Whether you are a woman in your 30s, or are approaching (or exiting) this momentous decade, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind. What will you be proudest of when you eventually look back? Launching a career that provided both soul and financial sustenance? Starting a family? Or taking a path that surprised or even empowered you?
A number of doors may open during your 30s. However, these doors — career growth, family or finally having enough money to travel or buy a home — open faster and wider for some than others. And uncertainty can weigh on young women, conjuring pressure to make life-changing decisions.
For 30-something Hilary Sloan, director of business development for ShopStyle, putting her energy into her career feels right at the moment. “I’m doing something I love right now,” Sloan said. But that doesn’t mean, she said, that Sloan doesn’t feel the pressure from society to start a family, creating stress and even guilt.
And despite calls for “girls to rule the world” and for millennial women to have it all, appearances are running hard into a different reality. For one, many women aren’t as jazzed about their careers as Sloan: “Limp, desperate,” 30-something women “fantasize about quitting their good jobs and moving home to Michigan,” as writer Lisa Miller observed in a much-shared article for New York Magazine’s the Cut, called “The Ambition Collision.”
Why? Miller argues that after a decade or more of chasing the dream, 30-something women feel lost and even misled: Men are still in charge, the gender wage gap persists and many young women feel as though they’re on a treadmill to nowhere.
Girl-on-girl guilting doesn’t help, as Ligia Guimarães, a 2016 fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York, argued on Medium. After witnessing criticism hurled at a female coworker for quitting her job to follow her husband for his job, she wrote:
As the news broke among my group of colleagues, people started reacting to it. ‘Oh my, leaving her career for a man? That’s so unfeminist,’ someone said. ‘She had such a future in the government, how could she quit?’ said another. If it was about my husband, I would be also be following him right away. I would never let him move abroad by himself. That would be crazy.
So what is the “right” way forward? How can you help yourself work better, live happier and avoid regrets as a 30-something woman in 2017? Any choice means compromise and there are few easy answers.
But one thing can help: sage advice from women who have already been through this exciting-but-terrifying life period. Mic dug deep and sourced widely to pluck wisdoms from women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, all with different backgrounds and a variety of experiences. Here’s what we learned.
First, take a breath and believe you’ll be OK
By your 30s, you may have your path completely mapped out and feel confident about your direction — until life throws you a curveball, be it a job loss, a breakup or divorce, the death of a loved one, or your own health issues. What do you do?
1. Know that career shifts are normal. “Don’t worry that you have failed,” Jean Chatzky, financial editor and host of the HerMoney podcast, said in an interview. “Understand everything has a learning curve and that it is OK to move on. You’re not a failure.” Check out these secrets to nabbing your dream job if you haven’t found it already.
2. Gravitate toward women who have your back. “You need a support network as a working woman. Build one if you do not have family, because it can save you many times,” IberiaBank vice president Jean McIntyre said. Here’s how to grow your professional network.
3. Focus on upsides and taking action when you’re down. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Carolyn Aronson, CEO and founder of It’s a 10 Haircare, said in an interview. “It’s not the mistakes that define us, it’s how we handle them. Do we learn from them or continue to repeat them? The world and life are your ocean. Be a sponge!” Instead of getting down on yourself for being broke, for example, think about how to get back on track: Start with something simple, like developing a budget that fits your personality.
4. Embrace your existential crises. “It is OK to lose your equilibrium when others think your life should be smooth sailing,” Marcia Reynolds wrote in Psychology Today. “It is OK to question your life’s purpose. It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know who I am.’ It is better to ask the questions and seek the answers than to live a numb life.” Feeling out of sorts? Here are a few steps you can take to bring more order to your life.
5. Don’t have kids? Don’t stress. Maybe you envisioned yourself with children by now — and worry you’re running out of time. But it can help to remember that the more life experience you gain, the better of a parent you will be. “It’s a big decision,” comedian Sarah Silverman told E! News when asked about having kids, versus her own choice to remain childless. “I don’t know how people make it so cavalierly. They’re human lives you’re responsible for.” And while some women who’ve decided not to have kids are comfortable with that decision, you’ve got options — like freezing your eggs — if you are still on the fence.
6. Have kids? Don’t white-knuckle your way through parenting. “You want to do the right thing as a parent, but after a while, you need to realize that your kids are going to take their own journey and you need to let them travel rather than trying to force them on the path you choose,” said Valerie Epstein, a business owner in Ferndale, Michigan. “There are no operating instructions with kids. There should be though. Like IKEA.” And don’t feel bad about not being able to afford fancy stuff for your children: Here’s why rich kids often end up broke when they grow up.
7. Clear the “toxins” from your life. Don’t wait until a crisis to discover who your real friends are. Take stock, and start being more conscious about whom you spend your valuable time on. “Bad relationship, bad friendship, bad job, bad family — if it’s something that can’t be fixed, don’t waste time trying,” said Sora Song, a graduate student in public health. “And don’t let inertia keep you stuck in unfulfilling situations, whether it’s a relationship or a job. Life is too short for that.” Here’s how to figure out if you should quit your job or say goodbye to a toxic friendship.
Be a money optimist
Scared of the financial world? Try to channel that energy into action: You can actually get excited about money, especially saving, and turn your early income days into more than you’ve ever imagined.
8. Start saving as early as possible. Saving early is a key step for millennials of all ages. “I would have also kickstarted my active savings earlier, too,” Chatzky said, when asked about her regrets. “During my speeches, when I ask people how many wish they would have saved earlier in earnest, almost every hand goes up.” What’s the best way to approach this plan? These three easy steps can get you started.
9. Turn deal-hunting into a fun game. “I would tell my 30-year-old self that you don’t need to buy another pair of pants,” Chatzky said. “No one notices if you wore the same thing twice, even when you are on TV.” Echoing her sentiment, Sloan said, “I never pay full price and am always looking for a discount when I shop.” Take this one step further with these 21 shopping hacks to save on just about everything.
10. Set it and forget it. Once you’ve put savings on autopilot, you can spend what’s left over. “Essentially, you have more freedom to spend if you get the saving out of the way,” Chatzky added. Automating deposits into an interest-bearing savings account is one smart step; here are even more ways to solidify your nest egg.
11. Learn about the stock market. While you may not feel comfortable investing in individual stocks, mutual funds and ETFs help you diversify your investments in a broad range of equities and minimize your risk. What’s more, the stock market has historically brought higher returns than simply socking your money away in a savings account. Still feeling a little nervous about investing? Here’s how you can get started.
12. Talk about money with loved ones. Money fights are tough, but not talking about money with your partner is worse, Sharon Kedar, author of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, told Shape. “You should know each other’s credit scores, salaries and any debts,” Kedar said. Fighting about money can lead to relationship problems, so how can you discuss finances without it leading to a blowout? Here’s some advice.
13. Never undervalue schooling. “Get the highest level of education possible,” said Colorado-based pilates and gyrotonics teacher Alice Diamond. “It will increase opportunities and likelihood of success and satisfaction in career and relationships. Wish I had done it.” And if you are a parent, educating your children on key life skills will pay dividends: “If you don’t show your kids how to manage money, they’ll call you when they’re 30 asking you to help them do their taxes,” Epstein said. Set up a youth savings account when your kids are in elementary school and give them a budget to learn about money. How well did your parents do with you? Take this quick quiz to find out if you’re better with money than a 15-year-old.
Show kindness to your body
Your 30s can be a time when everything feels like it’s moving at breakneck speed, but it’s important to remember to take the time to feed your mind and body — so you’re set up for good health later.
14. Don’t blow off your workout. Exercise is vital to good health, and focusing on retaining muscle mass during your 30s is key. “Strength training creates microscopic tears in muscle tissues,” which then triggers the muscles to rebuild and strengthen”, Dr. Holly Phillips told Today. Working out not only gets you fit and toned — it can set you up for a longer life. Here is how to get fit for free.
15. Kick “the habit” for a healthier life. “Smoking affects everything from your ability to conceive, the health of a fetus and, of course, your health, even if you don’t want to get pregnant,” the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Dr. Judith Volkar told Today. “The earlier you quit, the better your health.” Ditto excessive alcohol consumption and other forms of substance abuse. What else can you do to get healthy? Here are five steps you could be taking right now.
16. Focus on facts, not fears, when it comes to fertility. Yes, some research suggests fertility begins to decline around age 32 and drops off more quickly at 37. But this doesn’t mean that women can’t have healthy births later in life. Still, if you know you’ll want kids, some women suggest taking matters into your own hands: “If you think you have even the slightest interest in having children, do it now,” said marketing executive Deborah Caldwell. “I didn’t think I had interest — and then I had two sons and fell madly, intensely in love. They are the single most important parts of my life.” And if you can’t end up having biological children, keep an open mind: Millions of kids around the world, including more than 100,000 in the US, are in need of adoption.
17. Take mental health breaks. No matter what, don’t forget to take time for yourself. “Especially when you don’t have kids or reasons to leave work, it’s easy to put in those extra hours at the office,” Sloan said. “But it’s more important to take care of yourself, leave work and meet friends and, by all means, take a vacation. Recharge your battery.” Fight vacation-shaming with evidence about why it’s important to get away.
Flex your career muscles
What did you want to be when you were younger? Did you pursue that dream, or let it fall by the wayside? It’s never too late to take control.
18. Make lemonade out of rejection lemons. For clothing designer Rebecca Minkoff, taking “no” for an answer should never be an option. “I hope that aspiring entrepreneurs take away to never take NO for an answer,” she told Inc. “Occasionally there are moments when you need to reflect and ask, ‘OK, how am I doing?’ but never give up on your dream.” Here’s how to achieve that perfect career with these 17 steps.
19. Walk through open doors, even if they’re a little scary. “Some of my best opportunities happened because I willed myself to go through that opened door,” Chatzky said. “I was a writer, but when more public speaking and television appearances opened up, even though they were out of my comfort zone initially, I took them. I used to even feel sick before going on TV, but after a few years, that subsided.” You will never know if you’re destined for a different career path if you don’t try. Here are some out-of-this-world careers people seem to love.
20. Squash your imposter syndrome. “Take the leap to the next level every time it is available,” McIntyre said. “Do not hesitate or question your ability. You will learn, adapt and grow through the process. The work can be more demanding as you move, but it often has the tradeoff of greater flexibility.” What will help you move up the ladder? Try some of these strategies for a landing a better job and salary.
21. Stay in the game. “Do not quit your job when you have children,” Caldwell said. “It’s so f*ng hard and I get it, and I worked in NYC and got a divorce — but you will never, ever be sorry that you kept your career going. Once they leave home, you have it to keep you vital — and more importantly, you will be self-sufficient.” Being a full-time mom may mean taking a part-time or telecommuting job for awhile. Here are a few careers you can do part-time or offsite. Need even more work flexibility? You’ve got options.
22. Get involved. “Volunteer on a board and then move to lead that board. If you can motivate and direct a group of volunteers who occupy different careers and are in varying capacities to the mission, you will be a much stronger leader within your own profession,” McIntyre said. “It will also do wonders for your confidence and your ability to speak in public. It also will stretch your communication skills. No matter the field, these skills are paramount for advancement.” Volunteering is actually good for your health — and science can prove it.
Grow old with grace
Worried that you’re living your best days now — only to become a shadow of your former, vibrant self as you age? Kick those thoughts ASAP.
23. Stay grateful and engaged. “Listen, the best advice on aging is this: What’s the alternative? The alternative, of course, is death,” actress Whoopi Goldberg told New Jersey Monthly in 2013. “And that’s a lot of shit to deal with. So I’m happy to deal with menopause. I’ll take it.” Although having a pulse is important, so is keeping your brain sharp — here are some tricks.
24. Cozy up to your changing appearance. “I’m not going to color my hair or get Botox,” veterinarian Dr. Teresa Martinez Colgrave said in a phone interview. “I don’t see any reason to fear growing older, and you should embrace those grey hairs and fine lines. The interesting thing is that older men like George Clooney are considered to be attractive in their 50s and 60s. That should apply to women, too.” Still, wearing sunscreen will help ward off skin cancer.
25. Maintain your groove. The late, great Maya Angelou said women should embrace their style at any age: “The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you’re wrinkled.” So don’t be afraid to keep on wearing that bikini — or whatever you want — to the beach. Maybe an off-the-shoulder blouse won’t work for you in the office, but here are a few classy work outfits you can wear without spending a fortune.
26. Treasure your friendships. “Don’t get so wrapped up in your problems that you ignore your friends,” humor writer Emma Nicholson penned in the Huffington Post. “You are going to need them more than you know. Besides, if they get really pissed at you for ignoring them, they may tell everyone you threw up in a plant in the lobby of The Ritz Carlton during last year’s New Year’s Eve party. Nothing holds a friendship together like all the shit you can embarrass each other with.”
27. See the lessons around you. “Your 30s are years of interesting transition,” Aronson said. “Your 20s are when you are free [to] choose what you want for your life. Your 30s are years where those choices may shift... and take you in new directions. Don’t be afraid of this change. Learn from it, adapt and grow.” Try learning a second language, brain hacks to improve memory — or exciting new skills.
28. Know the best is yet to come. “Like a great wine, it just gets better with age — your friendships, your family and your professional confidence,” said CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour in 2014. Want to be more self-assured? Here’s how to better project confidence.
29. Don’t sweat the small stuff. “I don’t get as upset when someone cuts me off in traffic,” Colgrave said. “Through the years, getting upset and worked up over things seems trivial.” Here’s why you should keep your stress levels in check — and this is how to do it, whether things are going well or not.
30. Savor every day. “Learn to live in the moment. If you master this when you are young, it will help in your 60s,” Margaret Manning, author and founder of Sixtyandme.com, wrote for the Huffington Post. Do you recall what you learned in your 20s? Just like it did then, every smart or meaningful step you take forward will make you richer — both figuratively and literally.
Finally: Try your best to avoid judging other women. Because part of accepting yourself means accepting others, too.
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