Project Description

30 before 30

Published: January 21, 2018

I was born in 1991, which means I’ll crack 30 in 2021–3 short years away. When did I get old?

A lot of my friends are pushing 30 too, and last year a few of those friends decided to create 30 before 30 lists, which are kind of like short-term bucket lists I guess. Not everything you want to accomplish before you die, just the things you most want to achieve in the next 1-5 years. 30 things you want to do or make or experience before you turn 30 in this case.

Writing my own list seemed like a good opportunity to sit down and think hard about the experiences I most want to have and the skills I most want to develop over the next 3 years, so that’s what I did. I made a list and limited it to 30 items—a snapshot of my current goals and priorities.

My list might change before I turn 30. That’s okay. Some of the things I included might prove too difficult to complete on a short timeline. That’s okay too. This list is my attempt to live mindfully by defining some concrete goals, but there isn’t anything binding about it. It’s mostly about having fun—trying to design a life that seems fun to live.

I’ve got until January 25, 2021 to try and make all this stuff happen, so I better get started!

Health / Fitness

1) Learn how to do a press handstand

Back in 2014 I got really interested in gymnastics and decided I was going to teach myself how to do handstands. I didn’t learn fast, but I followed some guides I found online, and after a few months of consistent practice I could kick up and hold myself upside down for a little bit.

Handstand practice is still a regular part of almost every workout I do. It’s fun being able to do something that most people can’t.

I don’t feel like I’ve made much progress in the three years since I first learned the basics though. I can kick up more reliably, and I can hold myself up there a little longer, but that’s it. I’m still really interested in gymnastics, but I haven’t bothered learning any gymnastics skills beyond handstands.

It’s time. I want to learn how to do press handstands.

These seem way more difficult than regular handstands, and I’m not even sure what the first step is when learning these. There are probably multiple other skills I’ll need to master first to make press handstands even possible. Bring it on. Let’s see what this body can do.

2) Prioritize sleep for 30 days straight

Sleep is a weird thing because even though I do it literally every night, I still suck at it. I consistently don’t get enough of it, I hardly ever prioritize it, and I feel guilty about my sleep habits constantly.

I’m almost 27. I should be better at sleeping by now.

But I’ve got goals, and when my days start to feel short sleep is one of the first things I sacrifice so I can push harder on my projects. Maybe you do something similar.

It’s a bad habit that I want to break. I want to stop treating sleep as a second-class citizen because it’s not. Sleep is important. Everyone knows it. I know it. It’s time to put that knowledge into practice.

Here are my rules:

  • Same bed time every night
  • Same wake time every morning
  • No fewer than 8 hours of sleep each night
  • No exceptions

It sounds stupid to say, but I know that sleeping more and sleeping better during these 30 days is going to be a huge challenge for me.

My prediction: The positive effects of more intentional sleep habits will be profound and will be felt almost immediately. I’ll rejoice and vow to prioritize sleep for the rest of my life. I’ll shout it from the rooftops. But shortly after this experiment ends my bad habits will take over again, and I’ll have to repeat this thing multiple times over multiple years before I internalize any of the lessons learned and make permanent changes.

But I’ve gotta get that ball rolling, so let’s give these first 30 days a shot.

3) Take a gymnastics class

I have a ton of respect for gymnasts. They’re the most impressive athletes in my book. They’re strong obviously, but to me the most impressive thing about them is how much control they have over their bodies. They seem so in tune with what their bodies are capable of doing and how to work with their bodies to achieve the movements they want.

I want that too.

I have no idea where to start though, so I think a class will be helpful. I just hope I can find a beginners gymnastics class targeted at adults instead of six-year-olds.

4) Go rock climbing outside

During my first 24 years of life I never once considered rock climbing a thing I might want to do. Shortly after starting my current job at Blue Sky though I went with some coworkers to the climbing gym after work one night on a whim, and here I am 3 years later still climbing.

Rock climbing is honestly one of the biggest surprises of my adult life.

One aspect of the sport I’ve never experienced though is actually climbing outside on a real wall with real rock beneath my fingers. All my climbing so far has been inside a gym. But it’s time to see an old hobby from a fresh perspective–one that involves fresh air and stunning views.

5) Keep my balance while walking across a slackline

I’ve tried slacklining. I suck at slacklining. For someone who goes to yoga multiple times a week, you’d think I’d have pretty decent balance. I don’t. But I want to improve.

This one will be a struggle for me, but what’s a life without voluntary hardship? We grow at our limits, etc.

6) Squat 205 lbs

Weightlifting is something I used to do all the time, but I don’t do it at all anymore. I could never lift a lot of weight, but the weight I could lift made me feel strong and confident and badass (sometimes).

I tell myself different things on different days for why I stopped lifting, but I think deep down it’s because I’m scared. I’m worried I’m too fragile to lift heavy things. That any plates of iron I try to lift overhead will crush me.

Irrational, I know, but the things that frighten us usually are.

I want to feel anti-fragile, and learning how to squat again seems like the best way to get there.

7) Try surfing

I grew up in in Nebraska, so surfing was kind of an exotic thing. I didn’t know a single person who surfed. I’m not even sure there is anything to surf within 1000 miles of the house I grew up in. Are there even waves anywhere in the Midwest?

I wonder if the mystery surrounding this sport is part of its appeal for me. It’s something I’ve never tried before. It seems hard, but it seems like a good time.

I think a big part of life, and one of the most fun parts, is trying new things. Surfing is something new.

I do have this irrational fear that I’m going to fall off and the board is going to hit me in the head and knock me unconscious and then I’ll drown, but what are the odds of that actually happening?

8) Do one month of CrossFit and commit

I was pretty into the whole Paleo thing at one point, and I remember noticing that a lot of Paleo people did CrossFit. They seemed like a healthy group.

And then recently all these documentaries started popping up about the CrossFit Games claiming their athletes were the “fittest on Earth.” I know these documentaries serve as marketing for local affiliate gyms more than anything else, but honestly those athletes did look really fit.

They weren’t just lifting weights either. They were swimming and sprinting and walking on their hands. I don’t know, it seemed cool. Their advertising works I guess.


9) Publish a new blog post every week for 3 months

I love writing for my website. I’m going to quote myself because that’s easier than thinking up a new way to say something I’ve said in the past:

“No matter the topic, when I write about it, there will be things I know about how I feel and things I learn about how I feel along the way. Almost always, after I finish writing something, I understand myself a little better than when I started.

“Learning new things and sharing my experiences is important to me, and writing on this website facilitates both.”

Finishing a new blog post is exhilarating. There’s something extremely satisfying about making something, even something as small as a single blog post, and putting it out into the world. Even if no one ever sees it.

One thing I’d like to be is more prolific, but when it comes to my blog, I get lazy. I also get afraid of failure at the start of every new project. I freeze up when a new blank canvas drops down in front of me, and it takes me a really, really long time to overcome inertia and get moving.

I want to get over this, and committing to a writing pace that’s a bit faster than I’m comfortable with seems like a good way to go. Less time for overthinking.

10) Enter and compete in a screenwriting or other creative writing competition

Creative writing scares the shit out of me. Reading through my list again, this seems like a recurring theme. I included a lot of things on my list that scare me.

Creative writing is something I desperately want to get better at, but it’s something I’m too afraid to even try most days. Because I’m so uncomfortable in this space, I think I need some hard deadlines to propel me to practice. And that’s mostly what this goal is about: manufactured motivation.

Ten years from now, I’d like to be at least a little confident in my creative writing abilities. Maybe have written a short story or two that someone somewhere read and genuinely enjoyed. I don’t have any plans to write the next great American novel, but I’m obviously not opposed to that idea. Everyone’s got at least one book in them I think. Buried deep deep down maybe, but it’s in there, waiting to be written.

11) Complete a NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

From their website:

“NaNoWriMo is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

Intense, I know. But I only get to live out my 20’s once, so go big or go home, right?

I’ve never done anything like this before or anything even approaching anything like this before. In all honesty, this might be the thing I’m most likely to fail out of everything on my 30 before 30 list.

For starters, this event is a November exclusive, which means I only have three shots to get it done.

Also, I’ve only written like 2000 words of creative writing in total in the last 3 years, so 50,000 words sounds like a fever dream.

But I’m gonna give it my best shot. My best three shots if that’s what it takes. Go big or go home.

12) Finish a piece of creative writing that’s 10,000 words or longer

Is it obvious I want to get better at creative writing yet?

NaNoWriMo is about getting words down on the page.

Here, I want to finish telling a complete story. Start something and really spend some time getting to know the characters and what goes on inside their heads. Go on a journey with them and see it through to the end.

Personal Projects

13) Release an iOS app in the App Store

Back in college I had an internship making iOS apps, and I loved it. That was during the iOS 5/6 days, just after Apple introduced automatic reference counting. We’re on iOS 11 now, so iOS 5 feels like forever ago.

After that internship ended I shifted my focus to computer graphics, and I haven’t worked on any iOS projects since. I miss it. It was a fun platform to develop for.

I use my iPhone every day, and I love downloading and playing around with new apps as they hit the App Store. I like seeing all the cool stuff people are building. It’s a community I’d like to be a part of.

Plus, side projects are important.

14) Make at least $1 of revenue from a personal project

This one is one part vanity and one part practical.

It would feel really cool to build something that someone likes enough that they trade real dollars for it. Getting paid for something that came out of my brain seems like the ultimate pat on the back.

That’s the vanity part.

The practical part is that I want to have more control over my time.

I love my current job, but it requires a lot of hours from me each week. Most jobs require employees to dedicate huge chunks of their lives to the company’s cause. That’s the trade we make: their salary and benefits for our time and energy. The company’s mission comes first, and our personal mission gets whatever time and energy remains at the end of a long workday.

This isn’t an inherently bad trade. In fact, it’s a trade I’m happy to make for the time being because I really enjoy working on big budget animated films with a large, talented, and diverse crew of artists and engineers, which wouldn’t be possible without the financial backing of a large corporation.

But this trade might not look as appealing to me in the future. I might choose to stay my current path as an employee long-term, but I don’t want to be forced into that if my heart’s not there anymore.

All this to say I want to start dipping my toes into a more entrepreneurial way of life. See if it’s viable. Find out if I like it.

15) Generate 1000 business / app ideas

Ideas are important because every innovation, big or small, starts as one.

Some ideas emerge fully formed. Others are just a seed—the first spark of innovation—that gets fully realized over time. Some begin life as one thing and transform into something completely different later on.

Being able to generate ideas is an important skill, but idea generation isn’t something we get for free. It’s something that has to be practiced. We have to exercise the idea generating muscles in our brains to foster an environment that’s capable of thinking up things that are uniquely new or impactful.

I want to become an idea generating machine, and practicing a little bit every day is how I’m going to get there. Most of these 1000 ideas won’t be great. Most won’t even be good probably. That’s okay. It’s part of the process. This is a numbers game.

If even 1 truly great idea comes from this batch of 1000, an idea that makes me happier or healthier or more fulfilled or leads me on a grand adventure, or an idea that does any of those things for someone else, then it’ll be time well spent.

A few ideas to get me started:

  • An AR app that paints apartment buildings certain colors based on whether or not they have vacancies, are in your price range, or require a broker fee
  • Plants that change color with the temperature so you can look out your windows and immediately know how hot or cold it is outside
  • A rate my professor kind of thing for apartment superintendents to warn future tenants who are considering moving into poorly managed buildings
  • A live VR experience that puts you on the nose of real rockets as they launch into space

4 down. 996 to go.


16) Watch a rocket launch in person

In my opinion, few things happening in science and technology right now are more exciting than the modern wave of space exploration. Self-driving cars come close, and CRISPR is pretty rad, but I just fucking love space stuff.

I get giddy whenever I watch one of SpaceX’s webcasts, and I still get chills when they land a rocket vertically even though they’ve been doing it regularly for more than two years now.

I’ve written about SpaceX before:

“That moment when the smoke cleared and the Falcon 9 remained upright, silhouetted against the stars it just flew among, was the moment an entire generation of aerospace engineers was born. I truly believe that.”

There’s an electricity that surrounds these launches. I can feel it through my computer monitor, but I want to be closer to it. I want to feel the rumble of engines in my chest and witness firsthand one small step toward a future where regular people could live out their lives among the stars.

17) See the Northern Lights

At the time I’m writing this blog post, seeing the Northern Lights is the one and only item on my 30 before 30 list that I’ve actually already completed.

My girlfriend and I visited Iceland at the end of last September, and while most days were cloudy and overcast, a few weren’t, and one night it happened. There were lights dancing in the sky.

It was beautiful. No words will do the experience justice.

All of Iceland was amazing, but this one experience made the entire trip worth it. It was an incredible spectacle shared with my favorite person.

10/10 would be swept up by the beauty of life and the unknowable universe around me again.

18) Get scuba certified and go scuba diving somewhere tropical

I don’t feel like I need to explain this one. Scuba diving is a universally cool and desirable thing to do, right? How could anyone possibly hate on swimming with fishies and exploring (but not touching) coral reefs?

Going on a scuba adventure seems like a really good excuse to spend a week someplace tropical.

I love all of the recent vacations I’ve taken—there are so many amazing things about Havasupai, Glacier National Park, and Iceland—but none of them had beaches where people could comfortably walk around half naked.

Step 1: Get scuba certified for open waters.

Step 2: Visit a beautiful beach.

Step 3: Be Aquaman. Ride a turtle. Fight a shark if necessary.

Maybe I’ll be able to knock this and surfing out on the same trip.

19) Go on a solo, multi-day backpacking trip

When I moved to NY, I inadvertently moved pretty close to the Appalachian Trail. There’s a train that runs right across the trail between the Telephone Pioneers Shelter and Wiley Shelter, and it makes the AT stop every Saturday morning and Sunday evening.

I’ve gone on weekend backpacking trips on the AT a handful of times the last two years, and I always enjoy my time out on the trail. I’ve never gone alone though.

Hiking and camping with friends is great, but going out alone seems great too. Just great in different ways. I’ll set my own pace. I’ll choose my own breaks. I’ll keep myself company.

There will be more planning involved with a solo trip like this, obviously. Contingency plans in case something goes wrong. But it’s not like I’ll really be alone out there. The AT is a heavily trafficked trail, so other hikers will always be nearby.

Let’s see what I can learn about myself by walking through the woods for a week.

20) Ride a train across the country

I have no idea where my desire to travel by train came from, but this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.

I’ve been on plenty of commuter trains before, but I’ve never ridden one made to travel long distances, like with sleeper cars and private bathrooms and showers and stuff. It seems like a fun way to travel.

It seems like a slow way to travel too, but that’s part of the charm. It would obviously be faster (and cheaper probably) to hop on a plane to get from one coast to the other, but trains go where planes can’t.

Trains go where cars can’t go too. Railroads wind through mountains, chase rivers, and plow through the American countryside in ways that roads typically don’t. The interstate system in the U.S. is an amazing feat of engineering, but it’s a sea of concrete. There’s not much to look at unless you consciously and consistently wander side streets.

Traveling by train on the other hand seems scenic. Beautiful even. At least that’s my impression of it.

This trip really will be about the journey, not the destination.


21) Read 26 books in a single calendar year

I love reading, but I don’t do enough of it. I don’t read enough books at least. I’m constantly reading interesting articles I find online, but that’s just popcorn reading for the most part. Entertaining but shallow. Few articles stay with me for very long.

A good book on the other hand might continue swimming around my head for years after I’ve turned the last page. I’ll go long stretches without thinking about it, and then it’ll unexpectedly pop back into my life like an old friend offering new insights.

I love books for a lot of reasons. I love that books encourage us to flex our imaginations, which is something often lacking from our everyday lives unfortunately. I love that books provide opportunities for us to see the world (both the real world and imagined worlds) from other characters’ perspectives. I love that books can educate and entertain simultaneously often without us even realizing that we’re learning.

Opening yourself up to reading opens yourself up to the best teachers who ever walked the Earth. People like to share their stories, and some of the smartest, most interesting, and most influential people of all-time wrote their stories down. There are lifetimes of lessons learned out there, yours for the taking as long as you’re willing to flip through their pages.

Why 26? Well, there are 52 weeks in a year, so reading 26 books means 1 new book every 2 weeks. A healthy pace I think, and one I’ll be very proud to have reached.

22) Work through the Marie Kondo method

The last time I moved apartments I was kind of overwhelmed by the number of things I owned.

Some of these things I love and use every single day, but most of them are just kind of there. Not serving any immediate purpose. Trailing along wherever I move out of some weird sense of obligation or vague hypothetical future where they’ll once again be called into action.

These things add virtually nothing to my life but represent a perpetual drain on the limited mental energy I wake up with every morning. At least that’s the theory I’m currently sitting on. That’s why I feel like I need Marie Kondo in my life.

23) Catalog every single one of my possessions to learn more about my life’s footprint

I want to create a “stuff” registry so that I have a full and complete picture of all the physical possessions I’ve let into my life. I want to use the Marie Kondo method to reflect and simplify and downsize, and then I want to use this hypothetical registry to keep me honest.

Everything I own will get added, and everything new I acquire later will get added too. Things I buy for myself. Gifts. No exceptions. If I’m responsible for it, then I want it recorded.

I’m hoping a system like this will encourage me to really think about the responsibilities and burdens owning new things imposes. Sometimes these responsibilities and burdens are worth it, but oftentimes they’re not. No more mindlessly collecting or accepting new things.

Also, this way I’ll have a single number I can look at to see how my physical footprint is growing or shrinking over time. Like, I’ll be able to look back at the end of a year and see that I acquired 50 new possessions or whatever.

Does each new thing spark joy?

Seems useful. But that might just be the nerd in me talking.

24) Give a talk as an expert in something in front of at least 100 people

Being viewed as an expert in something (your field of work maybe, but really anything) seems like it would open up a lot of doors. And being asked to speak publicly about a topic (or even being allowed to speak after asking permission to do so) seems like a real mark of expertise.

I’ve done a bit of public speaking in the past. The usual school stuff. The random unique opportunity. Nothing crazy. I’m still not very good at it though. It still makes me nervous.

As I get deeper into life and my career, I’m learning how important good communication skills are. I mean, I always knew they were important skills to have, but I think they’re even more important than most of us think.

There’s so much value in being able to clearly communicate your ideas.

I want to get better at this stuff. I want to get invited to speak at conferences and benefit from all the networking opportunities that come with that. I want to learn how to sell myself and my ideas to others. I want to share the things I’ve learned in ways that could potentially reach a lot of people.

Getting comfortable (and getting good at) giving talks is one way to do all of this.

25) Write an original song on guitar

I used to play guitar every day. I bought myself one in 8th grade, and I basically didn’t put it down for four years.

And then college happened, and I played it less. And then grad school happened, and I didn’t even bother bringing it with me to Philadelphia.

And now my two guitars sit in my living room patiently waiting for me to pick them up again, and every day I disappoint them.

I miss playing.

I’m a little intimidated by the thought of starting over, but music has contributed so many positive things to my life in the past that it seems like a shame to let it go without a fight.

And so fight and play I shall! And even if my playing is poor, I’ll pour my heart into it. Finding things that open our hearts wide enough to pour a little bit out makes life worth living.

26) Get a professional massage

The older I get the tighter my neck and shoulders feel. I’ve got pretty terrible posture, especially when sitting down, which probably contributes. These tiny aches have been around long enough now that they’ve become my default state of being. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have a totally relaxed upper body.

Getting a professional massage seems like a good reset button. Reset my defaults. Remember what a healthy neck and healthy shoulders are supposed to feel like.

And even if none of that proves true, getting a massage will just feel good, and that’s reason enough to include it on my list.

27) Go on a silent retreat

I think it’s incredibly valuable to get out of our own heads sometimes and just be at peace with the way things are. Stop time traveling. Stop wishing past events didn’t happen. Stop worrying about future events that probably won’t happen.

I also think being comfortable being alone is super important. No distractions. Just you hanging out with yourself. Who do you see? Do you enjoy your own company?

I think I’m actually pretty decent at this kind of stuff, but it’s hard to tell most of the time because life as usual moves at like 100 mph.

A silent retreat seems like the opposite. No distractions. Nothing to worry about except the present moment. No one to impress. No goals to check off. Just be. Just breathe. Sounds like a nice change of pace.

28) Pick a recipe book and make every recipe inside of it

I used to love cooking, but at some point during the last two years cooking turned into a chore. Necessary but burdensome. Usually annoying.

Somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten how to have fun in the kitchen. I’ve forgotten how to appreciate cooking as a creative and therapeutic pastime. This goal is an attempt to get some of those good feelings back.

29) Eat at an Iron Chef’s restaurant

This is something I would never splurge on in normal life, but it’s something I know I’ll enjoy if I just go out and do it. I live a short train ride away from New York City, so I really should explore that restaurant scene a bit.

30) Spend a weekend inside a tiny house

Tiny houses are weird/cool things that people mock and admire in turn. I’m still shaping my own opinions on them, and I feel like I should experience their tininess firsthand before I draw any final conclusions.

They seem fun to me. Maybe not fun enough to raise a family of four in, but definitely fun enough for a weekend getaway for two.

T-minus 1100 days until I turn 30.



Image credit: Jackson Hendry