“According to my birth certificate, I turn 30 this year,” wrote Taylor Swift in the pages of the April 2019 issue of Elle magazine, followed by a list of 30 lessons she learned before reaching 30.
I cut and pasted that article into my collage book to reread and study, knowing that I would one day write my own version of this. Ever since then, I’ve been jotting down ideas for this list. The most exciting thing about my upcoming birthday on July 25 is that finally, I get to wrap up this article and share it with all of you!
Here are 30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30!
✨ Before we get started —
You can listen to the audiobook of this essay on Patreon for FREE :)
^ hobbits give others gifts on their own birthday so…
1. Letting go makes room for something even better.
This feels like a good place to start, as I let go of my 20s (whatever that means!). I have learned to slow down and pay attention to how something feels: does it light me up? Does it inspire me? Or am I clinging, clenching, and gripping out of habit? For example, Leaving social media was daunting, but freeing. I was amazed by how much space opened for me creatively and socially.
2. Age does matter.
Growing up, I was a mature kid. Being the youngest in many group settings taught me to be learning, and to surround myself with others who know more than I do. Looking back though, I don’t think I should have spent so much energy trying to hide my age. I wasn’t fooling anyone. For instance, at 17, I shouldn’t have been trying to pass for 19. I should have embraced who I was, as a smart 17 year-old. I now embrace learning from those much older, much younger, and the same age as I am. I take life experience into account as one of many factors for wisdom, and know that I have so much to learn from other generations.
3. Life is cyclical.
The planets are moving, seasons are changing, and as a person with a period, my body cycles through hormone levels, moods, and energies internally (see my Period for Artists interview with Claire Baker!). I used to fear change, to worry about being tired sometimes and blasting through work other times. Creativity, physical capacity, how up for socialising I am – this all shifts like the tide, and I am no longer shocked and offended at my own self for feeling differently. I cycle through many aesthetic moods: it’s fun to play with glamour, minimalism, rustic chic, fandom merch, big florals, and glitter. I’ll take it all! Oh and my handwriting changes too – it’s ok!
4. I am lactose intolerant.
I feel better when I know my body’s boundaries, and when I assert them. Even though it’s not an allergy, I learned that a stomachache is enough of a reason to speak up, to others and to myself. Plus, dairy makes me grumpy. (More on this in The Art Life’s Artist’s Way trailer)
5. I have low social capacity…compared to societal norms.
Words like ‘introvert’ and ‘neurodivergent’ help me communicate to others that I have needs that differ from society’s default. I phrase it in this clunky way to emphasise my certainty that my brain’s way is valid, even though society is set up to support neurotypical extroverts. My favourite way of connecting with the world is through writing. This counts as a contribution to society. I also create my own community in a way that supports my needs, in hopes that I am also setting up structures that support others with those same, under-acknowledged needs.
6. A lot of pain I have experienced counts as trauma.
I’ve spent years belittling things that hurt a lot. I covered up my pain with guilt that other people experience ‘real pain’ or have it worse. Comparison is not helpful, especially when I’m hurting. Instead, I focus on healing my hurt first.
7. I stopped counting how many books I read.
Goodreads was the first social media platform I quit. I felt pressure to prove my identity as a Reader by reading more pages and more books. I enjoy reading more by dropping the number goals – except for my aim for at least half of the books I read to be written by authors of colour. It’s not a perfect solution, quantifying inclusive reading goals in this way. But I’ve noticed that if I don’t hold myself accountable to this intention, I end up reading mostly white authors.
8. I know how to cook with salt.
A staple in our cupboard is Cornish sea salt flakes, for sprinkling on a salad or a meal just before serving. I also learned how to layer salt in my cooking. The book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat taught me so much!
9. I have some tried and true wardrobe staples:
- Doc Marten boots
- Converse high tops
- Hard Rock Cafe tee
- Over-the-knee socks
- High waisted shorts in a dark colour
- My Exeter College scarf
10. Have you tried insoles?
My shoe size is a US 7, but my Converse shoe size is 7.5 with two insoles. I size up to accommodate my poor little toe. Then I add a pair of insoles for arch support and another to fill the shoe that’s too big.
11. I am an Artist.
I live each day deliberately and creatively, and that is enough to qualify as An Artist. I create essays, collages, doodles, songs, but also podcasts, routines, plates of fancy toast. See…every episode of The Art Life for more on this.
12. Labels are helpful, but they are not everything.
Sometimes having a name for a thing is such a relief: Artist, Essayist, Introvert, Depression, Neurodivergence, Gryffindor. But labels only get me so far.
13. It’s ok to admit when I’m uncomfortable or nervous.
I don’t have to pretend to be confident and completely okay all the time. In fact, I can be confident enough to admit my vulnerability sometimes. It is powerful to state the truth and admit that I don’t have all the answers (NO ONE DOES). We’re all just showing up, and that’s simpler to do when I don’t have to pretend like I have it all together.
14. All activism must be intersectional.
When it comes to social justice, I am on an imperfect and continual quest for inclusivity. I challenge myself to learn more about marginalised experiences and the changes I can make as an individual to make the spaces I occupy safer. Some simple things include being aware of the power of simple linguistic phrases, many of which should be scrutinised and reconsidered. For example, recently I was reminded that ‘crazy’ is an ableist micro-aggression. I can come up with a more creative, descriptive word to use.
I can set rules for myself about remembering birthdays, returning texts, and repeating someone’s name back to them when we first meet. But the most important thing about friendship is to care, and be there in the best way I can.
16. I feel better when I do 10 minutes of yoga every day, and show up for class.
I also learned that sometimes I bail on yoga class because I’m feeling overwhelmed socially. My personal rule is that I can cancel if I’m socially exhausted, but must show up if I ‘just don’t feel like it’. It’s even more important to show up when I feel ‘too busy’! I love going to Kayla Kurin’s virtual yoga classes, from the corner of my bedroom. I can wear my pajamas, and my dog can come too. My favourite strength training is climbing. My favourite cardio is hillwalking and cycling. I feel better when I move my body, preferably outside!
17. My body should not be in a permanent state of ache.
The best specific action I’ve taken for my mental health was to track my sleep (in a cute, colour-coded grid). I also have had back pain for… ever? People complain about sore shoulders all the time, so I assumed this was just a part of life. But it doesn’t have to be! I can feel strong, every day! Pressing through pain is unproductive. When my body encourages me to rest or take care, I am wise to listen. My friend Kerrin recommended the book Heal Your Body by Louise L. Hay, and it is amazing.
I put on an episode of Gossip Girl, and make myself sit still through the whole episode to let my nails dry properly. I think this method infuses that Blair Waldorf glamour too.
19. Intuitive hairstyling!
I style my hair best when I go by feel, not look. If my hair feels good, I feel good. And then I tend to look good too! I can change my hair several times a day to shake out my energy by way of my Leo mane.
20. My job is to feel good.
I got that phrasing from Gala Darling, who also taught me that the more fun I have, the more money I make. My best projects began with the space to have imaginative whims. I prioritise play!
21. Never leave earbuds in my pocket.
When my earbuds are missing, they are pretty much always in my pocket. BUT WHICH POCKET? I can leave them nearly anywhere as long as they’re not in the pocket of any article of my clothing.
22. Sometimes it’s fun to lean in to the caricature of myself.
It is certainly more fun than apologising for my quirks or trying to explain them. Instead of withholding my ridiculousness, I let it run wild, and laugh WITH others about my love of planning or pink or astrology or making everything about Taylor Swift. I embrace being so intensely, joyously me.
23. Reward the process, not the outcome.
I have been practicing grooming my dog Snug, who is not a fan of the activity. I realise that she is better behaved when I reward her continually for sitting still. I cannot communicate to her that she’ll get a big treat at the end of the session. Those terms are unacceptable to her. This applies to myself as well: it is better to reward myself along the way, rather than make a treat contingent upon achieving a certain outcome.
24. I can be a fan and accept that something is flawed.
My enjoyment is not the same as my 100% endorsement of a thing or its creator. Pretty much all media is flawed in some way. I can be a loyal fan to something I love, AND criticise its creator. It’s ok, and often necessary, to call out missteps in the hopes that future projects will be better, whether it’s from this creator, or someone else.
25. I need to write every day.
Need. Preferably first thing. Preferably before talking to anyone. It is my happiest state. This assertion was inspired at a young age by the Abby Hayes books, validated by Stephen King, and made certain by years of my experience.
26. Pay attention to the sun and the moon.
I love to wake up with the sun and go to sleep when it sets. I love catching golden hour and feeling the glow of moonlight. I need more sleep in winter and less in summer. I love to do rituals for every New and Full Moon.
27. I really love music.
I play two instruments, have years of opera training, shopped for CDs every week, have several musical soundtracks and albums memorised, write my own songs for fun, and yet… did not realise I was A Music Person. My love of music comes so naturally to me I just thought everyone felt this way. Songs help me process life and the right soundtrack gets me through just about any project or situation. When in doubt, make a playlist.
28. I am happier when I go out less.
I like staying home. I enjoy travel more when I go less, and have more time to miss it. I get a lot out of anticipation, looking forward to a trip. When I do travel, I want to be fully present, not just ticking off things to do.
Underpromise and overdeliver. When I schedule a meeting for a certain amount of time, it is professional and kind to stick to the promised time. My favourite tip if the meeting is overrunning, is to check in at the scheduled end time to ask the person if they have a few more minutes.
30. Dream fully and imagine deeply – long before scaling back.
Before budgeting, asking permission, getting someone else’s opinion, or considering logistics in any way: be sure to imagine the best case fantasy scenario. Often when I’m stuck, I realise I’m buried in details and have lost sight of my big dream. Letting my imagination run wild brings me some scary, yet totally worth it possibilities. Shoot for the moon!
➡️ What have you learned before turning whatever age you’re turning this year? :)
Until the Next Chapter,