30 Things I Learned (And Did) Before Turning 30

From go-to recipes to serious life lessons.
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This Friday is my 30th birthday, and what a ride it has been to get here!! A majority of my friends are older than I am, and they’ve been telling me for years that the 30s are actually the best decade. I don’t know if that’s true yet, but it’s safe to say my 20s were eventful, at the very least. In my 20s, I: studied abroad in another country, graduated college (go Pios!), moved across the country to a city I’d never been to, gained two nephews, graduated as Valedictorian of a Master’s program, bounced back from approximately 10 break-ups, met my future husband through an app (and started planning our wedding), rescued a dog, and got my job at cupcakes and cashmere after applying blind through Ziprecruiter. I’ve learned (and done) a lot in the last decade, and after reading Taylor Swift’s list in Elle of the 30 things she learned and did before turning 30, I decided to take a crack at my own list (with a Kelly twist):

This batch of my go-to guac was particularly spicy thanks to lots of cayenne pepper

This batch of my go-to guac was particularly spicy thanks to lots of cayenne pepper

1. I claimed a go-to party dish. Everybody needs an easy go-to party dish that they can make from memory, and mine is guacamole. My dad taught me how to make some killer, not-so-basic guac at some point during college, and it’s been a much-requested party dish ever since. My recipe is easy and delicious:

  • 5 to 6 ripe avocados
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 small container cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 jalapeños
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Salt, pepper, cumin, chile powder, cayenne pepper (lots if you like it spicy)
  • Juice from 1 lime, or 2 if you're a lime lover
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons mayo, if you’re feeling extra excited
  • Chop/mash everything up, mix it together, and serve with your favorite tortilla chips
After my heart rate went back to normal, I waited like this for almost an hour in the ER at 1am, only for them to come back and ask about my caffeine intake (d'oh)

After my heart rate went back to normal, I waited like this for almost an hour in the ER at 1am, only for them to come back and ask about my caffeine intake (d'oh)

2. I gave up caffeine. The summer I turned 29, I gave up caffeine. After a very scary trip to the ER for a racing heartbeat (about 170 BPM at rest, which I now know was an SVT attack from too much caffeine and too little water), I gave it up and never looked back. Almost a year later, I feel better than ever, and haven’t had another attack since. Yes, it was hard, but my caffeine FOMO is finally behind me.

3. I picked a go-to drink for every situation. In my early twenties, I really disliked the taste of (almost all) alcohol. In social settings, it was really hard for me to know what to order at a bar or restaurant that I would actually drink instead of just nurse until it was lukewarm. A few years ago I finally started developing a taste for a few things, so I was determined to find “my drink” in every category so that I always had a go-to order no matter where I was:

  • Dive bar: Corona with lime
  • Brewery: A stout, or something fruity
  • Wine bar or restaurant: Malbec (red) or Riesling (white)
  • Cocktail bar: Aperol spritz
  • Wedding: Red, red wine
  • Grocery store: Apothic Red (around $10!)

4. I learned how to be less sensitive. At 30, I am nothing like the person I was at 20 when it comes to dealing with criticism, fights, and tough situations. In high school, I literally cried in front of the entire class when my math teacher told me I did a problem wrong (even though I actually got the right answer; I like math!). Today, I’m a pretty tough woman. I let things bounce off me like tennis balls and absorb information in a much more logical, rather than emotional, way. It took over a decade to learn, but I’m no longer running to the bathroom to cry in the middle of the day, which I feel is a major improvement?

The whole gang wearing matching TuneSquad jerseys at a theme party last year

The whole gang wearing matching TuneSquad jerseys at a theme party last year

5. I rescued a dog. Adopting Alexa was the best and most challenging decision I’ve ever made. Dealing with her separation anxiety in the early days was no joke, but a year later, Alfie and I are super confident that not only is she our best friend/child, but she has also brought us more joy than any amount of money ever could.

6. I learned how to cook. I could always cook, but in my late 20s, I learned how to make three easy, “presentable” dishes that I could bring to a dinner party or make for anyone I want to not embarrass myself in front of. My mom’s beef stew recipe, this green curry (slightly adapted to swap in green peppers instead of asparagus), and this chorizo chickpea stew are all winners for me. I also learned how to make homemade pizza (bake the crust for 5 minutes by itself first!), which is shockingly easy and not that expensive. If you want my mom's beef stew recipe (which isn't hers, I just have no idea where she got it from), here you go!

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs (or whatever kind of beef you want, really)
  • 3 onions (sliced)
  • Three one-pound cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine (whatever you have, we're not fancy)
  • 5 carrots (sliced)
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • As much garlic as you dare
  • 1 box tricolor rotini, cooked
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. In a heavy kettle, heat the olive oil on the stovetop and brown the meat. Transfer the meat to a plate.
  3. In the remaining fat, cook the onions until they're soft.
  4. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring.
  5. Return the meat, then add tomatoes, wine, carrots, thyme, basil, salt, and pepper
  6. Bring everything to a boil, then heat the covered pot in the oven for 2 1/2 hours
  7. Serve over delicious noodles!

7. I took some big risks. When I moved to L.A. in 2011, the closest I had ever come to Los Angeles was seeing it on The Hills. I moved for an internship that I hoped would turn into a job (it did), and I stayed because my career took off in the direction I had hoped it would. In the early days, everybody I met thought I was nuts. I didn’t know a single person in L.A., and asked a random girl I kind of knew from college to be my roommate. It took about four years to actually make real friends, but now at 30, I’m pretty sure the risk paid off for me.

8. I lived alone. Living alone is an experience I think every woman should try to do at some point in her life (if she can/is financially able to). It only lasted a year, but the 365 days spent in my Hollywood studio taught me a lot of valuable information about what I’m like without any outside influence (very clean, but definitely not tidy; I leave my shoes scattered everywhere) and how to be completely, 100% self-sufficient when there are fleas in the apartment, someone tries to break in at 2:00 a.m., or there is no dishwasher or laundry machine on site.

Alexa looking like an absolute ANGEL while I snap her pic; still one of my favorite photos to date

Alexa looking like an absolute ANGEL while I snap her pic; still one of my favorite photos to date

9. I picked up an (incredibly useful) hobby. Not everyone ends up using their hobbies at work, but my photography skills have come into play at every job I’ve had since picking it up. It started at 23 when I stumbled my way through taking some (crappy) photos for an e-commerce client, and today I’ve taken over as the photographer for the lifestyle shoots for our Shop. I chose a hobby that was a complement to my career path and education, and now I get to do something I love and get paid to do it!

Alfie and me at a wedding in Portland, Maine this year

Alfie and me at a wedding in Portland, Maine this year

10. I cracked the code on writing an online dating profile. Read my tips here, but after years of trying and failing at online dating, my person finally appeared and now we’re getting married!

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11. I found three beauty products that I’ll probably use forever. Or at least, until they’re discontinued (knock on wood). Nars Blush in ‘Orgasm’, Glossier Boy Brow in 'Blonde,' and Clinique Stay-Matte Sheer Powder in 'Stay Cream' and 'Stay Beige.'

"Extra space" doesn't exist in L.A., so the Peloton lives smack dab in the center of our living room

"Extra space" doesn't exist in L.A., so the Peloton lives smack dab in the center of our living room

12. I found a form of exercise I can commit to. When I was growing up, I did some pretty serious #sports. Since I left for college, though, I’ve become one of those people who refuses to get into a car to go work out. I feel better after I do, but dragging myself there, kicking and screaming, is by far the hardest part. After adopting Alexa, the probability of leaving my house to go work out (and putting her in her crate to do so) dropped to precisely zero. So, I brought the workout to my living room, and I bought a Peloton bike. Yes, it was expensive (I’ll be honest, I bought it with the unexpectedly large tax return I got this year), and yes, it was worth it. I cycle every other day with Alexa asleep next to me, and I actually look forward to it at the end of a long day. Big shout out to Ally and Cody, my motivators (yes, boo!)

13. I traveled alone. I lived in London for three months in 2009, and my maturity level advanced by at least five years during that single semester abroad. Even without a language barrier, moving to a different country at 20 without any other friends from my school TESTED ME in so many ways (almost missing the last bus at midnight and then sleeping on the floor of the Stansted airport all night on my way to Germany comes to mind), and I’m a much more independent person today because of it.

This book was given to me as a gift, and I'm *pretty sure* it's a First Edition

This book was given to me as a gift, and I'm *pretty sure* it's a First Edition

14. I found my favorite book since the Harry Potter series. The End of Eternity, written by Isaac Asimov in 1955, is a can’t-put-it-down science fiction book that was very much ahead of its time. At fewer than 200 pages, it’s a quick read that I devoured in a single weekend a few years ago, and I now own a somewhat-rare copy of it.

15. I switched to a phone case with card slots about five years ago, and I’ll never go back. The convenience of having an ID and credit card attached to your phone is a total game changer... as long as you aren’t the type to lose things (I’m not)!

16. I gained enough confidence to go almost anywhere without makeup on. Some people are probably horrified/confused by this, but in my mid-twenties I would wear a little bit of makeup even to work out or run to the grocery store. It was a self-confidence thing that had to be learned, and I finally got there at 28. Life is just too short to care too much about what other people think, and I finally learned that most people aren’t even looking at me anyway.

17. I learned that jeans don’t have to comprise 90% of your wardrobe. Just kidding, I’m still working on this one. I bought a bright green midi skirt the other day and was way too proud of myself.

18. I discovered milk alternatives. I could write a love song about coconut milk, but my midwest family was horrified when I announced I’d given up cow’s milk (except a little half and half in my coffee; I’m a risk taker) and switched to almond and coconut milk instead. However, my sister did a total 180 after submitting that microbiome (read: poop) test that Geoffrey also did last year, and found out that dairy was giving her some pretty serious issues. She gave dairy up this year too, and feels better than ever.

19. I learned to be comfortable with doing things alone. I love to go shopping solo, catch a movie with my friends the Sour Patch Kids, or grab a quick sushi roll alone. I never mastered the art of going to a workout class without a buddy (hence my Peloton purchase), but learning how to be comfortable doing things alone has undoubtedly made me a more relaxed person.

20. I learned how to make a “presentable," take-it-anywhere dessert. This cheesecake is insanely easy, and I get requests for the recipe every time I make it.

21. I learned not to underestimate myself, even when other people did. I will never forget an informational interview I had with an executive at Tiffany & Co. when I was 21. I was finishing up college in Colorado, and getting ready to move to a big city to jumpstart my career in marketing. She was probably the smartest person I had ever met at this point, and I really admired her career path. She seemed to really like me, but at the end of our conversation she told me to “go back to the Midwest and get some experience there first, and come back when you’re in your late 20s.” I never forgot that advice, and purposefully didn’t take it. I ended up as the Director of Marketing for a small online jewelry company in L.A. four years later (read my engagement ring guide here), and part of me thinks I worked so hard to get there to prove to this woman (who I’m sure forgot about me immediately) that I could work hard enough to make my career happen in the way I wanted it to.

22. I stayed friends with an ex. Actually, two! Every “failed” relationship is different, but I’ve learned that it’s actually pretty easy for me to stay friends with my exes if the relationship wasn’t too serious, nothing horrible went down, and their new girlfriend (if she exists) is chill. Some people are just better off as friends, and having both parties realize that can kickstart a really not-that-weird friendship.

23. I began a romantic relationship with skincare. My mother is a minimalist and uses nothing other than cleanser on her face; I grew up thinking this was the norm. (I truly thought that developing a more robust skincare routine was “bad” until my mid 20s.) Now, I’m in love with ceramides, benzoyl peroxide, retinol, glycolic acid, niacinamide, and plenty of other fun ingredients my mom would be horrified to learn that I use on a daily or weekly basis (see my routine here). Sorry, mom!

Dug up an old photo from 2015; almost a year after I joined the New Kicks On The Block

Dug up an old photo from 2015; almost a year after I joined the New Kicks On The Block

24. I learned how to make friends after college. Guys, making friends in a new city when you’re not exactly “young” anymore is HARD! One of the very first things I did after moving to L.A. was take an improv comedy class, where I met my first post-college friend, Noelle. After the class ended, we hung out a few times a year, until one day (years later) she randomly asked me if I wanted to join her kickball team. I was like, “Sure, why not?” Not only am I still friends with all of these people today, but they’re my main crew. I even met one of my best friends/ future bridesmaids, Karli, at the bar after a kickball game (she was on the opposing team). So, when in doubt, join some things!

25. I figured out how not to "sweat the small stuff." To be honest, I don’t know exactly how I did this. I feel like I just woke up one day a few years ago and realized that life is just too crazy/complicated/hard/full of opportunities, and letting the "small stuff" get in the way of my happiness (or progress) was completely counterproductive. It takes quite a lot to get under my skin. I’m that relaxed, go-with-the-flow person who is bothered for a few minutes and then just moves on with her day. I don’t know how I got here exactly, but I do know that I'm happier than I was before I learned this particular lesson.

26. I lowered my expectations. Okay, hear me out. I know this probably isn’t common advice, but I’ve found that a lot of my past unhappiness has come from having too high of expectations for other people and constantly striving for "perfection" (whatever that is). Realizing that you have no control over anything but yourself and adjusting your expectations accordingly may seem "bad," but I think it’s made me happier because I’m rarely disappointed in others or deeply shook by bad situations. Of course, there’s a line you shouldn’t cross (and you have to decide where that line is for you!), but never expecting anyone else to ensure your happiness was a super valuable thing for me to learn in my 20s.

27. I learned it’s okay to let some close friendships go. There are a few women I met in my 20s that I thought would be lifelong, best friends. When our relationships began to fade, I blamed myself. For years I wondered what I had done to hurt these relationships, but I eventually realized that sometimes life just takes people in different directions, and that’s okay. Usually the cause was some big event in her (or my) life, like getting engaged or moving out of state, or maybe even just “growing up” that took her life in a different direction from mine. Some people come into your life for a reason but aren’t meant to stay, and realizing that has only made me more confident in my relationships that will last for a lifetime.

In May, I skipped USC commencement and we ate tacos with our families instead (no regrets)

In May, I skipped USC commencement and we ate tacos with our families instead (no regrets)

28. I went to grad school. I think I always knew I would get a Masters (I’m a Ravenclaw, I can’t help it), but it took me a few years to decide which degree made the most sense for me. In the end, I decided against an MBA and went for a Masters in Marketing because my undergraduate degree was in Business, and I really didn’t feel the need to take advanced accounting, am I right?? I ended up graduating much earlier and saved around $30,000+ vs. the MBA programs I was considering, and graduating #1 in my class fulfilled a super geeky dream I’d had since high school.

29. I jumped on the “speciality” credit card train. I didn’t figure out credit card points until I was 25. I guess I was living under a rock, but I finally opened a Capital One Venture card (a.k.a., the Jennifer Garner card–What’s in your wallet?) in 2016 when I bought myself a new computer. I get mad points on everything I buy, and I can use it on any kind of travel related expenses I want, including a trip to Cabo to celebrate my birthday this year!

Seriously, one of the best books I've ever read (thanks, book club!)

Seriously, one of the best books I've ever read (thanks, book club!)

30. I joined a book club. I was in an insanely fun book club for a few years in my mid-twenties until its members slowly started planning weddings, had to focus on schoolwork, or moved out of the state. I met so many incredible women and drank a lot of incredible wine, and it forced me to expand my literary horizons outside of my usual genre (sci-fi/fantasy). I discovered one of my all-time favorite books there, which I would recommend to anyone who just needs a solid cry: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; a historical fiction novel about two sisters during World War II. I feel like its absence has left a hole in my weekday nights… is anyone in West L.A. game to start another club with me???