35 things I’ve learned in my 35 years

35 things I’ve learned in my 35 years

I turn 35 this weekend, which simultaneously blows my mind and seems completely natural.

I’d always heard the thirties were the years where you hit your stride, and now that I’m smack in the middle of them, I believe the hype. I’m a million times more sure of myself, and more comfortable in my own skin and my place in the world, than I was at 24, or 29.

It’s true, I could wake up cosmically freaking out tomorrow, but if I do I hope I have the good sense to take a nap (lesson #32) and get something to eat. Because really, the thirties are pretty great.

For my birthday, here are 35 things I’ve learned in my 35 years.

35 lessons I’ve learned in 35 years.

1. Younger people tend to see things in black and white. Experience lets you see the grey.

2. How you dress changes how you feel. When you put in the extra effort to look (a tiny bit) snazzy, you’ll look cute and get a spring in your step.

3. Getting to know yourself sounds deceptively simple and is surprisingly complicated. It’s still worth doing.

4. It is possible to make good coffee at home, for cheap. Even lattés! (You’re welcome.)35 Things I've Learned in 35 Years | It is possible to make good coffee at home. Even lattes.

5. Fanfiction stinks. Pretty much always.

6. Hard times are no fun but they make you who you are. A story–your life story–is pretty boring without highs and lows. Don’t fear the lows.

7. Don’t wish your life away. When I was a teen (and a young 25-year-old mother) I spent too much time wishing I was older. Now that I am older, I can see how silly that was.

8. Dorks are more fun.

9. “More” does not mean “better.” Consider: choices, stuff, email.

10. Don’t be a people pleaser when it’s time to make big life decisions. Or anytime, really. Life’s too short.

35 Things I've Learned in 35 Years | Modern Mrs Darcy

11. Look for actions that yield disproportionate results, and hammer them hard, whether it means a $3 bouquet that brings you a zillion units of happiness, a 5 minute call to your mom that makes her day, or setting the coffee timer the night before.

12. Looking put-together is 90% hair. Experiment to find a flattering cut, and figure out how to style it yourself.

13. Trying to time a pregnancy? It’s a crapshoot.

14. Figure out your personality type. And while you’re at it, figure out the personality type of your best friend, husband, roommate, mom.

15. Don’t talk about people when they aren’t there. There might be one good reason to gossip, but there are a whole lot more not to.

16. Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. (This Eisenhower quote is one of my favorites.)

17. When you have no idea what to say to someone who’s hurting, just say something, and say it from the heart. Saying nothing hurts more than saying the wrong thing.

18. The twentysomething years are full of drama. They just are.

19. Living debt-free brings freedom and flexibility. We drive old cars and are still in our starter house, but our significant life decisions haven’t been impacted by student loan payments, a monster mortgage, or an ambitious car payment.

20. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, you’ll be better off with some structure to your days. (Ahem.)

21. Coffee dates pack as much quality time as dinner dates, and are a whole lot cheaper.

22. Even good change is stressful. Getting married, having a baby, landing a dream job are just a few examples of happy milestones that still shock your system. You’re going to feel discombobulated for a bit, and that’s okay.

35 things I've learned in 35 years | Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is walk your dog

23. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is walk your dog.

24. Failure isn’t a verdict: it’s information you can use to plot your next move. Getting things wrong is every bit as helpful as getting things right.

25. Pretty much everything is more fun when you’re good at it. Spend the time to get really good at something.

26. Be really, really careful before you give away the baby gear. Judging from my own experience–and the experience of a whole lot of other parents I know–that’s the other way babies are made.

27. Before you say, “I could never…” remember that other people once thought they couldn’t, either–maybe even the person you’re speaking to. And now they’re doing it. Think hard before you open your mouth and sound like a jerk.

28. Get a counselor before you need one. At the very least, decide who you might see if a crisis erupts. Then when you need to reach out for help you won’t have to figure out how to deal with the problem before you can even begin to actually work through it.

29. Traveling is great. But there’s nothing like your own bed.

30. Personal growth isn’t linear. It’s messy and winding; you’ll circle around and backtrack and then leap forward so fast it takes your breath away. Just go with it.

31. When someone you love enters the room, let your face speak what’s in your heart.

35 things I've learned in 35 years | when you feel like you're on the verge of an epic meltdown, eat a sandwich

32. When you feel like you’re on the verge of an epic meltdown, eat a sandwich. Drink a glass of water. And if possible, take a nap.

33. Don’t let relationships drift away. If you find a kindred spirit, hang on tight. Some relationships naturally come to an end, but to let it happen because of carelessness is just sad.

34. When it comes to coffee and ice cream, buy the good stuff. It’s worth the extra cash.

35. It’s true what they say: the thirties are pretty great.

What would you add to the list?

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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  1. Anna says:

    Love this list! I’m turning 31 this week and I so agree with all these. I kept nodding and saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” I think one of mine would be to learn what your style is: books, clothes, decorating, cooking, etc. so you can more easily make choices. But then don’t be afraid to try something that’s not your style every once in awhile because we all need to expand our horizons sometimes.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Especially the food, water, nap one! I have learned that sleep and food cure a multitude of evils. An older man that I knew had a philosophy that if a child was cranky-give them a drink of water. It actually works really good! And for us too.
    I also feel far more comfortable in my skin as I am approaching 35. I love who I am, I am spurred on to improve, and I can embrace the things that make others beautiful too. Less competition, more working together.

  3. I love #22 – this is a great reminder (especially as I’m in my mid-20s) that even good change will require adjustment and that’s ok! I needed this encouragement today 🙂

  4. What would I add? Hmm… make time to read. 😉

    As for your list: $6 bouquets are ALWAYS better than $40 bouquets (says my cheap, Scottish self!). 😉 AMEN and AMEN to #19 – from one starter house, old cars-by-choice gal to another. And #35, I couldn’t agree more. Happy (early) birthday my friend.

    • Anne says:

      Scottish, huh? I like it. 🙂

      For a second I got confused and was thinking we were birthday twins and anniversary twins. Wouldn’t that be crazy!

  5. Tina B says:

    From a 40-something who loves your blog, Happy Birthday! It’s a great list and I loved my 30’s!!

  6. Amber says:

    I just turned 35 in May and I think you list is spot on! I do have moments where I do a “super-kid-freakout” about getting older. My Mom assures me she went through the same thing, but as soon as she hit 40, she stopped worrying about getting older and started embracing it…

  7. Jeannie says:

    Have a great birthday this weekend! As one of your more, uh, “mature” readers I think you’ve got an awful lot of wisdom here; I admire that! (I especially like #31 — as long as what’s in my heart is not a big tiger-like GRRRR, which happens on occasion….)

    Maybe next year on my birthday I’ll post 50 things I’ve learned. I’ll get right on that.

    • Tracy S. says:

      I just turned 50 and I would be hard-pressed to find 50 things. I think they start to meld into a simpler Robert Fulghum-like list. The one I would add is this: Don’t take too much credit for how awesome your kids are, or too much blame for when they seem “less than awesome”. They are unique people–not extensions of yourself.

  8. Fun list! I’ll have to make one for my birthday 🙂
    Ones I’d include is the realization that kids are different, and whatever method (of insert one: sleep training, getting kids to eat vegetables, etc.) other people rave about probably won’t work for your kids.
    Also we can construct very different stories depending on what data points we look at. Which narratives we choose says a lot about us.

    • Anne says:

      So true on both points. #2 is usually framed along the lines of perspective, but I like the way you word it: “the narratives we choose. Interesting point to think on.

  9. Maggie B says:

    I’m saving this post for ever and ever! I hit 31 this year and feel like every single thing you’ve said here is absolutely true. Well, except for the babies since I don’t have any. I’m so excited about my 30’s, and even more excited to leave my 20’s behind. =)

  10. Tim says:

    Happy Birthday, Anne! Woo-hoo!

    And on adding things to your list, I’ll pick up with number 36 and go to number 53. Why 53? Because I’m an old guy.

    36. If your teenager walks in just as you’ve turned the light off to go to sleep and want to chat, turn the light back on and chat.

    37. When you feel the urge to text your spouse (or other important person) just to say hi and see how they’re doing, give in to the urge.

    38. Don’t worry about gray hair. Be thankful you still have hair.

    39. Speaking of hair, don’t be afraid to try a new haircut.

    40. Cold water is usually more satisfying than whatever you first started reaching for.

    41. Saying “No” is wonderful.

    42. Then again, learn to say “Yes” to some things you haven’t done before.

    43. Encouragement is encouraging! Go out and do some!

    44. When it comes to new food, if there’s a culture somewhere on the planet that features whatever it is as one of their regular dishes, give it a try.

    45. Bacon. Yes.

    46. Ask for help. You know you need it.

    47. The Bible is worth reading over and over and over again.

    48. Getting up early to exercise won’t kill you.

    49. Staying up too late will keep you from being able to get up early to exercise. Don’t be afraid to have a bedtime earlier than most toddlers.

    50. My wife loves me, or perhaps I should say she knows me really well and loves me anyway. That alone is enough to make me give thanks to God.

    51. When given a choice between chocolate and vanilla, say yes.

    52. Parenting is an adventure.

    53. You never know what’s coming next.


  11. Nadine says:

    Anne, your list posts are my most favourite! I love that you fill your posts with links because I just LOVE reading them. Happy almost Birthday!

  12. Amy says:

    What a delightful way to contribute to your birthday celebration on here! Such wisdom and such fun. As a 40-something, I’d say the general –perspective is everything– because it is huge. By the way, love your perspective:)

    • Anne says:

      I would love to hear your exceptions! I keep trying and hoping, but I’m pretty much always disappointed. (I’m not going to say always, because surely there’s an exception! I just can’t think of one right now…)

  13. YES!!!! I just turned 34 and I couldnt agree more with this list! I am LOVING my thirties! I especially love your advice that conflict creates a good story. I literally just finished “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” just last night!! I am all fired up about the idea of living a good story. Love your blog!

  14. Stacey says:

    What a fantastic list! Right now, after going through a move, my favorite is that even good change is stressful. Although I must say, the one I try to remind myself of the most is that sometimes the most productive thing to do is to walk the dog. When I find myself spinning my wheels, a good walk around the block is often the wisest of choices.

    And having turned 40 this spring, I will say that the most important lesson I learned in between 35 and 40 is that it is more than ok to say no.

  15. Southern Gal says:

    This is a great list! I’ll be 50 this month and I’m still learning something new all the time. The only things I can think of right now involve my hair:

    Learn to love the hair God gave you. If it’s curly, don’t want straight. If it’s straight, don’t want curly. Be content and satisfied that you have hair!

    Don’t fight your gray hair. You earned it. It’s your crown of glory gained by a righteous life, so let it shine! It beats coloring it continuously (making it dry and lifeless and that horrible reddish brown that just yells “I’m covering gray here! Can’t you tell?”) and trying to keep that gray hairline tame.

    I think the one I would emphasize most from your list is #7 – Don’t wish your life away. Enjoy every minute where you are. It will be gone before you know it so enjoy it!
    I believe that’s hardest for new moms and moms of lots of small ones to embrace. Those phases pass and are just memories before you know it.

    I enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing it.

  16. Anne, happy birthday, and thanks for sharing what you have learned in your first thirty-five years! I love this list, and as my birthday approaches next month, I thought about what I would add to this list, as I have one decade and one month and a few days experience to add to your 35 years. Here 10 additional things that I have come to learn:

    1. The forties is the decade when the pieces of the puzzle may be rearranged, but they somehow manage to come back together to form a new picture that usually is better than the one pictured on the box.

    2. If your world implodes, you will find out who your true friends are, and while you may be heart broken when some of the people you believed to be among those “true” friends are the first ones to walk away from you, you will be surprised who rushes in to buffer your fall and offer you a hand back up.

    3. Time goes exceedingly too fast, especially when you are a parent. Seemingly overnight, your children age at a rate that is difficult to wrap your brain around and leaves you wanting to stop time.

    4. You will be able to accomplish the seemingly impossible personal and professional goals you have set forth for yourself.

    5. You will not only survive, but you will learn to thrive with each experience, if you focus on the lessons to be learned, not the pain that will erode your spirit, if you allow it to do so.

    6. Things really do get better with time, seriously, they do.

    7. You are only as good as your own word, and that includes what it is you say to yourself. If you break a promise to yourself, you will break promises to others. Be a person of your word always.

    8. There still is no place like home.

    9. Every person has something to offer to you and something to gain from you.

    10. Life is messy and perfectly flawed, and that trumps perfection every time.

    Enjoy your special day and the year to come!

  17. Laura says:

    This post is chock full of wisdom. Thank you for writing it. Pinning, sharing, coming back when I need reminders. 🙂 Love 2,3, 10,12, 14, 25!

  18. Maggie says:

    This was a great post! I turn 35 in just a few weeks & would agree with so many of your lessons, particularly #1. I just finished reading “And the Mountains Echoed” and Hosseini has a quote on page 1 that I was unfamiliar with but thought it summed the idea up beautifully:
    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Jellaludin Rumi

  19. Carie says:

    Hey! Going to be 38 this year. While this may not have been the 35 things I would have chosen. I enjoyed reading them. So true, even good change is stressful. I would disagree with #17. In our American culture we are uncomfortable with silence and feel we always need to say something. For example when my friend’s husband died of brain cancer and someone passing through the viewing line at the funeral home says, “you’re young, you will find someone else.” Yeah – a hug is better. Or when my husband had been deployed to Iraq for 5 months and wouldn’t be returning for another 8 or 9 months and a mom at the home school group says, “Oh, that’s just around the corner.” Yeah – offering to take my kids for the night or just saying nothing. I have lived in several countries and cultures now. I’ve come to the conclusion that spending time sitting and saying nothing is sometimes a really good option.

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness! Those are truly horrible things to say. Let’s try this: it’s much better to give a hug than to ignore the pain and try and pretend the devastating thing never happened.

      My husband was just gone for a week and it was ROUGH. Thirteen months has my utmost respect (and kicks all my can-I-bring-you-brownies gears into overdrive). Just around the corner? Yeah, better to just keep quiet. 🙂

  20. Molly says:

    Tons of great advice here! I’m pinning this and rereading it regularly. I turned 40 last year, and these are still good reminders.

    I’d add: 1) When you decided to be your own person, don’t be shocked be major backlash from others. Some people can’t handle it when others choose for themselves. 2) Soak it all in and enjoy the ride. You can’t get back in line for this roller coaster.

  21. Jeannie says:

    Happy birthday, Anne! These are excellent words of wisdom; thanks for sharing them. I especially liked #31 because an hour ago I took my son to his special-needs day camp. He was hoping his friend Nick, whom he hasn’t seen for a few months, would be there, and he was. They saw each other from across the huge parking lot, and their faces said it all — the sheer joy of being together again.

  22. Sara K. says:

    As a fellow 35-year-old I completely agree! I am loving my 30s! I work with a lot of 20-somethings, and sometimes I just shake my head at them thinking “Soon they will learn. Soon they will see otherwise.” I feel much more confident in myself now than I did 10 years ago.

    The only thing I would add is that its ok to like what you like even if you are the only one who does. You don’t have to follow the fashion trends or be up on the latest celebrities. It’s ok if it’s your thing, but don’t feel pressured.

    Happy Birthday!

  23. Diane says:

    You’ll be happy to know the that the 30’s were good, the 40’s better, and I’m finding the 50’s even better! Lots to looks forward to!

  24. Maria says:

    Thank you, Anne! There is so much truth in what you have written in this article. I’m 35 myself, and I agree with most of your points, especially those ones about health, travelling and friendships. What would I add to this list? What piece of wisdom would I give to my child (if I had one)? Well, I would tell them: “Each life has value, regardless of who the parents are or what lineage you have come. You have value because you exist. Your value doesn’t depend on other people’s opinions, on anyone else seeing it, your looks, the clothes you’re wearing, your job position, your university degree, etc. That value is placed on you by your Creator, and never changes.” And I would share my faith with my child (I’m a Roman Catholic), showing her/him the beauty and joy of it, and how it has helped me to find deep peace.

    I’m 100% sure that each decade of life has its pluses and minuses. But I personally started to love my life and appreciate small things when I turned exactly 35. What a blessing!

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