfy office chair and I lost some weight (as a fitness junkie, this wasn’t positive for me). Gyms were shut. I did however re-discover another hobby I had since long abandoned: cycling. I took up cycling again and headed for hills and terrains, giving my body that much needed fitness fix and it made me feel alive. If it’s one thing I’ve learned is that the outdoors will always be a place of natural beauty and stress-release. Being in nature can be one of the most primordial experiences ever and I loved every minute of it. I had to adapt to the qualms of lockdowns but it made me re-think ways of bringing out my usual hobbies albeit in different ways. Being in my 30s means I’m thankful than ever before of the little things that make me happy. It’s true the times are not the best but I have enough memories and experiences to last me a lifetime. I can safely say, the pandemic has been a journey within itself. A way of looking inside and finding who you are. A way of re-connecting with loved ones.

My take home message is ultimately this: each year you will discover something new about yourself, others or the world and it will add to your already fascinating mind. Sometimes whatever you discover is small and other times its big, the quantity isn’t important, it’s the quality. The idea is to take it all in and connect the dots as I believe each experience is there to teach you something and grow. Life comes with many hidden quests and it’s unwise to not rise to the challenge. Will you be a more productive and resilient person or are you ready to give up and miss out on the action? As my icon Steve Jobs once said “stay hungry, stay foolish”.

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