Thirty years. That’s 360 months, 1,560 weeks and somewhere around 10,950 days (give or take … I’m too lazy to add up the actual number of Feb. 29s I’ve experienced thus far.) I’ve now accumulated 262,800 hours on this Earth – that’s approximately 15.7 million minutes and 946 million seconds. Of course, those numbers are a bit misleading, seeing as how I was asleep for a third of them. But still, 567 million or so minutes of cognizance of my own existence is hardly anything to scoff at. Not a whole lot of people are afforded so much time, and with such immense numbers chalked up on my biological clock, I can’t help but feel gracious.
Everybody dreads turning 30. It’s such an adult-sounding number, a foreboding reminder that a third of your existence – if you are lucky – has already expired. Reflecting on the first 30 years of my own life, I don’t think about all of my triumphs or failures or happiest or saddest moments. Instead, all I can think about is the stuff I could have done but didn’t, and a whole bunch of things that, in hindsight, I really wish I would have done differently (and if you are wondering, eating more Dunkaroos when I had the chance is definitely way up there on my list of regrets.) It’s definitely a tragic realization, of the most ironic order: you have no idea just how valuable a commodity time is until it has already long disappeared.
As humans, we’re naturally prone to something called negativity bias. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying we remember bad stuff a whole lot more than we do the good things that happen to us. On top of that, one of the only parts of our brain that generates new neurons after birth is the hippocampus – which, wouldn’t you know it, is the part of our noggin most responsible for keeping track of our memories. It’s a double whammy if there ever was one: the older we get, the more we reflect on the crappy things that have happened to us and the less we can recall all the good things that transpired. All those warm, fuzzy memories of Christmas when you are 5 years old more or less turn into the neurological version of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy; even the most cherished moments of your 20s – getting your undergraduate degree, kissing your future spouse for the first time, finally topping 10,000 points on that one “Word Bubbles Rising” game on Luminosity – will slowly become a static, barely interpretable jumble of what you think happened.
But with old age, thankfully, comes the benefit of wisdom. You may not be able to recall what you had for lunch last Tuesday, but the important stuff – the truly important stuff – sticks with you. The beautiful thing is that these incontestable truths are notions that have always been around, but for some inexplicable reason, you just can’t grasp their inherent value until you are on the north side of a quarter century in age.
As I prepare for the Big 3-0, I would like to share with you 30 of the most important things I’ve learned about this crazy little thing we call “life.” Granted, these noble truths may not seem as noble or true to you as they do me, but trust me … by the time you are my age, they will.
1. Without goals, life is pointless.
2. However, you have to pick just the right kind of goals to pursue – ones that are realistically attainable, but only achievable through lots of hard work and sacrifice.
3. Unfortunately, those who work the hardest and sacrifice the most don’t always succeed at what they originally set out to accomplish…
4. …But in the process, all of that hard work and sacrifice almost always winds up putting them on a pathway to a totally different kind of success.
5. Tenacity always trumps talent. You can teach a tough person to be an intellectual, but you can never teach an intellectual to be a tough person.
6. Those who grew up in stable homes often make a lot of money, but they rarely make that much of a difference.
7. You never have just one opportunity to do anything.
8. You already know what you want to do with your life. Do it or be miserable.
9. What you think you want out of life, however, will change constantly.
10. Nobody gets anywhere in life without a lot of help from somebody else…
11. …And often, it’s from people you never wanted any help from in the first place.
12. Life is about two percent action and 98 percent reaction…
13. …However, you and you alone are always in control of your own destiny.
14. You can, and never will, have freedom without responsibilities.
15. You can be pitied and you can be respected, but you can’t be pitied and respected simultaneously.
16. If the problem is always somebody else’s fault, you’re the real problem.
17. Never say “I love you” unless you mean it …
18. …and never squander an opportunity to say it to the people who mean the most to you.
19. Putting your faith in religion is foolish, but putting your faith in politics is even worse.
20. Nobody has the right to tell you what resides in your own heart.
21. Write down everything and take as many photographs as you can.
22. Instead of worrying so much about what’s right or wrong, you should be concerned about what’s true or false.
23. What a person looks like on the outside doesn’t mean anything. It’s what’s inside their heads that counts.
24. No matter what, read as much as you can.
25. You can’t change people. Just accept that some things are beyond your control and keep moving on with your own life.
26. Your prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that controls judgment and long-term planning – doesn’t fully develop until you are in your mid-20s. That may explain your actions, but it sure as hell doesn’t excuse them.
27. Always stand up for what you believe in, but at the same time, be prepared to admit you were wrong a little bit further down the road.
28. Your life is your story. The people passing through it may have strong supporting roles, but at the end of the day, you’re still the main character…
29. …But keep in mind, the only people who are truly happy are the ones who have dedicated themselves to helping others.
30. And above all else, never, ever forget: Your results will vary.