In my late 20s, I distinctly remember setting an arbitrary goal of popping out a baby before turning 35. The universe has a funny way of making some dreams come true. Less than two weeks ago, my twin boys dramatically entered the world after only 31 weeks of gestation. For better or worse, this was not the birthday that I had expected. I am still processing so many emotions that came with preterm labor.
At the same time, I want to celebrate this first half of my 30s. I’ve done a great deal and learned so much about life. Reflection posts are helpful to remind me how far I’ve come and provide a direction on where I’d like to go in the next phase of life.
The Expected Path of Life
My 20s was the decade of box-checking. I did what was required for a good immigrant Asian kid. I got the degrees – fancy and expensive from the Ivy League. I got the job – fancy and well-paid from the world’s most valuable fruit company. I did take some risks, like moving to China without a job, but most decisions still centered around a path of prestige.
I even dated aggressively to finally found a great life partner whose life vision aligns with my mine. This was no small feat. I dated with my whole heart and read one too many relationship-related books to figure out what I wanted. My twenties was a picture-perfect buzzy international life, and it was splendid.
But I was also bored. Checking boxes that other people had designed turned out to not be very fulfilling. I kept trying to find meaning by keeping a hectic social life. Friends used to remark that a two-week notice was required to just have coffee with me. I took pride in that busy life. Professionally, I sought after more challenging roles at work only to realize I did not want the life of my managers. In fact, I did not enjoy working for other people in a corporation.
Reset at 30
On my 30th birthday, I signed up to attend a yoga retreat alone in India. I could not have been more cliche if I tried. But I needed a reset. I went offline for a week, putting myself squarely out of my comfort zone, and spent hours thinking about how I actually want to live my life.
I met a couple who had retired early and were sailing around the world on a boat. While sailing isn’t my cup of tea, I do love that freedom. Just weeks prior, I had reached my goal to turn that negative net worth upside down. The next goal for us was to reach our financial independence (FI) number.
Magically, once we set the goal, things began to change in mysterious and subtle ways. I got into minimalism, read Marie Kondo’s book, and started decluttering my life. Xav was also on board. The process created space physically in our lives and the mental space to realize dreams brewing in our minds. When the stars aligned for us to pursue full-time travel, we jumped on it without much consideration. A decision that no doubt would have been much harder had we still own a house full of stuff.
Lessons from an Unconventional Life
Since leaving the corporate grind, our lives have been full of many adventures that it’s sometimes hard to fathom. Three years would go by in our corporate life days, and our lives would still be essentially the same. These past three years, by contrast, have taken us to places we couldn’t have imagined. Our around-the-world travel took us to far-flung corners. The year of Saigon living challenged me in a way never before; it was the first time I didn’t fall in love with a city that I lived in. The greatest challenge still, is our journey to parenthood. Boy, that’s been a ride.
We left our very comfortable life in Shanghai in search of a challenge. This past year has shown that sometimes I gotta be careful what I wish for! Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade these first five years of my 30s for anything else. Some lessons for me to carry forward into the second half of the decade:
Financial Stability Is Foundational
I spent a good part of my corporate life wishing I had been doing something I loved. Yet these days, I’m grateful to have built a solid nest egg from those years of corporate grinding. A sound financial base frees one’s mind to pursue those wild dreams. I wish more emphasis were placed on basic personal finance education in schools. It’s never too late to follow those dreams, and it’s okay to take a slight detour while building wealth.
Define Lofty Goals and Know What Enough Means
Building wealth can be a slippery slope, however. The golden handcuff is real. Define those dreams and create actionable goals. You’d be amazed at how you end up achieving them, even if the road is very windy and bumpy. Having those concrete goals also allows you to determine whether what you have built is enough. We abandoned our initial FI number and pursued our dreams instead. We had built enough and trusted our abilities to generate more wealth. So far, that has worked out nicely.
The best experiences come from being outside of our comfort zone. In 2019, I set the year’s theme to Be Uncomfortable, and it was one of the most fulfilling years of my life. Time seems to slow down when you are attempting something new. Each moment is unique. So many long-lasting memories are created when we are in uncomfortable situations.
Let Go of Control
This is one lesson I still very much struggle with. The planner in me can handle uncomfortable situations if they are well defined – say, an international move or a three-week Workaway experience on an off-grid farm. My recent pregnancy and birth experience have taught me that life is literally unpredictable. New babies want to come into this world when they want, in complete disregard of my plans, feelings, or anything.
Never Stop Learning
Since I left the corporate grind, I’ve learned to code, explored the life of a full-time blogger, navigated the life of an active trader and options investing. Not every skill has stuck. Through each experience, I gained a bit more knowledge and became more confident that I could make this unconventional life work.
I have no idea what’s in store for me this second half of my 30s. I presume motherhood will take center stage, and the twins will likely ensure I never have another dull moment in life. But I hope to carry forward these lessons to continue creating unique experiences and reflect back in five more years with a different level of awe. For now, here’s to 35!!