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13 things you should make a priority in your 30s

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Make your 30s a decade of discovery by focusing on the following 13 things

I distinctly remember standing at the precipice of my 30s and being overwhelmed by the perceived loss of my youth. Now, as a woman of 32, I recognize this decade for what it truly is: a time to focus on and celebrate what's important to me

I'm much more self-aware than I was in my 20s, so I'm far better equipped to take stock of my strengths and weaknesses, make judgments calls about what needs to be done, and actually follow through — which is precisely why the 30s are the perfect time to make the following things priorities.

1. Retirement savings

Yes, we're delving right in with some serious adulting. I wish that I had cared as much about my retirement savings when I was in my 20s as I do now, 'cause then they might not be so paltry. By getting my financial house in order now — paying down my debt, keeping my emergency fund stocked, contributing to a 401k — I'm setting myself up for less stress and more fun in the long run.

2. Health

As a busy working mom, squeezing in an hour on the treadmill can seem like Mission: Impossible. And I'd be embarrassed to tally up the total times per week my lunch consisted of PB&J scraps or Goldfish crackers left over from my kids' plates. Still, I know I need to make more of an effort to eat better and exercise more. Not only can I not get away with the same things I could in my 20s (goodbye, midnight Pop-Tarts and Top Ramen), but getting healthy now makes it more likely I'll stay healthy.

3. Saying no

This, I struggle with. In the past, I've been guilty of stretching myself in a million different directions to try to please everyone. In my 30s, I'm realizing that setting boundaries is in my best interest. I don't have to agree to every favor asked of me. I don't have to waste time on people who don't treat me well. Being more self-aware than I was in my 20s, I realize this isn't selfish; it's smart.

4. Saying yes

I know, I know. I just said we should be saying no more! And while that's still true, it goes hand-in-hand with saying yes to one thing in particular: meaningful relationships. Show up for those friends in your life who value your presence. Don't take those connections for granted.

5. Passions

From an early age, we're indoctrinated with a narrative of expectations: go to college, sow your wild oats, get a respectable job, work hard, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately, that often pushes us down a path we didn't necessarily choose for ourselves. The 30s are your time to reclaim those things you're passionate about and build your life around them — even if it means taking a big risk, like making a major career change. As they say, life is too short... and it's definitely too short to spend eight or more hours a day doing something you don't absolutely love.

6. The present

This may seem contradictory, considering so many of the things we're prioritizing are being prioritized with an eye toward the future. What that means, though, is that it's easy to get swallowed up in worry about what might happen down the road. So restructuring our thinking to focus on being more in the present simply reminds us to enjoy each and every moment for what it is.

7. Family

I can't tell you how many times my mom has told me she wished she'd spent more time with her own mother when she was still with us. There's something truly special about the relationship you form with your family as an adult, because you are consciously choosing to be active in that relationship. As you grow older, so do your parents — soak up the time while you still have it.

8. Forgiveness

Depending on your relationship with your family, this might apply to No. 7. The bottom line is that anger is toxic, and it will bore a hole straight through your life if you let it. Give up those ghosts this decade so you can walk into the next chapter of your life without any lingering malice staining your future the way it has your past.

9. Sleep

Why, oh why, didn't I sleep more in my 20s? What was I thinking with all those all-nighters? Research has proved that sleep is necessary for the human body to function at an optimal level, and the adverse effects of not getting enough sleep are numerous. Aim for at least eight hours per night.

10. Personal growth

The bravado of youth is glorious — you feel unconquerable and all-knowing. The reality, of course, is that even in your most omniscient moments, there's still oh-so-much to learn. In your 30s, it's easier to accept when you're wrong and to be open to other perspectives. Capitalize on this by auditing a class, learning a new language, taking up meditation or any other number of ways to expand your horizons.

11. Your teeth

When you were in college, how often did you go straight from the bar to bed without brushing those pearly whites? Now that you're a little bit older (and so much wiser), you realize they're only going to stay pearly if you actually take care of them. You only get one chance with your teeth, and you still have a lot of living (and eating) left to do, so take care of the ones you have — starting now.

12. Your skin

My 12th-grade calculus teacher was in her mid-30s, yet her skin looked better than mine most days. Her secret? She said she'd started using face serums and moisturizers religiously as soon as she turned 30. Taking care of your skin now can undo some of the damage accrued during the carefree days of youth, plus keep it healthier as you age.

13. Self-love

You've made mistakes. You've been bruised and battered, but you've gotten back up, brushed yourself off and made it to this point. Your 30s are a time to look back on and let go of the things rooting you in your past. Loving yourself is the key to loving others and to leading a contented life. You are strong. You are brave. You are enough.

This post was sponsored by Arm & Hammer™ Truly Radiant™ Toothpaste & Spinbrush™.

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