real life

"You won’t regret as much as you think you will." 36 life lessons I've learned at 36.

I turned 36 this February, which means I’ve been on this Earth for 35 years. I think that’s the maths. I don’t know, I borderline failed it in school. 

Anyway, that used to seem like a long time, but now I honestly don’t even know where the last 15 years went? Sorry, when did I leave my twenties? What even happened in that decade?

I guess there were a lot of parties. A lot of heartache, that’s for sure. Some questionable decisions, some less questionable ones (that seemed questionable at the time, though?). 

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Basically, I realised this year that I’ve actually learned a lot, both from the things I did do and the things I didn’t. Here’s what I know.

1. You’ll never regret travelling.

I have been in debt many times over the last 35 years, and it was always either because I bought too many clothes or went travelling. 

I regret all the clothes; I regret none of the travel. Even if you go on a tumultuous tour of Thailand with a boyfriend who becomes your ex as soon as you get home (hi, 2019), you won’t regret spending money seeing the world.

2. Find a style and stick to it.

I wrote about this recently but it’s probably one of the best lessons I’ve learned, and it took me until my early 30s to learn it. 

Stop. Chasing. Trends. It’s exhausting! Expensive! You never ever feel like you’ve pulled a great outfit together even when you own a million clothes! Just pick a style you love - minimalist, sporty, 80s, whatever - and commit to it. 

Shop only within that style, and you’ll find yourself spending less and enjoying your wardrobe more.

3. Invest in fashion over buying heaps of stuff.

I have a $600 (!!!) vintage 1970s coat that I bought three years ago, and it’s the best investment I’ve ever made (more on my usual investment failures later). 

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At the time, it seemed unhinged to spend that much money on one item of clothing, but its quality and cost per wear has totally made it worth it. 

Buy the good stuff, when you can. I also bought actual UGG boots 10 years ago for a few hundred bucks - still going strong.

4. Invest in general.

I have regrets and one of them is that I didn’t get into investments in my 20s.

Pretty much all of the investment queens like Victoria Devine from She’s On The Money suggest investing as early as you can in shares, because the growth is slow yet steady. 

I almost cried when I saw how much cashola I could have had by now if I’d learned about shares back then.

5. Your 30th isn’t a scary birthday.

I was terrified of turning 30! I saw it as the end of all fun, the gateway to being glued to the couch and having indigestion all the time. 

I totally got the indigestion, but I’ve had way more fun in my 30s than I ever had in my 20s, because I know what I like, I don’t stay out when I’m over it, and I've stopped pretending to be someone I’m not.

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6. Speaking up at work is a good thing.

The first time I stopped whinging to my work wives about my job and actually spoke to my boss, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner. 

I went in with a plan of some new responsibilities I could take on because I was feeling directionless and bored at work, and she loved it. 

That conversation led to two promotions and one of the best work experiences of my life. Vent to friends if you like but it’s always worth a proper convo with your boss if you’re feeling dissatisfied.

7. Get the fringe.

I spent years terrified of getting a fringe, then I got one when I was 31 and I’ve had it for five years. Do it. Hair grows!

8. Nothing good happens after 3am.

Go home, trust me. 

9. But fun stuff definitely happens after 12am.

If you’re not feeling it, go home - but if you’re 50/50, stay out. Some of my best nights have started after the first venue. Just, you know, go home at 3am unless you’re having the best time ever.

10. If they want you, it’ll be obvious.

One time I waited at this kick ons thing until FIVE AM for everyone else to leave so I could hook up with this guy I’d slept with once and was obsessed with. I ended up in this weird stand-off with another girl who clearly ALSO wanted to hook up with him? I left first. They definitely did it. I still cringe to this day.

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If they want you, it won’t be that hard. You’ll know! I could have saved myself years of waiting on texts and letting men live rent-free in my brain if I learned this lesson earlier. 

11. Sparkling water just really improves your life.

A love letter to my SodaStream and all those cafes that offer you sparkling for free.

12. Never drink on the plane.

I swear I have never had a good experience drinking on a plane, only dehydration and a relentless urge to pee.

13. Always wee after sex.

Speaking of peeing, WEE AFTER SEX. Every time! Unless you really enjoy UTIs? RUN to that bathroom, my friend! Seriously, just roll out of that bed as soon as it’s over and wee, it’s the only way.

14. Keep your pap smears up.

I had pre-cancer cells discovered on my first pap smear. I ended up needing surgery to remove them - I then discovered so many of my friends hadn’t had one for years. They suck, but you need them. Cervical cancer is such an avoidable cancer, use the resources we have to fight it.

15. Don’t get your bush lasered off.

My other regret - following the Brazilian trend and now being like a bald eagle down there. WHY, MEL. Now it grows back like a small, vertical moustache.

16. Medication isn’t evil.

I spent years - YEARS - avoiding antidepressants because I was convinced they were for weak people who wanted the easy way out. My life is so much better for them. 

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Always consult a doctor and revisit your dosage with them regularly, but don’t avoid them because you think battling through depression and anxiety is stronger than treating your brain. 

I now have the ability to actually work on my anxiety triggers rather than spiral every time.

17. Throw yourself into love.

It doesn’t matter if it will end. It doesn’t matter if you have doubts. Go all in, every time. You’ll never know if that relationship will work if you don’t give it a proper shot. I still battle with this - I am in a long-term relationship with a man I love and still feel myself holding back. 

18. 'The One' doesn’t exist.

The YEARS I spent searching for some Disney Princess, Bridgerton type of love. The stop-you-in-your-tracks, I-knew-the-moment-I-met-you romance. I thought love was constant highs and obsession, but what I know now is that true love is constant, comforting, and often quiet. 

It grows and changes, you’ll hate them and adore them, you’ll have great sex and average sex. Like all relationships in life, it is filled with multitudes. Don’t think a romance without chaos means it’s boring. 

The ultimate goal is a best friend you also want to have sex with - period. 

Someone recently said if your person makes the mundane fun, they’re a keeper. 

Find someone you can go on endless trips to Woolies with and clean the bathroom with, who is still sexy to you even when they sneeze out a huge booger (like, not specifically in that MOMENT but you don’t suddenly get the ick and think of the booger every time they come near you). It’s wild that this exists, but it does.

19. But chase the highs sometimes, if you want.

I looooved my single years and if I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be to stop caring so much about whether some guy I was sleeping with was a f*ckboy, and just enjoy the experience for what it was. 

If you want to have casual sex, do it! Enjoy it! 

If you want to have a Parisian fling, have it with abandon. The romance highs exist and they’re so much fun, they’re just not long-lasting. They shouldn’t be the end goal, they’re just an experience. Enjoy them in the moment.

20. If they’re not texting you, they’re not interested.

No one is that busy. The easiest way to determine if someone has fizzled on you - romantically or platonically - is to stop trying to organise plans or start conversations and see if they come to you. If they don’t, there’s your answer. 

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21. Try a new hair colour.

I went blonde once. I looked ridiculous, it absolutely did not suit me and it fried my ends off. Still, no regrets.

22. Never buy something as "diet inspiration".

There is nothing more damaging for your self-esteem than buying a dress a size smaller than you are to inspire you to lose weight. No. Abort. Do not do this.

It won’t inspire you, it will make you hate yourself. I would do this to myself all the time in my disordered eating years and it just f*cked my brain. 

23. Teeth whitening is too much maintenance.

Look, this is just my opinion but screw eating white things only for a week and then having to drink red wine through a straw. I LIKE DARK DRINKS LIKE COFFEE AND WINE TOO MUCH FOR THIS SH*T.

24. Buy a silk pillowcase.

The hype is real, they’re something else. It’s like sleeping the way I imagine a Victorian era queen slept.

25. And linen sheets.

There’s a reason everyone is banging on about them. They look amazing! Even when you didn’t bother hanging them out properly and they end up all creased! They’re comfy and come in cute colours! Anything for your house is a good purchase, in my opinion. Homewares never hurt you.

26. Put art on your walls.

You don’t have to spend heaps - buy prints, buy from emerging artists, make your own. Just put your art up on the walls. This was the first year I’ve done it and my god does it make your house feel more like a home.

27. Spend time with your parents.

They won’t be around forever. Even just call them more regularly, if you live in different states or countries.

28. It’s okay to remove toxic people from your life.

On the flip side, if your family is toxic, don’t feel bad about removing them from your life. You don’t need anyone in your orbit that makes you feel less than, and you’ll feel so much better without toxic people around you.

29. Have one last conversation.

Whether it’s sending an essay-length text to your ex, confronting a friend about a betrayal or telling your mum the way she speaks to you hurts, it’s always worth having one last chat before cancelling someone from your life. 

Often when I’ve had this chat, it’s changed nothing. But at least I know they knew where I stood, and I felt like I’d said my piece.

30. Do the damn thing.

The older I’ve gotten, the more decisive I’ve become. This year I decided I wanted to be a DJ. I just went and bought some second-hand decks and got to learning! 

In the past I used to wring my hands and procrastinate and whatever before I did anything, but honestly it’s just wasted time. Give it a shot - if it works, great! If it doesn’t, who cares.

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31. Don’t be a quitter.

Look, sometimes you have to quit stuff - relationships, friendships, jobs, etc. 

My advice is just, don’t quit hastily. I know we joke about Kim K saying "people don’t want to work anymore" but I do think there’s some truth to that statement (just not in the context of a billionaire lady who has a momager). 

Try to make that relationship work, see if you can find ways to improve your job, and mend those friendships where you can. 

Basically, it’s about knowing you did your best, and knowing when to cut your losses and move on. So many times in life I’ve hit a roadblock and if I’d quit then, I’d never have seen all the great stuff on the other side of it. 

32. Make new friends.

Why do we stop making friends as adults? It’s so healthy to make new friendships, even if you love the ones you’ve had since you were a kid. 

Ask colleagues for after-work drinks, text that fun mum from mother’s group to arrange a playdate, join team sports and go for dinner afterwards. 

There are so many wonderful people in this world, you’ll never regret adding more of them to your friendship list.

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It can be scary, absolutely. But what have you got to lose? Worst case is they’ll make excuses to not hang with you, and that’s fine - thank you, next! Trust me when I say most people will jump at the chance to meet a new friend. 

33. Buy the good olive oil.

I’m partial to Greek but that’s because I’m half Greek. Just get the good stuff, it really does make a difference.

34. Own a sex toy.

Doesn’t have to be a vibrator but buy a sex toy that will improve or add to your sex life. It’s fun and you might learn something new about yourself. 

35. And one hot set of lingerie.

This is primarily so you can take thirst traps (sexy photos of yourself). You don’t have to send them to anyone. They’re for you! Godddd it feels good to look good. 

I exclusively wear giant cotton underpants and bras that support my (double D) girls, but I have this drawer of sexy underwear and sometimes I just put it on for fun. Do it, do it, do it.

36. You won’t regret as much as you think you will.

I was constantly terrified that if I didn’t do THAT trip or take THAT job or date THAT guy, I’d regret it. Honestly, I regret very little (except for not investing lol). 

For example, I said no to a gap year working at a summer camp in America to take a job at the time. 

Sure, I wish I’d done the gap year, but it’s not a regret, it’s like something I could have done, but didn’t. I guess if I went back I’d do things differently, but even though I’m THE most anxious person, it genuinely doesn’t have a hold over me that I missed that opportunity.

The biggest, hugest lesson I’ve learned is that life has a million little pathways you can take, every day - and they have a million other little pathways off them. 

It’s not about making the perfect choice, it’s just a bunch of choices, and they’re all filled with good and bad and highs and lows. You just do stuff and make decisions and see what comes of it. 

That’s true of my work life, my friendship life, my love life. I have no f*cking idea how I’ve ended up here, and that’s kind of the beauty of life, right? 

You just have to keep taking the steps and the leaps, but if you don’t for any reason - it’s okay. You won’t wake up at 80 regretting your choices, because life will deliver you so many other experiences along the way.

Melissa Mason is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Feature Image: Instagram / @melissamason_

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