EM: Why failing in your 30s is a rite of passage.

Em Rusciano.


Recently I was sent an article entitled “30 things a woman should have and know by the time she is 30″.

Instantly I was interested, I had a burning desire to know if I had satisfied the list’s requirements. Deep down I knew I was probably headed for crushing failure and a loss of purpose in my life but I HAD TO SEE!

The list was first published in 1997 in an American publication called “Glamour magazine” and was quite popular. Hillary Clinton apparently forwarded it onto her friends who I imagine included Oprah, Madonna and Meryl Streep.

If you’d like to read all of the 30 things, you’ll need to go and do your own research, but why bother when I have conveniently paraphrased 8 of the best ones (and my responses to them) right here!

1. You must own a decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.

Define “decent” Glamour magazine?? Do you mean one that does’t have Weetbix welded to it or unidentifiable odours? I have 2 kids and a dog, I’m pretty sure no one at your office would deem any of it decent.. 

2. Possess something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.

I’d have to dig it out of the “clean washing mountain” iron it and pop a broach on the stain but I think I have this one covered. Clothes I can do. 

Don’t have a drill? You fail.

3. Have a youth you’re content to move beyond.

Nope. Still hanging on to that one. This item may have to go on the  ”60 things every woman should have and should know by the time she’s 60″ list.

4. Own a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra.

Wait, what?

5. The belief that you deserve it.

Deserve what Glamour magazine?! What?!

6. Nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long.

I don’t floss. I know I should and I feel guilty about it every time I brush my teeth.. I know I should floss. I’m totally going to start flossing. I am, I am! I won’t…

7. How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn’t like to happen next.

Yep. Peck – Stop. Anything involving tongue – Go.

8. Not to apologize for something that isn’t your fault.

Dude, I’ve known this one since I was 5.

After going through the complete list 2 things became apparent to me. 1. According to Glamour magazine I had pretty much failed being 30, and 2. The list was bloody superficial, and not in a fun “Carrie Bradshaw is buying another pair of shoes even though she can’t afford to eat” way. I appreciated the sentiment but found the execution patronising and archaic. It really has very little reflective value for it’s readers which I think is the purpose of these types of exercises.

Do you need to have everything together by the time you are 30?

So I decided to write a counter-list, I wanted to give women another resource to refer to, to tick off their 30′s on.  I wanted it to have reflective value for them all, to be applicable to their situation – to encourage them to aspire to more than just a black lacy bra and a cordless power drill.

I sat staring at my computer screen looking for inspiration. By the hammer of Thor! You should definitely know the National anthem (even the 2nd bit that no-one knows) by the time you are 30! No Em, I said (a lot of self talk goes on around my house), how often are women going to call on that bit of information? That isn’t going to make a difference in their lives.

Huzzah! A woman should definitely know that clear plastics straps on a bra ain’t fooling anyone and that an investment should be made in a decent strapless foundation garment..  Upon reflection I realised that while I stand by that argument it’s not really a defining moment for anyone is it? It’s just common sense.

After some pacing, dusting, lint-inspecting and dog-grooming, it finally dawned on me..


Glamour magazine had it all wrong! A list is pointless. A list serves none of you any purpose. No I’m not trying to get out of writing it but every time I came up with something it was either superficial, consumerist or would cause anxiety, and that is the last thing I wish to do.

The thing is, who am I to tell you what you should HAVE and KNOW by the time you are 30? Who is ANYONE to do such a thing?  It’s the use of the word “should” that offends me most. Unless the person using it has achieved absolute spiritual and emotional enlightenment and can give you the one true answer then I don’t want to hear it.

At the risk of sounding like someone who wears a lot of corduroy, burns sage and owns a beige skivvy – we are all on our own path.

So here is what I say to you 30 somethings. Stuff milestones, lists and “should-ing” yourselves to death. Just make good stuff happen. Look for easy wins, but also think about what you ultimately want. For a lot of  people it’s happiness. So do things that make you happy. Go deep here friends. I mean it, not just the light stuff but experiences that align with your values. The satisfaction will be deeper and longer, I promise.


You’re welcome!

Have you had to face challenges in your thirties? Looking back at your life so far, what’s been the most challenging age/period?

Em Rusciano is the host of Mamamia Today on Austereo (which you should be tuning into at 3pm every weekday on the Today Network) and regularly appears on Network Ten’s ’The Project’. You should follow her on Twitter here and take a look at her website here. You can listen to podcasts of Mamamia today here.

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