What I Wish My 30-Year-old Self Knew

Melissa Bennett-Heinz, LICSW, LCSW
Gestalt Psychotherapist

Women's Issues/Personal Growth

As March is already upon us and we continue to progress through 2023, I am aware that in a few months, I am hitting a milestone as I make my way toward turning 50 years old. Fifty trips around the sun!  I wonder where the time went, as it has gone by so quickly and seems to be going faster and faster as the years go by. Contemplating my close to fifty years, looking back on the life I have lived, and looking forward to how I want to spend the second half of my life, I am pondering the lessons that I would have liked to pass on to my younger self, what I wish I knew and could have believed as a young woman.  These gems of wisdom I know today took me many years to incorporate and practice enough to get to a place where I know them to be true.  Full disclosure here, I struggled as a young woman. I had bouts of depression, struggled with anxiety, and low self-worth, and often felt lonely and isolated.  I lived in the hustle and bustle culture of New York City, where there seemed to be an immense privilege, drive, and success.  I saw what other people had and equated their appearances, education, earnings, vacations, and assets as indicators to me that they were “happy,” that they had it all together, and their lives were happy and full.  I constantly compared myself to those around me and believed they had something I could attain if only...if only, I had a better or different job, if I earned more money, if I was a different size, if I was in a committed relationship, if I were able to travel to Europe, and so on.  I believed others who had these things that I coveted lived a perfect life, they were not only fulfilled, but they did not struggle in the ways I did.  I desperately wanted what I thought they had. I went to therapy for years both in groups and individual sessions, I tried gym memberships, and fad diets, went on vacations, went to top-rated schools, worked in prestigious hospitals, and yet, I wasn’t happy.  I thought my therapist’s had the answers but were not telling me their secrets.  I recall sitting in a therapist’s office and her telling me that the key to happiness was not going to be something that happened suddenly, the heavens were not going to part and the angels were not going to sing.  Happiness was to be found in small shifts that I make that add up over time, a lot of time, and it was to be found in the relationship I had with myself and others, that being vulnerable and authentic, seen, and accepted was where and when I would find joy.  Joy would be found within me, in the way I related to myself, spoke with, and treated myself.  She then told me something I will never forget.  She said, “This is as good as it gets.” Meaning, the moment we were having together right then and there, being honest and present, seeing and being seen, that was it, that was as good as it gets.  What??  I felt so cheated!  I thought, if this is as good as it gets, then I want a refund.  I was coming to her for answers and solutions.  Little did I understand that no therapist had the answers for me, they are there to assist me in discovering these things for myself. 

It took me years to finally hear what she was telling me – years!  I suffered greatly resisting those lessons she worked so hard to impart.  Well, I am here to tell you, she was right. Oh, how she was right.  I was not able to see the forest through the trees at that time, but I can see more clearly today. 

Since we are celebrating International Woman’s Day this month, I wanted to write something specifically speaking to younger women.  In reality, this can be for all women at all stages of life no matter how young or old.  How hard it is to be a woman in a world of inequity, how much pressure there is on us to do everything and do it well, and look “good’ while doing it, to be able to handle all the roles that society forces upon us whether young or old, and be able to manage it all. I want to share with you that doing or having it all is not going to fulfill you, or make you any happier, joyful ,less stressed, less depressed, or less anxious.  No diet, pounds lost, job, or vacation you take will bring you the joy of which I am speaking.  No matter if you are young or young at heart, I know it is never too late to change — or incorporate some new and healthy practices into your daily life. Here are ten things I wish I could have imparted to my younger self, things that have taken me years to learn. 


1.Focus on Today & Be Present.  Forget about yesterday and don’t worry about tomorrow.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here yet. Enjoy the moment of today, because you are not guaranteed a tomorrow.  Don’t put off your dreams or wait to do something or try something new, enjoy as much of the time you have today. Be attentive to the present moment, what is happening right now for you and around you, from what you’re doing and all of the choices you’re making both big and small.  What you do today, determines what tomorrow will bring.  Our future is set by what we decide and act on today.


2.Don’t worry about what others think of you.  I used to worry so much about what others thought of me, my choices, and my actions.  Eventually, I came to realize that what I was seeking - validation, respect, and approval from others - was not something I was ever going to be able to receive unless it came from me first.  Everyone has an opinion, but in reality, others’ opinions of you are based more on their own story and perspective than anything you’re actually doing. While it’s good to ask for someone’s feedback, you need to rely on your assessment of yourself rather than others.


3.Believe in yourself.  You are your own worst critic, and you have the power to be your greatest supporter.  If you do not have confidence in your value, abilities, and contribution, then nobody else will either.  You must have faith in your intrinsic worth.  We each have something to offer that is valuable and important, even if we do not know what it is.  You do not have to be able to see the finish line today.  Even if you can't visualize where you are going and how you will get there, doesn’t mean it will not happen.  You are capable of far more than you can imagine.


4.Practice Patience.  Anything worth doing well takes work - a lot of work. When you hear of any success story, remind yourself that a lot of hard work and dedication came prior.  It takes time to build a career or a business, time to learn, and time to build a network and a team of mentors and supporters.  You're going to have to do work you do not always enjoy and trudge through the trenches of planning, building, refining, moving up, out, over, and redefining before you get to the place where success happens.  It is all okay.  Everything is a learning process. Have fortitude and keep going.


5.Learn to let go.  What happened yesterday is over.  Move on from the unmet expectations, difficult situations, failures, and conflicts – they are all in the past. You can’t change it and it does no good to expend your energy dwelling in anger, resentment, hurt, or disappointment.  These experiences only keep you stuck in the past and hold you back from moving forward in your life.  Also, learn to let the little things roll off your back more easily.  If something isn’t going to bother you in 6months, it isn’t worth your energy now.


6.Attempt to not burn bridges.  You never know when a former boss, colleague, teacher, business partner, or an acquaintance may come in handy.  Try to part ways on good terms and never gossip about other people.  Maintain and foster connections on all levels.  Assist in connecting people to one another and offer your help to those you know.  A wide pool of friends, peers, and acquaintances of all kinds will potentially be a resource of ideas and support as you go forward in life. (The exception would be dishonest, disrespectful, or toxic people – those you can part ways with.)


7.Don’t be afraid to stand out.  Take a stand. Speak up.  If something is important to you, then stand up for it, even if it is unpopular.  Never compromise your integrity.  One person can make a difference and shed light on injustice or unfairness. If it’s not right, say so.  Dare to be different, be quirky, and be yourself. Don’t worry so much about conforming to society’s standards or whatever passes for the norm.  While I do think it is a good idea to be respectful and considerate, I think we place too much emphasis on fitting in and being “appropriate.”  This is not your grandmother’s world.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

8.Money Matters, even if it’s not everything. Everything costs money – education, starting a business, vacations, and housing.  Don’t live too far beyond your means.  Money is a resource. Sometimes it’s important to splurge but do so wisely. It is important to plan for the future.  Money does not have to be complicated, scary, or intimidating.  Most people walk around with traumatic money stories and toxic beliefs about money.  Money is only a representation of our internal worlds into which we project everything.  Learn about managing your money, investing, and how to budget.  Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from professionals and experts.  There is no shame in not knowing.


9.Life is not a race. We have so much to do, so much to accomplish, and it feels as though we have to be on a deadline to get there.  It is quite likely that you will live 80 years on this planet.  There is plenty of time to fit a whole host of wonderful endeavors into your life.  Today, people are working into their 70s and longer, having children in their 40s, returning to school to a college education or an  advanced degree, changing careers, and even starting businesses at various ages.  You do not have to do it all at once.  If you try to do it all, you will not have time to enjoy living, potentially burn out and damage your health and relationships.  Slow down and take things as they come, one day at a time.  Of course, making plans is important, and setting goals is essential to success, but goals are just a target to aim for and they can and do move. 


10.Look for the good in everything.  Look for the good in people.  Celebrate accomplishments and the happy moments you are given, both big and small. Search for lessons and opportunities for growth in difficult moments and situations.  I am not saying to be Pollyannaish and ignore the bad stuff.  Dishonesty, disrespect, unhappiness, and evil exist and you will have to deal with them.  Don’t let difficulties color your experiences completely.  If you view the world around you and life’s challenges through the lens of goodness, then you will find life much more enjoyable.  Life is serious —and sometimes awful — but you can still be hopeful and find beauty all around if you are willing to look.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”


Maya Angelou