Thoughts at Thirty

I woke up this morning at 2:00am because I had to go to the bathroom. When I rolled over and looked at the clock, I realized that the first thing I had to do in my 4th decade of life was waking up mid-sleep. I hope that is not a sign of things to come.

It dawned on a few hours later, when I woke up on purpose, that 30 is an interesting milestone in life. We are old enough to clearly be considered “adults,” but we still have so much to learn and experience ahead. It is a time when we may realize that our years on this Earth are, in fact, limited, but we have more than half of them ahead of us yet.

When faced with an existential moment such as this, I knew I had to do what all normal people do at a major milestone in life: write about it.

So, while they may not be quite as amusing or insightful as Dave Barry’s 50th birthday tips to the world, including such gems as warnings against licking a steak knife and combining laxatives with sleeping pills, I still have something interesting to contribute to the world today. And I know that I still have another 20 years to reach the level of transcendence that led to Mr. Barry’s list.

Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 30 years since February 4th, 1985, a little after 9:00am Central time, when I was born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

We Grow in Maturity and Wisdom Each Year

When I was in high school, my worldview was similar to most of my peers. I certainly had reached a level of superiority where I knew the most important of life’s lessons. I had the wisdom to not only build dry ice bombs and watch professional wrestling with my friends, but also espouse eternal truths and solve the biggest of the world’s problems, if only the United Nations would listen to me.

However, while this feeling followed me into college, there was a point when I realized that major life lessons never cease. While I had the knowledge and wisdom to make a difference in the areas of my expertise and passions, I was not going to solve war, poverty, or convert my deeply conservative friends to a more enlightened political party.

No, I didn’t know everything I would learn in this lifetime. In fact, I find that with each year of experiences, I find myself knowing less and less of what the universe has to offer. Not because I actually know less, but because my universe continues to grow, dramatically at times.

While I know many more life lessons and facts only useful at trivia night at the local pub, I have found that the greatest wisdom does come with age and experience. My Grandpa Joe must have been onto this too, as he continued his education well into his 80s, always thirsting for new knowledge and wisdom himself.

If I can follow in similar footsteps, I hope to have such a rich life as I saw him lead.

Don’t Put Off Your Dreams

There was a point I was ready to move to Israel, but I put it off for other priorities. Then I was ready to move to New York. I was actually well into preparing for that move when again I was taken in by other priorities. Then I was ready to move to London, and it didn’t work out. I did finally move, to Portland, and I’m thrilled I did. But there is still that overseas draw lingering inside of me wondering if I will ever fulfill my life list goal of spending at least six months living in Europe.

I’ve come to realize that the best time to follow a dream is today. Every time you put it off, it becomes less and less likely to ever come true. And when your dream involves uprooting yourself and having a worldly experience, it becomes exponentially harder as you pass from your early twenties into your thirties and beyond.

So if you have been putting off that move to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, Paris, or wherever you’ve felt a draw, stop waiting. Make your plans now. Make them concrete. Pack. Go. Explore. Live. Experience.

A camp director I worked for who had wisdom beyond his years, told me that you’ll never look back and remember how tired you were, you’ll remember the experience. I believe the same goes with opportunities. Just like a cheesy movie, you will look back and wonder what could have been, but my only regrets are what I didn’t do, not what I did.

Make Personal Finance a Priority

Of course, a personal finance writer cannot write a reflective essay without mentioning money. Consider this my obligatory money advice. But not only is it obligatory, it is genuine.

My life would be nothing like what I have today if it were not for a long-term focus on success starting at a young age. Kids, you may not want to hear it, but your parents are right. How you do in school, even from the young age of Kindergarten, will have long lived impacts on your financial and career success.

I’m not saying you should chase money at the sacrifice of happiness, but truly look at what you want for your quality of life and try to honestly assess  whether your current educational and career path will make that happen. While a master’s degree in social work might be fulfilling personally, it will not pay for your mansion, private jet, or first class plane tickets. If you get it at a private university, it will leave you with the opposite: a mountain of debt.

If you are early enough on to still pick a college major, know that it really will determine your career path. Unless your plans include barista, call center representative, teacher, or self-employment, don’t expect to be happy with your degree in English, history, or any of the liberal arts. The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and business school graduates will have a much easier go of it.

Wherever you are today in your life’s journey, it is never too late to try to make a change to improve your financial wellbeing. Like with travels and life list goals, it only gets harder with age. That is why it is so important to make money a priority today, whatever your age and credit score may be.

Make Time for the People Who Matter

I have been fortunate in my life to never lose a friend or family member at a very young age, but I have seen it happen to others I care about and have seen the pain and sadness of losing a loved one unexpectedly. And I can tell you first hand that no matter how expected it is, losing someone you care about is never easy.

For what I hope to never experience, the loss of a very close friend or relative at far too young an age, the most common emotion I have seen is a feeling of sadness that they did not make that person enough of a priority when they had a chance.

Friends are lost to drugs and car accidents. Fathers and husbands are lost to heart failure. Mothers and sisters are lost to cancer. Once I was climbing a 14er in Colorado and witnessed the loss of a fiancé and father on the side of a mountain. Life is precious and fragile.

On that day, I called my own father and told him that I love him, because Kevin Joseph Gill’s children would never get that opportunity to call him and say those words again.

Memories are More Valuable than Possessions

When I was in fourth grade, or grade four as my friends north of the border call it, I made a valiant attempt to spend every dollar I had on Mighty Morphin Power Ranger’s action figures. My mother stopped me from buying more than a few, but I was unsure my life would ever be complete without the full set of Megazord and Dragonzord to create the Super Megazord.

My obsession with Power Ranges is long gone, but the lesson my mom taught me is not. While some objects will make you happy in a moment, they are not what makes us happy in our lives.

Power Rangers were replaced with CDs. CDs became video games. Video games became a new car. A car became a condo, then a house. The objects I have tried to collect and own over the years ultimately became clutter or simply stepping-stones to the next thing I have wanted.

I have looked back and regretted purchases of things, but I have rarely regretted spending on an experience. Plane tickets to Europe, concerts, and a string of nights dancing to the sounds of my favorite DJs are experiences and memories I would never trade in for any physical item.

Objects make clutter. Experiences make memories. Remember that the next time you whip our your card to buy something you may regret later.

The World is Smaller than You Realize

In biblical stories, our ancestors traveled days to cross from one city to the next. While they did have an issue with their compass, the Israelites spent 40 years crossing from Egypt into the promised land of Israel.

Today the Land of Milk and Honey is only 11 hours and 25 minutes from New York City. In just a couple of months, I will get on a plane in Seattle and get off 9 hours and 40 minutes later in London.

Less than half of Americans have a passport, and even fewer actually use them. Don’t contribute to that statistic. Go see the world. There is a lot out there, and it would be a shame to spend your entire life living in a bubble around your hometown.

It is Completely Possible to Survive, Thrive, and Be Happy Out of Your Comfort Zone

In the last year, I got a new job, got married, and moved half way across America from Denver to Portland. To say that my life has undergone change in the final 15 months of my twenties would be an understatement.

Along the way, I’ve learned that people are resourceful. I’ve made friends, overcome challenges, and taken control of the future of my life.

When people asked why I moved from Denver, a city where I was very happy and had an extensive network of friends and family, I didn’t always have an easy time putting my feelings into words. What I realized was that I had not picked living in Denver, my parents picked Denver. I needed to pick a place to live myself and make a go of it. I could always move back.

I am thrilled with the experience of moving, and I don’t think I’ll ever be living back in Colorado full time. While I loved my nearly 25 years there, the world is a big place. I can make it anywhere. And with my wonderful wife by my side, we are even more powerful to shape our own destiny.

Moving to Portland broke me out of a comfort zone and put me in the driver’s seat. No one else was going to determine our success and future than me and my wife. We are getting comfortable in Portland, and it is nice to have a comfort zone. But it is even better to know that I can always pack up and go again.

I may be in Portland forever, but I may not. No one knows that for sure. But what I do know is that nowhere in the world is all than a day or two away, and it only takes a plane ticket to get there. Thirty is a big milestone, but I still have a lot to see and do.

I considered ending this with a powerful cliché such as, “watch out world, here I come.” However, I don’t think a cliché is the right way to close the first day of my 30s. One other thing I learned along the way is that I am an individual, and my destiny is unique from anyone else, other than my wife and partner in adventures from this point on. And the world does not really need to watch out. I’m not here to cause trouble.

Thirty years is a long time, but I have many more years ahead, or so my plan goes. So to conclude, I would rather just share that thirty years is just a beginning. In the months ahead, I have overseas adventures planned. In the next year, even more surprises await.

I wish you all a great month, year, decade, and lifetime ahead. Enjoy each moment. Visit new places. Create memories. Enjoy time with those you care about. And be yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.