30 for 30

Hello 30I recently spoke with a good friend of my from grad school, and she said something along the lines of how she can’t believe how much I’d changed since the first day she met me. I had to agree with her. I’m the same person at my core, and I have the same sense of humor, ambition, and value for friends and family, but everything else has become more nuanced, elastic. I love to write, and I process things better when I do, so a birthday blog it is! I mentioned I get introspective around this time, remember? Anyway, while this list is not comprehensive, in any particular order, and maybe not interesting to anyone but me, it covers some things I’ve learned and ways I’ve changed in my first 30 years on this planet.

  1. I’m still learning about myself.

I think this is the most important point to keep in mind. Everything on this list is true now, but if the past proves its way to the present, in another 10 years (or 10 minutes) I could self-assess my way to a new mental place entirely. Cheers to challenges, learning, and the ability to change one’s mind.

  1. It’s okay not to get married.

Growing up you think everything will fall into place. You’ll meet someone, you’ll fall in love, you’ll get married and live happily ever after. Crushes are heated and uncomplicated. You could never fall out of your feelings, because they were just too strong. Nope. Never.

Fast forward to now. You’ve seen friends get the marriage thing right, and you’ve seen other couples fall apart. You’ve heard horror stories. You realize deep down you’re pretty afraid of commitment, and you tend to like men that don’t like you that much for, quite possibly, this reason. You still want a partner, but it’s getting harder and harder to picture the kind of mutually satisfying, long-term relationship that makes sense. You like living by yourself. You don’t want to be trapped, and you don’t want to hurt anyone. You realize maybe this single thing is your destiny. At 30, you’re open to whatever happens, and you hope you can move past the fear of whichever option that comes to you. (Oh, and you read this article and feel a bit less alone.)

  1. Friends come and go, but the ones that stay are really important.

When I was younger, I often worried about losing friends. I didn’t want to fall out of touch with anyone I’d ever loved that way. It felt like defeat. Now I know that some friends are in your life at that particular time for a reason. When they drift away, it isn’t necessarily a reflection on either of you. Life just moves people differently. For each of us, though, there will be those sticky friends – the friends that you can call up after a month of zero talking and pick up where you left off. The ones that know you so well you don’t have to worry about time or distance. I’m grateful for all of my friends – even those built on impermanence – but I love those that stay. To quote Mindy Kahling, “A best friend isn’t a person. It’s a tier.”

  1. People reading is a great gift…

I’ve always been very good at reading between the lines with people. If I can’t figure out someone’s motivations quickly, I’m frustrated. Yes, I like being challenged, but I also like being able to tell generally what someone will do and why they’ll do it. This also helps in meetings when two people are saying different things and they think they’re saying the same thing (or vice versa). I can mediate (for small, inconsequential encounters), y’all. 

  1. … and so is gaydar.

Yes, sexuality is nuanced. No, I don’t typically use the term “gaydar.” However, you don’t accidentally date gay men without learning a thing or two about dudes who may not be interested in what you have to offer. I’m glad my naivety got the best of me when it did, though. A relationship with an ex has turned into one of the longest, best friendships of my life. It’s a beautiful thing.

  1. It’s good to care a little less.

I’ve found that one of the best things about getting older is the confidence you gain from knowing yourself. I’ll always hate conflict and I want to be liked (to a degree), but ultimately I’ve noticed a great downward trending shift toward caring less. Now, I don’t mean caring less about life, people or work. I mean caring less about what people think of me specifically. You don’t agree with me politically? Fine, but don’t expect me to stay quiet about my opinion. Loose clothing isn’t flattering and men won’t be into it? I’ll wear sack dresses every damn day, because I love them. You don’t like my jokes? I’ll laugh at them myself (too loudly and too often). It’s about finding yourself and sticking to it no matter the situation, even if it makes you uncool. This isn’t high school.

  1. It’s fun to curse.

    I’ll (mostly) refrain here, because who knows which of my parents’ friends are reading this (thanks for reading!). However, I used to think of cursing as last resort for someone lacking in vocabulary. Now I know just how useful and satisfying a few four letter words can be.. 

  2. Sexuality is not shameful.

    I’ve had friends who waited till marriage for sex, and I’ve had friends who were sexual revolutionaries from the get-go. I, personally, grew up signing faith-based abstinence cards annually and listening to lots of shame-based rhetoric. This kind of sexuality/shame tie is not helpful. 
    In the same way that we shouldn’t be ashamed of sex as part of the human experience, no one should feel shame or fear to profess the gender of the person they love. I’ve several close friends come out over the years, some with better experiences than others. I hope we’re moving to an age where this doesn’t matter to anyone else but the two people in the relationship. Let’s hope together.
  1. Siblings can be your best friends.

My sister, seemingly opposite in (some) interests and appearance, has truly become the person I like the most. I’m so thankful my parents decided to have her. She’s my favorite birthday present. (Where’s your 26 for 26 list, Kelsey?!)

  1. Attractiveness is not measurable on a scale.

I’ve never been heavier, and I’ve never felt more attractive. Gathering less important, external criteria, I’ve also never been hit on quite so much or gone on so many dates. I’m over feeling weird about my individual snowflake of a body. 

  1. Therapy is good.

I finally started seeing a therapist, and it’s amazing to talk to someone who doesn’t know you, really. An outside perspective is really essential. She’s already helping me with anxiety coping mechanisms, and she’s helped me through some life changes already. She’s great. Go CBT!

  1. Talking about your issues outside of therapy is important.

That said, you still need to talk to your friends and family. Be open about your mental health. Hiding it doesn’t help anyone. The stigma is a huge part of the problem. See #13.

  1. Honesty really is the best policy.

In conjunction with the caring less thing, I’ve decided honesty – especially in my personal life – is the way to go. I wish I’d adopted this philosophy years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time and mental energy. These days, if I like a guy, I tell him. If I’m concerned about something, I talk about it. I ask almost any question that pops into my head. Maybe I over-explain to a fault, maybe it’s unromantic, but it works for me. It’s better this way.

  1. An attraction to smart men is a double-edged sword.

The only – and I mean the only – common denominator among my past boyfriends and crushes is a high IQ. (If those men also have any of the above: dad bods, beards, glasses, and/or cats – bonus!) However, sometimes smart men can be overly confident. They can be challenging and frustrating. I’ve realized, though, that no matter how many times I get my heart broken, they’ll always be my type. Come at me Mensa men.

  1. Being in charge is difficult.

I never thought I’d be in charge of an organization at 29. That’s not bragging – I really didn’t think that. I honestly never thought I’d be in charge of an organization, period. I’m still not sure that being a capital Boss is for me forever, but I love what I do, and the things I’m learning give me great respect for everyone I’ve worked for in the past. Power (even a little power at a small organization) is a heavy burden to bear. It’s the scariest, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

  1. Recharge time is important.

I learned a long time ago that after hours spent with other people – no matter how much I like them – I need time alone. Such is the way of the introvert. My best example is when I went to Buffalo, NY, to help host my best friend’s wedding shower. There were parties, there were people around me the whole weekend, and most of those people, aside from my friend, were extroverts. I didn’t take a day off from work when I got back. Big mistake. I was extraordinarily grumpy and unpleasant to be around. Sorry, friends. I’ve learned my lesson.

However, starting my new job this year took some trial and error. I find it very difficult to turn off my mind, especially when it comes to work. How do you stop working when there’s always more to do? My first 2-3 months in my position, I would check email when I was at home after work and on weekends. I felt a small ping of stress every time a new email flag would pop up on my phone. Finally, I had enough. I’m not a doctor or lawyer or therapist – my job isn’t life or death (I hope). I could take a few hours away from the office, and I felt, and continue to feel, better for it. Resting outside of work helps my productivity and morale at work.

  1. Unrequited love makes music better.

I’ve always loved sad music, but sometimes you need to get your heart broken to really appreciate it. Punch that heartbreak card and those melancholy feelings will really hit home.

  1. Spending money on books is never a mistake.

We all have buyer’s remorse from time to time. I’ve never felt it from a book spree. 

  1. Kids aren’t for everyone.

People tend not to believe me when I say I don’t want to have children. I’m a nurturing person, and I like to take care of friends and family. However, wanting to care for other adults is very different from carrying, giving birth to, and changing my life by bringing another person into it. 

  1. Don’t believe everything you think.

This is pithy, and I heard it from my therapist. It’s true, though. Living with anxiety means your thoughts often spiral into the negative, and learning not to believe them is key to management. Pay attention to feelings? Yes. Believe them automatically? No.

  1. Unanswered questions are okay.

    I’ve been reflecting a lot on the things I believe – about religion, relationships, what I want out of life, etc. I’m much more flexible than I once was about all of the above, and I’m trying to enjoy this time of uncertainty instead of forcing myself into new boxes of belief too quickly.

  1. Black clothing is the best clothing.

Wearing black all the time is boring and morbid? Nope, I think it’s chic and easy and everything matches. Navy is the preppier cousin that wishes it could be the color black. If a piece of clothing is available in black – give me!

  1. Dresses with pockets are proof of God’s love.

Like my statement about black clothing, if a dress has pockets, I want it. I can leave pants behind, be comfortable in a dress, and have a place to put my cell phone? Sold.

  1. Red lipstick makes almost any day better.

I guess I’m including my fashion choices all in a row? Red lipstick looks like confidence, and some days you just need a boost.

  1. Ambition is good, but persistence is key.

I made a career change into my field of dreams at 29. I could have stayed in the job I was in forever. It was fine. It had great benefits. I could have not looked. I could have listened to the many, many, many rejection letters I received from probably every hiring arts organization in the country (except Florida or Alaska – gross). You can have all the ambition in the world, but you have to have follow-through, too. You have to believe in yourself enough to continue trying on days when you feel like giving up.

  1. Bacon and burgers are too delicious to live without.

From about freshman year in high school to 2012, I didn’t eat red meat. That’s no burgers, bacon, pork chops – nothing. Bacon is the gateway meat that brought me back. My cholesterol is higher, but my life is better.

  1. Moving is an adventure.

To use Tinder speak, my path looks like this: Greeneville, TN > Jefferson City, TN > Savannah, GA > Greeneville, TN > Chattanooga, TN > Nashville, TN > Waynesville, NC. Moving is always difficult and always rewarding. The process sucks, but I love getting to know a new place. It’s like getting to know a new friend.

  1. Crying when angry is the worst.

This is the thing that most annoys me about myself. Any strong emotion, especially frustration or anger, makes me cry. Romantic comedies? It’s rare I shed a tear. Someone pisses me off to the point of no return and I have to engage in conflict that I hate? I’m bawling my eyes out. I look like a weak baby instead of the powerful, verbal barb-slinging badass that I want to believe I might be someday. I rarely get angry, but know that if I am, I will be crying. It’s serious.

  1. “What’s your Myers-Briggs type?” is the better “What’s your sign?”

Except for the fact that Mercury is a terror when in retrograde, I believe very little to do with astrology. Myers-Briggs I believe in. Most of my close friends are introverts or introvert-compatible extroverts. I wish people walked around with their types on name badges so I’d know who I should avoid or befriend.

  1. I’m hitting my stride.

Once upon a time I thought that turning 30 would be scary. It’s not. I feel like I’m finally in a job that I love. I’m dating. I’m learning more about my beliefs. I have friends and family I love very much. I have a great cat. I’m practicing being vulnerable and honest. I have my anxiety (mostly) under control. I’m growing a great streak of gray hair. I like who I am. Thirty feels pretty damn great. Let’s go.

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