1. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
If you’ve ever taken yoga, sometimes you’ll hear teachers say to “stay on your mat”. What they mean is to not look at other people in the class and judge your own abilities by what they’re doing; words to live by whether you’re interested in yoga or not. Everybody in the world does some things better than you and some things not. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary heartache by trying your best to stay on your mat.
2. Pay attention to health issues.
It’s obviously a cliché that you start to get more aches and pains as you get older, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. My ability to sit down for long car trips and my tolerance for jet lag both tanked as I moved into my 30s; I get serious pain when I drive for more than 10 hours at a time and am now exhausted at a 3-hour time change. You’re not about to collapse in a pain-ridden heap, but now is a good time to start eating healthier (cut down on processed foods!), exercising more, and maybe taking all those suggestions about ergonomic desk chairs seriously.
3. Start doing the things you thought you couldn’t do.
All those things you told yourself were too risky or you might fail while doing? Do ‘em. There is no “right way” to live, and if you’ve been holding yourself back due to fear of what people might say, now is a great time to realize you don’t care what people say. Make a major career change, write your novel, get a tattoo. Don’t be afraid; fear is a paralyzing force, and you need less of it, not more of it, as you get older.
4. Stop smoking.
Ideally, you wouldn’t have started in the first place, because smoking is notoriously terrible for your long-term health (as you’ve no doubt heard from your doctor every time you go in). But quitting before age 40 can undo nearly all the damage that’s been done, so now is the time!
5. Keep learning until you’re dead.
Our current school system encourages kids to decide what they might be interested in doing the rest of their lives when they’re eighteen-years-old, and then, once you’re done with formal schooling, call it quits and happily go about their business. In the first place, you can go back to school and get a new degree or finish an old one at any point in your life. In the second place, continuing education courses are not just for seniors looking to learn more about flower arranging; you can take classes in almost anything that might ever interest you. Intaglio copper plate printing? Check. Tap dancing? Check. Cherokee? Check. Even if you’re busy, taking time to learn things is always time well-spent.
6. Start saving money.
This isn’t so much about making the most out of your 30s and 40s, as about making the most of the rest of your life. Even saving a small amount every month is a good start. There’s a lot of financial information that will make you feel bad if you don’t have a year’s worth of income socked away, but most people in their 30s are carrying a lot of debt (student loans, anyone?). You can always aim to save more if you want, but a good baseline is to put about 10% of your income into savings. Long-term savings like IRAs or mutual funds often have better interest rates than plain old savings accounts, which are also easier to raid if you want to go out to dinner…but definitely don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Above all, if you have credit card debt, prioritize paying that down before making any other large purchases. Once you’re at zero, try to pay your whole credit card bill in full every month. The credit card companies hate that, and we love to make the 1% mad, right?
7. Sleep. Every night.
Remember when you were in your twenties and you could go days on only a few hours of sleep, and how you felt invincible? Those days are gone. If you invest in the quality of your sleep, the rest of your life will feel about a thousand times better: get a good mattress, good pillows, and stop staying out until 4 on the nights you have to wake up at 6. There really is no substitute for quality/quantity sleep every night.
8. Realize nobody knows what they’re doing.
When we were all kids, we were impressed at how grownups knew the right thing to do in every situation. When we were teenagers, we assumed that we knew what to do and grownups were being willfully stupid. Now that we ARE the grownups, time to realize that everybody is flailing around in a pool of incompetence, and the only difference is that some of us can do it confidently.
9. Let go.
Let go of all of it. Stop holding grudges. Release the wistful nostalgia that leads you to look up your high school sweetheart on Facebook and ask how they are. Realize that sometimes you can have a wonderful experience with someone and then life and circumstance means you never see them again. Stop holding on to misery or anger because you like the rush that comes from working yourself into a frenzy. Those ritualized arguments you have with your partner are probably boring both of you.