A mentor once told me, “Your twenties are for learning. Your thirties are for taking action.” It’s funny I remember that now, the day I turn 30 years old.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to reach this age. So far, it’s been a humbling reminder of how long and short life really is. I’m lucky to have made it this far, yet there’s still so much ahead. When we reach a “milestone birthday” there’s only so much time for reflection before we have to ask, “What do I want the next 5, 10, or even 30 years to look like?”

Throughout my twenties, I made it a habit to write down any quotes or pieces of advice I came across that seemed valuable. Going through those notes now, I’m shocked at how many great pieces of wisdom I’ve collected. Certain pieces I wrote down years ago, but am just now beginning to understand. There are others I wish someone had told me when I turned twenty.

One of my favorite books is Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. Besides its overwhelming amount of straightforward wisdom, I love the idea that the Emperor of Rome (the most powerful man on Earth back then) sat down each night and wrote advice to himself on how to be a good person.

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When we look at our work, our art, or any value we’re adding to the world, at some point, we have to ask, “Would they miss me if was gone?”

This isn’t a life or death hypothetical. “They” can be customers, “me” can be a product. But regardless of what type of creative space we’re in, we need to know where we stand with our audience.

Ask yourself: “Who’s looking forward to what I do next?” Put another way: “Do I matter or am I being tolerated?”

Because of all the metrics we use to measure success—how much we matter is the most important.

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I went into a vintage clothing store and pulled an old blue, Levi’s jean jacket off the rack. It felt sturdy—like it’s seen some shit. I could tell it had spent a lot of time in the backseat of classic cars and at the frontlines of Vietnam protests. At least that’s the history I projected onto to it.

C.C.R was playing in the store and the clerk gave me one of those slight nods that said, “lemme know if you need anything.” He was twisting wax into his mustache and wore a top hat and suspenders. I wondered how a guy dressed as an evil train conductor from the 1800’s could still look cooler than I ever have in my life.

I put on the jacket and looked in the mirror. I could see myself wearing it out in the desert somewhere, leaning against an old Ford mustang—bad moon on the rise. I don’t know why I was in the desert or whose car it was, but I had already picked out the perfect Instagram filter for me and my new jackets life together.

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It’s funny how when everything is going well in life—goals are being met, dreams are coming true—rarely do we stop we stop to consider the habits behind our state of contentment. We walk around on top of the world thinking, “This is just how I am. This whole ‘life’ thing is cake.”

It’s only once the walls start closing in do we stop and ask, “Why is this happening!? What am I doing wrong!? How do I get back to where I was!?”

There’s a reason the phrase “ebb and flow” has cemented its way into our culture’s lexicon. Life is not a cake walk through and through. Those days of feeling untouchable are usually followed by waves of doubt, depression, and an overall sense of malaise.

Maybe one day I’ll figure out 7 habits for creating a rainbow bridge to a magical field of permanent elation. For now, I hope you join me in keeping this not-to-do-list close by for when the emotional waters get dicey.

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