To Not Figuring It Out at Thirty

When I turned 30 a few weeks ago, one of the last of my group of friends, I debated how to mark the occasion. Naturally I had spent the months leading up to this occasion thinking about what it all meant.

I don’t want to admit that I had allowed myself to set expectations based on societal norms, but when I’m honest with myself, I know I had at some point. I remember as an ambitious 22 year old meeting people as peers in their late twenties (or even as old as 30!) and thinking how unlike them, I would have my life in order by then. By 30 I would definitely have achieved some big milestones and be certain of my career path. I would have made the big choices to lead me to a stable life, like where to live, the partner I would spend my life with, and maybe even thinking about kids in the near future.

But reality is always more interesting and surprising than cliche expectations. I spent my twenties traveling, making new friends, trying out different careers and relationships, and getting a grad degree and eventually moving to New York - one expectation my 22 year old self would be proud about.

In my final days of 29 I was still full of questions that I will continue to explore well into my thirties I am sure. Even though age is just a number, 30 still felt big and important. I decided to mark the occasion by bringing together friends and family to share that contemplation. What are your thirties about, how do we mark change and progress in our lives, and how did my wise friends and family make the transition?

I captured some highlights from the wisdom they all shared.

1. Your thirties are when you figure out what is important.

“Within a relationship, with family, with friends, you start to see what’s really important. Your career, you might not have the dream job yet, but you’re thinking about what you are putting in place to get there. For me, knowing my priorities and thinking about them has made my relationships with family better, my friendships better, and all of my life better over all. There’s still so much left to figure out, and there’s so much more to accomplish and that’s ok. But we’re all going to get there together.”

2. There are no rules

“On my thirtieth birthday, I felt like I should have everything figured out. I felt like the rules should have been followed. You pass that threshold and you realize there are no rules and I get to make it up. and it’s about that feeling that I get as the years that go on, you realize you can set your own benchmarks based on what's important to you. You realize, 'I don’t have to listen to all that noise’.”

3. You learn to figure things out yourself.

"In my twenties, I also thought at thirty I would figure it all out - whatever that means. Now that I'm almost 34, I realized, there's nothing to figure out. There's no point, when you're like 'Oh I figured it all out!' But your twenties teaches you how to figure things out. Your thirties you have a lot of new pressure, but if you don't know where you're at now, you'll get there because you got to thirty and got to other things, and this now will be figured out the way you have figured things out before."

4. Sometimes getting it all together too quickly means you miss out.

“I have a friend who got married, had three kids, and had reached some financial success with a stable job by the time he turned thirty, and yet he was depressed. He felt he missed out on his twenties.”

5. Own your age.

“You just have to own it. But not in your twenties because that’s a joke, because you really don’t know anything in your twenties. When you’re a thirty-something maybe you know a little more, but not a lot. But regardless, whatever it is you are, or whatever it is that you have, you have to be proud of that. Whatever experience you have or don’t have that’s fantastic, and whatever you don’t have, it’s not that you’re lacking, it’s that you have something to uncover for yourself. It’s a cliche that age is a number, but it’s a a cliche because it's true. Own it and be proud and just go for it, at every age.”

6. You decide what you want now.

“Everything you do, you do it for you right now. In your twenties you meet a lot of pressure in life, like, you might be friends with people because you want to go to a party. But your friends with you today are here because you’re choosing to have them in your life. In your thirties, it’s empowering to make decisions like this, you don’t care about everything anymore, not in a bad way, but in a good way. You care about fewer, better things, and it frees up your time.”

7. You become more comfortable with yourself.

"As I turned thirty, as a woman especially, I've become more and more comfortable with who I am. Now my only requirements when I go shopping is 'Is this comfortable?' It's this wonderful time when you become more and more comfortable with where you are and where you're going in your life."

8. At thirty it’s normal to go nuts.

“I have a theory that has been proven by every one of my friends around this age. That around the time you turn thirty you go nuts for anywhere from 1 to 7 months. And then you stop and suddenly the fever breaks. You feel a lot more clear sighted about a lot of things that are happening in your life.

9. You gain perspective.

“I had this elementary school art teacher that would always try and teach us big lessons that we didn't understand. He'd say things like ‘Your life goes by so fast, you don’t understand but you will.’ He held up a ruler to represent our lives. He said, ‘No matter how old you are, it feels this same length.’ His point was that everything feels like a huge percentage when you’re young and small things can make or break you. But as you get older the pieces are smaller so you can get through more because you can get it into perspective."

10. Don’t waste time.

“Thirty can be a pivot. You still have loads of time to do that in the next few years. But I encourage you not to leave too many things for later. It’s a really great time to pursue the things you care about. But it's also a really important time to set the foundation for what you want to do for the rest of your life."

11. There's no one path.

"Thirties are an interesting time because you see people going in one of two directions. People either like getting married, getting kids, and buying a house. Others take different paths. There's no real one path, especially now, maybe 20 or 40 years ago there was, now there's only going to be more paths for us to take."

12. Exploring takes a lifetime.

“I don’t want my life to be put together when I’m 30, because I think that’s cutting it short. Thirty makes me excited for my journey through life. I’m excited to have my whole life to explore.”

13. You’re just getting started.

“Thirty years ago, for my husband’s thirtieth birthday, I thew an over the hill party. Which was so silly looking back. On that day we were not over the hill, we were far from it, we were just getting started. We were about to have our first child and we were just getting started. Today, you are just getting started.”

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