Why Glamour‘s ’30 Things You Should Have by the Time You’re 30′ List Makes Us Feel Horribly Inadequate

In the 15 years since the list was published, it has circulated in e-mail and been incorrectly attributed to the likes of Maya Angelou and Hillary Clinton

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Women’s magazines love to give advice. They’ll tell you how to please a man, what new trends to wear this summer and which mascara is worth your money. Perhaps one of the most famous of all these advice stories is an article written by Pamela Redmond Satran for Glamour in 1997: “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30.”

In the 15 years since the list was published, it has circulated in email and been incorrectly attributed to the likes of Maya Angelou and Hillary Clinton. Cashing in on that popularity, Glamour has released a book of the same name with essays written by famous women about each of the items.

The list itself is pretty daunting. By 30, we’re supposed to have it all, and I mean all: the makings of a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, a retirement fund, a cordless drill and an umbrella you’re not ashamed of. Dream on. With huge numbers of 20-somethings having to move back home because the unemployment rate is so high and others having to work unpaid internships, we’re lucky if we have a few pieces of Ikea furniture to put together. (Though a nice umbrella might be possible.)

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But beyond making women without a set of screw drivers feel inadequate, it’s surprising that Glamour didn’t choose to update the list, given how much has changed in the past 15 years. Not only are some of the items woefully behind the times — Who doesn’t have an e-mail address these days? — many of the goals seem retro in their portrayal of female success. Are a boyfriend, a skin-care regimen and a black lace bra really still the measure of making it? Is 30 still the magical age when you’re supposed to have it all figured out? We don’t think so, and offer this list as a much-needed reality check.

By 30, it’s perfectly O.K. if all you have is …

1. One old boyfriend you may always drunk-text, and one who you really should avoid but continue to drunk-text.

2. A home filled with disintegrating items from Ikea. Progress would be graduating from Fjellse to Aspelund.

3. One item of clothing that — today — you don’t totally hate. Tomorrow, all bets are off.

4. A comfy pair of jeans that you feel great in, everyone else be damned. (Shouldn’t the self-assured 30-year-old whom Glamour writes about not give a damn about what people think of her purse, suitcase or umbrella?)

5. A youth you have no plans to put behind you. As a result, you will throw yourself a 29th-birthday party with a purposefully juvenile theme including beer pong and Jell-O shots.

6. A past weekend juicy enough to tell your friends about once all the memories come back to you.

7. The realization that you actually want to take a vacation this year and should probably stop buying clothes so you can set aside money to fund it.

8. An e-mail address overflowing with messages you should reply to, and a love-hate relationship with your bank account that fluctuates on the basis of how close it is to payday.

9. A résumé.

10. Friends who are just as confused and overwhelmed as you are, but who will happily commiserate any day of the week.

11. A roommate who will come into your room and kill a gross-looking bug while you cry and scream in the corner. (You can hire someone with power tools when you need them.)

12. Something ridiculously overpriced you are still paying off your credit card for.

13. The belief that you will one day pay off all your debt — even as you continue to accrue it.

14. A gym membership and some slightly-better-than-drugstore-brand moisturizer.

15. A job that allows you to pay your rent and maintain satisfying relationships. All of them.

Webley is a staff writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley, on Facebook or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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2 comments
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So
So

thank you for writing this!

plainjade
plainjade

I disagree. I think your selling yourself short. The original list printed in Glamour 15 years ago is a beautiful vision of a strong independent woman, that finally, after 10 years of adolescent games and excuses and feeling lost and confused, can begin living. Youth is so wasted on the young. My 30th birthday was two days ago and the list makes me feel proud, especially because I have and know most of the listed items. Maybe you just need to grow up...