Musings on 31 Years of Life

Last year I turned 30 in a big Italian villa surrounded by friends. It was the send off my 20’s deserved, and a warm welcome to a new decade of life. This past Sunday, I greeted yet another birthday and turned 31 on a Greek island in the sun. A change of pace and scenery, but magical and memorable none the less.  So far, I have really loved being 30. To some, entering another decade might seem like an indication of old age, but for me, 30 has been one of the best years yet, as I continue to become more confident, more knowledgable, and make even better relationships with the people that I love. That’s not to say I have perfected any of these things – but as time goes on and I continue living in my own skin, I’ve gotten to know myself much better, and that counts for a lot in terms of how I approach new situations and present myself to the world.

As you may or may not know, I like lists – I list out groceries, Netflix series I want to watch, things I need to do around the house, words I’ve recently learned, and a gazillion action items for work. I list out dreams and places I want to travel, and even goals (short term and long term – I know, it’s a sickening habit!) Now that I have seen another 365 days roll by, I took a quick look at my lists from the end of 2016 and 217 to see what I could tick off, and also reminisce on what I have accomplished and learned while 30.

My 2016 goals were ambitious, but the list was relatively shot: buy a house, learn Dutch, sign up for a pension plan (ohh gosh I’m so late to the game on this one), run a half marathon, get a new job, and travel to Munich for Oktoberfest, Italy for a road trip, Greece for a romantic vacation, and swim in Lake Bled in Slovenia. Somehow I accomplished all but one thing on this list (more on that later) and have already started ticking off my 2017 list, which is a bit more lengthy: renovate my new apartment (without going insane), take on another writing project, sign up for an intermediate Dutch course, start a personal project, visit Vietnam, increase the amount I am contributing to my pension plan, start looking into permanent Dutch citizenship, call my sisters more often, run a 10k or half marathon (the unfortunate straggler from 2016) and read at least five work-related books (which are all still sitting unopened on my desk!)

I have accomplished A LOT from my lists in the past year, in addition to becoming and author and moving in with my love (this part is my favorite :) I also traveled to at least 15 different countries, including South America for the first time. I saw my family in the US more than ever (thanks frequent East Coast work travel!) and had a lot of great achievements in the office as well. Overall 30 was pretty freakin’ girlboss, and I can’t wait to take on 31. Why am I recapping this? Well, in addition to a lot of accomplishments, there were a lot of failures. I like failing because you learn more, faster (which I think is the name of one of unopened marketing books on my desk . . . ha!) To wrap up each year, I like to share a few tidbits of wisdom on the blog (you can read the post from my 29th birthday here) So here are a few mantras I picked up in my 3oth year of life:

1. Write down your dreams. You might feel stupid. You might not accomplish them all. But by putting your dreams on paper, you’re making them real. They’re not just lucid thoughts that flow in and out of your brain a few times a year. You don’t have to review them religiously, but at the end of the year take a look and see what you’ve accomplished. It’s not about how much – it’s about congratulating yourself for the small wins throughout the year. Maybe you kept a house plant alive for 365 days. Maybe you made a new friend, or accomplished an even bigger milestone like finding a new job. As you are the only one responsible for chasing your dreams, you also deserve a moment to pause and give yourself a pat on the back. We often don’t give ourselves enough credit! Big or small, your list will keep you accountable and will give you a reason congratulate yourself for all you have achieved.

2. Embrace quality over quantity. I’ve heard this mantra a lot, but I’ve never really had the mindset to do so until now. When it comes to belongings, I am somewhat of a hoarder. When it comes to friends, I love being surrounded by a big bunch. And when it comes to investing in great products, I’ve never really had the financial means to exclusively choose quality over quantity (or in my case, anything else over Ikea). I am trying to change this. I recently read The Happy Closet which really helped clear out a lot of the clothes I’d been hanging on to for years. I defined a personal style to stick to (if neutral colors, classic lines, Nike sneakers, and denim is considered style) which has helped ease some of the guilt I feel when it comes to investing in better quality clothing. I’m still a few steps away from a capsule closet, but I’m getting warmer! The same goes for my apartment. I spent a lot of timing thinking about how I wanted my space to look and feel, and so when it came time to furnish and decorate, I wasn’t trying to fill a space or make a guess on what might look good. And because of this, I felt confident enough to invest in items that would help illustrate my particular style, where I might have skimped in the past due to uncertainty. I’ve also let go of a few friendships, which I usually have a really hard time with. But some friendships are toxic, some lose meaning, and others just fizzle out. A small part of me still feels rejected when a friendship dies – like I’ve forgotten to water a flower and am at fault for its decay. I need to remind myself that some flowers only live for one season, while others are perennial and continue to bloom over time. By letting some friendships drift off, I’ve had more time for the people who truly add meaning to my life, not to mention more time to make new friends as well!

3. Pimp out your workspace. Despite how clean and tidy I am at home, my work desk is usually a mess. I am constantly running from one meeting to the next, leaving a trail of used coffee mugs and printouts in my wake. On an average work day, I spend 10 hours in the office and only 4 waking hours at home . . . so why is my house so tidy and filled with things I love, while my desk is clinical and messy? It only took me ten years in the work industry to realize that my desk should be my haven. It should be neat and clean and a space I enjoy spending time, just as much as I enjoy being at home. So this year I invested in some storage to make my space look cleaner, a cute little desk plant, and some wooden folders for my scattered papers and voilà! my workspace was as fresh and welcoming as my apartment. I can’t tell you how happy this small desk makeover made me! I’d heed all of my blog friends to take some time thinking about what makes you the most happy at home, and then try to bring some of this flavor into work – whether it’s framed photos of family, touches of nature, colorful pops of color, etc.

4. Make more decisions that are best for present-day you. If you can’t tell from point number one, I am a go-getter. I am constantly thinking about what I want to achieve and then doing all that I can to make it happen. This has been somewhat detrimental to my short term happiness. For example, I put off buying an apartment in Amsterdam for years because I knew I wanted to move back to the US at some point, and I was scared of the financial risk. Well, fast forward eight years and I am still here. Surprise! I should have bought an apartment three years ago when the market was a bit slower and prices were less competitive. Instead, I was too caught up on where I thought I might be in the future to invest in the now. Despite being happy in Amsterdam, I was making a big decision based on speculation. So this past year I bought an apartment, as it’s the best living choice and investment for me right now. And if I move in a year’s time, I will deal with that when it comes. I tend to hold myself back a lot by making decisions that are better in the long term, but this year I really started making strides towards making nowAli happy too. I’ve been visiting my family more, saying yes to new adventures and travel, and investing more in my present living situation – trying to do a better job of balancing out long term goals and short term happiness. I still have bigger dreams and ambitions that I am working towards, but I am also cutting now-Ali a bit of slack when it comes to making decisions that will lead to short term happiness :)

5. It’s okay to still be learning about yourself. Last week I invited a small group of girls to get together for a preemptive birthday dinner, and Katherine (a good friend who y’all met in this post) asked what the biggest lesson was I’d learned that past year. Funny enough, the night before I’d just had an intense conversation with Kai about the future. While it was a good and healthy conversation, some of the thoughts and feelings that came out of my mouth were surprising. I’ve been alive for thirty years, so one might assume I know what I want at this point, but instead, crazy emotions or feelings sometimes bubble up that are completely contrary to what I thought I wanted even just five minutes ago – this is okay. Despite how confident or knowing I will get with age, I will never know everything. Things can always change. I am still learning about myself every single day, and learning means growing and changing. So don’t beat yourself up if one day you realize your favorite color is red and not blue. In six months it could be green and that’s okay too! Embrace the uncertainty and give yourself the freedom to change and grow with time.

6. You can always run the marathon next year. IE. You’re not always going to accomplish everything that you set out to do. I’ve signed up for two races in the past year, and have not been able to attend either one. But that’s okay. Life is not about always getting everything right. But you can try to be as awesome as your boyfriend and do an Ironman (9h42min), a marathon (2h58min) and a half marathon (1h22min) in just one year and beat your personal best in all of them. (AND THIS last sentence is what happens when I go to make a cup of tea and leave my laptop open on the couch – thanks Kai . . . ) Anyways, what Kai said is kind of true. As long as you are trying your best, whether you reach your goals or not, you deserve to give yourself some gratitude.

Overall this past year was really great. A few weeks ago I was telling my dad that everything has really fallen into place recently – I am financially secure, I have a great apartment, an amazing boyfriend, I love my job, I have a brilliant friend group in Amsterdam, and this year I got to see my family more than ever. And to this my Dad said, “It seems like you have reached your equilibrium, Ali,” which I think is true. If every year for the rest of my life was just like this one, I would feel really, truly lucky.

x Ali

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