It’s only a number, right? Being 30 is really no different than being 29. I mean, it shouldn’t be. You don’t pass through a magical threshold on your 30th birthday and suddenly everything is different. Or do you? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but being 30 is weird.
When I was in my 20’s, it was totally fine to be aimless, careerless, and to carpe a lot of diem. I felt pressure to have fun, ride my bike, and shop at Urban Outfitters. All of my peers just seemed to be trying to figure things out, and that was perfectly acceptable.
On my 30th birthday, my friends took me tubing down the Saginaw river with a cooler full of beer. I am one of the first of my friend group to turn thirty so I felt as if I were leading the way. At the end of our trip down the river, the tubing company picked us, and whoever else was sharing the river with us (poor souls), up to take us back to our cars. I made a declaration while we waited in the 13 passenger van, “30 is going to be even better than 20! I just know it.” In the back seat sat a man and his young son. The man was in his lower 40’s. One of my friends turned around and asked the man, “how about you? Was 30 better than 20?”. The man shortly answered.
That was not what I needed to hear.
Since I’ve turned 30 (which has been almost a year and a half), I feel constantly reminded of my age and what expectations there are of me.
First, there is the surprise and/or denial of how age is taking a toll on my body. I heard a business professional sitting on the street car talking to her friend. She didn’t look old, but she dressed old. I mean, she looked so much older than ME. Her conversation changed directions and the fact that her age was 34 came up. “You are only three years older than me?!!” This happens to me all the time. I see someone and think, oh yeah, they have to be WAY older than me. And then I find out they are within a couple years of me. I then realize (other than the fact that I am a shallow person for constantly comparing my age to other people), I probably look just as old as they do, I just think I look like I’m still twenty.
Second, there is an unspoken expectation that by the time you’re 30 you have achieved certain life goals and if you’re not there yet, out pour the feelings of inadequacy. The ideal thirty-year-old is most definitely in their career, owns a home, probably newly married, and has or will be having a child in the next year or two. They have unsubscribed from the Urban Outfitter’s mailing list and wear age appropriate clothing (I’m not even sure what that is, J Crew maybe?). Their car is less than 6 years old. Obviously, I’m being a little facetious (I like things at J. Crew, it’s just a joke), but if you do not fit into that ideal shaped hole you most definitely start to feel a little like a square peg. Suddenly it is just more complicated to relate to people (which is exactly what a socially awkward introvert like me needs).
Third, the anti-aging wars begin. Eye cream? What is that? Why? Serums? What is that for? Wait, how much does that cost? Do you notice all of these grey hairs? Is that a jowel? These products, thoughts, and feelings that have never caught my attention before are suddenly, now that I’m 30, being marketed and pointed out to me as if the necessity to deal with them are so dire that I may just wither up into an old lady by the time I’m forty if I don’t start doing something about them now. I always thought I’d just embrace my aging body as it came. Well, it’s happening faster than I thought and I don’t know if I’m ready.
Lastly, there is the weird Millennial/Gen X divide. I am 31. Technically, I am a millennial. Most of my friends are younger than me (I was one of those 6th year seniors in University) so that has influenced my millennialness even more. But technically, although I understand it is a blurry line, people who are four years older than me, or even less, fit into Generation X. You might say, “yeah, so what?” But if I asked many a Gen Xer if I could follow them on Instagram, there is a good chance they would say that they don’t have Instagram or if they do they don’t use it that often. And let’s not even mention Snapchat (my new fave, but really not new to anyone under 22). This is not necessarily an issue about social media. There is a significant difference between the mentality of a Millennial and a Gen Xer. Our values are different. I mean, it’s not that we can’t coexist or something. I am friends with and have dated many a Gen Xer (ok by many I mean 2). But Millennials want different things. For instance, millennials caer less about money and more about contributing to society and doing what they love than someone from Generation X. It’s just different. Even as a parent. I would rather find a “family friendly” pub (one that doesn’t care that children are meandering around and serves them glasses of watered down cranberry juice) and chat with friends over moscow mules than go to a “family friendly” anything else. This may also just be a personal problem, I understand. But really, being some of the first millennials to turn thirty feels like walking into a party being the only one who is dressed in a costume. So weird.
In the end, 30 is just a number. A bigger more awesome number. Yeah maybe it’s confusing, exposing, mortalizing and awkward, but that’s just part of the charm, right? I know more things now, about the world and about myself. I have developed rich relationships with friends and family. I have a deep sense of hope and optimism that living a full life is what you do with it and how you love, not what happens to you. My capacity for grace and compassion is deeper and my openness to other people has grown. How are these things not a recipe for a good decade?I don’t care what the man in the back of the 13 seater says, 30, we’re going to do big things and leave 20 behind in the dust.