I turned 30 a few weeks ago and spent the last few weeks reflecting on who I am and what’s changed over the last decade. I revisited a private blog I started in college and the author was full of naiveté and plenty of insecurities. Although there are still lingering bits of that here and there, I feel like a much wiser, more confidant woman (and every bit as obsessed with the Internet as I was back then).
As I launch into my thirties, I’m grateful for the following lessons I’m taking along with me:
- Sleep is important. I didn’t get much of it in college and my sleep habits didn’t improve when I started working. In fact, I used to be one of those people who said stupid things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” What I’ve come to learn is that I function at my best when I’m well rested – my mood, productivity, and overall wellness hinges on a solid 7 hours of sleep each night.
- Happiness is a state of mind. I used to think that if I achieved certain goals or whisked my way off to distant places, it would somehow fix or change something about my state of being. It turns out that every variable in my life – money, relationships, location, etc. have negligible affects on my happiness. I feel the greatest sense of joy when my why is clear.
- You can leave New York City and it will always forgive you when you return. I’ve left the city twice now, first for Boston from 2008-2009 and then for Washington D.C. in 2013. I think I’m going to leave it again, but I’m not sure for where or when.
- Cooking is soul-feeding. Food has always been such an integral part of my life, from family holidays to exploring new cuisines across my many travels. Learning how to cook has been one of the more gratifying skills I’ve picked up over the years. There’s still so much improvement I can do in this area, but I relish the opportunity to prepare food for myself and for other people.
- Lean towards yes. I need to work on saying no more, but saying yes has served me well on so many different levels. Although I do think setting boundaries and not being overcommitted is a good thing, I’ve had the most gratifying, serendipitous moments of my life by being open, giving, and adventurous.
- Surround yourself with incredible women. I chose to attend Barnard College in 2004 and that’s where I fell in love with sisterhood. I learned what it was like to be loved and supported by smart, curious, and passionate women and that’s stayed with me ever since. Because I work in tech, which is so male-dominated, it’s that much more important to me to find women I can draw energy and inspiration from.
- Find your mentors and champions. So much of my professional growth is fueled by the wide net of individuals who have been both coaches and advocates for me. I don’t think it’s enough to just have mentors. Their empathy and advice will only take you so far. It’s equally important to find your allies, people who will fight for your cause no matter what that is.
- Laugh often and out loud. My laugh might be one of the more distinct aspects of my personality. It’s loud and uncensored and comes from deep within. My dad, the ultimate jokester, said this to me when I was little and it just stuck: “It doesn’t matter if no one else is laughing with you. Just own it.”
- Give to get. Any time I’ve embarked on an endeavor with the phrase, “What’s in it for me?” the outcome has always been lackluster. 9 times out of 10, I get out what I give. Generosity and abundant thinking are two guiding principles that have served me well.
- See the world. I must have inherited my wanderlust from my mom, a former flight attendant, immigrant, and globetrotter. I know airline travel stresses people out, but I love being on planes and in airports. It makes me feel like every corner of the world is somehow accessible to me. In so many ways, it actually is.
- Learn to see your parents as peers. My relationship with my parents changed dramatically once I started recognizing that once upon a time, they were just like me – two young people trying to figure things out. It’s been great getting to know them as an adult and to actually have them not just as parents, but friends too.
- Recognize others and how much they mean to you. I’ve recently come to appreciate how important words of affirmation are, not just in personal relationships, but work ones too. It’s so easy to take people for granted or to focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right or good. I’m trying to do a better job at letting people know that they’re appreciated.
- Fail often and fast. It’s such a startup cliche to say this, but I do think that your 20’s are a time for experimentation and iteration. I’ve only ever experienced growth when I’ve pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. Although I feel much more risk averse than I did at 22 or 25, I still create mini challenges for myself or experiments that help me learn and grow.
- Think in 3’s. One of my first mentors, an ex-McKinsey guy, gave this one to me during my first job. He said, “Alexa, you have to break it down so people understand you. 1, 2, 3. A, B, C. Beginning, Middle, End. No more, no less.” It was this type of structured thinking that’s made me a more effective communicator and story teller.
- Know thyself. Introspection is something that I hold sacred. You can’t possibly know where you’re going if you don’t have a sense of who you are. I think my dad gave me my first diary when I was 10 or 11 and I kept maybe 5 of them as a teenager. I’ve since started and stopped various Xangas, Bloggers, LiveJournals, and WordPress instances all chronicling different aspects of my life. I might not always share these thoughts publicly, but the act of writing my thoughts down and having them for posterity is something I deeply cherish.
There’s a part 2 to this list that’s much more akin to lifehacks I’ve acquired along the way (e.g. airline miles, productivity tips, etc.). If I get ambitious, I won’t let 2+ years pass in between this post and my next one.
Til next time, sayonara!