work + life
Work and life lessons I learned before my 30th birthday
and what I want to do with the next 30 years
by Brittany Taylor
published November 19, 2017
updated May 30, 2018
¶ A few nights ago, I starred in my very own Hollywood melodrama. Picture it: me, sitting in my shower, bawling as steam fogged up the mirror. All I needed was a boombox and a rubber duckie posing jauntily in the background.
The scene unfolded after a conversation with my mom about the things she thought I should be doing, lest I wake up in 30 years and find myself sad and alone. (Nice, Mom. Way to instill the birthday cheer.)
I’m not going to rattle off 30 things I’ve learned over the years, ‘cause by the time I got to 25, I’m certain I’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to be witty about it. Instead, I’m going to share the highlight reel. The stuff that’s helped me the most. The stuff I wish I’d known sooner. The stuff I’d tell my own kids. And the stuff I hope will help you, no matter where you are in life.
And after I share that stuff, I’m gonna share what I’m going to make happen next (and maybe a few hopes and dreams, too. It is my birthday, after all).
30 years of shyness, introversion, and social anxiety has its upsides. Like these survival tips I'm sharing with you right here.
The big work + life lessons I've learned so far
The thing about hindsight is that it doesn’t come with a time machine. We can’t go back and change the past—and honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to. After all, you don’t get the lessons without making the mistakes.
Here are the things I learned the hard way.
The choices you make when you’re 20 aren’t written in stone
By my sophomore year of college, I decided I was going to be a magazine editor. Three years later, I was one, and most days, I was miserable. I loved the writing but hated many of the tasks associated with my editor role. I stayed in that job far longer than was healthy because I had made that choice, damn it. Letting go of that job title lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.
If you’re changing your personality to make something work, it’s not the right thing
Throughout my teens and 20s, I tended toward shifting my personality depending on the group of people I was with or the person I was dating. I would tone down my humor, my zaniness, my bawdiness, my creativity, my absurd dancing, my politics—things that are important to me!—because they didn’t seem to fit in. Then, I would wonder why I felt a little dimmer in the presence of these people who never knew the real me.
Build your personality into your business.
When you see something happening that’s wrong, you’re never wrong to speak up and act out against it
What shames me most are the times in my life where I’ve seen something bad happening to other people and I’ve shrunken away from it because I was afraid of what could happen to me if I did something about it. There are five or six moments in particular that stand out and I…if I could, I would take that time machine and I would go back and push my younger self forward.
You shouldn’t wait for other people to realize that you need help
I’m a terrible delegator. Truly, god-awfully terrible. I hate asking people for help and I loathe telling people to do things. As an editor, assigning tasks to high school interns was one of the worst parts of my job. I have a finely tuned sense of imposition, and I cringe at the thought of inconveniencing someone else, even if it’s my job to do that and their job to do what I tell them to. Ugh. /shiver
Life goes more smoothly if you assume the best of people
Even if they did mean that awful thing they said, even if they never intended to put your check in the mail 2 months ago, even if you told them 15 times that they need to do X before you can do Y, assume that none of those things are true. Assume that they meant to do the right thing. It’s so much less stressful on your end, it makes for a far more pleasant “This is what I heard you say, is that what you really meant?” wink nudge conversation.
And sometimes, people really do mean to do the right thing.
Drama is way better if you get it from trashy TV rather than real life
Three years of middle school, 4 of high school, 3 working in a shoe store, 4 living in single-sex dorms, and 3 on the very small staff of The Magazine loaded me up with a lifetime of drama. I’ll take Abby Lee Miller and a Project Runway “I’m not here to make friends” sass-fest on my television any day. Wayyy less stress.
The best way to take criticism is to understand where it’s coming from
My favorite teacher in middle school was my 8th grade English teacher. Boy, did she scrawl red ink all over my first essay. That was the first C I ever received. And you know what? For the first few months of her class, I was defensive about it. I resisted her comments, I pushed away the feedback. I was a hostile 14-year-old.
Then I stopped (I can’t remember why). I started listening. I started going to see her after class to talk through my ideas and my outlines and asking why she marked certain things down. And my writing got my better. Huh.
The 4 bosses whose content I study to make my own writing better.
There are always people who are worse off than you, but that doesn’t make your problems inconsequential
When I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, I trivialized it. At least I had medications to take, I reasoned. My best friend was going from doctor to doctor and test to test, and no one knew what was wrong with her, so really, I was doing OK. And that was partly true, but also: I was really sick. Trivializing my own problems allowed me to rationalize pushing them to the side until I literally could not function anymore. Put your own oxygen mask on first, folks.
Worrying about how you can “say X in a nice way” is a waste of time
I’ve spent hours of my life doing emotional labor that I should never have had to do. You should not have to worry about having an awkward money conversation with someone who is late cutting you a check! You should not have to worry about causing tension in the office when someone else is taking credit for your work! Stop it!
Doctors can fix most things these days. Go talk to them
Says the girl with an incurable autoimmune disease that is far worse than it could have been, had I gone to the doctor earlier: go to the fucking doctor.
If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification
I’m big on figuring things out for myself. I’m totally down to do my research. But when someone is giving you an assignment—like, say, your boss—and you don’t get it the first time around, there’s no way you can Google your way out of that problem. My favorite way to work through this is by saying either, “This is what I heard you say. Is that right?” or “I’m sorry. Could you say that again using different words?” I know that second one sounds stupid, but nobody has ever taken it that way. In my experience, people are always happy to explain themselves rather than chance a mistake.
How to blog about an "oops" moment without looking like an asshole or an idiot.
The best way to fix a problem relationship is to talk about the problem
My best friend, bless her, was super flakey the first few years of our friendship. She’d bale on me all the time, and it got to the point where I didn’t want to plan things with her because I knew she’d text me at the last minute with a reason she couldn’t make it. I had two choices: talk to her about it or let the friendship go. I talked to her about it—sent her an email, actually—and she fixed the problem. And she’s still my best friend.
If you can’t stop crying (or sleeping), it’s because you need it. And also: Something is wrong
I’m a big believer in listening to your body. Well, I’m a big believer in listening to your body now.
My senior year of high school, I worked myself into an emotional breakdown, and at 25, I waited to go to the doctor until I was so anemic and weak that my vision was blacking out while walking to my car. And even then, my parents and my adopted parents had to force iron pills into my hand and drag me.
¶ So, cry if you need to cry and sleep if you need to sleep, but also consider why it is that you’re dehydrating yourself by way of tear production (or spending more time horizontal than vertical). Then, make changes based on those answers.
You won’t always be able to eat half of a chocolate layer cake by yourself, so enjoy it while you can
This isn’t witty. This is true. I can’t eat my sweets like I could a decade ago, and I find that upsetting. Please eat some cake for me, y’all. I just can’t finish it myself anymore.
What I'm moving toward, starting now
Life is a journey, a process; that’s what’s fascinating about it. We’re never complete and we’re never done.
I remember being 19 years old and sharing a dorm room with two friends. One night, we turned the light out and talked about what we wanted from life and where we expected we’d be by the time we were 30. I’m pretty sure one friend was ignoring the conversation, but the other bemoaned how worried she was that’d she be a spinster cat lady when she hit the big 3-0.
That was the first night I remember telling myself that time limits—the idea of “if X doesn’t happen by Y, it’s never going to happen and life will suck forever after”—were dumb. I told her that I would rather be single at 30 than married to the wrong guy. And here I am, single at 30 and thrilled that I did not marry one of the very wrong guys I’ve dated.
That’s one of the ideas I’m carrying with me as I move into my next three decades of life. Here’s more:
Accumulating less stuff
I’m a collector of things with any shred of nostalgia or use value and a hoarder of shit I might need someday. I’m so sick of it. Why the fuck do I have a sand art thing I made when I was 7? The only reason I kept it because, oh my god, I made it when I was 7! No more of this nonsense. I’m going to purge the crap and I’m going to keep the stuff I’m actively using and actively loving.
Also see: minimalism and The Magical Art of Tidying Up
Cherry-picking my teachers
I go through periods where I want to gather close all the knowledge I might ever need, as though Google might suddenly go out of business. I have quite the archive, which I never dig into, but I’m also surrounded both by a lot of noise and a lot of digital clutter. I feel irrational guilt when I look at all the email newsletters I’m subscribed to but rarely read. I hate looking at my blog feed and never seeing the unread number dip to zero. It’s time to prune until I’m left with the good stuff I value—and, when I stop valuing it, it’s time to tip my hat at those old teachers and usher in some new ones.
Nurturing the relationships that feed me the most
I have three friends I would do anything for and who I know what do anything for me. But I can be blasé when it comes to tending to those relationships. Sometimes, I disappear. Sometimes, I don’t talk to them for weeks! Losing these friendships would hurt my heart, so I want to do better. I want to be a better friend to the friends who mean the most to me, and I’d like to slowly, thoughtfully cultivate more of these friendships.
Becoming financially independent
This is the one that frustrates me the most because, hey, I’m 30! I should have this down! But I don’t, and that’s embarrassing. Some quarters, I do great, and others, I fail miserably. I need to take more accountability for my financial situation and my business in general, and finally, at 30, I’m figuring out how to do that. Better late than never, right?
Embracing my interests
You know what? I like to sew and I like to write romances and I like to go to the movies by myself and I like Harry Potter. I’m a dork. Whatever.
Speaking up and speaking out
In the last year alone, I’ve become more politically interested and politically active than I have ever been in my life. It’s stressful and anxiety-inducing, yes, but it’s also rewarding. Opening my eyes to the world, as privileged and naïve as that sounds, has forced me to challenge things I’ve been taught, truths and fictions I’ve assumed, and behaviors I’ve tolerated from myself and other people.
¶ Every time I correct myself or I notice that I’m doing something differently, something better, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. The more I listen, the more I think about what I’m learning about people and the world, the more I grow. And I’m very much enjoying that process, as difficult as it is.
Follow my on Instagram @seebrittwrite for more of this goodness (and pictures!).
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.
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