30 Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Life
Yesterday, I turned 30. When I was 18, I thought by 30, I’d have it made.
My 20s were a long, slow grind of realizing “made” does not exist. “Made” is past tense — but you’re never done! The only finish line is death, and, thankfully, most of us don’t see it until we’re almost there.
Instead of the binary made/not made distinction, I now see life as round-based. You win some, you lose some, and different rounds have different themes. There’s a carefree-childhood season, a teenager-trying-to-understand-society season, an exuberant-20-something season, and so on.
At 30 years old, I’ve only played a few seasons, but each round feels more interesting than the last. If that trend persists, I can’t imagine what one’s 60s or 90s must be like. By that time, you’ve seen so much — and yet, there’ll always be new things to see.
Most seasons last longer than a year, and there’s plenty to talk about with respect to the important, defining decade from 20 to 30 alone, but today, I’d like to do something different: I want to share one thing I’ve learned from each year I’ve been alive.
1. You’ll fall down a lot, but life is about getting back up
You must crawl before you can walk. The first time you try, you’ll fall down. But you’ll get back up. You won’t think. You’ll just do it. It’s natural. Getting up is the only way. There is no alternative. Getting up is what humans do.
This is the first literal lesson most of us learn — and that pattern never changes. In everything you do, you’ll have to crawl before you can walk. You’ll fall down countless times, but it’s not the falls that matter — it’s that, every time, you get back up.
2. Talking solves everything
I watched Planet of the Apes the other day. That movie will give you a new sense of appreciation for our ability to speak. At first, all we’ve got is one-word commands. Hungry! Thirsty! Tired! As we grow up, we get so much more.
My favorite quote from Albus Dumbledore is this: “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic — capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” It’s true. Words can mend anything. Use your words.
3. The world is big — but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel
When I was three, the hallway of our small apartment seemed huge. The carpet seemed to stretch forever, and the walls were as high as the sky.
We had one of those plastic crawling tubes for kids. It had black and white stripes, like a zebra. I would crawl inside, and, sometimes, I got scared. I felt lost. Even that tiny tube was too big. Where do I go? Forward? Backward? How do I get out of this thing?
Eventually, I learned that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. All you have to do is keep crawling.
4. Everything you need is in your head
I used to sit on the floor of my dad’s tiny office for hours. I built things. Lego, Playmobil, Duplo train tracks — you name it, I made stuff up with it.
Sometimes, my dad helped me. We made the train go back and forth between rooms, transporting candy. But I was perfectly happy being the master of my own little universe — because I could already tell: There are no limits.
Everything you’ll ever need is in your head. Sometimes, other people will help you get it out — but even if they don’t, it’s all there. Trust in yourself.
5. Life is better when you share it
When I was five, my parents had my sister. At first, I didn’t want a sibling. Who’s gonna get all the attention? “I don’t like her.” Those were my first words.
My grandma took me to the mall to calm me down. We bought two teddybears — one for me, one for her. When I reluctantly gave it to my sister, she held my finger. In that moment, I was cured. To this day, she is family, and that will never change.
It’s easy to get lost in your world. Your life spins around you. Life in general, however, is much broader. Share it. Don’t hog. A lot of things multiply when we divide them. Joy, achievement, laughter.
Our best memories are reflections of the people who were there to see them.
6. When you know, you know
I learned how to read before I went to school. I still remember sitting in a sea of red, plastic letters.
“MOOOOOOOOM!” I ran around the house for about 15 minutes. Then, I read everything I could get my hands on.
Some things in life are just made for you. When you find them, you’ll know. Don’t ever doubt that feeling — and don’t ever let them go.
7. You cannot find without looking
In second grade, I walked to school every day. It was exhilarating. Ten minutes. Just me and the world. There was so much to see!
Sometimes, my neighbor’s son walked with me. He was a few years older. Right outside our street, there was a cigarette machine. Every time we passed it, he reached into the coin return slot to see if there was any money. One time, he found a bill! 20 Deutsche Mark, or however much it was.
For a long time, I then did the same. Checked every coin slot I passed. Finders, keepers, you know? But in order to find, you first have to look. I’ll never forget that lesson.
8. Goodbyes are hard but necessary
We moved in 1999. I was devastated. My second-grade crush still had no idea I existed. Hello?! I’ve got plans here!
Sometimes, life doesn’t care about your plans — and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. An unplanned change of plans. It won’t make saying goodbye any easier, but in time, you’ll realize some goodbyes were necessary.
In hindsight, I’m glad we moved a few times while I was in school. It taught me how to adapt and make new friends.
9. Not everyone you don’t like is your enemy
My third grade teacher was an old lady — Frau Blum. She was strict, grumpy, and more of a drill sergeant than a teacher. At first, I thought she was mean and bitter.
Years later, I appreciated every bit of discipline she taught us, especially as the modern classroom seemed to completely unravel as a good learning environment.
Maybe, Frau Blum was just desperate to preserve something she had learned to value as a child: good manners and a sense of duty. I’m grateful she passed some of those values on to us.
Not everyone you don’t like is your enemy. Some people enter your life to prepare you for things you can’t see coming.
10. Believe in things before others can see them
Pokémon took our school yard by storm. All recess long, we were trading cards, playing Game Boy, and talking about the anime. Eventually, our school banned everything. Imagine the outrage!
15 years later, Pokémon Go got more people out of the house than the Super Bowl gets in front of the TV. 20 years later, some Pokémon cards sell for $200,000. It is one of the most successful franchises in history — we always knew.
With Lego, it’s intuitively clear that you must first imagine before you can build. With many other things in life, it’s not — but the same principle applies. Believe in what only you can see, so that, one day, others will see it too.
11. You’re at your best when you’re with friends
In 6th grade, my best friends and I joined the choir. I have no idea why. All we did was goof off. We made fun of the girls, the songs, and each other. We got called out a million times. I’m a terrible singer, but, eventually, going to choir became my favorite thing to do. Not because of the activity — because of the people.
You’re never as good as when you’re with friends. Together, you’ll feel unstoppable.
12. Sometimes, you win only to lose
On the year-end school trip before yet another move, the hormones among 12-year-olds really started flying. We played a game of kiss-or-pass. My crush gave me one. Or, maybe, she only became my crush once she did.
Either way, she left her sweater in our room. It smelled nice. Four boys were swooning. We argued about who she’d pick. I don’t remember how, but she ended up being my girlfriend for a few sweet weeks of summer. We held hands in school. We went to the movies.
After the move, she came to visit one time. Then, it quickly fell apart. Even a 30-minute drive can be too far for clueless 12-year-olds.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But, sometimes, you lose what you have won right afterwards. Those times stink — but those too are necessary for your growth.
13. Never hide your power
One time in history class, my teacher asked for the name of the big, wall-covering carpets you’d see in places like the Palace of Versailles. No one knew the answer, except me — I had heard it on an episode of King of Queens.
I raised my hand: “Gobelin.” Our teacher was beaming. “That’s right! Great!” My classmates thought it was great too: “Ooohhh, go-be-liiiiiiin, look at Mr. Smartypants!” They laughed their asses off at my (correct) French pronunciation.
Being a good sport about it, I laughed with them, but, deep down, that incident taught me: Never hide your power. The world wants you to be cool, not smart. But if you’re smart, you’ll win. So don’t try to be cool instead of being smart.
Whatever power you have, use it. Do not let the world bully you into hiding your strength.
14. Everything is art if you bring your true self to it
I hated art class. I sucked at drawing, painting, and crafts. Mostly, I hated it because we all had to do the same thing. “Paint a wave.” “Use different-colored tracing paper.”
Actually, we were free to use our imagination. The teacher gave us constraints, not goals. I just didn’t see it.
I did, however, spend hours doodling on my pencil case, sketching anime characters, and turning my planner into some kind of Harry Potter book of worship.
It was easy to express my creativity in some ways but not others. Eventually, I learned that everything has room for your ideas. You just gotta bring them — and then figure out how you can contribute to the task at hand.
15. It pays to be early
In 2006, I discovered football freestyle. The community was tiny but growing fast. I spent hours practicing each day and, for about 15 minutes, I was world-class.
I also uploaded some animated music videos I made on Youtube. Some of them got 100,000+ views. Eventually, the channel was shut down for copyright issues.
I got a lot of GamerScore on Xbox too. I ranked relatively high compared to the world’s number one. Maybe top 200 or so.
The lesson here is that as long as you’re early, you can achieve a lot with effort alone. I wasn’t talented enough to be a hall-of-famer in any of these things — but if I’d stuck with them, they all could have been real careers.
Don’t stop dabbling. You never know when you’ll strike gold.
16. You can fall in love with places, not just people
Our 10th grade school trip was to Munich. It took me all of ten minutes after getting off the bus to declare: “One day, I’ll move here!” The next year, I came back for an event. Three years after that, I did a 6-month internship.
Each time I visited, I loved the city a bit more instead of less, and so, in 2016, I finally moved to where I belonged. It feels nice to belong somewhere.
17. It is your job to insist on learning — the world won’t force you to
My state ran an experiment: They would allow kids to drive at 17 instead of 18, but each time they drove, an adult would have to sit next to them.
I insisted on driving wherever we went. Five-minute drive to the station? I drive. Quick bakery run? I drive. It was more hassle for my parents, but, most of the time, they let me drive. They thought it was important to keep practicing — and they were damn right.
A lot of my friends were lazy. They either didn’t drive a lot after passing their test or didn’t even bother to take it before turning 18. As a result, many of them were insecure drivers for the first year or two — but then they had to face their insecurities alone.
When I turned 18, I went to our garage, got into our car, and drove myself to school like nobody’s business.
It’s up to you to keep learning. Insist on it. School won’t last forever, and the world won’t force you to keep practicing — but if you don’t, you’ll fall behind just the same.
18. Know when to quit
In 2009, I gave up on football freestyle. I wasn’t talented enough, my knees were shot, and the career prospects weren’t all that great. It also just wasn’t as important to me as other things.
It is incredibly hard to give up on something you love — especially if it loves you right back. What in hindsight looks like an obvious endeavor to kill is, often, in the moment, a difficult, not-at-all clear decision — but it might still be a decision you must make.
Know when to quit, and don’t hesitate to give up on what truly won’t work.
19. If you want to know how far you can go, you must go farther than you’ve ever gone
I didn’t feel very challenged in high school. I pretty much did the minimum and got straight As. In college, that changed — and fast.
We had seven exams in our first semester, each of which determined 100% of that subject’s grade. They were all topics I’d never studied before, or at least not in such depth. Between advanced calculus, accounting, and deliverable programming homework each week, I was drowning.
It didn’t feel good. I was overwhelmed. I clung to my friends, who felt the same. We studied from 7 AM to 11 PM each day. Eventually, we all passed our exams, and we learned: You can go somewhere you’ve never been and still return home alive.
The only way to find — and raise — your limits is to go beyond them. Do it.
20. Don’t override your principles
In 2011, I moved into a new-build studio. Before, I’d lived in a run-down, cockroach-infested, the-shower-requires-coins-to-work situation — with roommates I didn’t know. The rent was 50% more, but my quality of life rose by at least 300%. Everything was better, and the part I enjoyed the most was living alone.
I should have realized right then and there: I am meant to live alone, and I should never cheapen out on rent as long as I can afford it. Of course, I went back to living with roommates for another 7 years. That was a mistake.
You can’t know what your principles are before you find them, but when you do, do yourself a favor and don’t try to outsmart yourself. Don’t override what you know deep down in your gut will always, universally be true for you. Stick to your principles.
21. You don’t have to do things the way other people do them
There’s always, always room for you to invent a completely new solution. Our first three semesters had a set schedule. After that, we could pick electives. But it was only a suggestion. There were no hard rules saying we had to do our exams in that order.
The third semester was the most brutal, so I did some electives first. I also postponed the two hardest exams — Math III and Statistics II — which I ultimately ended up “outsourcing” to my exchange in the US, where I could piece the credits together with multiple, easier classes. I returned home with 2 As in exams I barely might have passed otherwise (in fact, I’d failed Math III once before).
There are no rules. Make up your reality, and then fight to see it come true.
22. Travel is not the answer
I spent most of my savings on trips while studying abroad. I also had a rich friend who invited me on the trip of a lifetime. Within 14 months, I went to more than half of all US states, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka, and a bunch more places in Europe. It was insane.
It gave me a sneak peek of the freedom I knew I wanted to have, but it also taught me two lessons:
- Travel is a full-time job — and if you have another, you’ll have two.
- Travel alone will not make you happy.
Since I came back, I never had the same desire to travel the globe. It’s nice. There are some places I wanna see. But indefinite travel pales in comparison to a solid, challenging routine and five lifetime friends.
23. Most dream jobs are born out of dreams
In 2014, I scored an internship at BMW M. They make my dream cars, and so it was a dream job. I lived in Munich. I made new friends. It was summer. I got to drive cool cars and go to insane events. It was the perfect six-month stretch of life.
By the end of it, however, I realized the best thing about these cars was to drive them. They practically sold themselves, and there wasn’t much to do or learn in my department — sales. That’s when I decided: I will create my own job.
Try to get the best job you can imagine. If you do and still find it unfulfilling, you’ll know: Your dream job is a job you must dream up. Don’t be afraid to make your own shoes if none of the ones society offers fit.
24. No one will do it for you — “it” is anything
What I had seen glimpses of in college and my internship became a hard, full-fledged reality in 2015: You must take 100% responsibility for anything you want out of life.
If you want to have great sex, you must work with your partner until it’s great. If you want to get ripped, you must do the workouts. If you want to make money in a certain way, you have to figure out a path to get there.
In my case, no one would make me an entrepreneur. I registered a business and became one. Then, I figured out how to do it — one day at a time, through many failures and gigs I ultimately didn’t like. Until, one day, I had a system that worked and allowed me to go after what I want the way I want it.
You are your own best asset. You don’t control everything, but you’re 100% responsible either way. Accept it so you can make real progress instead of complaining.
25. Your space should give you room to think
In the US, I lived in a tiny, 90 sqft room. It showed me: You don’t need much. I learned more about minimalism, and when I returned home, I threw away a ton of stuff.
Every item you own becomes a mental and emotional attachment in your brain. Even if you forget about it, it’ll still weigh on your mind. Letting go is liberating.
The best part about physical space, however, is that it provides — as my roommate taught me in the first semester of our master’s — literal “room to think.”
Minimalism isn’t about living carefree, it’s about creating space for everything you care about the most.
26. History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes
When I fell down the bitcoin rabbit hole in 2017, I saw many parallels to the early internet. I saw each generation had its own way of doing things, and, when it came to finance, blockchain could be ours. I spent a lot of time learning, understanding, and failing in that space, both financially and work-wise.
Especially as the price went down, everyone and their brother thought I was wasting my energy. Four years later, both the price and social acceptance look different.
Your life is a unique journey across a small patch of history’s tapestry. It’ll provide you with a singular viewpoint of your time. Others have other viewpoints, so they’ll doubt you when you recognize a pattern our ancestors have documented before. Ignore them.
Study history, and when you feel things click, let them click fully into place.
27. You’ll lose friends, but you’ll still have friends
I’ve lost several friends over writing in public. Some were offended by articles that weren’t about them. Some thought I was arrogant, and some I ditched because they badmouthed me behind my back.
Even if a relationship fades, its contribution to our life never ends. After all, we’ll benefit from the role that person played forever. As you get older, you’ll lose touch with some people you hoped would stay lifelong friends. That’s sad, but others will enter the picture.
You’re never really alone, even when you most feel like you are. Look around you, and connect with who actually wants to be in your life at any given time. So yes, you’ll lose friends — but you’ll also always have friends.
28. Take chances while you can take them
Two of my favorite musicians died before I ever saw them live. It’s not that I couldn’t — I just thought I had more time. We tend to think so for many chances in life, until they’re gone and we must concede: We should have taken them while we could.
I started going to more concerts with my sister, and I hope we’ll be able to continue this tradition for a long time to come.
29. If you try hard enough, you can adapt to anything
No one expected 2020 to go the way it went. No one. Within weeks, we had to re-learn how to work, how to rest, how to study, how to parent, how to organize our lives and how to interact with each other. That’s a lot of learning in a very short period of time.
From one day to the next, life 2.0 was uploaded to the app store, and we were all forced to “patch up.” At first, we struggled a lot. Now, we struggle a little less. Things are far from perfect, but, for the first time in decades, we were reminded that our capacity for adaptation is astounding.
You didn’t ask for it. You wish you didn’t have to, and I don’t blame you — but if you try hard enough, you can adapt to anything.
30. Tomorrow can be a good day
If I could leave behind just one sentence, it would be this one: Tomorrow can be a good day.
I don’t know when or how I picked up this particular lesson. It’s probably optimism by osmosis, picked up from being around my wonderful family for about two out of my three decades on this planet.
There must have been about 3,000 instances in which this sentence saved my mood, time, energy, or any other of a million parts of my life, which, overall, pretty much equates to saving my life altogether.
Tomorrow can be a good day.
This is the message I most believe in — and maybe the only one worth sharing. Whether it’s for another 30 years or 30 minutes, I’ll keep yelling it six ways from Sunday: When your boyfriend breaks up with you, your car won’t start, your Zoom won’t work, your grocery store is closed, your doctor says you need surgery, you’re late on rent and your dad won’t fork out 50 bucks, remember that…
Tomorrow can be a good day.