The thing about turning thirty is – we’re supposed to be scared of it.
Remember that Friends episode? The One Where They All Turn 30? Actual tears at the prospect of hitting that third decade – that was my idea of what turning 30 meant in our society, all the years I was growing up. We were supposed to dread turning 30, it was supposed to be this sort of Farewell to Youth tragedy.
And I sure don’t feel that. Not a bit.
My twenties were hard. For most of us: our twenties were hard – even if some of us don’t want to admit it. Your twenties are about learning how to be adult. We worked so hard, in our teenage years, to become an adult, and hitting 20, 21 – we thought we made it. Then we started to realize: holy shit, being an adult is teeeeerrible. And then – we spend the whole rest of our twenties having some sort of nervous breakdown, as we adjust to adulting, over and over again.
OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh — but when we were younger, our twenties were painted as this magical time when we would be youthful and full of energy. Our twenties would be the time we had it all, when that dream life everyone expects would be so easily achievable. Our lives were going to be so adventurous and fun, and finally, we would have that freedom we’d craved all the years before. We were all going to find our perfect job, right? Straight out of college – or at least a job in our field, with that potential to move upward. We were all gonna find the love of our lives, right? Get married, right? Maybe eventually have a baby, yes? We were going to have that cute little starter house, and a dog that curled up by the fireplace. Or else, we were going to travel the world, experience everything, see everything, taste and smell and hear everything. We would go out and have big times with our friends on the weekends, throw cool parties, go to shows, work on our cars, network and socialize, enjoy this freedom and this freshness before we all inevitably passed into Old Age by the time we hit thirty.
You know what’s left out of that picture? Learning how to do your taxes, or how insurance actually works. Student loans – those were left out of that twenties ideal, BIG time. I think everyone I know had their twenties monopolized by student loans, and how to pay them off, and how to live the life they wanted while working a job they hated in order to get money to pay off those damn student loans from that degree they worked so hard for that was supposed to get them that dream job. Car payments – those were left out of that ideal twenties experience too, and medical bills, and negotiating a raise and what the hell a 401k is and aren’t we seriously too young to be worrying about life insurance??
You know what else was left out? Emotional trauma. Losing loved ones to fatal diseases. Learning to recognize abusive relationships, romantic or platonic, and figuring out how to get out of them, how to recover. Break-ups in general – break-ups with boyfriends or girlfriends, break-up with friends who just weren’t good for you. Realizing that family isn’t perfect just because it’s family. Learning which problematic relationships you can work with, and which are just making your life too hard, too painful. Loss – loss was left out of the twenties ideal. All kinds of loss; loss of innocence, loss of that very ideal we were taught to expect. Loss of love, loss of trust, loss of people and pets and all those tiny little hurts that build up to one big ball of pain that we carry around every day for the rest of our lives.
So – our twenties ain’t easy. Our twenties, to me, are all about learning lessons. Sure, we never stop learning lessons, our entire lives – and I think that’s the biggest lesson of our twenties. This is adulthood, kids, and it’s not going to change. Everything that smashed into us at 23, 26, 28 – none of that’s going anywhere. There’s no magical off-switch that makes the hurts and the challenges and the exhaustion go away, stop coming – there’s no magic Harry Potter spell we get to stay to make wave after wave of life stop crashing over us.
That’s where I stand, at the cusp of my thirties. Understanding that life isn’t easy, for anyone, and that’s normal. If anything, I stand grateful at the cusp of my thirties, because my twenties taught me that, and my twenties taught me resilience, versatility, hope even in the face of despair. My twenties gave me the tools to deal with my thirties, and my forties, and however many decades come after.
I remember having this conversation with Lauren, a number of times, actually. We kept asking – when would be the day that we would wake up, and actually not care about what anyone thought or said about us?
I want that so badly, I would say, I want NOT to care. I want to believe myself when I say, I don’t care if someone thinks I’m stupid or uncool or fat or ugly or ignorant. But I STILL care. How do I turn that off?
I wanted there to be some magical day that I woke up and went, nope, no more. I wanted to be free from all the worry about who would say what if they found out this, or who would laugh at me if I wore this, or if I admitted I like this, or if I didn’t do something perfectly, or if I messed up. I wanted to be tougher, less sensitive, thicker-skinned. But no matter how much I thought about it, willed it to be so – I still felt vulnerable, embarrassingly so.
At thirty, I feel – well, not magically impenetrable. But I feel closer to that magical day Lauren and I always talked about. I’m not going to tell you someone’s words or actions don’t ever wound me – they do. But – less often, or perhaps just not as deeply. Criticisms and hateful speech are easier to shrug off, after the initial sting. I’ve learned, in my twenties, to let go of that expectation of perfect. I’ve learned to let go of that desire to be universally loved by everyone. I’ve learned that the population’s unified approval of my life and my actions and my beliefs is not only impossible – it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks I’m unfashionable, or dull, or small-town, or dumb. I know I’m not those things – I’ve worked hard to realize that – so who cares if someone doesn’t really know me and holds false beliefs. The people who really love me know who I am, and I can’t waste a second on anyone who doesn’t.
So many little things don’t matter to me, at 29, that I thought should, at 20. I have gained, in some small way, the confidence to be me, and keep being me even when others don’t approve. That was hard-earned work, y’all. That was disappointments and trauma and therapy sessions’ worth of hard work. There were times I didn’t think I would come back from the damage that had been done. There were times, in my twenties, that I felt like I had lost myself completely. Times that I didn’t know who I was, or else I had shut away the real me so tightly inside of me so as not to let myself be hurt, that I could barely feel my true self anymore.
I fought long and hard to come back from that, and it’s still an on-going battle. But turning thirty, I feel – a great many things. I am aware, at least, that not every aspect of my life is perfect. I am aware that I’m not always pursuing the arts and the dreams that I wanted so very hard at 21, 22, 23. But I also feel like life crammed a whole hell of a lot of life lessons into my twenties. I, personally, feel like I learned a lot of lessons in my twenties that many adults older than me are yet to learn – may never learn. I feel, at 30, stronger than I expected. I feel like, if anything, the times that were so challenging in my twenties have set me up for better success in my thirties.
I know now that the road may be long, and winding, and twisting, and sometimes a bridge may be out or the path may be flooded – but I’ve also learned that it doesn’t really matter how I get to my destination, or how long it takes me to get there. I’ve learned, now, that I need to start trying to appreciate the journey, just as much as the end goal. I’ve learned that I am malleable and changeable, and what I feel and dream of and believe in may be so today – but in two months, two years, another decade – I will most certainly be incredibly different – and that’s all right. That’s what life is supposed to be, that’s how I’m supposed to feel.
We – and I include myself in this because I’m certainly guilty of it – get so caught up in the milestones. We get so caught up in the achievements. I can’t tell you how many times a day I get caught up in what I haven’t done, what I haven’t achieved – I have nothing published, I have no notoriety. I’m not sure what, exactly, it is that I’m supposed to be doing with my life and my gifts. Some days, I’m not really sure how to even start, much less make moves to get there. I don’t know where I want to end up, at 34, at 38.
And you know what – it occurs to me that that is a really, really perfect place to be, at thirty. No one – NO ONE!! – has everything figured out at 29. If we’re lucky, we get maybe 1 or 2 of those key goals met in our twenties. Maybe we meet that Someone, but hate our job. Maybe we have our dream career, but we’re single, or we hate the town we live in, or we wish we had a better network of friends. Maybe we’ve got a great home life, family and friends and hobbies, but we’re still searching for something that gives our soul meaning.
I’m lucky. I’m extremely lucky. I talked a lot about challenges and strife up there, but here’s another great lessons from my twenties – I’m damn lucky. I’ve always come out of that storm with my boat upright. Maybe I’m a little windswept, maybe I’m a bit worse for the wear – but I’m still floating.
I’m so lucky to have a husband who supports me through every whim and challenge and depression and anxiety attack. He supports me when I’m up, and cheers me on, and he supports me when I’m down, when I’m floundering, when I don’t have the confidence in myself to keep going. We are so incredibly blessed to have this beautiful love, this strong marriage, this willingness to be in it for the long-haul as a team. We have this beautiful daughter, this angel child who came at exactly the right time and gives us so much joy, so much laughter – who teaches us to be kinder and stronger and act with more nobility, more honor – to make the world a better place for her.
I’m so lucky to have the gifts that I do have. Maybe I don’t have a book published or I’m not staring in a show. I don’t have my own business, I don’t always feel like I’m making much of a difference or an imprint on the world. But I have the building blocks. I have ideas. I have the drive – when I have time and energy, and maybe that’s rare – but I have the drive to keep trying. Even after long periods of discouragement – I pick myself back up and keep writing, keep dancing, keep talking, keep connecting people.
I have my warmth and my kindness and my wisdom. I have the knowledge that even if there’s less applause and praise – that one of my greatest gifts is bringing people together.
And I have the knowledge that – all lives are good. All manner of people are needed in this world. I don’t have to be exactly like anyone else to make my life worth living, worth celebrating. I don’t have to be the prettiest or the smartest or talk the loudest. If I write the perfect thing, teach the perfect lesson, perform the perfect dance tomorrow, and become a star, and gain riches and fame – my life is no more worthy than if I keep on being a small town girl, with love in her heart, with little scribbles of stories I love, my ballet class on Saturday mornings where I wobble and stumble and laugh it off, my time laughing with my family and friends, snuggling my husband, cuddling my baby girl.
I’ve learned, at the cusp of thirty – it all has worth. Every moment. Every tear and every smile and every wound and every lesson – every part of my life has meaning, even if only to me.
Cheers, 30. I’m ready for you. We’re going to rock this.