Happy March! It’s my birthday month, and this year it’s a big birthday. I’m turning 30! I still remember the moment on my 10th birthday where my grandad turned to me and said, “Welcome to double digits! You’ll be double digits from now until you reach 100.” In all honesty, this was the first time I felt a sense of fear of getting older. Maybe I wasn’t done with my single digit era? Now, I confront that same fear. Maybe I’m not done with my 20s? Well too late, it’s time.
Writing is, and always will be, my therapy. So this post is the medium through which I’m going to combat the fear of growing older, and hopefully, provide you with some life lessons I’ve learned in my last three decades (wow!) that are applicable to anyone, whatever your age.
This list was cobbled together without a real sense of direction, and no one lesson holds more weight than another. I hope you find something helpful in and amongst my rambling…
1. Do therapy. Everyone experiences difficult situations, no matter your circumstances. Just watch Succession for a season 🙃 Therapy helped me to process trauma I experienced in my teens and early 20s, and even now, I sometimes ruminate about doing it again now. Nobody is perfect, but it doesn’t mean you’re meant to just accept that and move on.
2. Your parents are people, just like you. Our parents try their best, despite their flaws and imperfections. Recognising that my parents are not the infallible teachers I grew up with was a tough lesson, but one that helped me to change the lens through which I see them. Today, we get on well, and while we may not always agree, we do respect each other.
3. Anyone can break your heart. I’m lucky to still be (very happily) with the first person I pursued a relationship with, but I have been through heartbreak. Friends and acquaintances can break your heart, even if you didn’t realise how deep your love was for them before things came to an end. Whether you walk away, or reconcile with this person, it’s important to do the work to look after yourself and heal after arguments and breakups.
4. Take supplements. Not all supplements are made equal, but there are two that I will take for the rest of my life: iron and vitamin d. If you menstruate, please take daily liquid iron supplements. And if you experience a drop in mood during the colder months, vitamin d supplements will help. Just like medicine, neither of these will be experienced the same by different people, but I’ve also experienced what it’s like to go without these and it sucks.
5. Know your worth (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). This applies to both work and personal life. Recognise the efforts you go to in either circumstance, and what you need to feel truly appreciated (relative to what’s possible). If you’re not receiving that, with no prospect of it improving, it’s time to make a change.
6. You’ll always be a student. Yes, I know this is a list of life lessons, but one of those lessons has to be about learning. Life has lessons to teach us every day. There will be new things to learn (and unlearn) and it’s up to you to recognise them, accept them, and act on them. Be humble enough to accept when you’re wrong, and to change your point of view.
7. Claim your rights as a citizen. Despite being exposed to thousands of ads every day, we can do more than shop. We are all citizens, and with that comes a whole set of rights. Get politically involved. Go out and vote. Connect with your local community. Ask for better. The ‘think global, act local’ phrase comes to mind.
8. Say sorry. Sometimes we get things wrong. Being able to recognise those wrongdoings and apologise is the first step in making things right again. It’s a simple lesson, but one that I had to learn myself, after being taught to only ever aim for 100% and A*s.
9. “When you get bit by a snake, you have to suck out all the poison.“ Is there anyone wiser than Mean Girls’ Cady Heron? Probably. But the life lesson she shares at the end of the film is one that stuck with me, from the first time I watched it as a 13-year-old girl on a sleepover at a friend’s house, until now. If you’ve been wronged, forget about pursuing revenge. Instead, suck out the poison, and heal yourself. That, often, is enough revenge in itself.
10. Spend your money on people and experiences, not stuff. Avoiding overconsumption is my bread-and-butter content, but even in this more philosophical post, this lesson is key. You’ll always remember the trips you go on, but you’ll so very quickly forget the stuff you decorate your life with.
11. Take risks… Especially while you’re young! I jumped into working for myself back in 2017, and I haven’t looked back. But at the time, the transition was a lot easier than it would be now: I was on a lower salary, had less financial commitments, and was open to taking a dip in my standard of living to pursue a life dream. If there’s something you wish to do, make it happen now, not tomorrow.
12. …but be aware of the outcomes. At the same time, be sure you’re aware of all scenarios before taking a risk. One of the best things therapy taught me was to spend more time analysing different outcomes of the same situation. I naturally focus on the future, but it means I often go into situations with pure optimism, and life isn’t all roses. Recognising a few different ways things could play out will help you to navigate towards the best approach.
13. Perfection isn’t everything. Perfection is a meaningless goal. Aim for 90% and spend the remaining 10% on things that matter more. This is something I espoused at the start of the year, and will continue to be my mantra for 2023. (Oh and eco perfectionism is just as bad.)
14. Communication is key. Past jobs have taught me this one very, very well. People would rather be kept informed on things than be surprised by problems. That goes for partners, friends, family, colleagues, clients, and more. And people have different preferences for communication, too. Working out what suits someone best (a phone call, a coffee meeting, or an email) is almost as important as the content of what you wish to communicate. I would estimate that I spend more time communicating on projects, rather than *doing* the project, and it’s a winning formula.
15. Live abroad at least once. Living abroad changed my worldview forever. In my early 20s I spent 18 months living in Paris, France, and the culture shock made me question more than my capability of language learning (which is ‘nul’, if you will.) It also made me recognise the difference between cultural ideas stemming from Britain, and my own. For example: lunch is a full meal, and should be treated as such. Similarly, provenance is important, and it’s what inspired me to start Curiously Conscious. My entire career might have looked very different had I not moved to France!
16. One good dinner is worth a month of brunches. The mantra ‘buy less, buy better’ also applies to experiences! I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some of the best restaurants in my late 20s (Nolla, Coal Office, Erst, and Sessions Arts Club) and I would give up a month of brunches to eat at any of these establishments again.
17. Trust your instincts. Your instincts are your guiding light. Despite this, women are so very often encouraged to override their instincts to instead appear polite. In the last decade, I have been hit on, stared at, groped, wolf-whistled at, threatened and even stalked by men. In almost all of these situations, I could have avoided them by trusting my instincts. And things could have been worse. Learning to trust your instincts in this patriarchal society is sadly so much more important than learning to be polite. Be rude. It’s better than being polite and being killed.
18. Create the feeling of home. I’m part of generation rent, and feeling like I have a place to call home is only a recent achievement (disclaimer: it’s still rented). I experience a lot of envy over home ownership, because I know it’ll be another decade before I can even consider it for myself. That being said, making a place feel like home is possible, and it’s through the repeated routines and acts of looking after our space that my boyfriend and I make our rented home feel like our own. We know one day we will have to move out, and the fear of that decision being made for us still looms over us (10+ homes and counting in the last decade) but for now, simply making the bed with extra pillows provides a sense of home that was lacking in so many of past flats.
19. Build bridges, don’t burn them. In my younger years, I’d run hot after being treated poorly by a client or agency. Nowadays, it’s something I simply expect. Is it right? No. But should I burn individual bridges instead of challenging an entire way of working? No. Out of the hundreds invoices I’ve sent in my years of working for myself, I’d bet that 70% of them were paid late. It’s something I feel so strongly about that I often catch myself pondering whether there’s an opportunity to unionise influencers, or represent content creators in a legislative capacity. For now though, the top-line message is true: build bridges, even if the person on the other end isn’t pulling their weight quite as much as you’d like.
20. Spend time defining what you stand for, and what you will not stand for. My 20s were the decade where I carved out my personal values. Why did I stop eating meat? Here. Why did I stop shopping fast fashion? Here. Do you care about the suffering of others? Well, obviously. What about the desertification of the rainforest? It’s rough, but I can’t do everything. My 20s are sculpted by my blind learning of global problems and how I react to them, documented right here. Doing this shaped who I am today. And while it’s not possible to champion every cause, donate to every charity, or follow every sustainable belief, it is possible to decide your role in the climate movement. It’s something I store in my journal, and on my business plan alike. Don’t skip this step, whatever your age.
21. Define your style and lean into it. Despite spending an outrageous amount of time curating my wardrobe and caring for my clothes, the dreaded fear of wearing the wrong thing still sometimes jumps out at me, before a big event or sometimes in a dream. In the last decade, I’ve learned to hone my style, and since then, go on to define what clothes make me feel confident. From a quick scroll of my Instagram, you’ll note that I love to wear black, I almost always cinch my waist, and when in doubt, I’ll throw a blazer on. It’s taken me years to realise that style is about isolating certain looks, shapes, colours, and maintaining these, as opposed to following trends. And don’t let the fashion world fool you: there are designers – entire fashion houses – known for specific prints and silhouettes. Why shouldn’t you be that iconic too? How we dress is often a code that we fit in, but the way to always signal that is to be confident in your style.
22. Don’t pluck your eyebrows without looking up what an eyebrow looks like first. This is very specific advice to my 14-year-old self, whose mistakes have taken 15+ years to grow out, as well as a general piece of life advice. It’s a strength to recognise others doing something well, and looking up to them. That being said, copying people, or stepping on their toes, is never ok.
23. Recognise what’s in your control, and how to manage what’s outside of it. In life, things happen to us that we can’t avoid: illness, loss, misfortune. Much of this is painful, but unavoidable. Recognising that these things are outside of my control has taken a lot of pressure and embarrassment off myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fiercely private, despite how much of my life is online. But learning how to best manage these problems has also helped me to find a sense of control and adapt.
24. Recognise your privilege. On the other side of this, recognise where others may experience hurdles in life that you might not. Some things we get with ease – water, shelter, disposable income. Some come from racist systems that exist in our institutions. Some come from class divides. All of it is unfair, and needs to be challenged on a systemic level.
25. Spend your energy in a meaningful way. Talking of systemic levels… One of the biggest life lessons I learned back in 2020 was to stop scrutinising every single thing I bought, and instead, to participate in wider intersectional environmentalism. Energy spent sustainably navel-gazing is often better spent supporting a wider community and challenging greater powers.
26. Shout about yourself. As women, we’re very often taught to not be vain, to not show off, and to keep our achievements to ourselves. I’m here to tell you that you need to shout about yourself. And even louder if you’re not a man. It’s what I said in Cosmopolitan, and what I’ll continue to say now!
27. Learn to be tolerant. Things that make you uncomfortable aren’t always something you have to push away. Sometimes we can quell the discomfort within ourselves, and it’s something I’ve been practicing over the past few years. I still run hot, I still snap, but I do also try so very hard to be tolerant of others, whose choices may not be what I would necessarily choose. It also can help you to see how some people don’t know how to do this, and how you can be a bigger person. If in doubt, I just internally laugh and think “sucks to be you!”
28. “If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room.” I value myself on my ‘smarts’ more than anything else, and for a long time, I would feel threatened by people who were more intelligent or knowledgeable than myself. Now, I look for opportunities to be around these people more! Being part of organisations such as The RSA has helped me to learn how I play a part in wider systems and groups where my efforts are valued and can be built into something bigger than I could ever achieve myself.
29. Say yes. My boyfriend is a bookworm, and one of the books – out of many – that he has recommended to me is ‘Yes Man’ by Danny Wallace. The book’s premise is simple: whatever opportunities come your way, say yes. And despite some wild happenings in the book, I do genuinely try to live by that myself! 9 times out of 10, I have a ball. And even on those 1 times out of 10, however bad something ends up being, I’m always able to find good reasons why I would have missed out if I didn’t say yes.
30. Define what success means to you. Finally, take some time to decipher what success looks like to you. We’re traditionally taught to aspire to be like the entrepreneurial kings of this world, yet no-one likes to point out that they all came from wealth, privilege, and make their hoards of money through exploitation. I’ll let you into a little secret: success isn’t a number. There isn’t a certain amount of money that will make you feel like you’ve won at life. You’ve done it. Your letter from the King is on its way. Sure, money helps. But true success is so much more colourful than that. It’s the achievements we conquer. The experiences we live. The people we love. And it’s different for everyone. What’s yours?
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Wow this piece is so powerful! I think when we think of aging, we hold on to all the negative feelings. This really opened my eyes! Thank you!
Thank you Yezenia! Ageing still feels quite daunting but this reflection on my last decade certainly helped me to see how far I’ve come, and to appreciate the years going by!
“One good dinner is worth a month of brunches” I totally disagree with this one! Been to lots of fairly fancy restaurants in the past few years, but the veggie options are frequently rather bland and disappointing. Whereas I LOVE brunch. I need to make the opposite commitment and have fewer expensive dinners and more brunch dates 😉
Ah this honestly makes me hope you’ll try a few of the places I enjoyed fancy dinners at! After my birthday weekend, I have to add Botanique (Brighton) and Perilla (Stoke Newington) to the list – both do incredibly delicious, flavourful food, with Botanique being fully vegan, while Perilla caters to all. But saying that, I do love a good brunch, it just has to be a bit more than a Welsh Rarebit!!