Tomorrow I’ll be 30. Admittedly, it does feel a bit strange to know that my 20s are behind me. That decade of youth where you're supposed to live wild and free before getting serious and settling - that's gone. Lived. Loved. Perhaps the strangeness is that I've always felt free, and still refuse to be restricted by anything/anyone/any thought/any expectation, but have always also taken the things in my life pretty seriously. Whatever the case, I'm in a very happy place in my life right now, just as I was when I turned 20.
Recently, conversations with friends about turning 30 have prompted me to stop and take stock of things. Not in a “What have I achieved?” kind of way, but rather as a moment to think about the last decade, what I’ve learnt (and what I haven’t), and to contemplate the next decade of life. I’ve been toying with questions like “What would I tell my 20-year-old self?”.
My mind is a busy place, and I could have written a list of 30 thoughts on turning 30, but ultimately, after much thought, I've figured that everything for me has come to this: committing myself to what’s close to my heart.
Let me be clear: This is deeper than “doing what I love”. This is about making a wholehearted deal with myself that I will pursue and cultivate the things that bring me the most value.
For me that has meant getting out of fear’s way. It's meant having sometimes-turbulent conversations with myself. And being brutally honest. It's meant forgoing superficiality, although it can be so seductive and cryptic at times. This is actually authenticity (though I abhor how that word gets thrown around social media). I suppose its humanness, really.
I hope I don’t sound all haughty saying this. I actually mean this in a very simple sense. What’s close to your heart doesn’t have to be your job. It doesn’t have to be all consuming. It doesn’t have to keep you awake at night. It's simply the things in your life that align most strongly with your values, and cultivate new ones. It might be the hobbies you pursue, the relationships you nurture, the cups of tea you make….. anything! The crux of it is doing what you do with all of you. Doing it like you mean it – because you do. It’s self-discipline, but in the very best way.
Yesterday, while browsing Brain Pickings, I came across this 2000-year-old passage from Roman philosopher Seneca, which reads:
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Yes! That is it. LIFE IS LONG IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
Knowing how to use it is committing myself to what's close to my heart.
As Seneca wrote, don't live a life that isn't your own.
Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.
I think that is the essence of what I know now. That is, at the very least, where it’s at for me as I enter my third decade. Now, let me take those commitments into my 30s. I'm so glad to be here.