Last Sunday, I turned 30.
I ran away to San Diego for 4 days and enjoyed myself immensely. Despite all the anxiety I felt on the verge of turning 30, on the actual day of and after… well, I felt the same as when I was 29 (and 28 and 27).
I feel good.
I couldn’t think of a better way to turn 30 than in the company of my boyfriend, my best friend and my beloved coworkers… on the beach. In San Diego. In paradise.
As I look back on my 20s, here’s some valuable life lessons I learned and lived by:
Travel and live for today, because you never know what will come tomorrow
I’ve been indecisive about a trip I want to plan to Asia in May. A part of me really wants to go, while another part of me knows that it would be smarter to stay and work rather than jet off and have a long and very expensive vacation.
“Mary, remember Sally?” My best friend said to me when I relayed my woes. “Remember how she was diagnosed with end stage cancer at 32? Do you remember our friend’s sister who passed away at 34 from leukemia in a matter of 6 months?”
“I just think,” my friend continued. “What if I keep saving and saving money and then something like that were to happen? If I want to travel, and I can feasibly do it right now, then I should. You should. We never know what can happen. We can always save more money.”
And that sealed the deal. I bought the plane ticket to go on my vacation.
As morbid as it may sound, I often think about how I would feel if my life were to end tomorrow–and all in all, I feel grateful and satisfied. I fulfilled my dream of learning Japanese and living in Japan. I’ve fallen in love. I discovered China. My 20s were filled with so much adventure and friendship and love that, honestly, I could die happy. I’m glad that instead of stay and work up the corporate ladder in the USA, I took the leap to move abroad and added even more depth and meaning to my life.
So, just do it. Live for today (but don’t blow all your savings on it. Be reasonable!).
Trust your gut
Your gut is so important. I mean, almost half of my life’s mistakes were from me turning a deaf ear to the dissent of my gut feeling.
This is especially true for relationships. You know when you’re not meant to be with someone.
And in contrast, if your gut says it feels right, then it probably is.
Don’t forget or ignore family
In America, most children and young adults count the days until they can leave the nest. When parents come to visit them in college or call them multiple times a day, most children will simply reply: “leave me alone!”
Unlike Asia, when kids leave the nest in the United States they are usually forever separated. Lives become starkly divided.
When I moved to Japan, my village community always told me:
“Your parents must have done a wonderful job to raise you, because you’re such a good person.”
“Your parents must be worried sick about you living in a foreign country at such a young age.”
“Your parents made a lot of sacrifices for you to be here, don’t forget them.”
I started thinking: oh my goodness, I miss my parents and I was such an ungrateful shit to them all throughout high school and college.
So, I paid for them to come to Japan and visit me.
That’s right, I paid for everything.
When I had to send my parents off to the Tokyo airport after a fun-filled and simply unforgettable 2 week trip in Japan, I waved them farewell and watched their bus head to the airport and disappear in the distance.
And I blubbered like a whale. I hid near a bush in the Tokyo gardens and sobbed uncontrollably.
Later, my mom told me my dad was also crying on the bus (and quickly told him to man up). It was a really emotional realization for the both of us.
We’re family and we can’t forget about each other.
I’m sure many of my readers think: Mary, if you dislike living in LA and America so much, why don’t you just move back to Asia?
Well, it’s family. You only get one, and they’ll be gone someday. I want to be near them while I can; while they’re still healthy and mentally capable.
Your time is EXTREMELY valuable. So learn to say no.
You know when you promised a not-so-close friend you’d go to a concert with her, but it’s a 2 hour drive away and you’re broke and you really don’t want to see her anyway and you’re going only to be polite and friendly?
Yeah, just say no. Just. Say. No.
I feel like half of my personal problems in my 20s could have been solved simply by saying ‘no’ to people I didn’t want to be with or things I didn’t want to do.
Invest in stocks (or at the very least, learn some basic finance)
I moved to Asia. I had tons of fun. I saved money, and then I blew it on travel or learning other languages or moving back to America or whatever.
But when I turned 27, it hit me:
Holy shit. I have no retirement fund.
I also realized that while money isn’t everything, it’s essential. I don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck or bum around on friend’s couches when I’m in my 40s. I need to take care of myself. I need to learn more about how the world works–aka, wall street.
So when I moved back to the states I poured 20% of my monthly paycheck into stocks. I asked R to teach me about bonds, mutual funds, stocks, ETFS and more (cause he’s a financial guru).
I regret NOT DOING THIS EARLIER. If you haven’t started investing money yet, DO IT THIS INSTANT. Even 20 bucks a month is fine. It’s money that grows. Be smart and open a ROTH-IRA, if you can. Don’t be like Mary and wait.
If you need more tips on finances, visit my boyfriend’s new personal finance blog.
It’s ok to be lost at 29. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
I’m 30 and, quite honestly, I don’t know where I’m going.
And that’s ok.
I also have many friends that are already set on a path (such as medicine, law, finance) and realize at thirty: wow. I hate my job/career and I need change. I’m going to give my career a 360 spin and go into art. Or medicine. Or writing. I have a friend in his 30s who gave up his 6 figure pharmacy job to go back to school for video game design.
I think there’s an unspoken rule out there that says you need to have your life figured out at 30; and I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. Especially with the millennial generation in America. Hell, we’re saddled with debt and can barely afford rent–how are we supposed to have everything figured out by 30? So don’t put that pressure on yourself.
Still, when you turn 30, you better start seriously thinking about what exactly you want to do and where you want to be in five years.
Take care of your body
One thing I DO feel different about in my late 20s and now 30s is my body. My body does not feel as invincible as it did in my late teens and early twenties. My knees start to hurt after too much exercise. I get shin splints. I gain weight a lot easier than when Mary had a young metabolism. I can’t drink like a fish anymore (at least, not without a killer hangover).
Start a healthy lifestyle early. Get in the routine of exercising. Eat healthy. No processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar (basically everything the American diet lacks or has too much of). Cook more.
I also HIGHLY recommend yoga. It stretches muscles in your body you never knew existed. It builds core strength. And honestly, it helped get me through the rough times when I moved back to the states. It’s meditation at its finest, and I think anyone over 25 should try it at least once.
And finally, nothing is worth years of misery. If you’re unhappy, make a positive change.
I’ve always taken this advice, and I still strongly believe in it. Life is too short to be miserable for years on end. Instead of wallow in misery, think of how you can change your life for the better. Whether it’s a small change (jogging a mile a day) or a big one (changing a job, location, or even partner), change is what keeps us moving forward. It’s always hard, but honestly, change is the only way we learn to grow.
Ok you made it this far–time for the big announcement
I’m going to graduate school to study foreign policy and diplomacy. Probably.
I applied to three schools with intensive one year programs and two have already admitted me. Applying to grad school was a long, hard and difficult process (I’ll definitely write a post about how to do it), but it paid off. I got into some pretty good programs.
But I have to be honest with you readers–sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night screaming and in a cold sweat from nightmares about annual 40,000 USD tuition and living expenses. Graduate school in America is a HUGE expense. The price tag is seriously stressing me out. I just paid off my undergrad loan that was much lower than 40k, so taking on another massive burden of debit doesn’t sound appealing.
I’m waiting to hear on merit scholarship results and I’m crossing my fingers for some financial help.
I’m also considering graduate school in Scotland as a low cost alternative (tuition is half and cost of living is also lower than the states), but I know schooling in the UK and US is very different and I worry if the education quality will be the same.
If anyone has any tips or advice on grad school, I warmly welcome your advice!
Also, one last announcement:
I’m going to Japan in May and Shanghai in June for a long visit. It’s time for me to go back home.
Do you have any life lessons from your 20s?
Have you ever thought about grad school? If you’ve graduated with a masters, how was the experience? Was it worth it?