30 Lessons I Learned in my 30s

The 30 days leading up to my 40th birthday, I decided to share 30 lessons I learned in my 30s. That’s a lot of 30, right? The original audience for this reflective exercise was limited to my 350 Facebook friends. But I thought it would be nice to share the bits with all of you.

Lesson 1: My 30s taught me to appreciate kind people, which, in turn, transformed ME into a kinder person. Throughout my teens and 20s, I equated kindness with weakness. I used to bond with people based on shared negativity. I was drawn to men and women who were bitchy and biting. In the latter portion of my 30s, I learned that gossip and snark don’t provide a solid foundation for friendship. Quite the contrary. Attitudes are viral. Negativity is infectious. But so is affability! I enter my 40s clinging to people who are friendly, men and women who smile a lot and rarely have a negative thing to say. As a result, nice is, more often than not, MY new default. It took nearly 40 years for me to worship at the alter of nice. Valuing kindness has made it easier for me to spot and avoid people who aren’t great influences. 3 decades of life and I’m finally embracing considerate men and women and saying “thanks but not thanks” to the other sort.

Lesson 2: I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m ok with it. This wasn’t always the case. For the first 38 or so years of my life, I concentrated on the people who didn’t get me instead of appreciating the ones who did. I used to take it to heart when a person wasn’t warm to me. I’d silently stew and wait for an opportunity to put the hater in his or her place. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t make any substantial investment–negative or positive–in people who aren’t interested in getting to know me. This strategy has taught me that sometimes people who initially seem disinterested are just slow to warm. Everyone moves at their own speed. Ten years ago, I would have felt the need to lash out at the person, which, in turn, would have destroyed any future possibility of friendship. It’s a simple recipe. If somebody doesn’t seem interested, I back off. And if we’re meant to be friends, it’ll happen. Life is a lot easier when every slight–intentional and otherwise–isn’t interpreted as a declaration of war.

Lesson 3: Growing up, I couldn’t get enough attention. I felt the most complete when all eyes were on me, which explains why I spent the first 30 years of my life drawn to performance. I had a difficult time discerning between good and bad attention. I’d say stuff or dress a certain way just to get a rise out of people. All forms attention are not created equal. I learned that lesson in my early 30s. By the time I hit 36, I realized life is much more carefree when I’m not a topic other people discuss. That’s probably the best gift “Big Brother” gave me. After spending a year of my life under a microscope and having complete strangers debate the merits of the most mundane aspects of my behavior, I realized that I am perhaps most at peace when I’m not being scrutinized. I no longer have to be the center of attention.

Lesson 4: I like waking up without a hangover more than getting drunk. As an undergrad, I drank roughly 5 nights a week. As I close in on 40, I drink about 4 or 5 times a month. Take that, all you evolution deniers.

Lesson 5: I read rudeness as insecurity, which makes it easier for me to compartmentalize bad behavior and move on without responding in kind. For me, the trick to learning this lesson was pinpointing times I’ve been rude or dismissive. What was going on in MY head in those moments? More often than not, I felt insecure and was mean to compensate for my own self-perceived shortcomings. Once I saw the pattern in myself, it became easier to spot it in others. There’s no need to treat other people’s insecurity as a personal attack. Best of all, I can catch myself when I let the insecurity monster turn me into a dick. That sort of self-reflection makes room for self-correction.

Lesson 6: In my 30s, I learned how to apologize and do it with sincerity. No apologizing for the other person’s feelings. No saying, “I’m sorry, but…” I’m open to the idea that I f#ck up. And I try to own those moments. When I mess up, I can look somebody in the eyes and express sincere remorse for my actions.

Lesson 7: This one is a counterpart to lesson 6. If I tell a friend that he or she has hurt my feelings and the person is not inclined to genuinely reflect upon and modify his or her behavior, I’ll minimize my investment in the relationship. I’m open to learning from my missteps and evolving. I don’t have much interest in people who don’t.

Lesson 8: I learned the value of flossing and making my bed.

Lesson 9: In my 30s, I realized I was, in many ways, the opposite of who I was in my 20s. I believed I was a cat person who chain smoked and would eventually end up in New York. Turns out, I’m a non-smoking dog lover who can’t imagine living anywhere but Los Angeles.

Lesson 10: I didn’t learn how to properly have gay sex until my mid-30s. It’s sad to me that so many young gay men are forced to rely on gay porn for a basic sexual education. The problem with that avenue is that porn edits out all the stuff a person (especially a bottom) has to do before the act. Gays and lesbians are cheated out of sexual education.

Lesson 11: I learned how to cook a really good steak. For most filets, pan fry for one minute on each side, then put in a 425-degree oven. Cook 4 minutes on one side, then flip and cooke for another 4 minutes. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before eating. Between lessons 10 and 11, I know how to bottom and cook steak like a champ, yo. My 30s have been awesome!
Lesson 12: Botox. You’ll spend years thinking, “I’ll NEVER do that. Grow old gracefully. Blah, blah, blah.” Then you’ll blink an eye and be 39. That’s when you’ll realize the perfect word has a mere two syllables: Bo-tox. Filler ‘er up. I would mainline Botox, if I could. I’d shoot it in the webs of my feet and eyelids, just a like a heroin addict.
Lesson 13: Antiperspirant causes pit stains. The day I switched to a deodorant sans antiperspirant is the day I could wear white shirts again. Small but game-changing lesson. I wrote an entire blog entry about it. Check it out. 

Lesson 14: Hardly anything belongs in the dryer. Line dry= longevity.

Lesson 15: Increasingly, work doesn’t define me. What I do in my free time provides a more accurate reflection of who I am. I aim to be a good sport when I play games, and a fun, hassle-free companion when I party.

Lesson 16: I learned that friendships ebb and flow. I also realized that it’s sometimes natural to out-grow a friend. I used to stay in shitty friendships until there was a blow-up. I’m now better at realizing when a friendship is no longer working for me. Most relationship-oriented minutiae can be experienced with little-to-no drama.

Lesson 17: On a related note, I discovered that I can go long periods of time without seeing some of my closest friends. Each time we reunite, it’s like no time has passed. That’s one mark of a solid friendship.

Lesson 18: I no longer feel the need to trumpet my accomplishments to strangers. I’m much better at keeping my resume close to my vest.

Lesson 19: On a related note, I’m not that special. And I’m a-ok with being average. I was such a narcissist the first 30 or so years of my life. I suffered from a significant inferiority complex that disguised itself as superiority. Growing into the realization that I’m no worse or better than most people has made me more at peace with myself and the world.

Lesson 20: Only 10 lessons left, then I’ll be (gulp) 40. I have finally conquered my FOMO, or fear of missing out. I used to feel gen-u-ine anxiety if I didn’t go out on a weekend night. I’d think, “I’m certain tonight is the night EVERYTHING is going to happen: the best sex, prince charming, all of my friends on point!” Tonight, I have a touch of allergies and I’m already like, “Not going out. Nope. Staying in. I don’t care if that means two weeks without drinks.” And I know I won’t be missing my opportunity to get nailed by either Hemsworth brother.

Lesson 21: I used to primarily value friends as a vehicle for having a good time. The more willing a pal was to go out and drink with me, the closer I was to that person. I now cherish my friends because they are wonderful, kind, considerate, generous, intelligent, and hilarious people. Such a simple lesson. So sad it took me this long to learn it.

Lesson 22: My mom is an amazing judge of bad character. If something sets off her radar, I listen. My experience has taught me that most mothers are fiercely protective of their kids. They sense danger and toxicity from a mile away. I no longer take that for granted.

Lesson 23: Some people are hard-wired to be monogamous. Others are not. One way of intimacy is not superior to the other. That said, I don’t think the two breeds are complementary. Monogamy man and polyamory guy don’t mix; it never ends well. For the record, I’m a hardcore monogamist and have been since I turned 26-ish.

Lesson 24: I can no longer eat spicy foods, which sucks cuz I LOVE heat. When I was a kid, I used to eat jalapeños with popcorn at the movie theatre. Those days are done. Spicy food feels a lot better coming in than it does going out.

Lesson 25: I am not a drug person. More than that, I find drugs make other people boring. Try hanging out with somebody on cocaine. They’re fun for about five minutes right after they take a bump, then spend 30 minutes acting irritated. An occasional dip into the marijuana pond is ok but anything beyond that is not my bag.

Lesson 26: I quit smoking when I was 30. That’s the most important decision I’ve ever made. Quitting has had profound impacts on my health. Consider the picture on the left. In that photo, I’m 30 and weigh less than 120 pounds. That’s an EXTRA-SMALL shirt from American Apparel I’m wearing. And it’s BAGGY on me. In the photo on the right, I’m 39 and 160 pounds of sex on a stick. Quitting was the hardest thing I’ve EVER done. I was in misery for four straight months. I’m talking true torture. But I made it through, and, as a result, will never pick up another cigarette. If you smoke, quit. Do it now. Do it cold turkey. BTW, the incorrectly titled book The Easy Way to Quit Smoking helped me tremendously.

Lesson 27: I’m a terrible singer. But I can sing the hell out of one song at karaoke: “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror. Go figure. People actually come up to me after and compliment me on my performance. Any other song, though, and I sound like a cat getting skinned alive.

Lesson 28: I’d rather grade 3 papers a day over the course of 5 days than grade 15 papers on a single day.

Lesson 29: If you see an article of clothing that, no question, looks amazing on you. Buy it. No matter the cost. If you find somebody who cuts your hair to perfection, never lose track of where he or she works.

Lesson 30: Expect nothing from your friends but love. We all lead complicated lives and struggle with multiple commitments. Expect nothing and every demonstration of compassion and love is a gift.