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10 Personal Growth Lessons from My 30s

Have you ever been camping? 

If so you’ve probably found yourself awake at 2 AM, needing to go.  

You grab your lantern, unzip the tent, and step out into the night.  If it’s a dark night, the walk to a suitably distant location feels a bit unnerving.  You know that there is an entire world out there, existing underneath the stars.  But you can’t see it.  You can’t see much of anything.

You walk slowly, guided only by the glowing circle of light.  Your steps feel less steady in the darkness than in the day.  But you trust the path you can see and eventually make it to a place where you find relief.

This is the best metaphor I can find to explain what the past decade, my 30s, felt like for me.

I am always an extremely reflective person, but turning 40 has prompted me to take an even harder than usual look at my life. 

I’m  reviewing lessons I’ve learned, the choices I’ve made, and the kind of future I want to actively create for myself and those I love as I move into the next decade of my life.

I don’t pretend that anyone particularly cares about my story except for me.  We are all pretty wrapped up in our own struggles and successes after all.   

However,  I also know that I enjoy learning about other people’s lives.  Sometimes hearing someone else’s story can spark a fire in me.  Sometimes it makes me feel less alone.   A fellow human’s story can be OUR story too, because we can identify pieces of ourselves within it.

So in the spirit of my intention to make myself more vulnerable in this next phase of life, I’m sharing some of what I learned in my 30s.

I’ve moved slowly and unsteadily, just like I’m walking mid night in the woods.  The world 3 feet in front of me is too dark to see.  All I can do is take my next right step. 

Although I’m walking toward something unknown, I trust that it’s something beautiful.

A Short Personal History

My thirties were marked by internal struggle.  I thought I had a pretty good life plan mapped out when I was younger, but I failed to recognize that all my plans kind of fizzled out of focus and got fuzzy around age 30.  

Get good grades. Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Have babies.

I had no idea what would come after that.


When I turned 30, I came face to face with the pull between wanting to work and wanting to be with my daughter.  I wrestled with what felt like endless postpartum depression and some serious doubts about my self-worth.

I loved my early 30’s for what they were- the sweet early moments of young family life.  I will always be nostalgic for this time, I know.  But I also spent a lot of time during these years dwelling on my loss of self.

I stopped caring well for myself physically, felt guilt about taking time to do things for my mental health, and just generally felt like a big waste of potential.   I thought of all the high expectations that my family and teachers had expressed for me over the years and felt like I was letting everyone down as I spent my afternoons sitting on the couch eating stale goldfish from a plastic spillproof snack cup, scrolling my phone and dreaming of more from myself.

By the time I was 33 and my son was born, I knew I needed to start making changes.

So I began the long, slow process of finding my way back to myself.

Looking back, it’s all a little blurry (this is why it’s so important to keep journals if you can, you’ll want to look back someday at the good stuff… and the hard stuff).  It was slow going for the first few years. Then one day something changed.


I sat down at the coffee shop at my kids’ school.  I had some time all to myself that day and nowhere in particular to be.  On a whim, I purchased a domain name, opened a (really ugly) website, and published my first post within the span of the 3-hour preschool day. 

It was a turning point.  Almost like God himself said “Enough’s enough.  Stop sitting around and do something about it already.”  

It was 2018 and I was 36.

After that day I entered a personal growth period, learning lessons after lesson that changed my heart and mind. 

I truly took one step at a time, trying hard to make the next right decision without overthinking or planning.  I committed to enjoying the ride and trusting the process of becoming who I was meant to be.

Today, at 40, I am still in this growth phase.  But I am SO MUCH happier with myself and my life. 

I’m more comfortable in my skin.  My life is full of more gratitude, more joy, and more hope for an abundant future.

If you’re looking for something more as well…maybe hearing my story will help you get started too.

10 lessons in personal Growth

I deleted my original blog post in a fit of website decluttering, but you can read one of my early blog posts here.

Grow As You Go

Naturally, the first thing I wanted was a prettier website.  But I couldn’t justify paying someone to do it when I didn’t have an actual business.  

Clearly, I had to learn to do it myself.  

There is no motivation like intrinsic motivation. A few months later, I had learned the ins and outs of WordPress, some basic coding, and I had upgraded my site.  It wasn’t perfect.  But at least it looked like something that resembled my vision for the future.

You know what surprised me most? 

The process was the reward.   

Identifying a goal, teaching myself the skills to execute it, and feeling the satisfaction of completion was a thrill I had long since forgotten.  It made me come alive.  And it made me want to do it again.

Lesson:  If you want something that’s out of reach, learn how to create it yourself.  Then you’ll have the thing and the skill.  


Invest In Learning

Riding high on the thrill of creating my website, I started prioritizing learning in my life again.  

I always loved school in a way that most people don’t.  In an alternate life, I could see myself endlessly earning degree after degree.  

That wasn’t realistic for me as a mom to two young kids, but there are plenty of other ways to learn.  

Of course there was the University of Youtube.  And Google.  And the library.  I started listening to Podcasts while I folded laundry. Once the volume of information out there became overwhelming, I began enrolling in focused online courses.  

If you’ve never taken an online course, I highly recommend it!  There is a course for every topic or goal.  If you want to try, MasterClass is a great place to start.

These learning experiences stimulated my mind again.  This was something I needed in the worst way. Growth is something we all need, whether we recognize it or not.  A stagnant life is never a fulfilling one.

Lesson:  Never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to invest in your intellectual growth. 


Get Started

Where are my fellow perfectionists?

You have so many goals and dreams and ideas you’d like to try, but they seem too far away. 

Everything feels out of reach.  You don’t want to try and fail. So you stay where you are and continue to sit on the sidelines of your life.

This is something I started wrestling with in college, and the potent cocktail of perfectionism mixed with a constant dialogue with an inner critic can led to a lot of inaction in life.

Eventually I decided I had to just suck it up and do something.  Anything.  

Maybe home organization might be a good fit?

There was a small (but loyal) audience of people who received my initial offerings with encouragement.  I pressed on. Luckily, I had the financial freedom and support of my husband to allow me to take it slowly. 

Gradually, the simple act of putting myself out there began to attract opportunities and experiences.

I was finally out of my head and on my way. 

Lesson: Stop dreaming + start doing.


Pace Yourself

From the day I started my website I was in motion. And I have stayed in motion.  

Here’s what forward motion looks like for me:

  • I frequently wake up at 5:30 am to hole up in my office and write.
  • I have stayed up too late working on posts only a handful of people read when I should have been resting and connecting with my family. 
  • My back gets stiff from sitting so long, and my eyes burn from hours staring at a screen.
  • I can’t seem to gain traction and wonder if all this work is for nothing. 

But then I remember that I’m not actually looking for gold stars or validation on the things I put out there, because I’m doing all of this for myself. So there is no timeline.

The most important thing to realize is that building anything (whether it’s a home, a business, yourself) takes patience.  And the sooner we learn to embrace the “marathon not a sprint” mentality, the better the outcome.

Looking back I know that these years haven’t been wasted, even if I don’t have a whole lot of tangible proof of success.  I know that each minute I have spent growing and developing myself or trying something new has been preparing me for something that awaits me in the future.  

I proceed less forcefully than before.  Surrender allows me to slow the pace.

Know this: there is usually a lag time between when you begin and when the work pays off.  

Keep going.

Lesson: Growth takes time. If you want to reach the finish line, you have to keep a slow, steady pace.


Open Your Mind

It started innocently enough, I guess.  Like every other dedicated book-club goer of 2019, I read the book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  It spoke to me and the internal changes I was going through at that time in my life. My friend Amanda knew I enjoyed this personal development content, and gifted me with a START TODAY journal.  (I tried to link it, but it seems hard to come by now.)

Basically, this journal had an introductory section which walks you through visualizing your ideal life 10 years from now.  Then, you look at what you wrote and consider 10 dreams that, if they came true, would make your ideal life a reality.  Finally, you take a deeper look at those 10 dreams and pick ONE specific goal to start with.

So:

  • 10 years. 
  • 10 dreams. 
  • One goal at a time.

Once you walk through the exercises and narrow it down, you begin a daily practice of writing everything on paper.

At the time this felt revolutionary to me.  I was familiar with the goal setting, but this “visioning” felt powerful.  And once I started practicing it I realized it WAS powerful.

I didn’t realize Rachel Hollis hadn’t come up with this all on her own. I know now that she was actually teaching the fundamentals of the Law of Attraction, one of the “12 Universal Laws.”  

I’m glad I didn’t recognize it for what it was before I tried it because otherwise I might have dismissed it. But once I experienced the very real, life-changing results of this practice it changed my mental health for the better.

I hesitated to include this section because everyone is so different.  You may have your own thoughts and beliefs about manifestation from personal experience or your religious background.  I am definitely not a spiritual guide; all I know is my own experience.

And I will say this: exposure to these “universal laws” from a philosophical perspective has opened my eyes up to a richer life than I had previously been living.  

Awareness, sometimes called awakening, was a surprising detour on my personal journey.  It’s different for everyone, but for me it felt like finally putting on a pair of glasses after a lifetime of impaired vision. I discovered that I could suddenly see the world more clearly.  

I still struggle, of course. I become depressed.  I have lazy periods.  I get bad attitudes and struggle in my relationships.  Learning to dream and do with purpose certainly doesn’t make all your problems go away.  

For me, this has mostly been about my personal peace.  Maybe you’re like me, searching for the same?

You are powerful;  God made you in his perfect image.  He gave you the ability to dream, think independently, choose your own actions, set intentions and cultivate awareness.  

You can learn to harness these tools for the good of yourself and others.

Lesson: When you begin to see and embody your desired future self, growth will occur.


Question Your Purpose

Things were getting better in my world.

I was taking action, and I was growing as a result.  I was starting to create a vision for what kind of life I wanted to live and felt like I was moving toward it.

But something was nagging at me.  Is this all just your ego talking?  What are you working toward, really?

I started questioning my purpose.  

I learned about the Enneagram.  I took personality quizzes,  I looked at my Human Design Chart. I read a book about dharma.

With each framework I explored, I began to recognize little pieces of me that I had overlooked.  I learned a great deal about myself (good and bad) in the process.

But then I stumbled onto this site and their Sparketype Assessment tool. I don’t know how I found it, but reading my results was the most powerful experience.  The insights it provided me opened my eyes to a what had been right in front of me the whole time.

Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it.  

I am a “maker.” And I am driven by an invisible, internal motor to create new things.  

Specifically in my case, beautiful things.  

There are a lot more helpful details and specifics in my type report that I have directly applied to my life.  They’ve helped to improve my rlationship with work and self, absolutely.   Most importantly, the self-knowledge it gave me made it possible for me to continue to do what I feel driven to do with less self-judgement, guilt or reservation. It’s just the way I am wired.

Now, my purpose is something I use it to guide every decision I make. I use it as another tool to help check whether a potential action is in alignment with the life that I want to live.

If you haven’t taken the time to really get to know yourself… there’s no time like the present.  

I promise it’s worth the time and effort.

Lesson:  Get curious about yourself- your personality, your motivations and especially your purpose. 


Nurture Your Body 

I’ve always been at home in my head. I’ve made some headway in my spiritual life.  But feeling comfortable in my body?  That’s an ongoing personal challenge. 

I have little room to talk or advise in an area where I struggle so much.

But I know this absolutely: taking care of your body matters.  

You’ll never feel balanced if you neglect it.  

Sleep, hydrate, rest.  Go to the doctor when you need to.  Move your body in ways that feel good to you. You’ll never be in alignment if you don’t.

Lesson: Your body is the vehicle that carries you through life.  Don’t take good health for granted.


Receive New Friendships

I sat across from Arica at a little table by the window at the coffee shop downtown.  It was a job interview, facilitated by a mutual friend.  She knew Arica needed some help with her business and thought maybe my skills might be a good fit for what the position required.

We chatted for a bit and mutually agreed to give working together a try.  It was all pretty basic, except one part of the conversation.  It stands out in my mind years later.

I told her, “I’m not looking for friendship, I barely have enough time for the friends I have.  I just want to work.”

Looking back, this is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say to another human, especially at a job interview.  I cringe internally as I type this. What was I thinking, right?

Well I’ll tell you what I was thinking.  

I was thinking that I was in a vulnerable position, taking my first job since having kids.  I was protecting myself from disappointment.  I was also thinking about how challenging maintaining adult friendships had been in that stage of my life with two young children.

Luckily, despite my surly statement, Arica and I did become friends.

I got to know her organically as we worked together, riding in the staging van and carrying awkward furniture up narrow stairwells.  I learned that we were fellow die-hard introverts who loved capping off the workday with some well-deserved tacos. 

I’m happy to report that although I no longer work for her, we are still friends.  And my life is better for it.

This opened a space inside my heart.  I started letting new people into my life in ways that I had not since high school.  

Through sports and book clubs and parents at school, I have made many new friends.  Friends who are creating things.  Friends who inspire me and encourage me. I still love my old friends, of course.  But if you are growing, your circle of friends should never close. God is constantly bringing new people in to our lives for a reason.  Welcome them

Lesson:  Stay open to new relationships; you never know when a new friendship will blossom.


Life is an Experiment

Life doesn’t move in a straight line does it?  Surely you have learned this by now too.

Even after all this growth, I had more exploration to do.  I tried a variety of jobs and realized that what people actually want my help with is very different than what I originally thought.

I honed my skills in graphic design, learned about styling, and observed about how hard running a business is.  I helped friends with design projects,  built a custom home, and tried working for the builder.  I said yes to lots of random small side jobs just to see if I enjoyed them.

And with each “test” I have gained valuable insight about what works for me… and what doesn’t.

  • I’ve learned I can’t work on anyone else’s schedule (no matter how much I love them) because being available for my family is my most important priority.
  • I’ve learned that I prefer working alone in my office, but that I require opportunities that sometimes pull me out of my cave and into the world.
  • I’ve learned that mostly, I just want to write.

And how would I have ever known if I hadn’t tried so many things?

Lesson:  Try something new.  Learn.  Adjust.  Try something new (again). Repeat.


Rest

If you’re still reading at this point, you’re a trooper.  

You’re probably exhausted just thinking about everything I’m describing. 

So I’ll wrap it up with one final thought:  don’t undervalue rest.  

The truth is that my life rhythm looks like a diagram of a wave.  It rolls through peaks and valleys of varying lengths.  

I have periods of intense effort followed by long troughs of rest.

As you pursue personal growth, begin checking with yourself regularly:

  • Does this still feel good?  
  • What feels right/wrong here?  
  • Do I want to keep working on this?

When the time is right, withdraw.  

Maybe for a day.  

A week.  A month.  A season.  

Take as long as you need to regroup and reflect before trying again.  That reflection is the key.

You’ve heard that consistency is the secret to success. Well, for me, this back and forth is what consistency looks like.  It’s not necessarily a day in, day out grind of showing up rain or shine and pushing through obstacles.

Lesson: Tune in to yourself and rest when you need to.


I may still be out in the woods, but the moon has emerged from behind the clouds and it’s not quite as dark as it was.

I trust myself, and I know that I’m heading the right direction. I want that for you too. I hope you found these personal growth lessons useful. And I wish you well on your journey.

xoxo

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