turning 30

Turning 30

what i've learned about turning 30

Today I say good-bye to my twenties and it feels so weird. I still vividly remember being 21 and thinking 30 was so old. I wasn’t afraid of it then though, because it felt like lightyears away. And of course when it did finally happen, by then I figured I'd own a home, be married and successful (maybe I'd even have a kid). Everything would be... you know, established. It would be the season when I finally “arrive”. (Cute, right?) Well if you know me at all, most of that definitely does not apply to my life at the moment. So if my twenties didn’t lead me there, where did they take me?

As I’ve been closing in on this birthday, I’ve been rather sentimental about my last 10 years. It’s no secret that our twenties are arguably one of the most influential decades of our lifetime. SO much happens in these 10 years: failure, success, heartbreak, experimentation, self-realization… the list goes on.  And according to the dozens of articles I’ve read of 30 things you should do by the time you’re 30, 30 experiences people tacked before 30, or 30 things people want to do as they move into a new decade— I’m clearly not the only one who's been reflective about this milestone. 


At first, I loved the idea of making a list like these too:  my 30 favorite experiences or bits of wisdom I’d like to pass on to the 20-somethings standing where I once stood who feel like 30 is so far away. But as I sat down to write it, I kept getting stuck.


You see, I don't think turning 30 is something that should be perceived as a one-size-fits-all blanket statement that we tie up with a bow and hand to everyone. In my personal opinion, age is already such an arbitrary form of measurement, but especially 30. For some reason, this is the age that so many people love to quantify all sorts of milestones they think they should have accomplished by now. 

For example, if you would have told me when I was 25 that come 30 I’d be single, scraping pennies together at times + still renting the same modest 1 BR apartment I probably would have cried. Because then, my standard of success come 30 meant marriage and home ownership and other forms of settledness. But over the years, I’ve learned life is way more complex than this simple way of thinking and I see things completely differently standing where I am now. 

If you would have told that same 25 year old me that come 30 I’d be brave enough to risk self-employment, that I’d live abroad and get to travel the world, or that my life would be bursting at the seams from doing so many things I love, I probably would have assumed that I had a rich husband or won the lottery- not that I built those things myself.  But almost every single one of my favorite life experiences to date has been possible because I'm not where I saw myself at 30. 

Now to be clear, this doesn't mean that I think I did my twenties right and my friends who bought houses or settled down did it wrong. It also doesn't mean that my friends who are raising children have more valuable lives than I do because I haven't gotten there yet. My point is simply that our individual lives and differing stories are beautifully unique. Period. 

Since no two stories are the same, my personal thoughts on turning 30 likely won’t serve you. Because of that, I won’t give you a checklist of the things that I think you should have accomplished by now. I won’t make any kind of list with exactly 30 things for that matter (mostly because my thoughts don’t fit in a perfectly measured out format like that). Instead, I want to simply celebrate a few things that I know for sure now after doing life for 30 years. I certainly don't claim to know everything (after all, the proverbial phrase says "Life begins at 30"). But to me, 30 feels like the perfect time to throw expectations out the window and appreciate the wisdom gained because of the path God has lead me down. So here's what He's shown me along the way: 

turning 30


I actually wrote an entire blog post about this while I was abroad (see here) but the lesson is worth discussing again. I've been hard on myself at times for my physical appearance because our society glorifies pretty. We starve ourselves with crash diets. We spend billions of dollars on make-up and botox and anti-aging everything. And of all the wonderful people in the world accomplishing great things, our society idolizes the Kardashians for crying out loud. But one day in London when my pants felt snug from all the food I'd been trying in different countries and my roots had grown out from being gone so long- I realized I just couldn't care about that. These things that were making me feel less "pretty" were small prices to pay for the person I was becoming from all of my travel experiences. I don't want to sacrifice other detrimental characteristics on the alter of self-preservation. I want to live in a world where people care more about being kind and whole and brave and vulnerable than they do about being something nice to look at.  Looks fade, but your character doesn't. Be careful what you give your time and attention to. 



I’m often teased (almost always in good spirit) about how often I travel. Friends will flip their hair and imitate me in a pretentious voice talking about “this one time, in EUROPE.”  Occasionally, I’m probed if “I’ll ever settle down” or asked “Don’t you get tired of always moving around?” And while I’m confident about my passions, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think something was wrong with me sometimes— that maybe I should get my head out of the clouds and come back down to normal life on planet earth. But one afternoon while I was abroad, I was taking a day trip from London to Cambridge with my friends Caroline and Caitlin (who are also travel bloggers).  We swapped stories about our time in the French Riviera or wine tasting in Spain or sailing in the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia. We also talked about our friends back in the states (they're both expats) and the differences of life here vs there.  None of us got tired of talking about it. No one teased each other or said the other was crazy or transitioned the conversation back to "normal" topics. We all got it. I thought quietly to myself that perhaps I wasn’t suffering from some Peter Pan syndrome- refusing to grow up. Perhaps I, like my new friends, was simply wired with deep , deep passion for travel that looked different from most of the people I know— and that’s okay. My point is simply this: whether your passion is travel, or music, or motherhood or global warming… be all in. Don’t water yourself down to be a less you version of you. There are others who share your same passion (and others who won't, but they'll love you even more because of yours). 

Cambridge, England with  The Belle Abroad . Photo by  Augusta Leigh Photography

Cambridge, England with The Belle Abroad. Photo by Augusta Leigh Photography



I spent the majority of my twenties pursing a good life. I realize now that while you may be able to get a perfectly good life from easy, you’ll never get a great one that way. The problem is that no one likes to be uncomfortable. In fact, we spend most of our lives trying to make sure that we are comfortable (hence yoga pants, Tempurpedic mattresses and even insurance policies). But having been extremely uncomfortable at varying times for the past few years, I can now say in hindsight that it's one of life's greatest gifts and the largest opportunities to grow. It's through heartbreak, emptiness, confusion and pain tend that we transform from good to great. So if we look closely, we’ll start to see that these things that are so damn uncomfortable are actually a result of God’s graciousness- not his punishment.



Life will take us in 10,000 different directions. We’ll meet people in different seasons and stay in touch for different amounts of time. When we're in our early twenties, it's easy to have lots of friends. We grab drinks with these people or go to parties with them. We grab coffee with them, network with them, and basically, fill our entire calendar with them.  But one of the most important decisions we'll ever make is who we continue to invest in in the long run. The world will always be filled with people and things who are screaming for attention, and we get to decide who and what we give ours to. It's imperative that we choose wisely. Ask yourself who continually points you to what is noble. Who goes deeper than fun and fluff and cocktails and is willing to have a difficult conversation with you when you need to hear it? Who would drop their Friday night plans to stay in with you when you're going through a hard time? Who challenges you to be a better version of yourself, believes in your dreams and loves all the parts of you (even the messy ones?) Who will always have your back- even if you're on the other side of the world? Invest in those people. Everyone else can still be icing on the cake and a sweet addition to your life. 

*Not uploading pictures of all my friends so I'm stopping here before I get sucked down a rabbit trail. But you know who you are. xx



I used hate this phrase because let’s be honest, we all want it to be about us (especially in our twenties as we embark on our first decade of independence). But the other side of this coin has a deeper meaning I’ve come to appreciate. At some point in life, people will do things that hurt you deeply. And while it’s completely human and natural to take it personally, I’ve learned that 99 times out of 100 it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own pain, fear or insecurities (ever heard the phrase “Hurt people hurt people?”) This truth frees us up to walk away from painful experiences a little lighter, and able to focus on how we're going to move forward rather than worrying so much about "what we did wrong."




I used to think therapy was something you did if you’ve suffered a traumatic event or if your relationship is on the rocks. And while that thinking may be what initially got me to participate in the first place, I’ve long since learned that everyone can benefit from this tool, because let's be honest: we all have stuff to work on. I owe SO much of the growth in my twenties to the work I did in therapy. Learning how to articulate and embrace feelings, the benefits we can get from our feelings (even the "bad" ones), and the unique personality types that exist are a few of the may tools I now apply to my life on a daily basis. If you've never been, I sincerely can't recommend it enough. If that's not an option, might I suggest taking the Enneagram to learn more about your unique characteristics or reading The Voice of the Heart to gain a better understanding of the purpose of all the feelings. 




Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back in time and change all the terrible or painful things that have happened to us? I used to think so. Until I wrapped my head around what a gift grace is. As my favorite author says, it’s “forgiveness without forgetting- which is sweeter than amnesia.” Grace is something we need over the entire course of our lives, but MAN do we need it in our twenties. We need it for the mistakes we make in our careers, with our finances, in our relationships... the list goes on. But rather than magically erasing those mistakes and starting fresh, grace lets us become more than what we were before all the terrible things we did (or even before the terrible things that were done to us). Grace is the greatest gift we'll ever experience: both when we receive it, but also when we're able to genuinely extend it to someone else. 

grace shauna niequist




I spent a lot of my twenties dreaming about obtaining material things: a nice home, a nice car, designer purses... we all have a list. But one of my favorite things I learned from traveling Europe was the art of simplicity in regards to materialism. Having your entire life in a suitcase or two really teaches you how to strip away what you don’t need. For example: I don’t need six different moisturizers for my face (come to find out, I didn’t even need one- my skin does best without any of them). My experiences (whether at dinner with friends in Nashville or marveling at the Colosseum in Rome) are literally the exact same no matter what outfit I have on. I won’t croak over and die because I use hotel shampoo and not the fancy salon kind I typically prefer. While it was actually pretty painful to release some of the obsessions I had with material things (I felt SO ugly when I stopped getting eyelash extensions) I can genuinely say that I feel lighter, freer and happier having realized the value of people and experiences over things. Do I still indulge in materialism? OBVIOUSLY (I'm a human being for crying out loud). But knowing the difference between enjoying things vs. finding fulfillment in them has already provided so much freedom. I freaking love the life I get to live. It's a life where I live in a modest 1BR apartment (when I'm home), drive a Honda and often ball on a budget. But what makes it spectacular isn't any material thing. It's spectacular because it's a life filled with experiences and people that I love- like drinking champagne in the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower or watching the sunset in Granada with my best friends. I wouldn't trade a sliver of it. 




Pretty much all of us fret about life’s BIG decisions (especially in your twenties because there are arguably more here than in any other decade). But I’ve learned that the small choices are just as imperative. No one wakes up one day and suddenly has the blossoming business they’ve always dreamed of starting. Nor does one suddenly decide one day that they want to cheat on their spouse and ruin their relationship. We get to these places by a series of decisions and baby steps we make every single day. Whether it’s choosing again and again to work on your business for countless hours even when you have nothing to show for it, or choosing to avoid conflict in your relationship because you don’t feel like dealing with it and slowly building up resentment. Every little decision builds and builds until down the road, you have no idea how you got there. The result can be beautiful, but also tragic if we’re not careful. 



I know now that God has more in store for us than we could ever imagine.  No matter how dark life gets, I believe deep in my core that God specializes in redemption and longs to tell a beautiful story with our lives. My "life verse" that I pray every day is Ephesians 3:18-20. "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power together to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory forever and ever! Amen."


Amen indeed. God has been abundantly gracious to me in my 30 years of life, and I'm bursting with hope about all the life to be lived in the years to come. Thank you to all my friends and family around the globe who have already made me feel so loved + celebrated today. Let's do this, 30!





on becoming shauna niequist