I’ve reached the age where people madly begin to post or forward those lists about how much more awesome life is in your 30s than your 20s. Summarized:
Thirty is the new 20! I’ve got it all figured out now that I am 30! I know what I want and I know where I am going, because I’m in my 30s now! I’m more confident, which makes me prettier, smarter and sassier than those poor 20-somethings! Dating is so much easier (if I am not already married with two babies, one of each), now that I am 30!
That’s crap people in their 30s say to each other to feel better about being in their 30s. That’s what we say to our 20-something friends as we gloat about how glad we are to be out of our 20s. We act extra happy about it to drive attention away from this simple fact: we are no longer 20-something. When you are 20, 30 seems astronomically far away and incredibly old, but when you turn 30, all of a sudden 40 seems freakishly close. You’re not 34, you’re almost 40. To further illustrate this mindset, here’s a recent burn from my early 20-something co-worker: “I can’t tell if you are trying to be cool, or you are just old.”
Uh, neither, jerk.
So us 30-somethings have this unspoken pact to spread the word about how much better things are now that we’re 30. But we know the truth. When you hit that supposed life-changing milestone 29 to 30 birthday, it’s just another year gone by, and people happen to count up, not down. We count in years because we are too lazy to continue counting in months after 24. Does 389 months mean anything to you? February is just a month and age is just a number, not a way of life. I didn’t turn 30 and all of a sudden see the world in a whole new light. I didn’t leap timidly from my 20s filled with doubt and fear to land gracefully poised and assured into my 30s.
My friend Alex is a therapist (not mine) and once heard these two decades described something like this:
Your 20s are like your first time at an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go through the line, grabbing one of everything you see because it all looks so good. You’re excited about the possibilities in front of you, worried your plate is not big enough to cram everything you want, no…need. You sneak the crap you don’t want your friends to know you’re eating under the “normal crap” so they won’t make fun of you, because yes, they will judge you to your face. You sit down, completely overwhelmed with the giant pile of shit in front of you, with no idea where to start. So you do the only thing that seems to make sense: start shoveling food into your mouth with both hands, chewing little, tasting nothing.
And then you find yourself faced with the dreaded trash can/toilet/both dilemma.
Your 30s…well, now you’re an experienced buffet eater. You slowly walk down the line, surveying your options. You avoid the food that tastes like garbage, grab what satisfies your biggest craving and glare at the stuff that still pisses you off it’s even part of the buffet. You are well aware of the perfect storm of food that causes instant diarrhea. You skip the broccoli even though it’s allegedly good for you, but you make a beeline for the hottest hot sauce, because you like your shit (as in food pre-toilet) spicy. Your plate is smaller, and you’re choosier about what you bring back to your table of friends.
Maybe this idea that we 30-something’s are these confident, well-adjusted individuals who have everything figured out is at the root of my very deep-rooted issues. Maybe it’s referred to as “dirty thirty” because instead of stepping into your early 30s as this put together professional who all of a sudden knows The Secret to Life, Love & Happiness, you’re actually supposed to be cleaning up the big ass mess you made at the buffet in your 20s.
For as long as I can remember, I just kind of did what everyone else around me did. I did what seemed easiest. I went to college because that’s where people went after high school. I went to grad school because that’s where people not ready for the real world went. I got a job after college because jobs give you money to pay for all of those years you just spent in college. Around this time, I parted ways with the people around me. They started getting married and making The Children, because after high school and college and grad school and getting a real job, that’s what people do. For whatever reason, that next step just wasn’t my jam.
And now, in my 30s, I find myself more confused, curious and excited about that buffet than I ever was in my 20s. I don’t have it figured out. I don’t always know what I want, and worse, when I get what I thought I wanted, I don’t want it so much anymore. Turns out, no matter what age you are, life is still scary, shitty things still happen, and mistakes are still made. And I am okay with that.
Besides, it’s not about how many years you have lived; it’s what you do with those years that counts.