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  • Writer's pictureJessica Stough

30 Before 30, A Letter to My Younger Self – Part 1

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?” – Eminem

It is no secret that I am about to hit the big 3-0 (or, at least, I don’t think it's a secret). I remember as a little girl, I would always hear women around me talk about reaching the age of thirty and how cringe it was (although they didn't say "cringe" when I was a little girl). As I made my way through high school, college, and eventually beyond, I continued to wonder when it was that I would start to feel embarrassed or cringe about my age. It never happened, though. As 30 waits not-so-patiently for me, I am still not worried about it. I continue to look forward to the future.

I think a milestone birthday such as thirty is an excellent time to look ahead toward the future, but also another reminder to look back and reflect (much like the recent new year). I am not only a huge fan of writing – planning, journaling, blogging, whatever – but also a huge fan of writing lists. On a recent solo run, I was thinking to myself, What have I learned over these (almost) thirty years of life? If I could go back and share my thoughts, life lessons, and knowledge with the younger me, what would I say to her?

You guessed it – I would write her a list.


30 Before 30, In No Particular Order

  • Continue to push past your barriers. I’ve heard it many times before and said it many times myself – nothing good ever came from the comfort zone. As a kid and teenager, I constantly lived in the comfort zone. I quit dance after my first fall. I quit track after one year because I didn’t think I was good at it. Honestly, I’m surprised I ever managed to sign up for the school play or group improv because both of those things were somewhat outside of my comfort zone. As an adult, though, I’ve found that constantly pushing past the comfort zone and past those barriers is the most important thing that has made me who I am and gotten me to where I’m at today.

  • Find your person – they will be your rock. Zac has truly been my rock through these past thirteen years we’ve spent together. When I am stressed, he calms me down. When I’m overreacting, he’s found the nicest possible way to tell me so. When I need a moment to myself, he gives me space. I would have lost my mind a long time ago if it weren’t for him. Finding that person who makes me laugh, puts me in my place when I need it, and helps push me to continue to break past my barriers (because sometimes we need help!) has been everything to me.

  • Forgive, but don’t forget. “Forgive and forget” never really sat right with me. I think it's important to forgive, but forgetting is another story. I’ve been wronged before and made sure to forgive those things. Forgetting, however, would set me up for being wronged again – potentially even in the same way by the same person. I think in order to better ourselves and our relationships, we actually need to remember those things. They make us stronger. They give us a better understanding of how to handle difficult situations. They keep a smarter head on our shoulders.

  • Learn to love yourself. This one took me way too long. I listened to the media and everything my peers were saying. I thought my hips were too big. I hated the way my stomach looked. My hair wasn't the right color. My skin was too pale. I was not my best company, that’s for sure. Finding a person who could balance me out helped me overcome this, but it took some digging deep within myself too. I still have my doubts sometimes, but can sit with myself in a car for hours. I can run solo for hours on end with my own thoughts. It’s hard to expect people to like you or want you for company if you can’t even stand being your own company. Flip the script – turn your thoughts into positive ones. Love yourself. Figure out what it takes.

  • Put effort into the things that matter to you. There are always going to be people that think you’re doing it wrong. You’re spending too much time on this, not enough time on that, blah blah. Forget the haters. Put effort into the things that matter to you. You will find that you’ll start excelling at everything else too. Positivity breeds positivity – go out there and get it.

  • Get a dog (then get more dogs). I never had more than two dogs at a time growing up. When I did have two, one of them was an outdoor dog. Getting our first dog quickly turned into finding that dog a friend to hang out with, which then eventually turned into getting a pug (my dream as a little girl), and finally finding another dog on the side of the road. Eventually, this series of events started our journey to volunteer at a shelter, which then led us to getting our fifth dog for a while. Let me tell you what – these dogs have been life-changing. If Zac isn’t there to hang with me, I still have four furry friends that will want to. There is no other way to explain the need to get a dog (or four), besides that they just make everything better.

  • Be yourself. People are either going to like you or they’re not. There is no reason to hide behind a mask of a false personality.

  • You are the author of your own story. This goes along with stepping outside of the comfort zone. You are the only one that can make a difference in your own life. No one else is to blame for any of the bad, and no one else can take full credit of any of the good. Remember, you can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react. If something doesn’t go your way, are you going to give up or keep going for your goals? You are the author of your story, and you choose how the chapters progress.

  • Travel often, travel far. Obviously, I had to put some travel in this list! There is so much knowledge, so much benefit, and so many memories that come from travel. When you spend your money on experiences more than things, you have really learned to get your priorities straight.

  • Learn to laugh at yourself. If you can’t laugh at yourself when you trip over the sidewalk, when you stumble over your own words, or when you do something else equally embarrassing, what are you going to do instead? Are you going to dwell on that time your waiter told you, “Enjoy your dinner,” and you responded, “You too”? Are you going to let it eat you up inside when you didn’t see the sign that said “Caution: Step” and you stumbled over it anyway? Laugh it off. It is funny. Plus, it allows other people who are with you to also laugh. You’re not only looking at it in a more positive light, but you’re allowing others to laugh with you instead of at you.

  • Spend your energy on the people that return the favor. This is so big. There are going to be people in life that spend their energy on you, and there are also going to be people in life that will not even look your way. Do not waste your time on those that don’t want to look your way. They are not worth your energy. Those that reach out, those that ask how you’re doing, those that send you goofy TikToks or however they show their appreciation of you – they are your people. Spend your energy on them.

  • Don’t stress so much. I won’t lie – this one is tough for me. I stress about the little things, I stress about the big things, and I stress about everything in between. However, remember earlier, when I mentioned finding your person? Doing that certainly helps. He is my sounding board, and is not afraid to challenge me when I’m stressing about something that doesn’t matter. He’s also there to give me relief from mom life or some time by myself if I am stressing about something that does matter, but need some time to get away from it. I’m still working on this one, but its definitely a lesson I’ve learned to be true along the way.

  • Buy those new running shoes (and track your mileage). For those that don’t run, pretend running shoes is whatever that thing is that makes you happy. It’s the new cook book, it’s the plane ticket, it’s the yoga class or guitar lessons. The mileage tracking is simply taking care of whatever that thing is. Spend the money to do the things that make you happy, then take care of them to make sure they can continue to bring joy.

  • Let other people copy you – if they want to be like you, take that as the ultimate compliment. Whether its that shirt you wear, that thing you do, that hobby you want to keep to yourself – whatever. If someone is attempting to follow in your footsteps, let them. You have inspired them to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done had they not met you.

  • Everyone has a story – don’t forget they might have things going on that you could never even be able to fathom. It can be so easy to judge others, their words and actions, and how they present themselves. It’s harder to remember that they might be going through something. They may have just lost a family member, they may be dealing with a divorce, or they might be late on their rent and dealing with a potential eviction. We have no idea unless they tell us, but no one owes us their story. What we owe others, though, is the decency to spread kindness. They may be rude or grouchy, but we owe it to them to return only kindness their way. Again, we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. By spreading kindness, we may very well make that person’s day – which could, in turn, make them also spread kindness to the next person they meet.


As of today, I am exactly two months from turning thirty. I think it is appropriate for me to start my countdown, but a lot can happen in two months. I’ve decided to keep with just the first half of my 30 before 30 for now, in case I run into any absolutely life-changing events leading up to my thirtieth birthday. Before my birthday, I’ll be sure to share the final half of what I’ve learned over the years.

Until then, however, I’ll continue living up the rest of my 20’s – running, momming, planning for our next vacation, and making sure to live in the moment. What I know for sure is that if my 30’s are anywhere close to as great as my 20’s, I’m in for an amazing upcoming decade of life.

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