How to have it all by 30

Post by Hannah Michel for the Kind Kindred series.

photo taken by Kate Dudley

I had dreaded 30.

Last summer I couldn’t imagine turning 30 (30!) being where I was. Living at home, laboring at a job I felt I had fallen into, strained financially, unsure of what to do and paralyzed with anxiety. How could I accept this seemingly official step into permanent adulthood when I was so far from anything I hoped for? With less than a year left of 29, could I figure out how to have it all?

People often tell you that your 20’s are the best time of your life, “Enjoy the freedom while you can!” “Travel!” “Take risks!”. My 20’s were a mix of severe missteps and leaps from one uncertainty to the next. I struggled with my parents’ divorce, my father’s life-threatening illness during their separation and my being his primary support during his recovery. I battled between ignoring and soothing my coming-to-terms with my own chronic illness. I spent years recovering from an extremely damaging relationship. I strived to finish school, I worked (sometimes multiple jobs) while taking classes, taking semesters off to deal with various issues or just catch my breath. Instead of what many young adults do, plan a future and enjoy the freedom of the “college experience”, I was exhausted and bitter. I was afraid. I feared I would never catch up.

But I kept going, pushing in any direction I could. I hoped I could make up for lost time, find something to hold on to, build on, make permanent and sustain me. Whatever it was it had to be good. I felt I had a deadline. If by 30 I didn’t have THE job, or money to keep up with my friends, or the perfect Refinery 29 worthy apartment, I would be a failure. I needed something to come together. Fast.

I was not an outward mess. I did have a full time, 9-5 job. I was in decent shape and spent time with friends and my boyfriend. But I was overwhelmed with fear, feeling so guilty over past decisions and lost time I couldn’t move forward. I was paralyzed. So I entered counseling.

During weekly sessions my counselor and I dug through my past, not only the last 10 years but high school, events from my childhood, the whole picture. I was filled with anger, at my parents, at myself, at everyone who I thought had hurt me. I was carrying decades of resentment. As per usual we talked about my feelings, my hopes for my future, where did I want to be both internally and externally. I admitted that I often sought the approval of others over crafting my own happiness, and tried to absorb the pain of those I loved. I often tip-toed through situations to make things easier for those around me, concentrating on fixing their problems while neglecting my own advancement. I feared I couldn’t rely on myself. I knew the primary reason I was failing was me.

We worked on how to find my center. Not in a meditative sense but the core of who I was. Find the me that is constant, that I look to when I falter, that does not disappear when I fail. I felt I had lost myself through years of coping, when I was just trying to get through with the least amount of damage.

There were moments where I wondered if opening so many emotional boxes was the right choice. If I would be able to deal with who I had become, if I could handle what realizations would present themselves. Working through these moments is what built me. It allowed me to release hurts that for so long I held like prizes, it freed me to create what I wanted for myself. I feel more deeply rooted now, secure in knowing I can accept myself, for all I am, and all I have been.

One of my greatest steps was learning self-care. Treating myself as I would a treasured friend, moving away from negative reinforcement that had become a reflex. Not allowing others to hurt me or justify actions against me for any reason, despite the upset my objection may cause. Caring for my body, by seeing a trainer and making gym time a priority. And learning to forgive myself. For all the ills I committed in coping, in struggling, in trying to figure it all out.

Learning to see the unknown and inevitable change as desirable, took a lot of work. To realize that no matter what I achieved (a job, an apartment, toned arms) that things would evolve was liberating. Nothing is permanent, the good or the bad. This, more than anything, allows me to see every step as an option, not an absolute, a building block, not an ending. I will still take missteps, I will still see those I love hurt, I will still fail, but I don’t have to lose myself.

Working on my emotional health was the foundation for all other steps I needed to take to make permanent changes that did not sway with new jobs or relationships, loss of money or physical appearance.

As I neared 30, I did start to panic (a little). What if I didn’t love 30 or the future that comes after? What if all the work, all the crying, telling my secrets and revealing hurts that felt as raw as they did when I first experienced them, was for nothing? What if I really had just failed and it was too late?

On the day I turned 30 I took off work. I got a facial, I went shopping, I went to the gym, and I finally learned how to do my eye shadow thanks to a lovely girl at Sephora. My dad bought me a cake from Talula’s Table. I went to dinner and a bar with my boyfriend and some friends. It came and went as so many days had before. I was relieved.

Through the work of the last year I learned to let go, to forgive, to focus on myself and the positive. As I worked to implement these changes everything got better and easier. Stress, fear, other peoples’ reactions and opinions find their rightful place and purpose, no longer carried inside my heavy heart. It has become so much easier to recognize the good and express true gratitude for it. This process helped me deal with the rejection of not getting into my dream grad school (which would have taken me to New York to study fashion, my dream). I was able to grieve the loss of this possibility, and move on to next step as I had planned. It was heartbreak, but seeing I am able to overcome the loss of my dream, and move on to create exciting next step is an achievement in itself.

I am one week from moving into a great apartment. I have leveraged my job into a lucrative position where I can afford to take care of myself (and go to Vegas with friends while stilling having a safety net). I have a long term plan, and short term goals to get there. I don’t carry fear with me like I used to. The heaviness that others could sense is gone.

I don’t have every piece of life perfectly together; I didn’t make up for lost time. But I got exactly what I needed, the ability to move forward in a lightness I never thought I would have. And I find myself, feeling like I can have it all, at 30.

Hannah is currently working as a recruiter in Philadelphia. She loves taking on editorial projects that focus on fashion, photography and writing. This fall will mark her 4th year of participation as a dresser at New York Fashion Week, where her passions (New York, fashion and a motley crew of friends) all come together. 
She loves the beach, having a drink on city rooftops, traveling to new places, and making tasty baked goods to share. Her weakness is Pinterest
While work, side projects and a recent move have taken priority she hopes to return to focusing on her blog, No Pants in the coming weeks. Her favorite food is cheese.
Photo taken by Kate Dudley

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