There is no age I've been that I would trade for the age that I am now. I’m turning 30 this weekend and in fact, there has never been a point in my life at which younger me seemed like a better option than current or future me. I feel lucky to be able to say that, but not unique. I’m pretty sure it is a law of nature that, over time, most people get better at being people. Another law of nature is that on New Year’s and round number birthdays, you are allowed to make lists to commemorate time passing and no one can give you a hard time or roll their eyes at your smugness. So, here goes!
Some things I learned in my twenties:
Have a uniform.
Find an outfit that you feel good in and buy it in every available color combination. If variety isn’t your thing, there is no shame in having five identical outfits. I’m not suggesting that you wear your uniform every single day, just most days. Waking up is way less stressful knowing you have something that just works. My uniform is a gray fitted t-shirt, cropped jeans, and flats. If I’m feeling festive, a colorful belt shows up. I may not win any awards for fashion, but it fits and it’s done. A goal for my thirties is to find an evening appropriate uniform. I’m dreaming big, guys!
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I got arrested for shoplifting at the mall when I was 14. (Don’t ask me what. It was something cool and not at all embarrassing, I swear.) In a surprise tactical move that surely enraged my siblings, my parents sent me to summer art classes as part of my punishment. The course forced me to write some pretty heavy teen poetry and see a world beyond my high school social circle. Ten years later, I found myself emotionally spiraling after a life-disrupting breakup. After I burst into tears mid-meeting, a coworker suggested I consider grad school (and some exercise). Education pulled me out of a mental black hole once again. I was challenged to think and live in an uncomfortably new way and it was exactly what I needed. School helped me see my situation from a different perspective and regain some self worth. Grad school may not be the answer for for everything, but a cooking lesson or a photography class may just do the trick.
A lot of my design students have asked me how to become working designers. The answer is easy: start designing stuff! I have to believe this applies to any job or role you can imagine for yourself. I don’t mean this in the “wear the clothes for the job you want” sense, because that is gross and you’ll wind up driving a car more expensive than your apartment. I mean, just DO the job you want. Make up assignments and give yourself deadlines. Be as awesome as you can be and start showing people what you’ve done. The majority of the projects that make the blog rounds are self-initiated and bring tons of attention to the folks behind them. Plus, if you show people you are capable of doing the work you want to do, people with those kinds of projects will seek you out. If you don’t get hired right away, well, then you’d better invent more projects. If you’re busy being what you want to be, then…aren’t you? To quote a great friend, “fake it ’til you make it.”
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I’ve learned this lesson the hard way a million times and will learn it a million more, so I really really know that it is true: 100% of the time, picking at your skin makes it worse. It feels wicked good to scratch that itch, but a pimple-popping hangover is never worth the rush. Learning this lesson is one thing, but changing my habits is another. Fingers crossed that willpower is a trait gained in my thirties.
Rad people didn’t get that way sitting around. The most exciting people are nerdy about something and invest time and energy into that interest. It really doesn’t matter if their passion is home-pickling or producing films, they are always working to perfecting their craft or expand their knowledge. Forget cool clothes and asymmetrical haircuts (unless that’s what you’re in to) and work hard digging whatever it is you dig.
Almost all of my social anxiety between 12 and 25 stemmed from the dull, nagging fear that I would say something wrong, not know what people were talking about, or not have the answer to a question. Turns out conversations thrive on questions and asking people to explain something makes them feel good. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been a result of saying “I have no clue what you’re talking about, what is that?” In a more official situation like a job interview or a class critique, an answer like “I haven’t considered that angle yet, what do you think?” can work wonders. Remember that some people love to talk; they just want your permission.
I used to think I didn’t need friends. I was out of my mind. I have been trying to write about how amazing my friends are for over three hours now and everything I write sounds lame compared to their impact on my life. One of the very best decisions I made in my twenties was to stop thinking I didn’t need to connect with other people and instead to be vulnerable enough to try. In addition to being funny and loving, the women I know are all incredible role models. Whether they are starting families, building companies, or both, they teach me about life by living it and being generous enough to share it with me. I cannot even express how grateful I am for them, and how much I need them.
What are some lessons you’ve learned as you’ve gotten older? Got any tips for me as I head into my dirty thirties?
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This post was authored by Kate Harmer.
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