31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years

things I've learned
Last month I turned 31. I’m officially in my early thirties! A million people say that your thirties are the best decade of your life, and I’m going to choose to believe them. After three decades of mistake-making, I’ve learned a few things. Wanna know what I know?

1. Trust your gut. Really.
If you think he likes you, you’re probably right. If you think he’s cheating, you’re probably right. If you think she’s going to be your new BFF, (this time with feeling!) you’re probably right.

2. Sunscreen. Always.
SPF 15 indoors, SPF 30 outdoors. I’ve been wearing sunscreen every day since I was 19 and I still get carded. I think this actually has more to do with the bouncers hitting on me, but I’d like to share the credit with my good friend Oil of Olay daily moisturizing lotion with SPF.

3. If you’re lying in bed worrying about it, get up and write it down.
If I don’t do this, my night will quickly devolve into cyclical thoughts of doom and anxiety. Just get out of bed, write down the thing that you’re worried about, write down a few ideas to deal with it and then go the eff back to sleep.

4. Processed carbohydrates and sugars are yucky.
It’s not hard to switch to whole wheat bread and noodles or substitute honey/maple syrup/raw sugar for the white stuff. It’s yummy and you’ll feel heaps better!

5. Maintaining friendships (and making new friends) is an active process.
Stop waiting for them to call you! Think of something fun to do, call your friends and go do it. Also, stop sitting in your apartment, devotedly wishing that you knew more cool people. Surprisingly, this will not get you any closer to making new friends. Go places where like-minded people hang out, talk to new people at parties, initiate.

6. Uncomfortable underwear can ruin your day.
At least they can ruin mine. So don’t wear your sexy times underwear on the day you have to walk ten blocks to work.

7. It really doesn’t matter what you major in.
What does matter? The internships you get, your work ethic, your interpersonal skills, who you know. So go ahead and get a BA in Studio Art! As long as you compliment that with work experience at a graphic design studio, a museum, and an ad agency.

8. Create an active lifestyle.
I don’t go to the gym every day. Or, um, ever in the summer. But I walk to work and to the market and just about everywhere within a 3 mile radius. If you make daily activity a habit, you won’t have nearly as many moments of “how did I inadvertently gain 30 pounds?!” or “why can’t I walk up a flight of stairs?!”

9. Learn to enjoy your own company.
There will be times in your life when you really want to see that movie, check out that new boutique, go to Thailand and no one wants to go with you. Bummer! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t go by yourself and have a good time. Take baby steps and work up to doing the big stuff on your own.

10. Don’t allow outside sources to determine your self-esteem.
I’m still working on this one. But I think it’s important to realize that just about everything in life is relative – depending on your surroundings, you could be the hottest/smartest/highest paid girl in the room. But if you walk next door? Maybe it’s a different story. It’s important to have faith in your abilities and strong suits – regardless of how they compare to others.

11. Find out what colors and styles work (and don’t work) on you. Style accordingly.
I look good in gold and browns and corals. I look good with long, wavy hair. I look good in boat neck, three-quarter length tops. It took many, many unflattering photos to figure this out.

12. When in doubt, make the effort.
You will never regret wearing that nice outfit, buying the thoughtful gift for the friend you haven’t heard from in a while, over-tipping. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll know you did your best.

13. Cook at home.
Seriously. You will save one million dollars. You will maintain a healthy weight. You will impress your friends.

14. There are 300 million people in America. And 6,000,000,000 in the world.
I promise you, you’ll love someone else. You’ll meet new friends. You’ll find co-workers and neighbors that are awesome. If it’s too hard (or if someone is making you feel bad) walk away. There are a million other people out there who won’t make you feel bad!

15. It’s easier to make money than memories.
Are you throwing up in your mouth right now? I am a little bit. But it’s true. Don’t take the extra shift at work and miss your friend’s awesome end-of-the-summer barbecue. If all your friends are springing for a weekend at a cabin near the Canadian border, save up for a few weeks and make it happen. You won’t remember the two weeks of eating in and watching library DVDs, but you’ll remember 3 days of fun with your buddies.

16. You can find common ground with just about anyone, anywhere.
Regardless of a person’s gender, age, race or religion there are common denominators to the human experience – falling in love, being homesick, laughing at baby animals. You don’t even need to speak the same language to share an appreciation for these things. You’d be amazed how far you can get with most people just by smiling and asking them questions.

17. Don’t buy the cheapest version. Buy the second cheapest.
This trick has saved me a lot of money. And many hangovers. Usually, the cheapest version of something (vodka, eye shadow, shoes) is noticeably dicey. But the second-cheapest? Not so bad!

18. Make an extra copy.
Of your keys, your lease, your birth certificate, your social security card. Then give said copy to someone trustworthy.

19. Floss.
Really. It’s pretty gratifying in a slightly disgusting way.

20. Consider secondhand, for just about everything.
98% of everything I own is second hand. My blow dryer, my picture frames, my sheets (not as gross as you’re imagining). They cost a fraction of what I’d pay for them new, and no one’s the wiser. At least until I tell the internet that I sleep on used sheets.

21. Excuses are embarrassing.
With the exception of excuses like “my grandma died” most excuses are embarrassing for everyone involved – the person giving them and the person listening to them. ‘I just don’t know where to start,’ ‘I’m tired,’ ‘it’s too expensive’ really just translate to ‘I’m not making it a priority’. See? Embarrassing, right?

22. Don’t ask a question if you’re not prepared to hear the answer.
If you ask your friend “Do I look fat in this?” you best be prepared to hear that it’s not a super flattering look on you. If you ask that guy you’ve been seeing for five months “Where do you see this going?” you need to know he might respond in stutters, back-pedaling and comments about “keeping it light.” Don’t ask if you don’t really, really want to know.

23. Engage in calculated risk taking.
Dancing on the table, taking a spontaneous road trip by yourself to a neighboring state, trying a new type of ethnic food – it is unlikely that any of these things will kill you. But they will probably make you more interesting.

24. Learn how to live well within your means.
Make a budget and stick to it. Pay off your credit cards every month. Learn to cook for yourself. Get a bike and use it (then you won’t need a gym membership or all that gas for you car!) Cancel the cable. Split internet with a neighbor. Consider second hand. You’d be amazed how painless saving money can be!

25. Learn some basic photo editing skills.
Because that photo from your vacation would make a great Facebook profile photo if you didn’t have that giant zit, right? Photoscape, Picnik and Gimp are all great options!

26. If you don’t know what you say, silence is always an option.
I learned this from my friend Ellie, who used this approach to deal with unruly patients during her years as a nurse in NYC. If someone says something you don’t like (and don’t know how to respond to) just stare at them and don’t say anything. Totally. terrifying. And totally effective!

27. If you don’t know, ask.
Because that thing that people say about assuming (it makes an ass out of you and me)? That’s true.

28. Do something different with your weekends.
After a week in the cubicle farm, I know it’s tempting to spend your weekend watching DVDs, running errands, going to house parties and nursing hangovers. But doing the same thing every weekend gets old. And you won’t return to work reinvigorated or inspired.

You don’t have to do anything earth shattering – have a sleepover with old friends, go camping in a State Park, rent bikes and ride through your city, try a new ethnic restaurant, look up the top tourist sights in your city and check them out. Milk those two days off for all they’re worth!

29. Stay in touch.
In the age of skype/facebook/texting there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t maintain regular contact with your childhood bestie or that cool girl from your freshman comp class. Maintaining and fostering friendships is super important. Also, you’ll have more couches to crash on when you go traveling!

30. Find a creative outlet.
Most of us aren’t 100% creatively fulfilled by our day jobs. Even those of us who work in creative fields! Engaging different parts of your brain (and different parts of your personality) is hugely, hugely gratifying. Seriously, you cannot overestimate how having a good hobby can change your life. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that after I started blogging, I needed less sleep and was a much happier person. Truth.

31. Act like you know what you’re doing.

You can pretty much conquer the world with a confident walk, a well thought out outfit and confident demeanor. We teach people how to treat us and when you show people that you’re a force to be reckoned with, they’ll believe you.

But I want to know about you! What are your favorite, most-used pieces of wisdom?

P.S. How to do (almost) anything + How to get the love life you want

P.P.S. If you liked this post, you might like my newsletter! Once a week I send out my best stuff + discounts from sponsors! Sign up here.

128 Comments

Fajr | Stylish Thought

Amazing advice. I'm not yet 30 (almost) but two lessons I've learned and hold very true to heart are "Don't sweat the small stuff and everything is small" and "this too shall pass". Both have gotten me through a lot. Great list Sarah!

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DaniellaBella

I totally agree with all of these things! I woke up this morning feeling tired and cruddy, just wanting the day to be over. Now I feel like I've remembered something that I already knew and can look at today as an adventure of potential loveliness!
Thanks!!!

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Spira

Just a quote from Meryl Streep that I thought of when I read #31; "β€˜Cause its amazing how much you can get if you quietly, clearly and authoritatively demand it."

πŸ™‚

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Canadian Twentysomething

Wow, awesome list! My favourite is #31. It's worded so well. I'll have to remember to stick the phrase "we teach people how to treat us" into a conversation with my future children. It's not just about dressing well, it's about being nice, being courteous, basically treating others as you'd like to be treated.
Such a good reminder to be good people. πŸ™‚

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She answers to Layla

what a super list!!! i will enter the ranks of 31 in a little over a month—my golden year!–and i'm so thrilled and excited.
reading your list is inspiring and exciting—to agree and see how important this growing into a mature, well-rounded, lovely woman really is!
Thank you for your post!!!
<3

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*starr fish

YAY! I agree with so many of them, but think it's fantastic that we share a personal number one: Trust your gut! Oh the things I could have avoided if I had trusted it so unwaveringly when I was younger. Now I know!

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Rebekah

Way to go, Sarah Von! High five!

Extra advice: Learn anything that will help you achieve independence. I have SO much learned helplessness from dating brilliant guys and letting them handle things for me. Argh!

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nova

This one's super cheesy but SO TRUE:

Treat others the way you'd want to be treated.

I mean EVERYONE. Your friends, family, the server at the restaurant, the doorman, the telemarketer…even if you personally don't get anything out of it, you get the satisfaction of knowing you haven't burned any bridges and maybe you made somebody's day.

I love this post!

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Anonymous

I have socia phobia and I treat people the way I want to be treated: I don't make to much eye contact with people, I don't intrude, I don't speak much, I don't smile too much to strangers, I don't try to make friends, etc.

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stephanie

thanks for posting sarah. the last few days have been difficult – and you always know how to motivate & make my day a little better πŸ™‚

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Heather

I adore your blog but rarely comment. Felt that today's post warranted me chiming in with the others that your advice is both lovely and useful. This has officially become ANOTHER post of yours that I will use to direct more friends here. I wanna be you when I grow up, Sarah Von (shhh…. 27 still doesn't count as grown up, right?!)

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Victoria from VMAC + Cheese

Love every single one of these. I would also add that along with learning to cook for yourself and cooking at home, don't bother with diets. If you cook varied meals at home, you'll find you can pretty much eat anything you want. Including a bowl of ice cream.

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Mandy

Wonderful list, Sarah! I love #15. I basically live by it, which explains why I don't have a lot of money but have done some pretty fun things. It's (pretty much) always worth it!

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Allie

I just copy/pasted this entire post into Word, printed it out, and stuck it on my bulletin board. It's incredible, and I hope to follow as much of the advice as possible.

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muchlove

Just had to tell you…

I printed this whole list out as soon as I read it! You make excellent points, many of which I really needed to read and be reminded of, especially in this period of my life. Thank you for being an inspiration!

That's all πŸ™‚

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LC

I'm 25 and still fumbling pretty hard through the 20-something years but I'm a big fan of the "web" theory.

Everything that happens, both good and bad, are a part of the larger web of our entire lives. Sure, I got dumped and it hurt, but if he would have stayed, I wouldn't have traveled to Asia by myself. Or taken that awesome new job in that new city. Or met another awesome new guy at a friends party that I wouldn't have otherwise gone to if I was a couple. Or started sewing and created my own line of Eco friendly recycled coasters. Or insert-uplifting-thought-here. Once I started thinking of life in terms of the "web" it became less about what has happened and more about how what happened is preparing me for the next exciting thing! Total attitude makeover!

Oh and yes I also love this post so props to you Sarah V (and I saw Angkor Wat today and took 500 photos and thought of you as the sun was rising since you recommended it in your blog a while back. Thanks!)

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Renai

Love love love love love this post! I've shared it with quite a few friends already and read over it multiple times in the past two days! You genius woman, you.

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scott mensch

You know how to live. Keep on making your life different. You are the center of your universe! -spc mensch

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Monica

"Uncomfortable underwear can ruin your day."

I would just like to add: so can uncomfortable shoes!

Awesome, jaw-dropping list, Sarah. You are moving mountains with your wisdom. Keep rockin'. πŸ™‚

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Amy

I sent this post to every single one of my amazing friends (thus practicing #29!). Everyone loved and were inspired by it – I know a lot of us needed to hear some of these things. Thanks for this!

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Nubby Tongue

This is such a fantastic list it could honestly be a book! My favorite tip is "Buy the second cheapest thing" because it's so ingenious, but I love the more "serious" tips too. If there was a "Best of the Internet EVER" button I'd totally click it. =]

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Anna -a new kind of awesome

I loved this post -thank you for letting you brilliance spill over into my life!

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J.

A-M-A-Z-I-N-G post! I am 31 too, and I do think all of this is true. I am so going to recommend this post to others!

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Anonymous

"It doesn't matter what you major in"

lol okay. Unless you like making money.

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Bill

I turn 59 in just a few days.

ENGRAVE #31 on your heart. Do not be a spoiled brat about it, but do not accept less than what is due you.

You, and only you, establish your value in this world.

You may have to walk away from a few situations before you establish your value, but the willingness to walk away IS part of your value.

NEVER compromise your sense of integrity and expect others to uphold it for you.

A former President, when offered the Vice-Presidency responded something to the effect that "once you accept second-best, it tends to become a habit." He declined the Vice-Presidency in one election and went on to become the President 4 years later.

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Anonymous

Every single one of these is a good idea. I stopped eating processed sugar a few months ago and started cooking at home more and it's saved me money and improved my figure tremendously. My favorite was writing out my problems and anxieties; I'll definitely be doing that more often in the future. Thanks for sharing, this was an excellent post.

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Sofi

You really got it! Love your post and your blog

It really have something inspiring!!
Thanks!!!

SofΓ­a

Chile

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PeWe-HH

I'm a man and european too. Have to say, this is a teriffic list and doesn't sound very american πŸ™‚ – relaxed but confident. go on and good luck!

Peter

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Candace

Love your list! I just "stumbled upon" you site and love it. It makes me feel all happy inside. πŸ™‚

I'm your newest follower. Keep on bloggin! <3 Candace

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Anonymous

wow! you are one smart cookie for 31! I'm twice your age and it took me that long to learn a lot of what you seem to already know!

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legogubbe

great post! agree with u, specially the last one. if u think you rule, people will also think you rule. Ergo, you will rule! :))
damn, i wrote like a 10year old πŸ˜›

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Karl

21 is something we should all be taught: Excuses will get you into trouble and lose you friends.
CHeers,
Karl

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FallenSieg

18. Make an extra copy
Of your keys, your lease, your birth certificate, your social security card. Then give said copy to someone trust worthy.

And also store a third copy in a fireproof vault at least 100 yards from the original =P

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Lucas

I LOVED this post! I just turned 31 five days ago and everything on here is so true, and many I would never have thought of myself, but in reading them, they make perfect sense. Thank you!

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Junhax

Wow.

I really enjoyed this, like honestly read the whole thing from top to bottom.

Great post, great advice, great person.

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Ben

Loved this post. Came here from news.ycombinator.com, which doesn't normally have fun & female-written content like this, so it made a nice change.

I wrote down several of your tips in my personal journal- it's hard to find fresh wisdom-ideas any more, actually.

Love the name of your site, too, btw.

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Parag

Wow, this is one of the best blog posts I have read in a while.

Awesome advise… and great wisdom at 31 πŸ™‚

Good luck to you and I sincerely wish all that you desire in life comes true.

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Sparkle

NICE post! (Y)

@31 Very, very important to be self confident. In the past 3 years I've learnt that being confident would have been beneficial at my job, would have allowed me to learn driving faster :$, and would have positively effected a lot of other things.

@14 First you need to be SURE that it's right to walk away. That you just can't deal with it anymore. That you are not needed. That someone will do better without you. That you'll do better without this person. That you'll be happier etc etc. And then you walk away. And after knowing all this, it's still difficult to walk away. And is still something you'll remember for a long time, and something that will hurt you too (maybe), even if you know it was a good decision.

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Erik Back

I would like to add one to the list: Be enthusiatic about everything and you will feel happy and successfull and when you do not then people around you will help you because of your enthusiastic attitude.

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Allyson Shaw

Sarah,

I found your blog a few days ago and I can't stop reading! Whenever I get a break in my day I find myself on this site, happily absorbing your inspirational posts. I am living in Rome, Italy as an au pair right now and I'm struggling with what I should do once this is finished. Do you have any advice for finding a career/purpose in life? The thought scares the crap out of me!

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matthew c

Great post you have here. I do like the list. I can't wait to see follow up as you get older. I especially like number 13. Not only will you save a lot of money but will also be healthier.

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SeraSirrah

First, Sarah, I am a new devoted reader (upping the number of blogs I regularly read to 1).

Second, I'd add these to the list:

*Learn to become charmed by everyone.

*Show the people who matter most to you that they matter most to you.

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Jeremy

This was amazing. I'm turning 22 tomorrow, and I'm glad to have received advice this so early on. Thanks for sharing it!

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John L

You can literally live a happy life and rule the earth alone with #'s15, 18 and 31. LOL. I came across this blog from a deep rabbit trail of web searching. happy I did. I love lists, and this is one of the most creative ones I have seen. Subscribing now! Hey Sarah do you have any thing on Youtube?

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Learnt Vs Learned Canada | FindYourTip

[…] yes and yes: 31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years – Last month I turned 31. I’m officially in my early thirties! A million people say that your thirties are the best decade of your life, and I’m going to choose to …… […]

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susana

you are truly amazing and inspiring Sarah! Wish you many blessings, success and all the good stuff in 2016! hugs & kisses from a portuguese girl living in Brazil <3
susana

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