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30 Things I've Learned in 30 Years




Today, I’m saying hello to my thirties. 

I can’t say I feel particularly different today or woke up with a new mature outlook on life, but I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t spend yesterday sitting wide-eyed and muttering “holy fuck I’m 30 tomorrow”.

Turning 30 never scared me, or, more accurately, it hasn’t scared me in recent years. My 20-year-old self was certainly aghast at the idea that I’d ever turn 30. I remember having a conversation with someone when I was 19 where I said: “I can’t imagine my life beyond 30, what do you do with your life when you know you don’t want children?”.

I don’t know exactly what I’m planning to do with the next decade of my life, but I’m no longer looking towards my 30s as if it’s a big black hole. I still feel relatively young in the grand scheme of things, even if I still don’t really understand TikTok.

Back when I was 21, I wrote a blog post called 21 Things I’ve Learned in 21 Years and then another similar one when I was 25. I stand by most of the advice in both of these posts (even if my writing skills have improved since then). Both of these posts were inspired by the ever-incredible Sarah Von Bargen, who penned her own 31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years post over a decade ago. She’s one of my favourite bloggers of all time and I’m now almost the same age as she was when I started reading her blog (seriously, read her blog, it’s life-changing stuff and a lot of her advice-column style posts have helped shape the person I am today).

So, naturally, I’m writing another one to mark my 30th birthday because that’s how I roll.

1. Sometimes, things just aren’t meant to be.

That person wasn’t right for you. Friends grow in different and incompatible directions. You failed that course because your brain isn’t naturally inclined towards that topic. You didn’t get the job because they felt someone else just had the right (not more!) experience. You fell madly in love and then three years later discover that it wasn’t forever.

Maybe you did do everything you could: completed all the recommended reading, carried out your fair share of the cleaning, wore the perfect interview outfit and it still didn’t work out. This happens and it’s not a reflection of your own talents, personality, merit, or qualifications.

2. But always give things your best shot

While it’s true that some things are just not meant to be, it’s also true that sometimes you didn’t give things your best shot. Always work hard enough that you can walk away knowing that it just wasn’t meant to be.

Most of the regrets that follow me around to this day are situations where I know I could have tried harder, but didn’t. In contrast, I have always made my peace with failed projects, bad grades, and break-ups where I knew there was nothing else I could have done.

3. Skinny isn’t always healthy

At 20-years-old I was the skinniest I’ve ever been and was approached romantically and sexually on the regular. At 20-years-old I was also very stressed, in a bad place, and didn’t eat very much. I also fell ill with a big case of tonsillitis which left me bed-bound for two weeks. Healthwise, I was actually at my lowest.

Fast forward to today, and I’m probably the biggest I’ve ever been (even though I’m still relatively skinny in the grand scheme of things) but I’m also at my healthiest. I eat when I’m hungry and swim regularly - and haven’t had tonsillitis in years.

4. My longest-running friendships were the ones I never saw coming

Have you ever met someone and immediately thought “I want to be this person’s friend!?”. I have! Alas, these friendships very rarely worked out long term. All my closest friendships are with people who were pretty unassuming at first glance and the connection deepened naturally and gradually over time.

5. There’s a difference between giving up and walking away from something you’ve outgrown

“Finish what you started” is actually pretty shit advice. Yes, you should always work hard and keep going even through the tough bits if it will help you reach a larger goal. But don’t confuse this with staying in a relationship/finishing a degree/maintaining a blog that is weighing you down and doesn’t contribute to a longer-term dream.

6. A degree is a lot of time and money if you don’t need it

Since graduating from university over 8 years ago, about 10% of my degree has been useful. I work in a field where rising to the top without a degree is not unheard of. I could still be in the same place today without my degree (and minus the debt). So much of what I know about marketing and communications has been learned from on-the-job training, mentorship, online courses, books, and industry magazines.

The government will pay your tuition fees in Scotland (we still have loans for living costs, which is where my debt lies) but the universities are still private institutions that exist to make money. Therefore they’ll run courses that they know fine well won’t make someone more employable in the real world.

If you need a degree to pursue your chosen career path then I wish you all the luck in the world. I’d however advise any school leavers who don’t know what they want to do long term to stay away from further education and only return if you require a specific qualification. You also never know: you might end up finding something vocational that you love and never have to pay back a single penny of student debt.

(For any wannabe marketers: the most straightforward route to a job is a marketing degree from a respected university but it’s not the only way).

7. If you’re at university, do more than just get your degree

While I might not use my degree all that much, the extracurriculars I took part in while at university have contributed towards my success in the real world. When I started attending graduate interviews for marketing roles with an International Management degree, they didn’t ask much about my degree because, well, it wasn’t very relevant. But they did always want to know more about the Cupcake & Baking Society, which I founded. I also blagged myself a fairly professional part-time job in my university’s Careers Centre, which was also relevant and a great talking point in interviews.

Everyone I went to university with who became successful in the real world did a lot more at university than just getting stuck into academia. If you are going to university I would 100% recommend getting involved in some way: whether it’s a sports team, class representative, working part-time in the university, or running for the Student Executive.

8. Treat yourself the way you would if you were dating someone

I first came across the concept of dating yourself in my early 20s and it’s one of the best self-care principles I’ve ever engaged in. I keep my room tidy even if no one else will be inside my bedroom. I shave my body often and always wear nice underwear (except when on my period). I also have one tattoo that no one is ever going to see unless they see me near naked. And I make myself beautiful dinners that are usually associated with entertaining. I deserve to feel good, even when I’m by myself.

9. Opportunities to have sex while single can be, uh, rather spontaneous

I’ve heard people mutter that when you’re single you don’t need to shave your legs or keep your bedroom tidy. In my experience this is bullshit. When you’re in a monogamous relationship you sort of know when you might be getting laid (partner away on a work trip? No sex for you! Partner ill? Probably not.).

When you’re single (and open to casual sex), however, you don’t always know when the next opportunity for sex will occur. I’ve certainly woken up not expecting to get laid that day but somehow did (sometimes without much effort on my part).

If you’re single, open to casual sex and that sex will likely involve penetration, keep a condom on you at all times.

10. Stay on good terms, unless they were an asshole

When I was young and petty, I would fully remove people from my life just because we hadn’t spoken in a while. This led to some regret and awkward moments when I visited my hometown. I then sheepishly re-added some people on Facebook. These days, I only go no-contact with people who have caused harm to myself or others.

My childhood best friend has taken a very different life path from myself, but we still tag each other in fun 90s memes. Someone who I had a fling with at uni is still my friend to this day, even if we didn’t speak for a few years while we let the dust settle. It’s lovely to still have these connections years into the future even if the relationship itself had to shift a little bit to allow it. I’m grateful I never ended things with these two people.

11. The scariest self-development is the most worthwhile

Decorating your room, drinking enough water, engaging in meaningful movement, developing your personal style, signing up for a night class, and going or a walk in the morning are all great things to do in pursuit of mental, physical and emotional health.

However, I owe most of my modern-day happiness to the scary self-care: confronting myself about times where I’d been the screw-up, coming out as bisexual, and telling some people to get the fuck out of my life. The little things helped me get closer to the day where I’d have the courage to tackle the big stuff, for sure, but for me to really feel myself shift into place I’d have to take a deep breath and do the shit that was scaring me. That’s where happiness was waiting for me.

12. Platonic relationships can be just as fulfilling as romantic and familial relationships

As someone who lives far away from their birth family and hasn’t been in an official romantic relationship for a decade, my friends have become my main source of social and emotional support. And they’ve done a bloody good job of it.

When you really think about it, a lot of the roles we assign to family members or romantic partners can be fulfilled by platonic friendships: living together, financial support, a plus one to a wedding, baring your soul, daily communication, an emergency contact, visiting you in hospital, and a travel buddy. None of these roles inherently require the relationship to be romantic, but we are socialised to think that they should be.

13. People aren’t mindreaders

Is your partner not quite hitting the spot in bed? Is your bestie overstepping your boundaries? Is your flatmate’s music a bit too loud? Was your interns work not quite up to scratch? You can frown about these things and bitch to your friends, but if you want to solve the problem you need to speak to the person.

If you speak to them and they still don’t sexually satisfy you/respect your boundaries/turn the music down then you are free to begin questioning whether this person is right for you (or your business).

14. There is an art to giving constructive criticism

Giving feedback (especially negative) is fucking hard and I wouldn’t claim to be great at it. However, I have improved over the years and have a few tips:
  • feedback should be given with the aim of improving the situation
  • use a friendly (potentially firm) tone
  • give specifics
  • do it to their face
  • if it’s feedback on a professional piece of work, back in up with experience, data, and previous campaigns (“I don’t like it” is not feedback)
15. Don’t ever beg for the bare minimum

You may occasionally need to have difficult conversations with people in your life about their behaviour. This is normal, don’t panic about it. But if you have to ask somebody for something extremely bare minimum, you might need to think whether you want this person in your life. If they can’t get the bare minimum right sweetie then they aren’t going to get the big stuff right.

Bare minimum behaviour includes basic kindness and respect, not invading your privacy, not cheating on your spouse, not lying outside of white lies, letting you know where you stand, not gossiping, respecting your time, saying please and thank you, not mocking your hobbies, allowing you to be your honest self, not controlling you, respecting personal boundaries, and physical safety. You should never have to ask for these things.

I used to think I was being unreasonable when I would get angry at people for small things. Now I realise that if someone can’t reach a bar that’s lying on the floor I have even more of a right to be annoyed. If you’re not asking for a lot then it’s even more of a joke.

16. You can’t be an expert on everything

No fully grown adult has enough hours in the week to become an expert on 10 different topics (even on furlough I didn’t have that kind of time). At most, there will be three topics you can become proficient in, one of them being your profession.

From a career standpoint, I’ve learnt that it’s best to have a specialism within your field, but have two other areas that you can fall back on. My specialism is copywriting and website maintenance, but I’m also skilled enough in social media and SEO that I can bring the skills to the table if need be. I have little Google Ads, graphic design and PR experience - and I don’t apologise for it.

17. Know when it’s better to ask for help or pay someone else to do something

I used to be stubbornly independent and would attempt to do everything myself. I was an independent and capable woman who didn’t need no help! As a result, I ended up with some disjointed blog layouts, dodgy haircuts, and once mildly electrocuted myself!

This is also applicable to your professional life. If you’re a freelancer, know when to outsource different tasks and don’t attempt to be a Jack of All Trades. If you work in an office, know the different strengths and weaknesses in your team and recognise when someone else should take on a particular project.

18. Know your weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses and there’s no shame in admitting them. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that people will respect you more if you just say that you’re not that good at driving/cooking/talking to strangers/maths rather than faking it.

In my professional life, I have sat in on interviews where the candidate’s response to “what are your weaknesses?” is “I just work a bit too hard, you know?”. Just be honest that you’re not good at presentations or excel calculations. You’re actually more likely to get the job because maybe your weaknesses aren’t that big a deal to them or something they can put you on a training programme for.

19. Older men who date much younger women are usually immature af (or really shallow)

When I was in my mid-twenties I dated two guys who were older than me by a decade. Obviously, at the time I thought it was because I was super mature and a boy my own age couldn’t offer me what I needed.

Lol.

Now that I’ve just turned the same age that one of them was when he met me, I can confidently say that both of them were emotionally immature. Neither would get anywhere near me now and I now understand why they were hanging about with people who were much younger (older people wouldn't tolerate them).  

20. Embrace the boring

I’ve always been an introvert, but for years I tried to convince myself and people around me that I was a fun and outgoing person. I’m not, and I’m now okay with that. I like to spend my days reading non-fiction books, fucking about online, and baking - and nobody can stop me!

I’ve learned over the years that healthy relationships should be calm, and sometimes a little boring. It’s not normal to have drama every second day. I had some pretty dramatic platonic and romantic relationships in my late teens and early 20s, which feel nauseating in hindsight.

21. The secret to finding real friends is being yourself

I have a relatively high number of ex-friends. Some of that has been caused by moving to a new city (twice!) and biphobia/queerphobia - but a lot of it was caused by my very weak self-identity and hiding who I really was.

When I began to really embrace the real me, for the first time in my life I felt popular and loved. The wrong people dropped off my radar pretty easily, but the right people began flocking to me in a way that they hadn’t before.

Turns out, some really great people love the real me.

22. Finding yourself can take a long time

I spent years trying to discover who I really was and learning who you are is not that simple. Cultural conditioning, expectations from your parents, oppression, and toxic friendships/relationships can really hamper with your ability to know exactly who you are and what you want.

I was 20 when I first really realised that I didn’t have a clue who I really was or what I wanted. Then I went on a massive journey of self-discovery. There was no strategy really: I began reading self-development blogs, experimented with hobbies, switched up the way I looked, and put myself out there socially. Then piece by piece things began to fall into place. In hindsight, the process might have been quicker if I had paid a therapist or life coach for guidance - either way though, I got there.

23. There’s nothing wrong with not coming out

I might be an out and proud bisexual now, but I only came out three years ago (despite having known when I was 13). Coming out is my proudest achievement and massively improved my mental health.

It would have been great if I could have come out sooner, but I don’t regret waiting until I did. It wasn’t entirely safe for me to come out until I was almost 27. Just before I came out I ended some friendships. Within those friendships were people who had negative opinions of bisexuals and/or fetishised us. The friendships in question ended for other reasons but the night I refused to go to a birthday party was the same night I changed my dating apps to reflect who I was really interested in.

24. Don’t make excuses for creepy men

[content warning for sexual assault]

If you’ve read a lot of what I’ve published in the last few years, you might have gathered that three years ago I ended a longterm friendship because that person was convicted of sexual assault (and still denied it). I also had to end friendships with people who stood by that person.

When people ask if this news was shocking, the answer is logically no. Yes, it took me a few days to pull myself together after finding out (I hadn’t even known there was a court case), but the red flags had been there all along. The person in question had crossed the lines of personal boundaries many times before, one of his friends had personally harassed me, and just weeks before the conviction I witnessed them grab someone’s face and force a kiss on them.

It’s weird to write this on the internet as a proud feminist: but I let small creepy behaviours slide over the years. Then it turned out a lot worse was going on behind closed doors. These days I give very little chance to people who engage in creepy behaviours, regardless of how big and small they are.

25. Start saving money


I hate that we live within a capitalist system where not everyone earns enough to even create savings (sound on Universal Basic Income!). But if you’re capable of creating savings, then do so. It’s an amazing comfort to know that you can handle periods of unemployment, a flatmate moving out or even own a house one day.

26. It’s more important how your life is IRL than how it looks on social media

I love to share my life on social media, but I like to think that I share a mix of the good and bad, and I definitely don’t portray my life as more amazing than it actually is.

I used to though. The root cause of doing this was, uh, wishing my life was better than it was. Instead of dealing with the parts of my life that I was unhappy with I’d just make it look like I was happy on social media. As I became genuinely more content with life my social media began to present a realistic snapshot of my life.

My younger self isn’t alone in this. I’ve seen couples splitting up when they were gushing about each other two days earlier on Instagram and I’ve weirdly had people digitally present themselves as a good friend but when cameras were turned off they very rarely showed up in a meaningful way. In contrast, I have friends who rarely talk about me on their social media, but behind the scenes they are pulling their weight in ways that are just spectacular.

27. If you can’t adapt and grow then you’re going to get left behind

I’m someone who has been committed to growing since I was 20, and I vow to never stop growing. I’ve proven myself to not be a static person. Some people never change and in my experience, people who are resistant to change get left behind. Whether that’s in friendships, academia, the workplace, or in romantic relationships.

All my longest-running friendships are with people who know how to adapt and grow in ways that we maybe weren’t expecting when we first met. This is a crucial part of why these friendships worked out while others didn’t.

28. The best revenge is genuinely moving on

Your ex-partner can tell if you’re throwing yourself over a new person to make them jealous. That ex-boss has probably forgotten that you exist. The teacher who was mean to you in primary school might not even be alive by now.

People can be horrible. We’ve all been hurt by callous people. But whenever you do something in life to “show them” or post something petty on social media in hopes that they’ll see it, you’re only admitting that you’ve not really moved on (and that might please the person who hurt you). Just focus on your own healing and journey.

29. Life doesn’t end at 25

I remember having a conversation at uni where me and my then friends were thinking about going to a festival because apparently if we didn’t do it while we were at university then we would be too old.

Now that I’m 30 this just seems laughable. While I still haven’t been to a festival ever it’s because of ticket prices and the fact that I don’t like camping, rather than feeling too old.

You have plenty of time to tick everything off of your list. Turns out that my major achievements in my 20s would be figuring out a lot of emotional shit and building myself a solid foundation to jump from. Hopefully, my 30s will be the decade where I start ticking boxes and moving up in the world - and I’m not embarrassed that I’m running behind society’s schedule.

30. It can* get better, but only when you choose it

I spent most of my teenage years unhappy with a side helping of low self-esteem. Just before I turned 20 I would have both a romantic relationship and friendship break down on very bad terms, with two people who came with a bunch of red flags that I should have seen. This was my wake-up call, and I made a conscious decision to improve my life.

My motivation was the belief that things could get better. And they did get better, in a big way. For three years now I’ve been happy in a way that I would never have predicted. Things aren’t perfect, but I feel a calmness in me that I never felt when I was younger. This didn’t magically happen and no white knight came along to save me. It was my own doing and I’m really proud of myself.

For any young babes who are struggling to find their feet in this world, stick in there. You got this.

Love to everyone, whether you've passed the 30 mark or not x 

*I want to acknowledge that things don’t always get better, as there are people facing tougher circumstances than I was.
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