Keep Calm I'm only turning 30

The Big 3-0

I turned 30 in the late 90s, and I clearly recall my sense at the time that I had reached a point of no return. Age may be just a number, but the turn of a new decade focuses attention on aging and mortality like little else. Only the death of a close friend around the same age -- which I've also experienced more than once -- is a more powerful reminder that life is precious and short, and that we are all not long for this world.

There is a picture of me from that day, clutching the "2" candle on my cake in a death grip. The anguished expression on my face says it all: when that candle burns out, I thought, my youth will be extinguished along with it. I'm certain that in my case "losing my two" was harder, and I experienced a sense of time slipping through my fingers more strongly than most. I knew my life was about to change, and not for the better.

Surviving Tragedy

On my 30th birthday I was married with children, yet all was not well. I’d married young and somewhat impulsively — and almost got away with it. A devastating family tragedy was still unfolding, with the worst yet to come.

Thankfully, everyone survived — and "survival" is an excellent word for what I was doing then; I wouldn't use the word "living" to describe that state of perpetual conflict and fear. As it turned out, I would have to endure many more years as a single parent, recovering physically, emotionally, and financially. I raised my family alone, working multiple jobs to work off the crippling medical and legal debt I'd accumulated.

But I did recover, and emerged from my 30s sound in mind and body. So here's my first piece of advice, my personal version of "don't sweat the small stuff." Do you think something Really Bad happened? Well, if you can recover from it, no matter how long it takes, then it's not Really Bad. In fact, you will learn and grow during the recovery, and emerge a better, stronger person than before. Don't fear adversity! Accept it. Most importantly, learn from it. And brace yourself, because after 30 it's going to start coming hard and fast, if it hasn't already.

"It" Just Got Real

To the government, you're an adult at 18; to bars, 21; to insurance companies, 25. At 30 you're an adult by anybody's definition, and the stakes are higher than ever before. If your 20s are a time of self-discovery, your 30s are when you start putting whatever you discovered to practical use. It's when you build yourself a life, and when the foundation is laid for everything that will come after.

This is all very serious, but my next piece of advice is to not take things *too* seriously. Maintaining a sense of humor about life is a critical survival skill; without that in the darkest days of my unfortunate marriage, I would have ended up in the looney bin for sure.

Your most important investment is in yourself

Humor may protect your mental health, but physical fitness is just as critical. Don't neglect your body -- and believe me, with a full-time job, house, and growing children, that's pretty easy to do. It's hard to maintain your "college weight" and well-defined abs, and it gets harder with every decade, but it's well worth the effort. It's ever so much easier to maintain fitness than to regain it after it's lost. Health is your most important asset. If you don't have that, nothing else matters. You're not going to retire in luxury -- or at all -- if you die of a heart attack at 47.

Continually invest in yourself and those you love; the effort you put into your permanent, lifelong relationships is never wasted. On your deathbed, you will never wish you'd spent more time playing Candy Crush!

Meet as many people as you can -- and treat them well. Maintaining fulfilling relationships of all kinds is a critical life skill and, as a side effect, some of those relationships will bear unexpected fruit -- and in abundance. But you never know which those will be. So cultivate them all, and deal honestly and ethically with everyone.

I'm skeptical of Karma as a mystical force, but a firm believer in how a positive attitude and good deeds positively affect the way others relate to you -- and therefore the opportunities that will come your way. There will be people you can learn from, people who can learn from you, and peers who provide good times and emotional support. Everyone in your life should be in one of those three categories.

Regret Action, not Inaction

My main message to those about to enter their prime is this. You will make mistakes and have regrets when you act, but act you must! If you try something and fail miserably, rejoice. At least you can see all the consequences (if only in hindsight), and you now have the opportunity to take full responsibility for them, make whatever restitution is appropriate, and move on stronger and wiser. Those are regrets you can live with.

It is far worse to regret not doing something. The consequences are unknown and unknowable, and so will assume whatever devilish form your tortured imagination can devise. There is never true resolution, little to learn, and nothing productive to do but resolve to seize the next opportunity and pursue it to your last breath.

So dream big, and try hard. Don't let opportunities pass you by, waiting for all the stars to align. They never will. You can never know whether the path you take is really the "optimal" one; for as soon as you do anything, you exclude all the other possibilities, whose consequences are now forever unknown.

The best you can do is make a reasonable decision with the incomplete information you have -- and then deal positively with the consequences. Things will work out, because you make them work out. Whatever happens to you in life, choose at each moment to make the very best of it.

Book of Ages 30
Amazon Price: $13.95 $5.90 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 4, 2014)

And on the lighter side...

Things a Man Should Never Do Past 30 (Esquire Books (Hearst))
Amazon Price: $18.31 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 4, 2014)
Wise Women Speak to the Woman Turning 30 (Capital Lifestyles)
Amazon Price: $31.67 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 4, 2014)