I didn’t ever think I’d have a problem with this. As my friends and husband turned 30, I tsk’ed those that expressed concern over hitting”the big three oh,” telling them it was not the huge issue they were making it out to be. All of them still seemed plenty young, and very cool, and none of that was going to suddenly change because of one birthday. Thirty really did not seem like that big a deal.
And then it was my turn.
Suddenly in the last few months, 30 became much more of a big deal in my head than I expected. And the fact that I started feeling that way both surprised and annoyed me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why it’s bothering me, and here’s what I’ve come up with. We think of 30 as a big milestone. Culturally, it seems to be subconsciously a point at which we assume we will have many pieces of our adult life sorted out and in order, and will feel more like adults. We expect to have accomplished certain things by that point. We expect this by 27 or 29 too, perhaps, but if we don’t have it by 30, well then we definitely must have screwed something up.
No one else necessarily expects such things of us (people older than us surely know better from their own experiences), but we expect it of ourselves.
Which kind of goes to show how little we’ve actually learned in 30 years.
It’s not, I’ve realized, that 30 is a bad or scary age, or that it’s really particularly old, nor that it means in even the most remote way that it’s too late for certain things. It’s simply that I don’t feel ready to be 30 yet. I just don’t feel that age. I haven’t done enough. I’m not done with being 28 or 29. (My grandma says she can relate – she doesn’t feel like she’s in her 70s. Frankly I don’t feel like she is either.)
Look, I thought I’d have a career sorted out by age 30. I thought I would have at least one kid. I thought I would maybe own a house, or be moving in that direction. None of these things are true.
And when I look at Facebook, I see everyone’s adorable babies and spacious houses and actual real grown up jobs, and sometimes it feels like every damn person in the world has figured out how to do these things I can’t seem to manage.
On the other hand, I’ve lived abroad, I’ve gotten married, I’ve learned to excel at new things, I’ve made a ton of new friends and connections. I’ve been part of numerous productions, projects and events. I’ve put in six years as a crew member of Desert Bus for Hope.
If I look at Facebook through that lens, I see experiences that other people don’t have. I have happiness in equal but different measure. Does part of me wish I already had the whole baby-making thing in progress? Yes. Do I wish I’d sorted out how to have a damn career already? Very much so. Would I actually go back and trade away any one of the things I do have and that I have done in order to have the baby or the career instead? No. I’m not unhappy with where I am, I’m unhappy with where I’m not. Does that make any sense?
This is the problem: it won’t work as a neat little equation. I can’t take away X and replace it with Y and still get what I have and where I am today. And I like what I have and where I am today, I just want to also have other things and be other places too, and that simply doesn’t work. Those baby-making friends on Facebook? Well they probably don’t have time for things like Desert Bus and writing craft tutorials. The folks who own homes? Well they often live in different parts of the world from me, parts of the world that I made a deliberate choice to move away from. If I’d stayed in the Midwest, I could probably have a house by now, but I’d never have done Desert Bus, probably never have run a panel at PAX, never have had hundreds of amazing experiences that make me who I am. I am only unhappy with my life when I look at someone else’s. When I examine my own life, I don’t actually want to trade it. I imagine a lot of folks feel similarly.
For me, one of the most difficult ongoing lessons of adulthood is that you do not have it all figured out, and you do not just suddenly know what you’re doing, at 30 or any other age. For moments you feel in control, and then suddenly you don’t.
When I was 18 I went to France to be an au pair, and on one homesick, stressed out occasion, on the phone with my mother, I despaired of not actually knowing what I was doing and just trying to convincingly pretend to my three young Parisian charges that I had any kind of clue at all, that I was a “real adult.” My mom calmly told me that this was the case for all adults, at all ages. “Your dad and I didn’t know what we were doing either,” she told me. “We’re all just making it up as we go.”
So here’s to being 30, and here’s to feeling not-30, and here’s to being satisfied and happy and uncertain and distraught all at the same time. Here’s to making it up as I go.
In the spirit of making 30 whatever I want it to be, I drew some monsters.
About getting older…
Sometimes, I am astonished and dismayed at the amount of other people’s bullshit I still run into at this age. Like seriously. Maybe we should start offering kindergarten refresher courses to adults.
And what is up with my body? It won’t let me dick around eating ice cream whenever anymore and not show it. I’m getting flabby and gross and tubby and how did this happen and why won’t it all go away and why is getting my body to cooperate so difficult now? Why does the universe conspire against me me for being a night owl and not liking vegetables? Salad’s for rabbits! Responsible eating is for 40 year olds!
There are the days when I just feel like a big sodden mess, unable to cope, unwilling to be optimistic, full of doom, gloom and lethargy. Everyone else has it more together, everyone else is doing better, I will never get to where I want to be. And I can’t even just eat a tub of ice cream to feel better. Why didn’t they warn us adulthood sucked so much?
But then again…
Some days I look around and am utterly astonished by how lucky I am, how rich my experiences have been and the fun, exciting, fulfilling things I have done with my time and the wonderful people I’m privileged to know. I have a wonderful husband, I have a room for doing creative things in, I go to cool places and hang out with amazing people. Some days I eat salad and go for a run and feel happy about myself. And then come home and have ice cream and watch Agents of Shield. And life is good.
There are days when I feel very mature indeed for telling myself that I am exhausted and the world will look so much better after a little more rest… and I turn out to be right! (Adulthood really should come with more naps built in).
There are days when I feel hugely inspired, and create something I am totally proud of, and also hear the voices of other people enjoying my creation, and I know that I have made something new in the world and that it’s bringing others joy too, and that is an incredible feeling.
And there are days when I can do something fun, something totally delightful and squee-worthy and awesome. Go somewhere, see someone, do something, and it is so wonderfully great to be a grownup who has the freedom to go places and do things and make decisions and also not have a clue what they’re really doing in the world but be excited to keep on finding out.
And on that saccharine note, here’s a PDF. It’s my birthday – go get some crayons, print out that PDF, and colour in some monsters. monsters colouring page