To my 20-something girlfriends writing their "30 before 30" lists

I’ve had a few friends who are on the verge of turning 30 ask me recently what they should put on their “30 before 30” bucket lists, which as the title suggests, is a list of 30 things one must do or accomplish before one’s 30th birthday.

It’s a question I had a hard time answering partly because I remember being in their shoes thinking that THIRTY was this magic age where all the hard work of my twenties would pay off and the government would issue me my perfect husband, 3 perfect kids, a 401k, and a two-story house with a 2 car garage in the suburbs and I would spend the rest of my life just sorta coasting…. (insane, I know).

In June of 2009, at 24, I remember sitting on an airplane back from Argentina with my best friend Jess. We had just completed a 10 day trip of drinking way too much Malbec and traipsing around Buenos Aires with Argentine soccer players (living our best lives). I was living in Dallas in the middle of a 3-year long-distance romance with a Spaniard who I was convinced I was going to marry, teaching bilingual 1st grade, and pretty confident that I knew exactly how my life would turn out as Jess and I made our “30 before 30” bucket lists together on that long plane ride home.

Ten years later, just a few days after my 34th birthday, as I was sifting through old journals I found that list.

Marriage, kids, own a house, earn a masters degree, get a tattoo, live near the ocean, travel to exotic countries (none actually specified), run a marathon, and ride an elephant were all among the 30 that made it on there. I even had it mapped out on a timeline, along with the names of my future (hopefully Spanish) children. I was convinced I was in total control of every outcome of every decision I would make and that by 30, I’d have life figured out.

Besides the kids and the elephant, those other “bucket list” items did get checked off my list before 30. But ironically, with many of those bucket list items that I thought would lead to ultimate Happiness, came their shadow opposite. And it was in those shadows that I came to really know myself…

In addition to marriage, there was divorce.

In addition to owning a house, there was near homelessness that followed.

In addition to a Masters degree in Education, there was a complete retirement from teaching and total career change altogether.

There are other examples, but you get the picture.

All of that being said, I write the following 30 items as advice to my younger self. Not so much a revised '“bucket list” that I would recommend to others, but what I wish the older sister I never had would’ve said to me. Some of the items are things I’ve actually done and would recommend to anyone else, while others are things I wish I’d done differently.

Ultimately, we’re all on our own journey so if you’re gonna write a “30 before 30”, only you really know what to put on it…

  1. Wear SPF 30+ sunscreen every damn day no matter what. This is number 1 for a reason because girrrrrrl those sunspots are gonna piss you off later when you can’t get rid of them.

  2. You are the product of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose your inner circle wisely and then hold onto them tight.

  3. Keep a gratitude journal, as cliche as it sounds. Write 3-5 things you’re grateful for every night and watch how it rewires your brain to notice the positive. Your life will be better because of it.

  4. Don’t be an irresponsible asshole with your credit card. The banks never should’ve given you that much credit anyway.

  5. On a similar note, don’t be an irresponsible asshole with alcohol. You don’t need it as much as you think you do, and you’ll actually make some pretty life-shattering decisions under the influence.

  6. Form your own political opinion based on your own morals and values. It may not look like your parents’, and that’s ok.

  7. Call your parents more. You were the most difficult child for them to raise and continue to be the most difficult for them to understand, so maybe call them more— open the lines of communication— to make it a little easier on all of you.

  8. That being said, stop caring so much about what they think and do what lights you up and feels most aligned to you. They will love you no matter what.

  9. The sooner you stop dieting, the more free you will feel. And the more you’ll love yourself and your incredible body and the better example you’ll set should you ever have a daughter.

  10. Develop yourself and stay inspired. Read books, listen to podcasts, or go to seminars that spark your interest.

  11. Stripped bare, who are you? You’ll sell all your possessions and start over 4 different times before 30. I know this sounds scary, but this will teach you that you are not your possessions and your worth isn’t wrapped up in what you own.

  12. In addition to your parents, stop caring so much about what other people think. I promise, they’re not thinking about you that much.

  13. Do that yoga teacher training. Or go live on a yacht or work in a zoo in South Africa or teach English in Thailand or get that Masters degree or run for office or write that damn book. You won’t regret it. In fact, it will have a ripple effect that will change more people’s lives than you can even imagine right now.

  14. Go to Hawaii while you’re still living out West.

  15. And go to Italy while you’re still living in Spain.

  16. Drink more water and eat tons of greens. It literally makes you pretty.

  17. No, there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not married by 30. You’re not a better human once you’re married, so go ahead and mark this one off the list please.

  18. When your college best friend dies suddenly and you’re living across the country, find a way to be at the funeral (and you will).

  19. Eat real food like, 90% of the time. Learn to cook for yourself and it will be one of the biggest gifts you can give to YOU and potentially pass on to others.

  20. Mind your business when it comes to other people’s relationships.

  21. Keep practicing your Spanish, or whatever your hobby is. It’ll keep your brain fresh.

  22. Set some financial goals, start saving and investing, and live within a budget. Respect your money hunny.

  23. Buy yourself flowers.

  24. Don’t rely on caffeine to wake you up or alcohol to help you sleep. It’ll cost you down the line.

  25. Comparison is the thief of joy. Maybe get off social media and spend that time writing/creating/moving/doing/being.

  26. You may not have any of those 3 children you’re planning by 30. You may not even have one. And I’m sorry because I know not having children is your biggest fear. Being a mother can look a hundred different ways and take shape in hundreds more. Don’t let this break your heart. Trust that any children you’re meant to have will come. Trust. Trust. Trust.

  27. Just. Fucking. Write. (Or create in some way.) Do it for you and not whoever may read the words. You’ll soon find that unused creativity will eventually manifest as overindulgence and depression. Just get it out there.

  28. Forgive yourself. Know that you were doing the best that you could with what you knew at the time.

  29. Detachment. This is gonna sound very Buddhist, but the sooner you’re able to detach from the outcome of how you think your life is supposed to look, the more space you’ll feel to allow the path you’re on to take you in the direction you are meant to go. Not your neighbor or your sister or your best friend. We’re all on our own journeys and it’s ok if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. It’s actually not supposed to and how boring would this life be if it did?

  30. Life doesn’t end at 30 honey, so you can do all of the above after 30 too. And that’s fucking great.

Katie Daehler