Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. Here, I reflect on some of the biggest changes to my state of mind in the last few years.

Overcoming FOMO (fear of missing out). Although I can’t say I don’t get stressed at all, I’m overall more at peace with myself and with my life. I think the key to overcoming FOMO is to have two qualities. The first one is humility: you’re less important than you think. The world will go on without you just fine. The second one is a sense of empowerment. You are more powerful than you think. You can be the master of your own time, and nobody else can tell you want to do with it. Meetings can be rejected, priorities can be shifted, you can say no.

A new appreciation for physical health. When I was a kid, I was the worst student at sports, and was the happiest when PE classes were cancelled . Now I exercise more than ever before in my life—up to 5 hours a week (read more here). I think back to my middle school where we had a 20-minute aerobic section every morning—what a blessing it was! But I didn’t realize it at that time, and thought it was a waste of time. Now I think every company should institute a 20-minute aerobic section in the middle of the workday, because sitting all day long is reducing my life expectancy.

Life is short, and life is long. For our generation, life expectancy is supposed to be longer than ever before. Living till 100 will no long be a dream. When I consider the fact that I might have a 50-year long career, I feel a lot less stressed about the speed of career progression. Most of my peers are changing jobs once per year on average—that’s 50 companies for a lifetime! On the other hand, life is short, as they always say, and we need to carefully choose what we want to spend our time on. I now have a heightened awareness of both our mortality and our longevity.

A new appreciation for the arts and humanities, or so called “useless knowledge”. As Bertrand Russels wrote in the essay “Useless Knowledge“,

“The importance of knowledge consists not only in its direct practical utility but also in the fact that it promotes a widely contemplative habit of mind; on this ground, utility is to be found in much of the knowledge that is nowadays labelled ‘useless’.”


If you were to ask me “what do you wish you studied more of in college”, I would say things like art history, literature, film, languages… I regret taking that accounting class across the river at MIT. College is a time for understanding ourselves and our place in the world, not for preprofessional training. In any case, the skills that I’ve found to be the most useful at work—communicating, storytelling, writing, critical thinking—were developed in the arts & humanities courses I took, as well as my extracurricular activities. Counter-intuitively, nothing I learned in that accounting class is directly applicable to my work today.

A heightened curiosity for new experiences: meeting new people, going to new places, learning new ways of looking at the world. My perfect weekend consists of: a fun workout class to energize the body, a delicious meal to satisfy the tastebuds, an intellectually stimulating conversation with a friend, a thought-provoking book/article to enrich the mind. Even though I’m no longer in school, I’m more curious than ever, reading books on topics ranging from arts to health, learning a new language (Japanese), and meeting new people every week.

See people as multi-dimensional beings. In school, we tend to reduce people to one-dimensional stereotypes. You’re either a nerd (or, as we say in Singapore, a “mugger”) who’s unpopular, or a jock/cheerleader who is not super smart (think the cafeteria in “Mean Girls”). However, once we enter adult life, we realize that someone can be both great at their job and great at a sport; your colleague who is dead serious at work could be a wine connoisseur/pole dancer by night. Everyone has their own definition of success; life is no longer a popularity contest or a race to get the highest score in exams. The biggest challenge is finding out what you want—a lifelong journey.

A defiance to be defined. Society has its own set of expectations about what you’re supposed to have achieved by 30. But nobody suddenly turns into a mature adult at the snap of a finger as the clock ticks 12 on the eve of your 30th birthday. Any change is a gradual process, and everyone has their own pace. We must be patient and trust the fundamental truths that we’ve learned about life. Optimists just happen to look at the long run.

A friend who is also turning 30 soon recently said to me that “In your 30s you can do everything you wanna do in your 20s, only with more freedom and power”. In any case, as an Asian woman, I still look like I’m 21 (I would probably still get carded if I go to a bar in the US). Age is a social construct.

One thought on “Musings on the eve of turning 30

  1. Hi, Zara – Happy Birthday!! I am responding to all of your emails in case one is wrong!! Great article. I especially liked your expanding and continuing curiosity! I think the major benefit to me from Harvard is wanting to learn more.

    Hope you are well – you sound like you are. We’re fine. One year in the new house and still not ‘moved in’. Working on it. Did a lot of busy things this summer [our son’s wedding, two other weddings in CA and VA, people visiting, helping our neighbors to move, outfitting the house, bought a boat for the pond]. Doing some more travel this winter. Saw Adam Ziemba on our trip to VA. He’s well. Do you remember him? He was a few years ahead of you. Met up with Shannon on our trip to NYC. Will meet up with Vicky on our next trip to NYC.

    Thanks for keeping me on your email list!!

    Best,

    Dennis

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