I’ve just turned 29, and considering it’s not really a “big birthday”, it feels pretty momentous.
I think it’s because I’m entering the last year of my twenties; a decade constantly associated with finding yourself, getting your career sorted, finding ‘The One’ and of course, having the most fun EVER in the process.
That’s a lot of pressure, and of course it’s nonsense to think that suddenly when you turn 30 you have to give up on all this stuff (I intend to have MORE fun, if anything).
However, while part of my brain is like “I’m so confused, I’m still 22!” the other part of me knows that in fact I have learnt A LOT over the past decade. So I’m sharing my wisdoms in the hope that perhaps a innocent little 21-year-old who has just moved to London might read it and learn what to expect…
1. No one has their dream career fall into their lap.
After I left university, I spent several months interning at various newspapers and magazines in London in order to get my first job. It was hard work; not only was I interning every day, but I had to work retail shifts during the evenings and weekends to pay rent for the tiny bedroom I shared with my female cousin in Brixton (our flatmates were convinced we were secretly lesbians, but actually we were just poor).
Then, when I got my first journalism job, I thought “that’s it, in the bag!” But, errrm, actually I hated it. And I went through a number of roles (and years) where I wasn’t particularly happy at work before I finally got where I wanted to be.
The point I’m making is, you might have to do some crappy jobs – and work hard at them – before you get your “dream” role.
If you want to work in marketing, it’s unlikely you’re going to start off your career promoting Topshop; you might be flogging some local insurance company instead. If you want to be a mega lawyer, you’ll probably have to be someone’s bitch in a super boring department for a few years before you get to live the Ally McBeal life.
Rather than driving yourself crazy fretting over not having your dream role, just accept that this is a stepping stone to get you to where you want to be, and focus on things that make you happy outside of work to keep you sane in the meantime.
2. You should never abandon your friendships for a guy
It’s fair enough that once you have a boyfriend, you probably won’t be able to spend every waking hour outside of work with your mates.
However, don’t ditch your laydeez completely just because you’ve found a man. I know way too many people who’ve done this, only to find themselves feeling pretty lonely once they break up with their boyfriend (although good friends will always welcome you back in, we’re dreamboats like that!)
3. Delete your ex on social media
Social media has many benefits, but one of the downsides is that we stay connected with people who, in real life, we’d have forgotten even existed. Who hasn’t experienced that feeling of seeing a name pop up on their Facebook newsfeed and thinking “Who?”
This becomes seriously damaging when you remain linked to people you really need to ditch from your mind. Specifically, exes.
We ALL know it’s a lot harder to get over your ex post break-up if you’re still able to see what they’re up to on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s brave enough to take the step of deleting them.
I’ve seen people drive themselves crazy analysing an ex’s profile – there’s always going to be some ‘suspicious’ new girl suddenly liking their photos, or an update that implies they’re having a bit too much fun without you. Even if they’re doing absolutely nothing on social media, you’ll read into it, wondering what on earth they’re doing instead.
Having that social media connection can feel like the only way to hold to someone you’ve lost, which makes it really difficult to let go. However, one thing I’ve learnt is that it never really makes people feel better being able to keep tabs on their ex . You’re much better off just deleting them from your life and focusing on your own happiness.
4. Exercise is a habit
I exercise pretty regularly, and people often ask me how I manage it. The truth is it’s all about making fitness part of your routine; something that you just get on and do without really thinking about it. You just need to get over the initial effort, and soon it’ll be a habit rather than a chore.
5. Queen Bee syndrome in the workplace is real
NOT to be confused with Queen Bey, who is the greatest.
Anyways, I once had a job where I was managed by a woman who at the time I thought was ancient but now realise was probably about 29 (oh hey!)
The main thing you need to know about her was that she was an absolute bitch. Her behaviour was all about making me feel small; she cc’ed me into undermining emails, constantly questioned my work (even though no one else did) and generally treated me like I hadn’t yet passed my year 6 SATs, despite the fact I had a good degree from Oxbridge.
Basically, she was your typical ‘Queen Bee’, and clearly wasn’t keen on young, ambitious women in her team.
What annoys me looking back is how much I let it get to me – crying in the toilets or venting my frustrations endlessly to my flatmates when I got home.
Actually what I should’ve realised was that her behaviour was just a reflection of her own insecurities, not my work, and that sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and shrug off this kind of “management” (which, I’ll point out, can come from men too), rather than weeping in the loos about it. Seriously, managers like this are not worth your emotional energy and, if you do good work, your other colleagues will realise your worth.
6. Present giving: it’s better to give one great gift than lots of okay ones
I used to think that the more presents I bought for someone, the more thoughtful and generous I would look. Actually, this often just devalues each of the gifts. Instead, spend your cash on one really great gift, and if someone’s asked for something specific – even if you think it’s totally boring – buy it for them rather than think that you know better (also guilty!).
7. You need to make time for fun
This tip comes from my grandad, who had a twinkly grin that could light up a room. He died over a decade ago, but beforehand, he told me this: “The most important thing in life is to have fun”.
It might sound a bit obvious really, but actually it’s something that’s always stayed with me, because all too often “fun” can slip to the bottom of the priority list after work, life admin, exercise etc. Or we get too caught up in our own anxieties and life crises to let in any time for happiness.
I know the idea of “organised fun” sounds a bit creepy, but I’ve learnt that it’s really important to create opportunities for merriment in your life. Personally, I know that an evening of wine and raucous laughter with friends will make me feel on top of the world, so I make sure I’m regularly organising those evenings and always make an effort to see friends when they arrange get-togethers.
Whether your idea of fun is doing a 70-mile bike ride (I’m jealous of you), or going to galleries, or ringing your best mate for an hour, make sure you do it regularly and don’t let these things slip to the bottom of the list. Because on your deathbed you will never think “Oooh I should’ve done more ab crunches and late-night work sessions”, I promise.
8. No one notices your f**k-ups as much as you
It’s a bit like when you think you have a massive spot on your face and everyone else genuinely can’t even see it. Problems are escalated a hundred-fold in your own head, whereas everyone else is way too busy worrying about their own thang to focus on your supposed mess-ups.
9. It’s pointless fretting about things that haven’t happened
This is really one I’m working on, because honestly, at some points in my life I’ve genuinely driven myself a bit bananas panicking about thing that *might* happen.
My boyfriend finds this genuinely baffling, because, in his words, he “only worries about stuff that has actually happened”. What a wise way to live…
10. Women get called “crazy” all the time in the dating world, and it’s infuriating
Hear the term “crazy girlfriend” and you probably have a clear image in your head. She’s a bunny boiler, clingy, bossy, desperate to get married, needy, sulky, aggressive – the list goes on.
Sure, there are a few women (and men!) like this in relationships, but the idea of the “crazy girl” all the time in dating, to the point that women basically can’t do ANYTHING in terms of moving a relationship forwards without being labelled insane.
From asking a guy out, to ascertaining if a relationship has become official, to saying “I love you” first, to talking about marriage – all these things are simply CRAY for women in the modern world of dating.
Even my lovely fiance was like “You’re md” when I first broached the possibility of whether we’d get married (about 2 years into our relationship, FYI). Yep, bringing up the subject of marriage when you’re in your late 20s, in a committed relationship, and would like to have kids in the future really is as sign of mental ill health ladies (I promise he’s a wonderful person most of the time).
What makes me really angry about this kind of dialogue is that it stops women from being able to have important conversations about their lives because they’re too concerned about coming across as crazy. Guess what? Discussing marriage and babies in a long-term relationship is NOT a sign of mental illness – it’s in fact eminently sensible, because you need to know where you both stand while you still have time to opt-out.
This lazy bandying about of “crazy” is really damaging, so I urge you to call men out on it – although please be warned, they will probably call you crazy when you do so *eye rolls x 1,000,000*
11. Thongs are the devil
Ladies, it’s a great moment when you make the switch from Miss Selfridge dental floss pants to M&S knickers. Removing that bum-wedgying torture garment from your underwear drawer is liberating. BE FREE.
12. That advice to just “have a glass of water” if you’re hungry never works
Ditto “Eat one square of dark chocolate and you won’t want any more”.
13. You CAN go to a Champagne reception alone
Although outwardly I appear quite competent at small talk, inwardly when I meet strangers I spend the whole time thinking ‘Oh. My. Gaaaaaaad’.
My nightmare has always been walking into a networking event alone and not knowing a single soul. However, a couple of months ago, I bloody went and did it.
The event – an industry drinks reception and awards ceremony – had been in my diary for months, and every time I looked at it I genuinely felt a bit sick at the prospect of going alone.
In fact, I was so alarmed I even arranged for my boyfriend to be working in his office nearby at the same time, so he could drop me off and meet me afterwards (just typing that has made me realise how pathetic it is, I’m suitably ashamed).
Despite all this panic, the event itself was – shock horror – absolutely fine. I walked in, looked round the room once, and within five seconds a woman had come over and introduced herself.
Even when we parted ways, there were so many people in the same boat that it was actually easy to say hello, and by the end of the night I’d had five glasses of Champagne, gained six business cards and was strengthened by the knowledge that things like this barely ever turn out to be the disaster you’re expecting.
My top tip for this situation? Approach people with a smile, tell them you’re alone, ask questions, show interest in what they’re saying and if all else fails, go up to the bar where you can get chatting to someone in the queue!
14. Paper coffee cups are evil
I’ve waffled on about this before but once you realise that those coffee chain cups are NOT RECYCLABLE you will be horrified at how many you see everyday. Buy a recyclable one and use that instead (this comes with the added bonus that baristas often think you’re wonderful and will give you a free coffee!)
15. Give yourself at least one slob night a week
I am terrible for saying yes to a thousand invites, and then realising I have no evenings free for my chill out routine: coming straight home from work, eating Sainsbury’s tortellini and watching TV for 4 hours solid. YOU NEED THIS RESTORATIVE TIME.
16. Reading is the best thing you can do
How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t have time” to read?
I find it seriously frustrating when people say this to me, because I think a) in 99% of cases it’s simply not true and b) it kind of implies that someone like me, who reads a lot, actually has nothing else on their plate.
There is nothing, in my view, that expands your mind, your empathy and your world view quite like reading, whether that’s magazine articles or novels.
Fiction is the best way to inhabit an alternative world to your own, and actually have a part in creating it through your own imagination. I’m aware that sounds unbelievably wanky, but I think books are really important in making you more understanding and widening your insight into other people’s lives.
Reading is also the ultimate escapism – you can’t be actively engaged in a book and also worrying about your own problems!
For me, it’s basically mindfulness, and I promise you reading will make you a more interesting person. So ditch the Instagram scrolling a find a book you love!
17. Sometimes you will miss the days of teenage romance
When simply sitting next to someone in the cinema could make you feel like “OHMYGOD THIS IS THE HOTTEST THING EVER I’M GOING TO DIE”.
18. You never regret travelling
Ok, I’m going to caveat this with the obvious point that if you get into debt travelling, then you will regret it.
But generally, if it’s a toss up between a new handbag and flights to Europe, or replacing your sofa and a holiday, I say always pick the travel. There’s nothing quite as magical as exploring the world.
19. It’s okay if your uni days weren’t the best of your life
Ditto, school days. There seems to be this weird perception about your time in education, with people claiming that it will literally be the highlight of your entire existence.
I spent quite a few years regretting the fact that I didn’t love university more. Sure, I had great nights out and made some lovely friends, but I also got myself totally stressed about work and found living in halls for three years (as was customary at my uni) pretty isolating at times.
You know what though? That’s okay. It doesn’t make you failure if you “failed” to have the greatest of times when you were “meant” to be. Everything is a learning experience, and I’ve had amazing times since – in fact I would argue my late twenties have been way better than my university years, proving those old cliches are not true for all of us!
20. It’s important to be able to take constructive criticism
Try to be gracious rather than defensive.
21. The best thing you can do to eat more healthily is cook from scratch
Ignoring my earlier comments about Sainsbury’s tortellini, I have realised that cooking from scratch makes you naturally eat more healthily, mainly because you can actually see what’s going into your food (whereas those 15 teaspoons of sugar that go into your shop-bought pasta sauce…nope).
22. Some people are just “fun” friends
One thing I’ve definitely realised as I’ve got older is that there are certain categories of friends, and you need them in different situations.
For example: the fun friend. You’ve had some of your best nights out with her and can’t actually picture her without a cocktail in her hand. She makes you laugh until you cry and is, quite frankly, WILD on the dance floor.
However, when you text her saying you really need to chat, she’ll fail to reply. When you arrange dinner with her because you’re newly-single and lonely, she’ll flake at the last minute, even though that was the only thing getting you through the day.
Accepting that some people are like this – great fun but unreliable – is a good thing that comes with age. Instead of getting mad at them, put them in a box labelled “fun friend” and decide whether or not that’s something you need in your life.
P.S. to my friends who are both fun AND always there for me, you are the freakin’ best.
23. It’s okay to like Bridget Jones
And shaving your legs, being complimented, watching Love Actually, having the door opened for you, new MAC f0undations and anything else that some people might label you as a “bad feminist” for. As long as it’s your choice, do what makes you happy.
24. Being a quiet person doesn’t mean you’re uninteresting, and being really loud doesn’t mean you’re interesting.
I’ll just leave that there.
25. Jealousy is really self-destructive
We ALL feel jealous sometimes – it’s human nature to feel like “Hmm that person is richer/cleverer/prettier/more accomplished than I am, I WANT THAT”.
However, being overcome with jealousy will only make you feel shitty and is normally based more on a perception of what you assume their life must be like, rather that fact. Like “Oh she’s so gorgeous, she must be way happier than I am”. This is not necessarily the case.
I know some form of jealousy is inevitable, but I think you can make a conscious choice to be thrilled for someone rather than envious. Make a mental decision to let all the great stuff that happens to your friends make you happy, instead of raving with jealousy.
I promise when you start to think like this it makes your mental load SO much lighter, because celebrating someone else’s success is so much more joyful and productive than thinking “F**k you I wish I had your life”.
26. If something really scares you, you have to do it A LOT
I had this weird phase where I developed a real phobia of flying (a super turbulent flight combined with all those disappearing planes tipped me over the edge).
However, I was absolutely not prepared to be one of those people who doesn’t fly, so I decided to treat this fear by method of over-exposure.
Luckily this coincided with a time when I worked at a magazine with lots of press trips, so – sorry planet – I took 18 flights in one year, and by the end of it I was very much over my fear.
Obviously not everyone is in that lucky position to fly all the time, but whether your fear is public speaking or going to the dentist, you just need to force yourself through it enough times until it’s not a big deal any more.
27. Stop saying “sorry” all the time
I remember reading about a study last year where it was discovered that women apologise way more profusely than men in their work emails. As I result, I downloaded software which scans my emails for apologetic terms – and was genuinely gobsmacked at how many I was using without even realising.
At first, when I left them out, I seriously felt like “Oh my god, this is email is so RUDE”, but actually, no one came back to me offended, and actually deleting all the sorrys from my emails made them much more authoritative.
Other things to use less: “I was just thinking”, “hope you don’t mind me saying”. “could I just add?”. You get the idea.
28. Endless shopping = bad
Whereas our grandmothers grew up getting one new dress a year and then wearing and repairing it for the next 20, we exist in an era where you can pick a new top up for less than the cost of your lunch.
This has led to wardrobes that are crammed to bursting and the invention of the phrase ‘stuffocation’, which I most certainly suffer from.
I was clearing out the clothes I’d left at my parents home recently and it actually made me feel sick to realise how much money I had wasted on high street tat, particularly in cheaper shops like Primark, where nothing fits well and it all seems to fall apart after two washes.
My advice: clear out anything from your wardrobe you never wear, that takes a big effort to wear (ironing, fake tanning, buying a new weird bra) or that you’re keeping solely because you feel guilty about the money you spent on it.
Only buy things you absolutely love, that you will actually wear in your real life (not on imaginary Caribbean holidays) and that will last. Don’t buy anything if, when you try it on, you think “oh yes this will look great with black jeans and gold heels” if you don’t actually own those items (come on, we’ve all been there).
I know this sounds like blindingly obvious advice but believe me, if I’d followed it at a younger age I’d probably be a lot richer right now.
29. Happiness is not a one way trajectory
If there’s one piece of advice I really want to impart, it’s that there will be good times and bad times during your 20s, but nothing is permanent.
When you’re feeling sh*tty, understand that you won’t feel low forever.
When everything is good in your life, take time to appreciate it, instead of fretting over small stuff.
A lot of people have asked me if I’m “freaking out” about approaching my 30s, which I think is a really bad way to look at it.
Instead I’ll be celebrating another year of good health and fun times, preferably with a several thousand glasses of Prosecco. Cheers ladies!