I was 18 years old when I first heard someone say, “Your thirties are the best. Your life has more of a focus. The picture gets a little more clear.” I’ve always kept those words in my memory bank. They helped me get through times when I thought I knew what I wanted and then realized I didn’t. Where I worked hard and sometimes forgot to play harder. When I took everything seriously and didn’t realize some of it was something to laugh at. When I wondered how much longer it would take to get to where I wanted to go — and where was that, exactly?
Thirty became a magical number, or, as I learned in math class, a semiperfect number. Very close, but not quite there yet. I feel it though, that closeness. It has been coming on for some time. I walk down the street and run into people I’ve been thinking about hours before. I meet perfect strangers only to learn we’ve almost crossed paths before or have a mutual friend in common. This doesn’t just happen once or twice, this happens all the time, across industries and cities, computers and countries. Paths that crossed once ten years ago meet again until they get twisted into a knot.
The build-up to 30 has also taught me how to say “no.” That it’s possible to be too busy; that one’s self is too important to take for granted. That favors aren’t friendships and friendships, for the most part, should be two-way streets and make you feel good. If they aren’t and they don’t, they’re not worth having.
30 has the confidence I worked toward in my 20s. At some point, I discovered I knew exactly what I was talking about and I didn’t need to convince other people of that. People to whom I listened and learned from began to listen to and learn from me. I don’t know when that started, but one day it magically began to happen. I’m young enough to know and old enough to understand.
Other things began to feel natural, too; my knowledge came faster and spread wider — I’m only beginning to reel my net back in to take stock of my bounty.
In 30 years, I’ve learned three very important things. They are what I live by and, what I believe has brought me to where I am today:
1) Listening. Everyone has a story. Everyone’s story is fascinating. Listen to it, learn from it. Yesterday, while in a restaurant, I recognized a woman I had met at a mutual friend’s Christmas party seven years ago. I couldn’t remember her name (I’m so bad with names), but I remembered all of her stories: the birth of her first child; her audition for a part in an Oscar-winning film (she didn’t get the role); the story about her husband slicing off his finger and walking four blocks to the hospital, but stopping to get a slice of pizza first, because he knew there would be a long wait in the emergency room. Every one has a story they like to tell. Remember their story. Everyone wants to be remembered, even if you can’t always remember their name.
2) Thank you. People forget how to say thank you or neglect to say it at all. A note, a quick email, a kind word, or something entirely original. Not to get all Emily Post here, but a thank you goes so far in this world. Time is valuable. Giving people your time is equal to giving them your money; minutes, hours or days of your life, and the moments you spend apart from those you love. Every one deserves to be thanked for sharing their wisdom and their time. Thank yous also carry on. Last year, I was having coffee with a friend and admired her necklace. She took it off right there and gave it to me. I wore the necklace just last week and sent her a message to let her know how much I still love it. It was a simple act. It took no more than five seconds. In return, she sent me back a line saying how happy she was I still wore it.
3) Don’t be afraid. This is the hardest thing because fear is our easiest out. Taking risks is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t always end in success or a response, but you learn from each and every scary experience. And, when it does go your way, the victory is sweeter and you know how to embrace it with all of your might. This is the most important thing my parents taught me. They pushed that lesson into me. It took thirty years, but I get it now. I reach out to people I admire; I pitch ideas; I work hard to make things happen; I grab opportunities; I think my way in and out around all sides of a box. I’ve fallen flat on my face. several. times. I’ve taken a moment to dwell on it and then I’ve moved on and rebuilt. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned this is how we survive. I can give you one neat little story about something I’ve accomplished or failed at, but the truth is, my successes and failures are written all over this blog. I say the risks I want to take out loud. I take them. As I get older, I succeed at more of them. The odds get both better and worse with age.
I’m glad I had the foresight at age 18 to listen to those words about turning thirty and remember them like a mantra. For right now, these 30 years feel good. But 30 is a semiperfect number. The numbers following it will each reveal a larger portion of my pentimento. I’ll embrace each number as hard, as fully, and as fearlessly as I’ve managed to do with the first 30. Only this time, I have 30 years of experience behind me.