I turn 40 next week. Yup, that milestone birthday’s finally here. How am I feeling about transitioning into a new era? Well, I’ll let you know when I get there. This week, I’m thinking a lot about my thirties. I scrolled through all my photos from the past decade today to see all the fun times I’d had. Yet, hidden behind all of those selfies, party shots and travel snaps is a story only I know about: the sad times, the painful moments, the years that had to be endured. Life after 30 was difficult – much tougher than my 20s – but I appreciate that I’m only the person I am now because of everything I experienced.
That great philosopher Carrie Bradshaw once said:
Enjoy yourself… that’s what your 20s are for. Your 30s are to learn the lessons. Your 40s are to pay for the drinks.
I hope she’s right because I’d quite like to move onto my cocktail buying era, please. But before I get there, here are 30 things I learnt from life after 30. The lessons that came from all those hard times (and some of the funny ones too). Naturally, they are a reflection of where I am in my life right now, with common themes around change, self-development and mental health. That’s been my journey these past few years and I’ll carry these lessons with me into my 40s (and beyond).
- Don’t jump off anything when you’re drunk. Especially not in platform boots. Your knees are precious.
- Stop being in such a rush to ‘lock things down’ in life. When I think about the most enjoyable times of my life, many have been when I was feeling my way through the ‘in-between stages’ – between jobs, relationships, houses, etc. In those moments, I had space and time to be a bit more authentically me. So, as unstable as they are, don’t try and speed through the moments when your life feels like it’s in flux. Instead, take a breath and try to enjoy this part of your journey.
- Meditation and yoga isn’t ‘hippy shit’. Considering I spent so much of my late teens wearing flares and no shoes, I’ve been surprisingly resistant to anything that had even a whiff of New Age about it as an adult. Finally discovering how transformative it is to focus on your breath – through yoga in my early 30s and more recently through meditation – has had an enormous impact on how I feel every day. These are both essential tools I’m carrying into the second half of my life.
- Don’t wait to do a career change. Stop trying to work out what you will do next – like it’s some epic decision that could ruin your life. Chances are, you probably won’t work out what your new career will be until you try something different. The main thing you know is that you don’t want the career you have now, so stop doing that. Take a risk. Try something new. Maybe you won’t fall straight into your dream job but you’ll finally be on the path to working out what’s next for you.
- Menopause can happen in your 30s. I was so surprised when my menstrual cycle began to change a few years ago and only then learnt that some people go through menopause before they’re 40. While I’m probably still a few years off experiencing any significant changes, I feel it’s important we all start talking about this in our 30s.
- Love and compatibility aren’t the same things. This has been one of the most important lessons of my 30s. Big, transformational love will come into your life, but that doesn’t mean those people will necessarily fit in it. This is tough when you’ve always been sold the idea of ‘the one’, but please don’t change who you are to make space for someone else – and don’t expect them to change who they are either. Cherish the connection for what it is, rather than trying to reshape it, and be willing to let them go. Love is abundant; there’ll be others who’ll make more sense in your life.
- What you eat affects how you feel. I would never have guessed that I would finish this decade as someone who avoids both gluten and refined sugar. What kind of life is that? Turns out for me, it’s a happy one. The way my body processes food means that sometimes certain ingredients can make my life difficult. They mess with my hormones, causing weeks of irritability and sadness. Life is way easier since I started listening to how my body responds to what I feed it.
- Use your fancy face moisturiser on your neck and chest. This part of your body ages just as fast as your face (if not faster). So slather your moisturiser everywhere from your nipples up, including between your boobs.
- Grief will reshape the way you see life. In the past five years, I’ve lost five wonderful friends: Nick, Phoebe, Gordon, Cherie and Simon. In that order and mostly from cancer-related illnesses. People shouldn’t die this young, but sadly they do. Each time, my experience of grief has been so different but together it’s changed the way I see life. I used to be fixated on pensions and owning a house. Now I just want to make sure I don’t spend most of my time in an office.
- Feeling ‘young’ isn’t a linear sensation. I currently feel more in touch with who I was at 20 than I ever did at 30.
- Those chest pains aren’t from stress. It’s anxiety. While it may feel like our society has always talked about mental health so openly, it’s only been in the past few years (thank you Instagram). Before that, I spent half of my 30s with constant chest and stomach pains. I felt like a failure because I assumed it was an inability to handle stress (how I wish I could go back and hug my younger self). Then one day, I Googled what this ‘anxiety’ thing was and finally started to understand that I didn’t have to live like this anymore.
- Sex toys make everything SO much more fun. For years, I felt like I was somehow ‘disrupting’ the vibe (pardon the pun) by using a buzzy toy for my pleasure during PIV sex. Now my toys go everywhere with me – and anyone who objects to toys doesn’t get anywhere with me.
- Let yourself be a bit crap with what you create. Put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Do an ok job at something and then do it slightly better next time. We didn’t arrive on this planet fully formed, so stop expecting everything you do to be perfect. Being crap allows you to grow.
- Your relationship with your parents will change as you get older. Having grown-ass women chats with my mum is one of my favourite things to do these days, but that’s not a connection I anticipated us having. On the other hand, my dad has opted out of being… well, a dad during the past decade, which was also unexpected. At some point, your parents’ behaviour stops shaping how you see yourself and instead shapes how you see them: as humans on their journeys. In the same way, let them know the real you. Hiding parts of your life from your parents means you’ll never give them the chance to show up and support you completely.
- Society may not have a label that fits you yet but your feelings and desires are still valid. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to shoehorn my identity into a pre-existing category. Thankfully, the way we’ve broadened our language and understanding of gender and sexuality in the past decade has helped me realise its ok that there isn’t a term to describe me (yet). I can live my queer little life without having to justify or explain it.
- Savings will make you feel secure. Having enough money in the bank to support you for a couple of months will change the way you approach life. You’ll start making decisions that truly resonate with where you’re headed rather than coming from a place of fear.
- “I just had to wait for some of my friends to be born” – Gloria Steinem. Having close friends of different ages is one of the greatest gifts in life.
- Understand why you need to hold space for yourself. This probably sounds like a wanky self-development phrase, yet it has reshaped my entire sense of being in this past year. I’ve spent so long holding space for other people in my life, but not for myself. I’ve consistently prioritised the wants and needs of loved ones above my own. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self only three words, they wouldn’t be “buy Netflix shares”, they would be “your feelings matter”.
- Release yourself from the sunk cost fallacy. You have to dig deep for this one and be brave enough to let go of what no longer benefits you. Even if you’ve invested decades of your life into a career or a relationship, that doesn’t mean you should ‘stick with it’ once it’s no longer a source of nourishment. We fear that we will somehow be at a loss – that this invested time was wasted – when what we’re failing to value is our happiness.
- Don’t feed the squirrels in your garden. They may be adorable but unfortunately, you’re encouraging them to come and dig up EVERYTHING you’ve planted. Anyone who has lived with me can attest to the fact that I’ve spent most of my 30s chasing squirrels out of pot plants.
- Boundaries are essential. The only people who’ll object to you having boundaries are those who benefit from you not having any. This was a brutal lesson for me to learn in my 30s. I’d always tried to be easygoing with the people in my life, but not having boundaries meant some took advantage of my open-minded nature. This was another way I had to learn to hold space for myself, to draw lines and say no. Your life is important – value it or others won’t.
- Do the work to build a friendship with your exes. My wonderful ex Robin, who I spent most of my 30s with, is still one of my best friends (and yeah, it makes me a little emotional to write that). There’s so much value in doing the work to transition a relationship into a friendship. It takes time but unless they’ve been (and continue to be) an absolute twat, it will be worth it. I have exes from twenty years ago that I never speak to, which is kinda sad. I wish I’d done the work back then because all the stuff that hurt at the time doesn’t matter anymore. So put in the effort while you still can.
- Walk everywhere. Seriously, it will change your life. Anything under 100 minutes is a totally reasonable amount of time to walk somewhere and you’ll get fit, be able to binge on your favourite podcasts and spend zero money on travel. Who wants to get on the Tube now anyway?
- Planning your future doesn’t mean you have any control over it. This is where my anxiety intersects with my love of organisation. I’ve had to learn to let go of trying to plan months and years in advance because life never, ever works out how I’ve pictured it. Dream big but don’t cling too tightly to any set plan. Not only do you have little control over where life will take you, but you’ll probably miss out on all the spontaneous fun as well.
- Empathy is everything. Most of the time, people just want to be heard. So listen, have a little compassion and you’ll probably solve your communication problems twice as fast.
- Don’t expect any company to grow you. That’s sadly not how the job market works anymore. I’ve consistently been promised promotions, pay rises and training, only to be left waiting until I was inevitably made redundant (four times since 2008). Going freelance was a great choice for me, so work out how you can invest in yourself and your career.
- Follow the watering instructions for plants. No, you don’t know better, wannabe plant parent. Not all potted green things need the same amount of liquid love from you. Rest In Power all the plants I killed last summer… and this winter.
- You’re resilient as all hell. Whenever anyone asks me to recount my career path, my relationship history or any other narrative that weaves through my life, I’m struck by how much I have endured. The many changes I’ve embraced and the times I’ve picked myself up and kept going, again and again. Resilience isn’t about being tough and unemotional. It’s about being vulnerable and grateful, which gives you the strength to keep on trying.
- Don’t put your head (or any part of your body) out the window of a moving train. Like, ever.
- You’ll lose everything, but never yourself. Nothing is ever completely certain and secure. I know it’s a terrifying thought, but the lives we ‘build’ (jobs, relationships, houses, pension funds) can sometimes disappear in a moment. But you won’t. You’ll be there for yourself every single second of your life and nothing can ever change that. That probably sounds weird but when things truly go to shit, you’ll be grateful that you’re still there, taking care of you.