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Blog about the studio, life and travels of visual artist Carly Drew.

Thoughts on Turning 30

Carly Drew

 Yellowstone National Park at sunrise. 

Yellowstone National Park at sunrise. 

I turned 30 two weeks ago and believe it or not I'm actually pretty excited. Mostly because despite a few near death experiences (hello being face to face with a black bear a few months back) I actually made it to 30, but more so because turning 30 has a certain kind of freedom to it. When you're younger you spend so much time worrying about who you are and what other people think, that it can really take away from focusing on what you really want and living life to the fullest. With that said, here are 30 life lessons I've learned over the past 30 years.

1 | FIND SOMETHING THAT REMINDS YOU HOW SMALL YOU REALLY ARE | The universe is a big place. Figure out what reminds you of this and find a way to tune into it as often as possible. For some people its religion, for some it's travel and for others it's communing with nature. For me it's staring up at the night sky and thinking about all the people that have done the same before me. There's nothing more humbling than remembering you are just a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. 

2 | SEE AS MUCH OF THE WORLD AS YOU CAN | I don't just mean the big places like Italy or Japan, but exploring your own backyard is just as important. Get outside of your bubble, meet people and experience new things, you'll never know what you'll find.

3 | TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO BE OUTSIDE | Some days I'm not even sure why I have a house, because I spend more time outside than in. Fresh air does a body good, so go for a walk, feel the sun on your skin and take a minute to actually appreciate the weather, regardless of what its like. 

4 | GET COMFORTABLE BEING ALONE | I've noticed more and more that people struggle with being alone. This can apply to simply being home alone or going out somewhere by yourself. Learning how to enjoy being alone is one of the most empowering things you can do. 

5 | HEALTH IS WEALTH | My Mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was in middle school, so I learned quite early on that nothing in life is as important as taking care of yourself mentally and physically. It's been almost 20 years since her diagnosis and she's still in great health because she's made it one of her priorities. If you aren't in top shape it's much harder to achieve your dreams and be there for others. 

6 | YOUR SCARS TELL YOUR STORY | I have a lot of scars and each one tells a particular story of something that's happened in my life. Over the years I've learned to be proud of them, they mean I've taken some chances and done things outside my comfort zone and a couple of them resulted from something just plain stupid enough to make for a few good stories. 

7 | DON'T LIVE IN THE PAST | You can't change it, so it's not gonna do you any good to worry about it. What you can do is focus on what you will do today to get closer to where you want to be. 

8 | HARD TIMES ARE NECESSARY | Always remember that hard times lead to better times. Without the hard times you won't know how amazing the good times really are.

9 | ENJOY THE PROCESS | The finish line isn't everything. If you don't learn how to enjoy the journey of getting from point A to point B, life is gonna be very long. This can apply to school, jobs, projects, working out, anything really. Taking the time to enjoy the process of doing something will make life 10,000x easier. Good things take time and always being in a rush means you miss a lot of the smaller and often more memorable moments along the way. 

10 | BE THE ARCHITECT OF YOUR EDUCATION | A degree doesn't mean you're done learning and college isn't necessary for everyone. Figure out what you want to do and then see what type of education best suits that. There are so many great options now a days from trade schools to technical colleges, traditional universities and even online learning. Most importantly your education needs to be tailored to you, because at the end of the day a piece of paper is not a magic ticket to your dream job, it's how you use what you've learned to get that job. In the same light that piece of paper doesn't make you an expert. Continue to cobble together your education from a lot of different sources - read books, go to conferences, find mentors, etc. Keep exploring your field and remember that learning should be a lifelong endeavor. 

11 | DO THE BEST WITH WHAT YOU HAVE | A true craftsman never blames their tools. Most people starting out at something can't afford their dream equipment, space, etc and that's normal. Creating within constraints has produced some of the best work throughout history, so do the best with the resources you have and remember creativity is all about making something from nothing in the first place. 

12 | TAKE ANY OPPORTUNITIES THAT COME YOUR WAY | You will be amazed at the places you end up if you just seize seemingly random opportunities. A couple years back I was out in Arkansas for an exhibition reception and met a fellow that suggested we stop by and see an old friend of his on our way home. His friend was an artist in Oxford and little did we know the artist we were visiting was none other than Glennray Tutor. The couple of hours I got to spend in his studio that afternoon were priceless. I got a lot of great input on some things I was struggling through in my own studio practice at the time and I couldn't have been more grateful to have the opportunity to speak with someone that had been in the field for so long. If I never made that call I would've missed out on something truly special. 

13 | TALENT IS A LIE | Amazing things don't just come out of thin air. You can have a natural affinity for something, but to get really good at it you have to put in hours of practice and hard work. Anyone can learn how to be great at anything, all it takes is a lot of patience and determination to make it happen.

14 | DREAM JOBS STILL REQUIRE HARD WORK | Here's a little secret, the only reason why so many people don't make it in art or other creative fields is they don't want to put in the work. That's it. Want to be an entrepreneur, artist, designer, writer or any other type of self-sustaining, self-employed or freelance individual? Great, just be prepared to work 20x harder than anyone else in the room. 

15 | DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS | Social media has really compounded this issue over the past few years. When you are constantly being bombarded with Jenny's amazing vacation or the fact that Barb just bought that awesome house in the best part of town, it's hard to remember that social media is just a highlight reel. Everyone has ups and downs and comparing yourself to others only wastes your precious time.

16 | GET GOOD AT REJECTION | Being an artist means that you apply to lots of exhibitions, publications and opportunities on a regular basis. You know what that also means? You get pretty good at being rejected on a regular basis. Usually it's nothing personal, your work just didn't fit the show or they simply selected somebody else for the award. Applying in the first place already puts you one step closer than the people that were too afraid to put in an application. What's it gonna hurt to apply to that dream job, submit your writing to a magazine or ask for that promotion? Nothing and you never know what will happen until you put yourself out there. 

17 | LEARN TO TAKE CRITICISM | This is something that art school prepares people for that is vastly underrated. At some point in your life you will put something out into the world that you will get feedback from and one of the best things you can do is learn to take criticism. Regardless of whether you get positive or negative feedback, you need to be able to objectively analyze it to see what the value of that criticism is to you. Then either use it to help you move forward or leave it by the wayside. Remember that at the end of the day good criticism will never make you feel personally attacked and if it does, then the feedback is probably from someone that has issues with themselves.

18 | TEACH SOMETHING TO SOMONE | Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't know it well enough." Teaching will make you better at what you do and will also make you a more well rounded person, period. You need to have a lot of things to be a good teacher, patience, empathy, understanding and tenacity to name a few. These are all things that will help you in your own work and life no matter what you do. 

19 | LEARN HOW TO SPEAK IN FRONT OF A CROWD | This ties into the last one, but best thing I ever did was start teaching college classes. Before grad school I was always the student quietly working in the background, then I got thrown into teaching and it forced me to become comfortable talking in front of people. First you might have to fake your confidence, but just like anything else the more you practice the easier it will be. 

20 | ALWAYS SEND THAT THANK YOU NOTE | Don't underestimate the power of a thank you note, some of the best working relationships I've ever had have started with a simple thank you. 

21 | SAY HELLO TO EVERYONE YOU MEET | It's amazing how many times I see someone completely ignore another person. Walk around any college campus or any city and you'll usually see people staring at their phones to avoid interacting with other people. A simple head nod and a smile or a "Hi, How are you?" goes a long way and I don't just mean to other peers, say hello to the janitor, the waitress, the security guard, the plumber, etc. You never know who will be the one that let's you in a locked building at 7:00am, make a late night call to fix your air conditioner or stop to help you out if you're stranded on the side of the road. 

22 | LIMIT TIME ONLINE | The best thing I ever did was decide to limit both social media and email to 30 minutes at lunch and 30 minutes in the evening. It's amazing how much time you add to your day if you aren't on your phone 24/7. 

23 | HAVE A BACKBONE | Hold your own and don't let people walk all over you. 

24 | FAMILY IS EVERYTHING | When I say family I don't mean just your blood relatives. It can mean your best friend, the honorary uncle, your roommates and the people that have always been and will continue to be there for you. 

25 | HAVE A SMALL, BUT SOLID CIRCLE | You don't need a ton of friends, you just need a few really good ones. Life isn't a popularity contest and having hundreds of friends isn't going to make you any happier. 

26 | SOMETIMES IT'S OK TO WALK AWAY | If something or someone is causing you more harm than good it's time to let it go.

27 | DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK | Over the past few years I've gradually made peace with the fact that I don't really care that much anymore. By the time you approach 30 you realize that most people are so busy living their own lives that they don't have time to pay attention to you in the first place, so you do you.

28 | LIFE LOOKS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE | Not everyone gets married, goes through college or has children and some people choose certain types of lifestyles. In this day and age we should be able to recognize the fact that as long as someone is happy and isn't causing harm to another person, then they should be able to go on with their lives without judgment.

29 | LIVE SIMPLY & BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE | If you live out in the middle of nowhere you probably already know this, but you don't need a new Lambo or mansion to live a happy life. As long as you have a roof over your head, good people around you and food on the table thats really all you need.

30 | NO ONE EVER REALLY HAS IT ALL FIGURED OUT | My parting advice is that no one really has it all figured out. Do I know where I'll be in the next 30 years? No. Do I want to know? No, because it will change as I do. Everyone is just doing their best to hang on and roll with the punches and enjoy life for what it is - a series of unpredictable, but insanely beautiful moments.