30 Things I’ve Learned By 30

June 15, 2015

wit & whimsy I Meghan Donovan I 30 Things I learned by 30

Today, I turn 30. It’s a milestone that, in recent memory, felt so far away but here we are. I feel like it is an age that is associated with so many adjectives and emotions…fear, panic, achievement, excitement…but today the one that feels most appropriate is celebration.

I’ve been working on this post since December. Slowly adding to it, editing it and reflecting on it.

It’s been such an interesting exercise to go through. The best part about writing this all down? I’ll always have it to look back on and it made me really recognize how I feel about this birthday.


After taking a long, close look at everything the past 30 years have afforded me, I feel so much joy. I feel better than I have in the past few years physically and I feel really, genuinely excited about what the future holds. (And hey, nothing like turning 30 to give you an excuse to prance around with balloons in your neighborhood, am I right?!)

So without further ado (because this is already the longest post I have ever written) I’m sharing the most personal and heartfelt words I’ve ever penned here in the hopes that those of you reading will feel something, learn something or take something away that is worth remembering.

1. Above all else, family.

Investing in my relationships within my family was one of the greatest things I learned to do in my 20s. My family is spread across the country – we typically now only see each other all together at Christmas but, when we do, it makes the time we do have so worth cherishing. We never know how much time we get with our families so revel in the personal time you do get. Ask questions. Inquire. Listen. Play games. Make more memories. Relive the favorite memories you already have mentally filed away. It’s probably just because I’m hitting this life milestone, but when I reflect on my family, I almost instantly get emotional because I’m not sure how I got so lucky.  My parents challenged my siblings and I constantly, consistently afforded us so many opportunities, worked hard to provide us with wonderful experiences growing up and instilled in me many of the values I treasure today. My mom is my best friend and the most amazing support system. My dad has been the greatest mentor and teacher throughout my life. My sister Shannon is the most thoughtful person I know and appreciates all the important, little things in life unlike anyone else. And my brother Kevin is the smartest person I know and never ceases to amaze me with his dedication to his trade. And my brother Sean is a constant reminder to have fun, not take life too seriously and that commitment can lead you to great achievement.

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2. Compare less.

Life is so much more rewarding when you try to stop comparing to those that seem to have it better. Who seemingly have more. Have a bigger home. A bigger wardrobe. More disposable income. But as soon as you start to recognize all that you have in life…what others have seems less interesting. The saying goes to count your blessings and sometimes at night I literally do just that now. I thank God for everything he has given me. Want less, give more and be more conscience of what you do have. Do not determine your value by comparing yourself to others. Period.

wit & whimsy I 30 Things I Learned By 30 I Meghan Donovan3. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle.

I learned this lesson in my mid-20s when I was going through a rough time and I wanted to cry out every day “why me?” And what I learned, slowly but surely, is that everyone has something they are going through. So when you want to be rude to someone who stepped on you to get to a seat on the subway, or you can’t stand the inefficient person in front of you in line – remember that maybe their day – their week – their month – isn’t going all that well. A little kindness and remembering that people are struggling with silent battles is a better way to go through your day. Compassion will lessen your load each and every day.

4. Surround yourself with people that inspire you.

So much of growing up is wanting to be friends with people you think you should be friends with. Networking. Trying to climb the ladder. Life is too short to spend time with people that don’t make you feel valued or inspired. Invest in relationships that feed you, make you want to be better (in a good way) and spend time with friends who will be there when you need them.

5. Treasure your health. 

We are our health. When you stop to think about that it is somewhat terrifying, isn’t it? I’ve had so many health issues in my short life – thyroid disease, chronic headaches, ovarian cysts, a concussion, anxiety – I mean..my god – sometimes I wonder how I get through a year! So when I slow down and remember to eat healthy or pay extra to go to a SoulCycle class – I think of it as investing in my health and in my future. Become informed and don’t put your health on the back burner. Something seem wrong? Go to the doctor – pronto. You’ll never regret it. (And find doctors that you actually like! It makes the whole ordeal so much more pleasant – take it from one who sees lots of doctors.) Take vitamins, wear sunscreen and take ownership over how you feel – physically and emotionally. (More of my thoughts on wellness can be found here.)

wit & whimsy I 30 Things I Learned By 306. Invest in the little things, too.

There are big investments like rent (I guess investment isn’t the exact right word for this – ha!), vacations and car payments but I discovered in my late 20s that it also is rewarding to invest in things you may not initially think at the get-go are worth it. Like linens. I love having really nice linens. It makes getting into bed every night after working hard that much more joyful. And it is such a small thing! Also things like getting my coffee in the morning on the way to work. I know I could save more by not doing it – but it is a ritual that brings me joy and centers me for my day, and to me, that’s invaluable. Remember that it is ok to spend money on the things that put a smile on your face.

7. Say “no” more often. Say “yes” lots too!

When I first moved to New York I nearly burnt myself out. I wanted to go to every event, network with every person. I said “yes” way too often. I still say “yes” too often sometimes for my liking and I work too hard and I schedule too much and I’m “busy” too often. But I don’t know if that will ever really feel resolved. I do know, however, that saying “no” more in my late 20s has made me feel less anxious and less stressed overall. And it’s helped me prioritize, too. Check, check. But do allow yourself to say “yes” sometimes when you don’t feel like it. Some of my favorite memories have been those nights I decided to veer off course of what I had initially “planned.”

8. Travel as much as possible.

I know it is easier said than done but taking time out to travel and see the world is one of the best things I’ve done for my soul in my 20s. I spent much of my early 20s traveling for others – weddings, bachelorette parties, you name it. But I’ve now come to realize that taking a “big trip” each year for me is so wonderful. It fills your heart – with new experiences, sights, sounds and appreciation for what is beyond your neighborhood and routines. Pick a place each year you’ve never been and…GO. (It’ll prove much more fruitful than having a trendy handbag you’ll tire of.)

Meghan Donovan I wit & whimsy I 309. Start saving sooner.

My entire my life, my dad ingrained the value and importance of saving and investing in my future. But I wish I had started listening more closely sooner. It wasn’t till I found myself in a rather dire situation last year that I had a come to Jesus moment with myself (I couldn’t find my rental agreement or my social security card and passport when desperately needed) and I was literally sitting on my bedroom floor sobbing thinking “what the heck is wrong with you?” that I decided to get my shit together. I deposited more checks into savings. I increased my monthly transfers from my checking account into my savings account. I increased my contributions to my retirement funds. But I’d be so much better off had I started doing this at 22. If you haven’t already gotten your finances in order, take it from me and do it now. You will 100% not regret it.

10. Have faith that everything will work out.

I used to be the worst at “snowballing” my problems. I’d sew together every tiny thing that didn’t seem to be going right and suddenly have what seemed like a very horrible outlook on life. That’s no way to live! And something more? When I was in my early 20s I thought I’d have life figured out by the time I hit 30. (HA!) I thought I’d be married, perhaps have a baby and be living in the suburbs. How very wrong I was! Do sometimes I secretly wish to myself I did have all those things? Sure. Sometimes I lay awake asking myself what I did wrong to not be in a serious relationship right now. I let all my insecurities and vulnerabilities creep in and tell me I’m making mistakes. But when I come out of that and look critically at my life…I’m really proud of where I am and (mostly) proud of the decisions I made to get to where I am today. Keep faith that things will turn out just the way they are meant to.

11. Find a creative outlet.

I was lucky enough to start this blog back in college and I could write a chapter on all the blessings and reward it has brought to my life but whatever you like to do – invest in it. Knit, make stationery, become someone’s pen pal, practice yoga- it doesn’t matter what it is but the value in having a hobby and a creative outlet where you can process your thoughts and exude your passion is so important. Take the time to figure out what yours is and make it happen.

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12. Write snail mail.

There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t love to get a handwritten card in the mail. There just isn’t. But in the age of email it is so much easier to “keep in touch” electronically. Yet I still love to buy cards and stationery and put notes in the mail. It doesn’t have to be anything of significance but write a card every month and drop it in the mail to someone who isn’t expecting it. It is such a small thing that can make two parties feel so good.

13. Embrace change.

Life will never go as planned. And that’s a good thing. Unexpected experiences are what keep life interesting and present you with challenges that end up shaping you. I used to have so much anxiety around change (I’m a major creature of habit) but when you embrace change rather than fear it, your whole world can open up. Teach yourself to roll with the punches more and open yourself to opportunities that may be outside of your comfort zone.

14. Wear what works, not what’s on trend.

I’ve talked about this before on this blog on numerous occasions but stop chasing what looks good on other people and wear what you want and what makes you feel confident.

15. You can’t change people, you can change how you react to them.

I learned this lesson from a therapist in college. It was one of the best things I’ve ever been told and I employ it to this day in both professional and personal settings. When you think about it, there is such truth in it. You’re never going to be able to control someone. You can’t change their annoying habits or the way they conduct business. You can’t wish out loud and hope what you want to happen will actually become real when it comes to other people. But you can take ownership in how you react to them. You can exercise patience and take a breath before you get upset. You can employ tactics that will allow you to get less mad/reactive/annoyed/frustrated. Try it – it’s pretty powerful.

16. Find a mentor.

I feel very lucky to have had some incredible mentors in my life. My parents are two of them but I also have mentors dating back to my first job in high school (Julie, Nancy you have helped me become the woman I am today) to other jobs I’ve had. And don’t undervalue asking for help or seeking advice from the people around you that you admire. The right mentor will be so incredible for your personal growth. And, when the time comes to be a mentor to others, pay it forward.

wit & whimsy I Lessons I Learned By 3017. Party like you’re 23 much of yours 20s (but don’t over do it).

Having fun is an important element to life of course, but I wish I had learned earlier on that drinking heavily does not always equal fun. Exercise more control when you drink. Do it in moderation. Pick one type of alcohol and stick with it for the majority of the night. There’s nothing like having the world’s worst hangover because you had tequila. And champagne. And vodka. And beer. And for those nights where you do party like you’re 23 and pay for it the next day…drink a 12 ounce bottle of Sprite and have eggs with cheese (and than thank me later!) And Advil, of course Advil.

18. Take care of your skin.

If you have problems with your skin, go to a dermatologist. I learned my self-esteem was often related to how my skin looked. So book an appointment today. You won’t regret it. I realized I wish I had paid closer attention to my skin earlier on in life and once I finally found a dermatologist that helped clear my acne up (for the most part), it was a game changer. I was so much more confident (literally) putting my face out there. Don’t give up (try, try again) and be consistent with prescriptions. Wear eye cream!

19. As much as you can, buy investment pieces rather than fast fashion items.

Focus on quality over quantity. Make a list of the pieces you want in your wardrobe and work through it slowly but surely buying brands that will last. Three mediocre dresses from Zara or H&M could equal a great Helmut Lang blazer or a pair of Joie shoes that you’ll get so much wear out of (and they’ll be comfortable!) Think about purchases before making them. Buy less! Don’t be frivolous.

20. Be a good friend.

Keep in touch. Follow up. Facetime. Send snail mail. Be present in their lives. Listen. Being a good friend takes hard work but its work that’s well worth it. Be the type of friend you want to have. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be lifted up when you need it. Ask for help. Those who are truly your friends will be there to help you no matter the distance/the ask/the level of aid you need.

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21. Make yourself a priority when you need to.

In high school I learned this lesson when I was told by someone “you are the only one who will make yourself a priority.” It was some of the best advice I have ever gotten and I use it weekly – to tell myself, to tell friends and to tell colleagues. Selfishness is always more prevalent than selflessness so making yourself a priority when no one else will is so, so important. Allowing yourself to do so helps you practice self-care and ensures you’re looking out for yourself. Give yourself permission to put yourself first and do what you need in that moment or in that day or in that week to get to a better place.

22. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

I fall major victim to this one regularly. I’m a work in progress on this “lesson” for sure. I have too much of a desire to be liked and therefore I tend to question everything more than I should. I overthink way too much. I over-involve my emotions where they don’t need to be a factor. But you know what? When you stop overthinking things and stop worrying about way too many things…you’ll realize life is more fun when you don’t take yourself too seriously.

23. Have faith.

Faith has always been a major element in my life. I was raised Catholic, went to mass every weekend with my family, got my degree at a Jesuit University and have worked regularly on my relationship with God. Faith is a funny thing sometimes to talk about in forums that aren’t comfortable (i.e.; a blog) but the importance of practicing my faith is absolutely a lesson I’ve learned. When I ignore my relationship with God, avoid setting time aside to pray or listen…it affects my mood and my well being. I’ve gone through dark times where I’ve questioned everything about my beliefs, but I’ve always had my faith reignited. Having God to listen to and talk to has helped me feel more confident and helped me really count my blessings.

wit & whimsy I meghan donovan I cynthia rowley skirt24. Always be a work in progress.

None of us are perfect. And being set in our ways isn’t beneficial either. Be open to constructive criticism. Allow your friends to help give you advice and recognize bad habits you may have and work actively to improve them. Always be open to growth.

25. Slow down.

I tend to move a million miles a minute on most days. I move so quickly that sometimes I don’t remember conversations I had just moments before or I’m glued to my phone trying to do six things at once. I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few great moments in life while checking all of my social networks, attempting to take the perfect photo…you get it. Slowing down (and powering off!) will always be something I need to remind myself of but in this day in age it’ll only become increasingly important. I’m working on allowing myself to further tune-into the awareness required to take in my surroundings on a meaningful way.

26. Look out for your future self.

Always be thinking ahead. This is a theme throughout some of these lessons but think beyond the next week, the next month. Where do you want your life to be headed? What are you trying to achieve? What steps are you taking to make things happen? In high school I had a teacher assign us a project to build a “life to do list.” I’ve actually continued to look at it ever since high school – even updating it from time to time. Making a list of goals is a great way to keep yourself honest. (If you want a good kick start to building a list, I love Mackenzie’s 101 in 1001 lists.)

27. It’s OK to Spend time solo.

Something I am proud of doing regularly is having dedicated “me time.” I set aside days or even sometimes just an afternoon or an hour if I’m short on time and I enjoy my own company. I make plans with just me and I read or walk in Central Park. I go to the Met. I try to be on my phone as little as possible. I have a cocktail and a dessert at a bar. I think about things and make lists.I take time to truly listen to the world around me.

28. Stop talking down to yourself.

Negative self-talk can be something so hard to ween yourself off of. I spent years talking down to myself when I would gain weight or be battling acne. I still don’t find 100% happiness with my body, but I’ve become more accepting of it and taken more responsibility for it. For every negative thing I tell myself, I try to tell myself a good thing, too. Perfection will never be achieved but practicing positive self-talk is a better way to respect yourself. I am so glad I have left behind that younger me who wasn’t confident and didn’t feel right in her own skin behind in my 20s. (And remember that talking down about yourself to other people is also something to avoid. Work on weaknesses but regularly celebrate all that rocks about you. Confidence is attractive and contagious!)

Meghan Donovan I 30 Things I Learned By 3029. Be conscious of the decisions you’re making. 

Before you do something that you know doesn’t make you feel good or you know isn’t right, take a pause and ask yourself how you’ll feel in the coming months or even years if you pursue that choice. Someone may ask you to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with or you may do something out of selfish reasons that in hindsight you won’t like the fact that you did it. Try to slow down and weigh risks vs. rewards.

30. Take risks. Make yourself uncomfortable.Fight for what you want.

Never underestimate the power of putting yourself up to a challenge. I did this recently with my half marathon and I plan to do it even more in my 30s. Setting goals and achieving them is one of the coolest things to do in life. It’s the challenges we take on that make life more rewarding…more memorable. I think back to the time I decided to purchase my 1-way ticket to New York. I don’t know what my life would have been without this wild and crazy experience and I am so grateful I took the risk to find out where it would lead. Recently I was named a Vice President at work which had silently been a goal for myself prior to turning 30. But to get there I was reminded regularly that the good things in life don’t come without lots of work, lots of risk and lots of tenacity.


So with that very long-winded post, I usher in a new decade…excited at all that lays ahead of me. I’ve been beyond blessed with the opportunities and challenges that have come my way. I’m entering this new year with so many incredible memories, so many things to be thankful for, a lot more wisdom than when I turned 20, a large dose of determination to make this chapter the best yet…and of course, some wrinkles 😉

I thank you for making this blog one of the most memorable parts about my 20s. Writing it brings me such joy and so many of my highlights from my 20s came as a result of wit & whimsy. I will forever be grateful to you, my readers, for helping to shape such an important time of my life.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With love and gratitude,
meghan donovan I Lessons I've Learned by 30

Shop the Post:

Max & Chloe and BaubleBar Necklaces
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p.s. if you’re interested in seeing the many outtakes that came as a result of this shoot, follow me on Snapchat @meghandono. Sure to give you a laugh!!

comments +

  1. Samantha S. says:

    Happy Birthday Meghan! I wish you all the very best wishes and hope you have marvelous year ahead! You are such an inspiration and your blog posts always bring a smile to my face. This list is so thoughtful and I feel like I can take a great deal away from it. I just turned 23, myself, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, but your list makes me excited to go out and make the most of my 20s. I’m thinking of turning your list into a personal calendar and using each of your lessons as a mantra of the day – just to remind me to slow down and make the most of my days. Thanks for yet another great post and again, Happy Birthday!


    • Meghan says:

      The best is yet to come! You will learn and grow so much in your 20s – it is an amazing time and I love your idea of turning the list into a calendar – SO cute!!

  2. Ash Diamond says:

    I love this post so much. It is very true! Have a wonderful birthday!

  3. Jess Zimlich says:

    Happy happy birthday! It’s amazing that you made your goal of Vice President and seeing all the things you have accomplished has got to be a great feeling. Cheers to making this one the best yet 🙂

  4. Taylor says:

    Just trying to make sure I hit you from all angles on this MOST SPECIAL DAY. You make 30 look pretty damn good, girl. This post turned out so well, and is so full of thoughtful and personal moments. LOVE YOU!

  5. Brittnie says:

    Happy Birthday! What a wonderful way to reflect and such great advice. Thanks for sharing so much with your readers!

  6. Andrea says:

    Love you so much lady and so glad that I’ve been able to learn a few of these things right beside you. The best is yet to come! xoxo

  7. Kim Henrichs says:

    Happy Birthday!! These are all really great points!

  8. megan says:

    Love this so, so much. So grateful for you and your wisdom, kindness, friendship; so excited to see all to come in your 30s! Cheers, my dear friend!

  9. Amanda says:

    I love this post! Thanks for sharing these lessons. I turned 30 in May and can relate to a lot of what you’ve written. At my mini birthday party I had these same balloons, I only wish I had taken the time to do a photo shoot with them, your photos are adorable! I’m also inspired to write a list of what I’ve learned. They say once you start your 30s a lot of things fall into place, so maybe I’ll make my list of what I learn by 31 🙂

    Happy Birthday!

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