50(ish) Lessons I've learned at 30
I used to be pretty freaked out about turning 30.
(edit: If you are about to turn 30 I cannot recommend Dolly Alderton's essay about turning 30 which is in the paperback copy of Everything I Know About Love. Unfortunately, it's not in the hardback which I have, so I read it three times in Waterstones before my friend Kay bought the book and dutifully photographed and sent me every page of the essay. I've since reread it three more times)
30 felt like I should have my shit together. That I'd be a "grow up". That I'd know what I was doing. That I'd be a "responsible adult".
And I just didn't feel that way.
Arbritary ages have a way of making us reflect, making us think about alll those "shoulds." What I "should" have done. Where I "should" be in life. What I thought I was going to be. And I think 30 is a big one for that.
I don't remember ever imagining being 20. There didn't seem to be any kind of clock ticking on starting my third decade. No expectations, no rules. I was in my second year of uni when I turned 20. Doing the same things as everyone else I knew. About to go on a year abroad. Working just hard enough to get by with my studies on top of five hours of dance classes a week, a blog, a part time job and writing for the student newspaper.
I didn't think I knew what I was doing then, and I didn't expect to.
So I was surprised to find, when I was going through my blog looking for content for my 10 years of blogging post a few months ago, a post of "lessons I'd learned at 20." (It's very sweet. You can read it here.)
Who knew I was so wise at 20 to be dispelling advice? And audacious enough to think anyone would listen to a 20 year old?
But some of the lessons are good, and most of them are lessons I definitely did not learn at 20.
But many are ones I have learned now I'm turning 30.
I'm turning 30 in the middle of a global pandemic, which has a way of making you look at things differently. The night out with friends was cancelled. The Birthday Party with my family I'd had planned for months (which was meant to be today), cancelled. Even the National Trust trip I'd so looked forward to is no longer possible.
So now it's come to it, I'm not freaking out about turning 30. Because are a whole load of other things to be freaking out about!
But the reality is, I made my peace with it a few weeks ago. I was away in the Yorkshire Dales for my husband's birthday, a trip I'd bought him for Christmas, about to do a parkrun at a National Trust park, the whole purpose of the trip.
And I said, you know, I think I'm ready to turn 30 because I know, deep down, I am 30.
And I don't just mean that literally. Of course, I literally am 30 years old. I've been alive for 30 years. But I'm also, and this is a huge generalisation, very "30."
I no longer want to go on the nights out of my twenties, or waste the energy on relationships and friendships that were more work than fun. I no longer want to feel unsettled and out of control and untethered like I did in my twenties. I no longer feel like I don't know what I'm doing with my life or my relationships or my career. I don't want the drama of my twenties.
I'm ready for my thirties. I'm settled in my career and married to the man of my dreams and I just want to go visit National Trust sights and make us dinner and fall asleep at 9.30pm every night. I just want to play board games with my friends and have them over for dinner parties.
(And just to point out, I know these are very "stereotypical thirties" things and I am very aware of that. And just because this is what my thirties look like it doesn't mean this is right for anyone else!)
Most importantly, I know who I am now. I know what I like. I know myself so much better than I did my twenties. I'm no longer peer-pressured or cajoled into things I don't want to do. I'm settled and happy with who I am.
And I've learned a lot. Oh god have I learned a lot. And I have so so so much more to learn. And I'm learning every day.
But I want to share what I have learned along the way. And hey, just because I've learned these things doesn't mean I follow them. Not at all. But like I said, I'm always learning. And we'll see what I learn by 40.
(edit: This is a really long one. You might want to settle down with a brew. Also it's 50(ish) because one time I counted I had 51, then I had 49, and anyway it's a lot).
- Everyone has their own timelines. Someone will get promoted to your position who is 5 years younger than you. Someone else will get married and buy a house years before you've even thought about it. We're all on our own path. As my Dad always says "Life is a marathon, not a sprint." Wherever you're at is exactly where you are meant to be (cliche, but true).
- Nobody knows what they’re doing. Seriously. Even your parents. Go on, ask them. We're all winging it. Isn't that hugely reassuring?
- People don’t care about you as much as you think. No seriously. You know how much you think about every single stupid thing you do? Every little embarrassing thing you've done or said? And how everyone else is thinking about that stupid thing you did? No, you're wrong. They're busy thinking about whatever stupid thing they said or did. I promise.
- Being outside is the best. Something weird happened when I hit about 28 and all I want to do now is go on long walks in pretty places. 99% of the time, going outside for a walk or a run or a cycle or a rollerskate or whatever will make you feel better.
- Being productive all the time isn’t always helpful. Guys we all know this one and it's hard and it's a millennial mentality that we can't shake but seriously please just give yourself a break every now and again. Your hobby does not have to be a side hustle, seriously! Once it's a side-hustle, it's work and once it's work, it's not fun. Find a non-productive, or at least less-productive hobby you enjoy. I recommend cross-stitch, playing the piano badly, board games, codeword puzzles and online Scrabble.
- You are capable of more than you think. Did 10-years-ago-me think I'd run a marathon? Erm did she hell. She'd tried Couch to 5K three times and couldn't run more than 5 minutes. You've undoubtedly heard this story a million times, but I never thought I'd run a marathon. Was the training the hardest thing I've ever done in my life? Yes. Do I want to do another one? Not for a really, really, really long time. But I'm still so proud of the work I put in and what I achieved, because 10 years ago I would never in a million years thought that was possible.
- You probably have too many clothes. Yeah I know. Add this to my list of "lessons I know but am yet to learn."
- Nobody will notice if you wear the same outfit to two weddings. Absolutely mind blowing info here from Lauren Bravo and her book How to Break Up with Fast Fashion. People don't notice what you wear. Seriously. And if they do, they don't care. Save yourself some money when you next go to a wedding.
- Being able to cook is a joy. Before I got obsessed with recipe books and cooking, I lived on frozen fish in sauce, mashed potato and frozen veg in my first year of uni. Now cooking is one of the biggest joys in my life. And I'm so grateful for that.
- It can be hard to be true to yourself. As mentioned in the intro, I know myself really well. This doesn't mean I always like myself, and it definitely doesn't mean I don't feel pressure all the GD time to not be myself. It's hard to say no to things you know aren't for you, or putting yourself out there for things you know feel right. It's essential to be true to yourself, but it doesn't means it's easy.
- Not everyone has to be your best friend. This kind of links to the above. You might not always fit in. In workplaces, in family settings, in social situations. But not everyone has to be your best friend. You can get on with people without being omg best friends. Which leads to...
- Best friends are hard to find. I used to get so caught up in the number of friends I had, and even last year when I had my hen do I felt insecure at time for "only" having 7 friends on my weekend away. But actually, I am so so so lucky to have the quality of friendships I have the women in my life who are my absolute world.
- All relationships take work, including friendships. Even when you have loooooong left the schoolyard, friendships can still have their challenges, and they need the same amount of commitment and attention and sometimes biting your tongue, as any relationship does.
- Decision fatigue is real. I am obsessed with decision fatigue. It's why I run the same run routes, workout on the same days of the week, plan my meals ahead, eat the same breakfast most days and have leftovers for lunch, and, recently, starting planning my outfits too. Decision making is exhausting, so I try to do as little of it as possible, or as much as possible in one go!
- Knowing when to keep going and when to give up is a huge challenge and hard skill to learn. This is one I am always learning. We gave up on our first house and it was 100% the right decision. I've stepped away from jobs, from friendships, from hobbies, from relationships. Sometimes letting go is the right answer, even when it feels like giving up.
- Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Got an enormous mountain to move? One step at a time, baby! All those little steps add up, you just have to take that first one.
- Try to find three things every day to be grateful for. I use an app called HappyFeed to log 3 happy things a day. Some days I have dozens, sometimes it's literally, dinner was nice, watched TV, read my book.
- Instagram probably doesn’t make you feel good. I consciously started to limit my Instagram use about 12 months ago and now I don't go on at all. I post very rarely, maybe once every 2-3 months and I never scroll through. For me, it didn't make me feel good. I didn't like what I was putting out there. I found the need to document everything exhausting. I didn't like how it made me feel seeing how other people presented themselves out there. It's personal choice and yes I do get the odd bit of FOMO, but honestly, I don't miss it and I really recommend it.
- Comfort is usually the best outfit. Goddddd I am so 30 but the one thing I have learned over the last few years is I basically want to be comfy all the time and I'm fine with it. If you buy something and you know it's pinching a bit under the arm or a bit too loose in the legs or a bit too tight, you won't wear it, I assure you. Send it back.
- You will figure out your style and be okay with it. I love floral dresses okay? I love florals and I love colour and I wear turtleneck jumpers on Tuesdays cause that's when I have my hair up (see: decision fatigue). I've tried all kinds of trends and styles and in the end, I know what I like. And it's probably a floral dress.
- Buy a lot of phone chargers. I just got a fancy-schmancy iPhone 11 which has a battery life of like, 2 days, but I stil have a charger in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room, at work and in the car. You can't be too careful, people!
- Always bring a book. I literally never go anywhere without a book. Even to the supermarket or to someone's house. Just, always have a book with you.
- Time enjoyed isn’t time wasted. God this is such a good quote and it's so true but it's so hard (again, millennial mindset). One I'm still working on.
- It’s hard to know when you need to recharge your batteries and when you need to push yourself. Yep, add to "still working on."
- Self improvement often won’t make you any friends. Oooh this one is hard and also hard to not make me sound like a horrible person, but telling people you get up at 5.30am to go for a run every day is not going to make you super popular. I tell you this from experience. My method is just to not tell people because I don't want to come across as a dick, and also cause it's personal to me and private (another reason I stopped using Instagram) and I don't want to make other people feel bad if they don't do this thing I do!
- Not wearing makeup is a huge joy, as are days at home in comfy pants. Twenty-year-old-me wouldn't have been seen dead without makeup (which is laughable when I look back on HOW BAD my makeup was at 20). Thirty-year-old-me cares a lot less (edit: I thank running for this a lot! How many makeup-free, post-race, medal photos of me exist? A lot. And what do I notice when I see them? How bloody happy I look! So I'm like, if people have seen my makeup-free face in race photos they probably won't be too surprised to see it in real life. Saying that, if I am makeup-free and need to go to the shops, I will put running clothes on and pretend I've just been for a run. Again, work in progress.)
- Good relationships should feel easy and make you feel better. I say this from such a place of priviledge I know, but seriously if any relationship you are in feels like work all the time, it maybe isn't the right one.
- Time with friends is invaluable. My two best friends and I have a three-weekly recurring calendar invite set up and we always do something together every three weeks, and my other best friend and I have a date once a month. Get that in your diary and don't skip it!
- Make an agenda! I used to get so upset when I'd get home from hanging out with friends and be like, oh I forgot to mention X or nobody asked me about Y. The solution? AN AGENDA. Both those meet ups mentioned above have agendas. We meet up, we get a piece of paper, we write down everything we want to discuss. Everyone gets their say, nobody feels left out, nothing gets unsaid. Genius.
- No one path or tool or hobby is right for everyone. I love running. I love parkrun. I love reading. I love cooking. Just because I like doing them doesn't mean they're right for anyone else.
- Everyone is doing the best they can. I can be really judgey. I know this about myself. It's not my favourite personality trait by a long shot, but I'm aware I can be like that. So this is one for me to remember!
- Relaxation is good, but "active leisure" is best. There's a quote about this in one of my favourite books, The Happiness Advantage, about how we will always choose the path of least resistance, and how this often means we feel like we waste our free time. On a Sunday, Phil and I quite often stay at home once we've been for a run or to our military fitness class, and even though we know we need a break and a relax, we usually end up feeling worse. In The Happiness Advantage, Sean Achor explains the difference between "passive leisure" - watching TV, scrolling through social media, and "active leisure" - going to a museum, playing sport, engaging in a game or a hobby, and how much more pleasure we get from active leisure and actually doing things. This is a hard one to learn, and as Phil has pointed out, can feel like it's supporting the "productivity at all costs" school of millennial thought, but I don't think this is true. I think it's about enjoying hobbies or activities, like going to visit friends or family, or engaging with a hobby, rather than just siting around "relaxing". Again, another one that is hard to remember! (I have to keep rereading the chapter over and over to remind myself!)
- Document your holiday (even privately). When Phil and I went to Canada, we took hundreds and hundreds of photos. What we ate, what we did. I wrote a list in my phone of every single thing we did every single day to remind us when we got back. We posted a handful of photos on social media, but the rest of them were for us. I love looking back over the note or the shared photo album we have, or discussing what we did each day of our Honeymoon, and reliving it makes it feel real again!
- Read The Happiness Advantage. (Or at least listen to the TED talk). I promise you, it's not The Secret, but it is about how we think "oh when I achieve this I'll be happy", but actually the happier you are, the more good things happen to you, and the more you notice happy things are you. I have it both on audio where I first read it, and a paperback copy I refer to all the time. I love it.
- Sometimes you just have to listen. You know how in Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus (I know! Throwback!) they talk about how sometimes women want to moan and don't want a solution? Yeah sometimes we all just need to listen and say "that sucks."
- You’ll never feel ready. For that job, for that lifestyle change, for that training course, for that next step in your personal life. If you're waiting to be ready, you'll be waiting a long time.
- Being nice is okay! There's been so much written about people, women especially, being "too nice", and I'm hear to say it's bull. The first thing I learned about Phil when my cousin was setting us up was "he's the nicest guy in the world." And you know what, he is, and it's great and he's lovely and I really don't get why people don't want to be with really nice lovely people? I always say when I die (I know, morbid) I would rather people say "oh she was so nice", than "oh she was so successful" or whatever. Nice is nice.
- Moan and leave, don’t moan and stay. Wise words from my beloved Grandad, and the words I like to think of as his legacy. It can apply to loads of things but for me, it's always been what's made me leave a job that no longer made me happy. Moan and leave, don't moan and stay.
- Most things can be improved by a little bit every day - there's no quick fix! Yeah I know if I do my glute-strengthening exercises every day I won't get knee pain when I'm running but can't it be magically fixed? Still working on this one guys.
- It’s okay to change your mind. We have a running joke in our house - Charlotte has to come to her own conclusions. I can be super stubborn about wanting to do something, or not doing something and you can tell me I'm wrong til you're blue in the face. But I have to come to the conclusion that I was wrong. And it's okay to be wrong. And it's okay to change your mind.
- Not everyone is as lucky as you. Check your priviledge. Always working on this one.
- Don’t be too proud to admit that sometimes you need to hide your phone to be able to concentrate! I regularly have to put my phone in the other room to be able to read for an hour, or work or concentrate on a film. I read recently in Kimberly Wilson's brilliant How to Build a Healthy Brain that even being in the same room as their phone was enough of a distraction for participants to do less well on a test. So if you're as easily distracted as me, move it away!
- If you find something fun or interesting it doesn’t matter if someone else thinks it’s boring. I think parkrun is the single greatest thing of all time and I could write a book about it. I have strong feelings about running training plans. I could talk all day about books or cooking or National Trust. And other people might think my interests are boring AND THAT'S OKAY. Never stop being passionate about what you love.
- Just do the thing you keep procrasting over. Urgh I know, easier said than done. But the other day I reordered my sock drawer which I've been meaning to do for like, 6 months. It took me 10 minutes.
- Everyone changes, you included, and that’s okay. I think we allow ourselves to look back on our former selves with a lot more forgiveness than we do other people. I'm in no way the person I was 5 years ago, and neither is anyone else I know. People change, we grow apart, we come back together. That's life.
- Be with someone whose values match yours. Compatiability is wide ranging and changeable. Some peoople say opposites attract, others believe you should find someone whose personality matches yours. But I think the most important thing is shared values. How you feel about money, your family, your jobs, your lives. That's what's more important than whether you have the same favourite film or grew up in the same town.
- You can still make new friends as an adult! Yes, it's much more hard and scary than as a kid when you just share your Barbie with them, or your Mums happen to be friends, but I've made loads of friends as an adult by asking someone, hey, do you fancy getting a coffee some time?
- Try not to isolate one part of your personality or your body or yourself that you don’t like, remember you are all of your parts, good and bad. This is excellent advice from my friend, Sarah. Of course we all have times when we really, really don't like one part of ourselves. But if you like yourself as a whole, which most of us do, you need to focus on yourself as a whole person, not just the bits you do or don't like. This is a really hard one but so useful if you can get it right.
- Don't multitask. You won't enjoy any of the things you're doing. In the words of Ron Swanson, "Don't half ass two things. Whole ass one thing." And in the words of Charlotte Cantillon "don't be scrolling through Twitter while you're trying to watch a film. You will not remember the film."
- Sometimes done is better than perfect. I always say this is my life motto. Sure if you're doing brain surgery or flying a plane, perfect is probably ideal. But if you're as much of an overthinker as me (who claims to not be a perfectionist but then read The Confidence Kit and found out she probably is?!), this is often a helpful lifeline.
And that's 50, I think. 50?! I definitely planned to have 30 but hey, who knew I was so wise eh?
Tomorrow is my 30th Birthday, so I'll see you on the flip side!