I’ve had anxiety about turning 30 for a few years, starting at age 27. I worried that I wouldn’t have the things I was “supposed” to have at that age or that I wouldn’t have the experience that I was supposed to have. I worried that I was going to have to start acting a way I didn’t feel. That I would feel guilty for where I was “at” when the big 3-0 reared its head. It occurred to me that I was not going to be the only human being who dodged getting older. A fact I would have sworn to until about age 25.
And now, just a few months shy of the impending all-important milestone birthday I feel…pre-emptive relief, excitement for the future and really none of the pre-anxiety anxiety I thought that I would at younger ages. Here’s why.
Your 20s are undoubtedly a magical time in your life. The carefree abandon that you’re allowed to walk around with seems almost criminal. You get to fuck up at work, make an ass of yourself at parties, stay up too late, wake up too late, miss the final, all while experimenting with adult things like sex, drugs, booze and relationships. You fuck up a lot, but there’s always tomorrow. And your elders by and large corroborate this cycle. It’s a time when the world does feel literally like it revolves around you. But it’s not all roses and sunshine is it?
In fact, those fuck-ups feel like the end of the world when they’re happening. Your sense of time is horribly eschewed and much like three months of summer feels as long as the school year to a child, your mistakes feel like they’ll last forever. You’re constantly comparing yourself to your peers. And you never quite feel like you measure up. You don’t know who you are, and quite frankly, you’re not your biggest fan. In between the parties and the hookups and the friendship drama, in between the classes and the assignments and the low paying first jobs…your twenties are rougher than anyone will ever tell you. On the outside you get to function under the idealistic premise of the previous paragraph, on the inside you’re roiling with the realities detailed in this one.
Here’s why I predict 30 and beyond will be a better deal for you than your twenties ever were:
something happens during ages 28 and 29 that’s like a magic bullet to your brain, but instead of killing you, it wakes you the fuck up. BAM! All of a sudden phrases like “you don’t have to be anything you don’t want” start to make sense. And so much more. Here’s my list of why maturing is much better than staying young and irresponsible, i.e., what happens to you as you age that’s a GOOD thing.
50 Shades of Gray: You accept the shady parts of life that aren’t quickly or easily defined and instead of obsessing over how to make them black and white, you’re confident enough to just plunge into the dark.
For It’s Own Sake: You start to not only recognize and appreciate, but like/love, what makes you stand out from the crowd. There’s no warning, there’s no explanation — it just happens. Trust.
Your Dreams. Your Life: As a child and then adult-child, you’ll dream about how you wish life really was or will be. You just have a complete disconnect about how to make it happen. As you get older, and know more, the steps reveal themselves. And because you’re more self confident they seem less daunting. And because you’re 30 (or older) people respect your opinions as an equal, also making the process easier and more plausible than it has ever been.
Sobriety is Bliss: Far be it from me to lecture on being sober. But once those hangovers start to last 24 hours instead of 3, around your mid-twenties, you’ll go through a defiant period where you insist on partying as hard as ever. Then maybe a depressed period where you realize you can’t. Then the period comes where you just don’t really want to. That isn’t to say you stop having fun. But you START having fun based on your own merits and personality, not the one given to you by substances. Your quality of life gets better, as do your experiences. Plus you remember them.
Don’t Waste my Time: This phrase takes on a whole new meaning, because instead of using it as a threat, you stop letting people waste your time. You come to terms with the fact that just b/c someone is “my best friend since 3rd grade,” “my auntie who always gave the most money at Christmas,” “my boyfriend,” does not give them an excuse to waste one minute of your time. You demand getting as good as you give, or you politely step away.
The Smell of Roses: When you’re younger, you just don’t care about the “little” things. Or rather, you make little things big things and big things little. If that doesn’t make sense to you yet, it will. After five years of living in NYC and rarely leaving due to lack of funds, I hightailed it back to my home state for some seriously needed R & R. And the fucking air, oh my god the fucking air smelled amazing. Like God had sprayed air freshener everywhere. Jesus, fresh air is incredible.
One Direction: Not just the name of a 2010s boy band, One Direction (At A Time) gives clarity and purpose where there was none before. In your early twenties you might have a ton of hobbies and interests, or you might have none outside of your social life. As you get older, you either narrow down or pick up one or two things that you never tire of doing. If you have yet to pick a career, something related to one of those things is a good idea. BUT you could have never figured that out earlier, because as I’ve pointed out, you were just wasting a lot of your time.
Sex: Hooking up is dropped from your lexicon because you realize it doesn’t actually mean anything (both literally and figuratively). Sex, on the other hand, remains a relevant noun. You know what you like, you know what you don’t. And that makes for better bedroom time than you’ve ever had before. Bad doesn’t get repeated and good gets the attention it deserves.
Doin’ Doin’ It Well: One of the great time sucks of the twenties is cutting corners. As the old adage states, “A stitch in time saves nine.” When you’re trying to shirk responsibilities and delay the inevitable concentration and hard work (and yes, sacrifice) that success requires, you’re just making things so much harder for yourself in the long run. But as a 20-something, there is no fucking long run, so who cares? Well, you do right about now. At some point you realize “fuck, I gotta actually take a risk if I’m going to get what I want.” And then you buck up and do it. And then you fail. And then you do it better the next time. And then you fail. And then do it better the next time. Get it? When you hit 30, you get to laugh about the lessons you’ve learned — the hard way.
The Rules Have Changed in Your Favor (especially for girls): Remember when you were growing up and 30 was ohmygod you better be married, time? Fact is, that notion is going to die with your parents’ generation. Thanks to Cougars and out-patient cosmetic procedures, it’s not “Life After 30” spreads in magazines it’s “Fabulous at 50!” Your body does not have to be ruined from children. You do not have to suffer sagging skin or premature wrinkles. You do not have to quit on life before you’ve lived it. And, just like men have been doing for millennia, once you reach a certain level of success, you can trade-in your old model husband who takes you for granted for 28-year-old arm candy beau who’s itching to be taught the art of love.
Fuck the Rules Anyway: EVEN IF you were supposed to have it all figured out by now, according to every other person you know, you have a better chance now than ever not to care. And you shouldn’t anyway.
The Best Part:If you’re smart, you realize you’re still very young. In fact, your thirties are the best “young” is ever going to be for you. You have a lot of bullshit out of the way, you get to start enjoying the rewards maturity brings. And then you hit 40 and well, you’re a real grown up, but you look fantastic thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and life is even better than it is now.