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  • Writer's pictureOlive Von Topp

Lessons from my 30's

Recently I turned 40.

And while it’s just a number, I do think entering a new decade is a good time to pause and reflect on the decade past (and make goals and plans for the decade to come). I thought I would share with you some of my top learnings from my thirties, though certainly not exhaustive.

1. Dream Bigger & You’re Allowed to Want More

In my early 30s, I have a very distinct memory of sitting around sharing ‘where we were at’ with some girlfriends. When it was my turn to share, I talked about the things I was doing, but

couldn’t help asking “Is this it? Is this as good as it gets?”. I was moving forward with my career,

I had multiple creative outlets, great friends, a great partner. And still it felt like something was

missing. It all felt a little lack-lustre. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more for me. Something beyond what I had. That there was so much more richness to life. Yet I felt guilty for

wanting more.

But here’s the thing I realized: You’re allowed to want more. You’re allowed to dream big. Bigger than you ever thought imaginable. You’re allowed to go after the things that set your heart aflame. This isn’t to say we can’t be appreciative of what we have or that we should always be unsatisfied, but so often we as women are taught to just accept what is given to us.

Don’t ask for more. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t question what is given to you. Just be grateful for

it. But sometimes what you are given is table scraps. You will starve on table scraps. You can

survive, sure. But you will never feel full. Never satisfied.

If your life doesn’t excite you, perhaps it is time to look at why. What is missing? What is getting

in the way? What would you do or want if you weren’t scared you wouldn’t get it or that people

would think you’re “too much”?

What are the things that you lose yourself in? The things that make you grin like a teenager in love when you think of them? The things you always wanted to do, or have, or be, but you felt like it was ridiculous? What feels so big and exciting and terrifying? What feels right- in your body, and in your soul, but not necessarily your head (that’s where all the shoulds are)?

Feeling unsatisfied is indication that maybe there is more out there for you. More that you want. And need in order to live in authentic alignment with who you are supposed to be. Your dreams aren’t silly or too much. They are yours. They are beacons to guide you to living your most vibrant (and precious) life.

2. Invest

I wish I had learned this one sooner. Invest.

Invest in your future. Invest in yourself. Invest your money. Invest in your health. Invest in your relationships (all the ones that are important to you). Invest in your sex life. Invest in your

values. Invest now and reap what you sow later.

3. Create

Weirdly, it took me until my 30s to realize not only that I was a creative person, as I had always

told myself I wasn’t, but that I NEEDED to create. Creating is my life force. It brings energy and

aliveness. It is part of the human experience. It connects us. It helps us to make meaning and

process pain and alchemize it into art.

And creating looks lots of different ways. It isn’t just what we typically think of as art. It is cooking. It is gardening. It is crafting. It is putting together an outfit. It is making a play list. It is conversation.

I know now that I must always continue to create if I am going to live my most magical life.

4. Stop Selling Yourself Short

Stop down-playing yourself. Stop trying to be humble all the time. You are good at some things

and you’re allowed to be confident. You’ve been around awhile and you know some shit. You’re allowed to name it. You’re allowed to take up space. Give yourself some credit for all you have been through and all the ways you have grown.

5. F Perfect

There’s no such thing as perfection, yet we sure spend a lot of time trying to reach some

mythical thing. I think most females are socialized to try to be perfect. We are constantly sold

images of what it means to be perfect; the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect hair, the perfect partner/relationship, the perfect job, etc. And if we aren’t those things or don’t have those things, either there’s something we can buy to make us better, or there’s something wrong with us. We never question that there may be something wrong with the system.

Something wrong with this concept of perfection.

I work with so many women who have missed out on huge pieces of their lives trying to be

perfect. They’ve let go of relationships and passions in the pursuit of the perfect job/home/life.

They’ve denied themselves immense pleasure (sexual and beyond) because they’re bodies weren’t perfect enough. They’ve missed out on true connection because they are too scared to be vulnerable and admit they aren’t perfect. And not only all that- they have punished themselves time and time again for not living up to an unrealistic standard.

The problem isn’t us. It’s the systems that tell us that we need to be perfect. The systems that

keep us buying shit to try and make ourselves “better”. The systems that tell us to shrink ourselves. Deny ourselves. Make ourselves small. The systems that teach us to police one another- shame anyone who isn’t trying to be perfect, isn’t playing the game. The systems that keep us so distracted and restrained that we are too busy hating ourselves to rebel against them. Because they know that women and non-binary folks who accept themselves for who they are, “flaws” and all, who take up space and get angry and pursue pleasure and follow their desires are dangerous.

Because we are dangerous when we know our worth.

When we reject perfectionism, we reject these same systems. Fuck Perfect.

6. Success Takes Big Risks. And Failing.

Along a similar vein, if we want to be successful (whatever that means to you), we need to be

willing to make mistakes. We need to be willing to stretch ourselves outside our comfort zones.

We need to try things we have never done before. We need to take big risks. We need to risk

not knowing if it will work out. We need to risk embarrassing ourselves. We need to be willing

to fail.

And in order to be willing to fail we need to not make failure mean something about us. Or our

worth. We need to have our own backs and treat ourselves with compassion when we fail. We

need to view failure as a necessary part of the learning process, rather than something

inherently wrong with us. Failure is merely feedback.

7. Money is Important

Speaking of success, one of my big learnings in my 30s has been around money. This may sound

odd, but money is important (but certainly not THE most important thing) and wanting it does not make you a bad person. That took me a long time to figure out (and I am still working to heal my relationship with money). You need money to live, unless you’re going to live off the grid, which I am not any time soon. You can still help people and make money. In fact, having money can help you help people.

It’s how you go about getting it that’s the issue. Money is not the root of all evil, greed is.

Money is simply the thing exchanged for goods and services. And the energy behind that trade makes all the difference (e.g. money you got in a skeezy way vs money you got because you gave someone a service they needed and loved). Money is not the problem, we are.

8. Prioritize Your Pleasure

You know what else is important? Pleasure!! Again, sounds obvious but this wasn’t always

super apparent to me. I, like many folks, have spent a lot of my life denying myself pleasure:

not eating the cake, not letting myself let go during sex, not letting myself have fun until the to-

do list was done. But here’s the thing, the to-do list is never fucking done. It goes on and on. If

you deny yourself pleasure until all the “important stuff” is done (spoiler: pleasure is actually

important too), then you will never get to do the feel good stuff and you will live a very dull, utilitary life. Or at least that was my experience.

Pleasure is the juice of life. It’s the thing that gives life that extra pop of colour. That tingle.

True presence. It’s the thing that makes being alive so awesome.

So I learned to prioritize my pleasure. Let myself do feel good stuff even when all the to-dos weren’t done. Scheduled pleasure in first thing in the morning. Shirked responsibilities from time to time to go to the beach. Invested in learning about my body and what brings me pleasure. Allowed myself rest when I needed it. Gave up opportunities and even money to build a life with more flexibility and room for pleasure. SLOWED THE FUCK DOWN, so I could be present in pleasure, which I think is really key.

I’m still working on ways to prioritize and incorporate pleasure into my life, but I can tell you, doing so has healed me, grown me, and given me more zest for life. Pleasure has changed me.

9. Healing Takes Time

Speaking of healing, this has been another lesson of my 30s. Healing takes time. And so much

work. And looks a lot of different ways. And it sure isn’t a straight line. It can be raw and messy

and oh so hard. And sometimes there is ease and can happen without us even noticing.

And I don’t think it ever ends. I don’t think we ever “arrive”, either in our healing, our knowledge, or our sense of self. It is a constant journey of self-discovery and growth, but not

something that needs to be fixed or achieved.

10. Feel the Feels

Part of my healing has included feeling my feelings. Sounds obvious, but I spent a lot of my

twenties trying to avoid feeling my feelings. And it turns out you can’t only avoid some feelings.

If you numb the painful ones, you numb the enjoyable ones too. You wanna feel the joy and

happiness and pleasure and excitement? You gotta be willing to feel the sadness, shame, grief,

anger, etc.

A huge part of my healing has been learning to name and sit with the feelings as sensations in

my body, giving myself space (i.e. slowing down enough) to feel my feelings, and soothing myself when I am feeling big feelings.

The only way through something is to feel it. Sometimes this only takes seconds, to give our

feelings the space they need. And sometimes it takes much longer and we have to keep returning to it. Either way, for me, it is necessary in living a full life.

Additionally, I also learned that our feelings are largely caused by our thoughts, which we have

a lot of control over. You want to change your life, look at what thoughts are creating what feelings, which are driving which actions (or inaction) and causing which outcomes. You want to

change your outcomes, start with looking at your thoughts.

However, I’m also learning that this only really works if your nervous system is regulated and

you feel safe enough. For example, I can tell myself as much as I like that I deserve success, and

that can even create feelings of hopefulness or excitement, which can drive really productive action, but if my system has previous info from say my childhood that historically every time I had “success”, I was punished, it will believe success is not safe for me. And it will do everything

it can to keep me safe (thank you system). So until we work to build up new examples for our

system that we can be successful and safe, our thought work will only get us so far. We need to

work on both. But expect to hear much more about this in the near future.

11. Your Worth is Not Determined by Your Productivity

In some ways we know this. I knew this intellectually but I still didn’t believe it to my core.

Capitalism and “hustling for our worth” is so deeply engrained in us, it can be had to see just

how much this dictates our actions. It is worth paying attention to.

I spent a lot of my 30s trying to unlearn this, which looked a lot like not beating myself up for

not always getting everything done, allowing myself rest and play when I needed it, re- examining my values and what I want out of life, removing “busy” as a badge or marker of my identity, creating for creating’s sake, and actively telling myself that I am loveable and worthy, regardless of how productive I am, to name a few.

12. It’s Okay to Let Go of People

I thought I had learned this in my 20s, but it was definitely reaffirmed in my 30s. Like jars, you

don’t need to hang onto every person that comes into your life. Some are meant to be there

for short periods, some longer. Some relationships are formed based on where you’re at in your

life and it’s okay if they don’t last, as we all change. It doesn’t make them any less valuable. The same goes for romantic relationships. Even if they end, it doesn’t mean that they are a failure.

They all teach us something. They are all important and valuable. They all just have different

shelf lives.

I’ve spent a lot of my 30s spreading myself thin trying to be a good friend to a lot of different

people (which ironically I think limits how good a friend I can be). I’ve spent a lot of time putting

in effort that wasn’t returned. And I’m done now. And that’s okay. I’ve had to take a long hard

look at where my energy is going and prioritize relationships that are fulfilling and reciprocal.

Naturally, a lot of those relationships fizzled. And that’s okay. I’ve had to pull back from people

who are toxic or who aren’t good for me in whatever way. And that’s okay.

I’ve had to spend some time really thinking about what kind of relationships I want in my life,

what my current ones look like and how they show up for me, what kind of friend and partner I

want to be, and whether I am putting time and energy into the right places. I think a lot of my

40s will be investing more into the kind of relationships that bring me deep connection, support, love, and joy; a family of sorts. I know I will have to continue to let go of some relationships to build the type of community I long for, and that’s okay.

13. Question Everything

Question it all. Everything you’ve ever been told. Question the voices in your head that tell you

you aren’t good enough or something is wrong or good. Question when something makes you

uncomfortable or why you give any shits about what someone else is doing if it doesn’t hurt anyone. Question the way you look at yourself and the world. Question what you read and the

sources it comes from. Question who might benefit from you believing a certain belief or acting

a certain way. Question where things come from or how they came to be. Question things that

are bigger than you. Question why you feel that way. Or acted that way. And I don’t mean gaslight yourself or go against something you know with every fibre of your being feels inherently right or wrong, just stop to get curious enough about everything so you can arrive at your own conclusions, instead of just taking everything at face value.

Question it all.

14. Learn to Like Your Own Company

I forgot how much I liked my own company (see previous post). Learning to enjoy yourself and

your own company, not only enriches your life, but also makes you more select about the kind of people you let in your life and how you spend your time. Because everything else has to

measure up. Why would I spend time with people who are boring or who make me feel like shit

or doing stuff I don’t want to be doing, when I could be spending enjoyable time with one of my

favourite people?

15. Life is Short

I learned this in my 20s but it’s just one of those lessons that I am sure I will be constantly

reminded of for the rest of my life. Losing my dad suddenly a few months ago at age 70 only

reaffirmed this for me. You never know how much time you have. Take the risk. Do the thing

that makes you most happy. The stuff that sets your soul ablaze. Tell people you love them.

Don’t wait to get started. Don’t assume you have time. Nothing is promised. Do it now.

That’s certainly not all I’ve learned in my 30s (I’ve also learned people lose interest after a few

minutes if you’re lucky) but there’s a few of the highlights. It’s been a wild decade, but I’m excited to see what amazingness and lessons my 40s have in store for me.


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