An Open Letter to My Nieces on Turning 30(ish)

(Some 15 or so years ago, I wrote some advice for my nieces as they entered their late teens. A few years later, I wrote to them again as the oldest one was entering college. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I was just trying to be a good uncle and share what I had learned with the head start that I had on them in life. A few months ago, one of them had reminded me of those communications and told me that she felt she could use a booster shot of my dime-store wisdom. As she enters her 30’s, and the world enters its own new decade (all of you “but there was no year zero” nerds can keep it to yourself), I thought this was as good a time as any. So here we go...)

On Entering Your Thirties.

(I try to only share what I know and how it might apply to your lives, so let’s state at the outset that I will NOT be talking about parenthood. I know it is a HUGE part of your human experience, but I (by design) do not know a thing about it.)

Thirty is the New Zero. As I am a few years into my forties now, I recently found myself thinking about the big differences in living life at 40 vs. life at 30. I realized the biggest difference came from what each person might think of as they looked back at the past decade. When you were born, everything about your daily life was based on the decisions of someone else (probably your parents). You had no control over where you lived, who you spent time with, what you ate, or what you did all day long. As you move through life, your day to day experience became a bit more to do with the results of your own decisions. Even as a young adult, your choice in college may have had to do with where your parents chose to live, or what financial resources your family had. Your first job may have come from a friend of the family. This influence rapidly started to fade throughout your twenties. Until you find yourself at thirty and surrounded almost entirely by a life shaped by the results of your own decisions.

At forty, it was a revelation of sorts too look back at who I was at thirty how everything between then and now was a function of my own doing. I lived thousands of miles away from where I was born, made friends (and the occasional enemy) all over the world, and carved my own career path through my chosen industry. Looking back, I think I would have appreciated pausing to consider this at 30. That the decade to come would be the first in my life that was completely mine to shape. This next ten years is all yours. Roll up your sleeves and get to work building a life that you will remember with a smile when you’re looking back over the decade.

Let Stuff Go. Continuing that last thought, an important part of crafting your own future is to let go of some of the baggage you’re carrying from the past. You don’t need to live where you live. You don’t need to work where you work. You don’t need to do the things you’ve always done. You don’t need to believe what you have been told to believe. Here is the tricky don’t need to stay around the people you’ve always known. Think of anyone who stands in your way, holds you back, drains your energy, or consistently lets you down...and let them go. If I am guilty of one thing in my life it is holding on to bad relationships a little too long. This can mean friendships, business relationships, romantic relationships and even family members. To quote Dylan from 90210, “May the bridges I burn light the way.”

You Don’t Have to Impress Anyone. This one touches on something very dear to my heart, since I see it literally every day, and that is personal finance. I see countless people every day who are going broke trying to prove how well they are doing. They take 7-year loans on the brand new car parked in front of a house that they can’t afford filled with furniture they bought to give the appearance that they live in the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog. Putting aside finances, I feel like many of these people are simply missing out on their lives. I want to smack the phone out of the hands of every schmuck who misses an entire concert, because they are too busy making video proof that they were there. I think people would be a whole lot happier if they focused more on living a good life and less on proving to people how good their life is.

You Are Enough. I’ve wasted years waiting. I think I was waiting to deserve the life I wanted to live. I thought I needed to be a different person in order to deserve the relationship I wanted. I needed a different job, body, or house. I thought I needed to “pay more dues” in order to make the kind of living I wanted. There was always one more condition I needed to meet. The starting line was always just a few dollars or a few years or a few connections away.

Like getting home from Oz, the secret is realizing that you already have everything you need to have. You already are everything you need to be. You just need to think of the person you wish you were and start acting like them right now (heel clicking is optional).

The Best Excuse and the Worst Excuse. Life will provide you with opportunities to do extraordinary things. On balance, I would simply suggest that you take those opportunities, but it is not my place to say which ones are right for you. There are countless reasons NOT to do a thing. The best reason is “I don’t want to.” It is a perfectly valid reason and not a soul on earth has any right to argue with you about it. The only excuse that you should not accept from yourself is “I am afraid.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope it helps. I am excited by the possibilities of the world you can create by simply doing what I know you are each capable of. You don’t owe it to anyone but yourselves to see that incredible potential future come to life. You don’t owe anyone, but know that more people than you probably realize are cheering for you. I’m one of them.


Uncle Matt

Related: Three Ways to Spot an Impostor