Lessons Learned

Three weeks ago I moved my family to a new home. The weeks prior involved ruthless purges of anything that no longer serves a purpose. During this purge I came across a photo my husband had taken during one of our honeymoon hikes in Maui. I had just turned twenty-four. I wore a sky-blue bikini and was muscled and tan, following many months at the gym and runs outside to prepare for wedding photos. (Side bar: There is a reason North Face features hikers in pants and long-sleeve shirts. Bikinis are a bad choice.

At the age of thirty-six, the only swimwear seen in photos today are one-piece black numbers (because . . . black) with full back porch coverage. There are aspects of the unencumbered twenty-four-year-old I miss, but the girl in the “Mom suit” exudes confidence and contentment (and dare I say beauty?) that I did not have in my 20’s. In no order, a list of things my 30’s taught me—and advice I would give that twenty-four-year old (who would definitely not listen, but I digress)—are as follows:

  •  Wear sunscreen. In the next ten years, both you and your husband will have multiple pre-cancerous spots removed from your body, and you will lose your father-in-law to melanoma. Never take your health for granted.
  • Love people where they are. Most people do not change. However, respect yourself enough to walk away from anyone or anything that makes you unhappy. What you allow is how you will be treated. You can love someone where they are without giving them power over you.Find your tribe, and love them hard. Your 20’s will be filled with a large circle of family and friends and nights out that form the basis of stories told for years to come. Your circle will narrow in your 30’s, and your nights will involve more on-demand movies than drinking and dancing, but these are your people. Love them well.
  • Eat the cookie. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and a life of constant deprivation will not bring you joy.
  • Spend money on experiences, not things. That weekend hike with another couple will deliver more and longer-lasting gratification than the Kate Spade handbag.
  • Listen twice as much as you speak (maybe even three times as much).
  • Listen to the stories of others who tell you that your most-painful experiences will result in your greatest personal and professional growth. Allow yourself time to grieve the end of a relationship; a friendship; a job; an idea. Then take stock of what you learned, and apply those lessons going forward. You are a stronger person because of your pain.
  • Take and embrace risks. When you look back, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than the things you did. No one grows in their comfort zone.
  • Practice self-care, and draw boundaries. Your 20’s and early 30’s are typically hyper focused on career advancement and child rearing. Do not lose your identity during those years. Make peace with time away for a workout/pedicure/dinner with friends/etc. (working-mommy guilt is real) and declining opportunities you are not passionate about. (Side bar: I discovered the hard way that I am not PTA mom. Or Pinterest birthday party mom.)
  • In the world of charity, there are check writers and hammer swingers. Be the hammer swinger sometimes. The physical act of giving back and working with other hammer swingers will impart a renewed sense of purpose.
  • Lastly, give grace freely (to yourself and to others). You never know what is going on behind the scenes. Judge less, and love more. And forgive easily, if for no reason other than you deserve the peace that comes from forgiveness and moving on.

I needed the experiences of my 20’s to embrace the growth and maturity that came in my 30’s. My twenty-four-year-old self could not have foreseen the happiness in the seemingly-small, everyday moments of life. She could not have known that her heart would swell when three sticky (why are they always sticky?) children ambush her every time she arrives home; that she would fight happy tears during those final moments of finalizing pro bono adoptions for children in foster care; and that a perfect weekend involves ugly flannel pajama pants and a bowl of popcorn with her loving husband of twelve years.

One additional lesson my 30’s has reinforced is awareness that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Every day is a blessing. I experienced love and loss in my 30’s. And I am a better, stronger person because of it.