HOW TOs Turnin' Thirty: Notes From My Twenties Kate Harmer

There is no age I have been that I would trade for the age that I am now. I’m turning thirty this weekend and in fact, there has never been a point in my life at which old 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 5 identical outfits. (Or, wait… is there?) 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 who cares? It fits and it’s done. A goal for my thirties is to find an evening appropriate uniform. I’m dreaming big, guys!

Education is an amazing escape route.
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.

The only way to become something is to be it.
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.”

Don’t touch it.
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.

The coolest people are the hardest workers.
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.

Admit that you don’t know.
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.

Have friends.
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 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. (YOU GUYS. I would die without you. Thank you.)

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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  1. I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours, nonetheless, this text has been a fresh of breath air. I mean a breath of fresh air. Are you sure you’re not really a writer? I’m 30 minus 2 years [curses and curses] and I’ve enjoyed reading your tips. We’re at the age where these kind of tips go in one ear and out the other, and when encountering them again, we’re inspired and dumbfounded as if it’s the first time we’ve come across them. We humans are a strange, amusing creature. The notion of making my own list [still got 2 years to go, hoping they'll be filled with many more amazing, mindblowing experiences] of this sort will definitely be an interesting challenge. Thank you for sharing yours.

  2. My 20′s was the best thing to ever happen to me. It was full…FULL of mistakes that I ultimately learned from but lived in my own little version of “The Hills” while I lived them. I thought I was the most important thing in the world and had close to no regard for my loved ones around me. I’ve been 30 for 4 months and am so glad that bratty 20-something punk is behind me and that a beautiful life with my beautiful family (who managed not to kill me) is in my future!

  3. For me, there are good and bad things that have occurred in my 30′s so far. The good news is that this is your prime time. I am excited to see what kind of creative art you will discover. The bad news are that mean girls come back in your 30s (according to research and personal experience). Put on your awesome shield and let those c words know who you are. ;)

  4. personally, i’m looking forward to my golden years/retirement

  5. something that I’ve come across from seeing friends upset is that YOU are in control of your own life, so if you’re not happy with it, YOU have the power to change it!

  6. Really nicely done, Kate. I might add that “don’t touch it” applies to peeling off shellac manis too. Otherwise the 30′s aren’t so bad. Happy birthday, my wise friend!

  7. I turn 30 next week, and I have to say this article gave me such a sense of relief!! It’s made me actually start looking forward to my 30′s rather then dreading it as I have been these last few months. Especially the points about Education, Becoming Something, and Friends. I’m so inspired. Thank you for posting this! :)

  8. I will be 40 on Sunday and I have just given up on looking at the number and having any expectations on what I need to have accomplished, done, started, lived, seen, acted, thought. It is never too early or late to start, continue or finish anything. Your life is your life. Live it for you and what you want to be/do.

    • “It is never too early or late to start, continue or finish anything”. SO smart and true, thank you for this! (Have a happy birthday this weekend Sonya!)

  9. Kate. I can’t wait to be 30 now. Geez.

  10. You are one cool chick! Hope you have a wonderful birthday! I love your post-twenties outlook on life! My only advice is to embrace a few more accessories with your “uniform.” I personally favor scarves, costume jewelry, and hats.

  11. I’m turning 40 next year & I’ve learned that you can’t buy a life. Life isn’t a competition. Always do your best. Each day is a gift, don’t waste it. Enjoy the simple things. Find someone who gets you & loves you just the way you are & vice versa. Try it at least once. Smile at everyone. Slow down & look around. Treat yourself kindly & be healthy. Live on a budget. Don’t be afraid to travel. Don’t wait until it’s the “right time”. Learn to be alone & be ok with it. Appreciate & love your family. Your parents were your age once & probably had a teenager to deal with! Kids don’t fix a marriage, they make it more stressful. You have to try extra hard to stay in love when you have kids. Treat your family & spouse with the same respect you would a stranger. Fight fair. Don’t pout. Kiss often. Compromise but always be yourself. Take care of the Earth. Take care of your parents/grandparents. Commit random acts of kindness. Be generous. Give to a charity your money or your time. Act like a kid. Believe. Mentor. Don’t steal. Be loyal. Take care of your things. Your kids probably won’t remember all the times you WERE there, but they’ll definitely remember when you WEREN’T. Check your ego. Instead of saying this won’t work, offer solutions. Be proactive. You can’t control anything, only your reaction to it. Jump on the bed. Look at the stars. Be organized. Drink milk. Take your vitamins. Take a walk. Hold hands. Don’t look back. Don’t worry about the future. Plan accordingly. Get a properly fitting bra. Stay in touch. Invest in a classic wardrobe & don’t spend alot on trends. Hope these help!! Good luck, girls! xoJS

  12. Like you, I am feeling better and better the older I get. I guess settled, would be a better description. One thing I learned for sure is that when you move around a LOT in your 20′s, you start to itch to stay in one place for a while in your 30′s. Stay, and build your life. I like the 3rd decade of my life so far. I am sure you will love yours, can’t wait to see what it brings! Happy Birthday, Kate!

  13. I loved “the only way to become something is to be it” so insightful, so hard, so hard to be an artist, waiter, badass whatever, when you aren’t yet, but if you wait till you are you just never will be…I love me some hellogiggles. http://ibelieveintheresurrection.com/

  14. i turn 30 on tuesday and always catch myself asking myself…am i normal? shouldnt i be farther along down the ‘adult path’ right now? this blog justmakes me feel good knowing that i do have good things to look around at. feel free to check this out…http://wordythirty.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/nontraditional-30/

  15. this is awesome! i’m going to be 30 @ the end of this year and am exactly where you are: re-evaluating what i’ve learned in my 20′s and loving every minute of this season of my life! thanks for sharing! :)

  16. When I turned 30, my main obsession was: “but I am NOT in my 20s anymore: what does that MEAN?” I finally got over that by realizing that everything I learned in my 20s (which hair products ruled; how to dress; which friends loved me as much as I loved them, etc.) would be more valuable in my next decade. And yeah, the friends thing: that totally resonated with me. You’re so brilliant!

  17. I also turn thirty this weekend, and I can honestly say that there is no anxiety in it for me like so many people close to me have had. The same as you, I can take a look back and think of all that I’ve learned and be proud of myself for who I am today. I look forward to the next ten years, starting a family, cultivating new friendships (to add to the amazing ones I have right now), and continuing my education to find my place in this world!!!!!

  18. Well, the lesson I’ve learned is that it NEVER hurts to start early. We always find the things we dread – exams, presentations, deadlines – heading at a hundred miles per hour towards us, but the things we love like an album release, your favourite book going on sale, seems to be so far away. The obvious reason is because we’re prepared for the things we love and we always deter doing/preparing for the dreaded ones.

    If we start early, Father Time would seem to be smiling on us :)

  19. this is so nice. At 25 I am constantly hoping/wanting to hear that in my thirties I will somehow turn into a beautiful butterfly. This made me feel like this little ugly hungry caterpillar is on the right track.