First Person

Money can’t buy happiness? A lie! – 30 lessons to learn by the time you turn 30

As she says goodbye to her twenties, Kate Ng compiles all of the big lessons she’s learnt from her 30 years on earth, from clarity about imposter syndrome to why those shoes really weren’t worth it

Wednesday 20 July 2022 11:53 BST
Thirty, flirty and thriving: Jennifer Garner in ‘13 Going on 30’
Thirty, flirty and thriving: Jennifer Garner in ‘13 Going on 30’ (Shutterstock)
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My 30th birthday has arrived. Just like that, three decades of my life have whooshed by. But while my friends who are turning 30 this year are having an existential crisis, I feel – rather smugly – pretty relaxed about it all. No meltdowns, no wailing about saying goodbye to my twenties. God, aren’t I irritating?

I don’t mean to be. I just feel like I already live like a 30-year-old, and have done since I was at least 27. But now I can actually tell people I doddle off to bed pretty sharpish at 10pm. No one will widen their eyes and exclaim: “But you’re only twenty-something!”

Now that I’ve entered my 30, flirty and thriving era (sans the thriving, because… in this economy?), I can fully embrace all the old lady things I already do. Leave a party before midnight, because I don’t care about FOMO anymore? Absolutely. Rattle on about vacuum cleaners? Count me in. The world in rapid decline is my oyster.

But I’m sure I can’t stave off the inevitable crisis forever. It’s going to hit, one way or another. While I have my wits about me, I’ve compiled 30 lessons I’ve learnt in the 30 years I’ve been alive, from the mundane, to the silly, to the poignant.

1. “Life’s too short to read bad books” is bulls***

This “advice” has always annoyed me, because how would I know a book is bad unless I read it? Our tastes also vary throughout the different seasons of our lives, so don’t be afraid to pick up a book you might like the sound of, even if others don’t.

2. Always be suspicious of eggs

I adore eggs, but they’ve done me dirty at least twice in my life. Now, if I have any inkling of doubt about an egg, I dutifully do the water test: fill a bowl with water, and carefully put the egg in to see if it floats or sinks. If it sinks, it’s good to eat, if it floats, throw it straight into the bin. They won’t get me a third time!

3. Use mayonnaise on the outside of your grilled sandwiches

This is one of the best cooking hacks I’ve ever learnt. Instead of buttering the outside of any sandwich you plan to grill, spread a layer of mayonnaise over it. Not only does this save you the agony of trying to spread butter that’s slightly too hard on soft bread, therefore risking holes and tears, but your sandwich will also cook much more evenly. You’re welcome.

4. The cooler the shoes look, the more you suffer

This is more of a lesson acknowledged rather than learnt, because I know I will continue to buy shoes that look ridiculously cool and then suffer for it. Perhaps a better lesson is to determine how good the shoes look versus how much pain they will cause you, and prepare accordingly. Compeed plasters at the ready.

5. Brits are easily embarrassed but have no shame

As a foreigner, I’ve had the great pleasure of observing British culture from outside the fish bowl. One of the most baffling things I’ve learnt is that most Britons are disproportionately embarrassed by minor things. God forbid you send food that’s not cooked right back because it would “cause a scene”. However, Brits have no problem acting the fool and vomiting all over the street after a heavy night of binge drinking. The math doesn’t add up.

6. Get over embarrassment

I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing moments. My mind frequently brings up the time I tried out platform sandals for the first time and a guy smirked as I nearly stacked it in front of him in New Cross. Or the time I fell off a stationary bike at my very first spin class. How did I get over these moments of extreme cringe? Own them. As long as no one got hurt, you can get up, laugh it off, and get back on the bike. Everyone will be too busy being glad they weren’t you.

7. Always pee after sex

My fellow vagina owners, I cannot stress the importance of doing this if you have penetrative sex. It only takes a minute, and will drastically reduce the risk of getting a dreaded UTI. Don’t skip the post-sex pee!

Waiting for someone else to do the dishes when you could’ve done it yourself is a time-wasting exercise

8. Men love proving you wrong

One of the most useful things I’ve learnt about men is just how much they want to prove you wrong. So use this to your advantage. Say things like, “I know you won’t do this [boring chore] and I’ll just have to do it myself”, and watch said chore get done in a matter of hours. Works like magic.

9. Say no to skinny jeans

Why, oh why, must we pretend to love skinny jeans? They are too tight and limit movement, while getting in and out of them should be a registered exercise. And god forbid you have thighs that touch, you’ll be getting a hole between them quicker than you can say, “Skinny jeans suck”.

10. Always wear sunscreen

Famously, journalist Mary Schmich advised this in a column that formed the basis for that spoken-words song released by Baz Luhrmann in the late Nineties. I carry copious amounts of it with me, in every form imaginable (as I write, I have spray, cream and powder versions beside me). I haven’t always worn it, but I’ve only learnt to appreciate just how much of an enemy the sun really is in the last five years and can attribute my lack of wrinkles to sunscreen.

11. Marry someone with the same passport

Want to save yourself a world of pain and money down the drain? Find a significant other who carries the same passport as you do. Or better yet, one that lives within a 10-kilometre radius instead of 10,539 kilometres away, as was in my case. Now, love is love, no matter the distance, and I’m very much glad to be here and in my relationship. But there’s no denying that we would have saved so much money, time, and precious moments had we lived in the same country.

12. It costs literally nothing to be nice

Being a decent person costs nothing. Absolutely zero,and it makes you and others feel great. Meanwhile, being nasty costs you your reputation, your mental health, and your ability to think positively about anything. Make it your default setting.

13. You will become your husband’s walking diary planner

My husband’s family and friends no longer bother texting him to make plans, they come straight to me. I’ve still not come to terms with the fact I am now his walking diary planner, and I’m not sure I ever will.

14. Put your foot down

Putting your foot down is one of the most uncomfortable things you will ever have to do in life. In times like this, I’ve learnt that steeling my nerves and getting my friends to back me up is key to becoming brave enough to make a stand.

15. Imposter syndrome is real but you’re not alone

You’ve got imposter syndrome? So do I. So does your colleague. So do your friends, and your neighbour, and your sister. You get the picture. Most of us are pretending we know what we’re doing and are terrified of being “found out”. But once you realise just how many people feel the same way, it can open the door to talking about it, and in turn, give you more confidence.

16. It’s OK to let friends go

A hard lesson I’ve had to learn is that friends will come and go. And that’s OK. Sometimes, our friends outgrow us and we do the same. Not all friendships are built to last forever, but it’s so important that we cherish our friendships while we have them.

Joey turns 30 on ‘Friends’
Joey turns 30 on ‘Friends’ (Warner Bros Television)

17. It is really hard to make friends as an adult

Speaking of friendships, making new friends as an adult is extraordinarily hard. I tried going on Bumble BFF, but it turns out that it’s more awkward than online dating. Also, lockdown really threw a spanner into my plan to make friends at work. Who knew we’d be so inept at making friends in our late twenties?

18. If you can do something yourself, do it

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. This also applies to wanting something done at all. Waiting for someone else to make the call or do the dishes when you could’ve done it yourself is a time-wasting exercise, in my opinion. Having said that, if it’s important to you that the other person takes these actions, you need to communicate it to them.

19. It is possible to find an exercise you love

I used to absolutely despise exercise. But after taking and failing (see: spin exercise) many a trial class, I’ve discovered it is possible to find an activity you love. For me, it’s weight-lifting. The key is giving things a try and figuring out which one makes you feel empowered and fulfilled.

20. Moving house costs a lot more than you think

This is one of those lessons you don’t learn as a child because you never have to think about it until later on. But moving house is extremely costly, and all the little things build up. It’s not just hiring the man with a van, there’s also the cost of ending contracts, cleaning the place, boxes to pack your things in, having to take a day off to do it all. Oh, and when you move into a new place, there are more costs involved!

21. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Podcaster Alie Ward of the highly-popular Ologies podcast has a catchphrase that I have taken as sage advice: “Ask smart people stupid questions.” I love this piece of advice, because we’re all so afraid of looking dumb that we often try our hardest not to ask questions. But that just leads to confusion and more embarrassment, so why not ask the stupid questions?

22. Learn deep breathing to manage anxiety

Close your eyes and sit up straight. Now breathe in slowly. Imagine your lungs filling up like balloons, slowly but surely. Now, hold it and count slowly to five. When you reach five, begin to exhale – not a full exhale, but a controlled one, imagining your lungs deflating as you breathe out. Repeat this until you feel calm and still.

23. Do your stretches

At my ripe old age, I’ve found that if I don’t stretch before exercising, the next day I’m stiff as a plank. It can also lead to exercise-related injuries, which are harder to recover from the older you get. Now I make sure I stretch before a run, no matter how tempting it is to skip it.

24. Break up big ambitions into smaller goals

Having big dreams is great, but they can often feel unachievable. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on them, though – far from it. Set smaller, more achievable goals that will take you towards the big kahuna goal. Doing this is much more fulfilling and less disappointing than striving for a big dream and burning out before you get there.

25. Learn to cook

Learning to cook is a crucial life skill. I don’t mean cooking an overly-complicated meal or a signature dish to impress anyone else. I mean starting really small, like learning how to fry an egg just the way you like it, or how to make a bechamel sauce. Cooking a proper meal for yourself is one of the quickest and easiest ways to feel like you’ve achieved something for the day.

26. Don’t buy cheap jewellery

Ditch Accessorize, Lovisa, and H&M jewellery and choose better quality pieces. This doesn’t mean spending exorbitant amounts on earrings and necklaces though. There is an array of demi-fine jewellery that won’t break the bank and will look and last a lot longer than the cheap plastic stuff. You’ll also be more inclined to keep it and not throw it away, which contributes to less waste all round.

Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel turns 30 on ‘Friends’
Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel turns 30 on ‘Friends’ (Warner Bros Television)

27. Whoever said ‘Money can’t buy happiness’ was already rich

I’m convinced that whoever came up with this phrase already had plenty of money. Because, whilst money can’t buy happiness, it certainly makes life a lot easier – which, in turn, creates happiness. Struggling to live paycheck-to-paycheck is not conducive for a happy life.

28. Eating is much more fun than striving for impossible thinness

Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it’s one of the few things I don’t skimp out on because there’s too much to enjoy. Putting yourself through misery to attain a body you’re not meant to have, however, is no fun at all. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and find a balance that works for you, but never skip out on a meal you really want for skinny’s sake.

29. The power of a good night’s sleep

Sleep is such a wonderful thing. It can clear the mind, rejuvenate a weary body and restore peace. Get lots of it, and don’t regret a single minute you spend sleeping. It’s so good for you.

30. Banish the idea that 30 is “old”

Thirty is not “old” whatsoever, and we need to stop subscribing to the idea that turning 30 is the end of your youth. It’s not, and things are going to get better. We’re just getting started.

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