I’m in my thirties – well, 38 and 4 months. When you get this close to 40, you cling to every sweet month before the dreaded 4-0.
Your thirties in a lot of ways feel like your teens; you started as a carefree 20-something, and you end it as a full-fledged adult contemplating old-people issues like retirement, college funds, and IRA’s. Despite the disparity in mindset through the decade, it still ranks up there as some of the best years of your life.
When you’re in your thirties, you stop caring about what other people think. Mostly, it’s because you’re just too damn busy to give any mental headspace to that nonsense that took up rent there in your teens and twenties. But, it’s also because you know who you are and who your people are. The gig is up – it’s pretty tough to impress people now and most people your age acknowledge that no one actually has it together.
That being said, you have a sharp radar on the folks that are still playing that game; you know the ones – they are always “keeping up with the Joneses” and have to be the center of every event and party. They’re also the ones living vicariously through their children at every sporting event, every school play, or on the infamous neighborhood social media. The beauty of your thirties is that you can just ignore and block – online and in real life – and just not care one bit.
Your thirties are typically one of huge change – but one that you orchestrate. While your twenties just kind of happen to you, this next chapter ushers in change by choice. You’ve notched up your professional belt a bit more and can leverage your position, salary, and quality of life. Hell, maybe it’s even the time to realize that you are a badass at what you do and go out on your own. At this point, you have enough experience to make those decisions.
You start treating your body better, not always because it deserves it but because you feel the weight of your decisions every time you eat or drink. You see your parents age, and sometimes suffer, and realize not only their mortality but yours as well. You accept the fact this body that has experienced so much will never look 21 again – and that’s okay.
For a lot of people, the thirties are the golden years of parenting, aka “We’re past infants and small toddlers.” With that brings freedom for both you and your kids; no longer do you have to watch every tiny move they make. They have autonomy, and so do you. The double-edged sword is that you spent every waking minute pouring into said children that autonomy feels foreign again. Many of us – especially moms – don’t know what to do with it. We got so used to being needed constantly that freedom doesn’t feel as it should: it feels lonely.
Your thirties are about reintroducing you to yourself again. Our early twenties were spent either desperately clinging to our youth, or serving our families and working up whatever professional ladder we were climbing. The thirties are a pause from that, where we can phone it in to simply maintain, or we can tap into who we really are, apart from the meticulously-manicured lawns, PTO meetings, and the next big home. This is the moment we get to decide what our lives will be. We sadly lapped up the lie that those decisions were made in college and easily fall into a pattern of comfort and complacency. It’s easy to coast through these years in our marriages, our jobs, and most importantly, ourselves.
Your thirties are the perfect moment to seize power and willfully change course. It’s a lot scarier than it would have been in years before; the sacrifice is larger, the stakes more demanding. But these years are truly a crossroad where we choose to keep going through the motions, or we can dig into, identify, and seize our passions and purpose aside from the roles we play and hats we wear. We can succumb to fear of failure or the unknown, or we can – what seems recklessly – harness all the gumption and skills we’ve acquired and lean into it heavier than ever.
My thirties have marked my most significant yet. Two months after turning 30, it ushered in the death of my father. It bore my daughter a year later. I’ve gone through a painful divorce, I’ve left a lifelong career, I’ve started multiple businesses, and I met and married my husband. I’ve traveled more than I ever have in my life, and I’ve faced damn near every fear I’ve ever held. And yet – I’m just getting started. Aging doesn’t make our lives dimmer as we inch closer to death. In fact, it’s just the opposite, as long as we stay open for the markers and moments that guide us into the next chapters.
We have just as many divergent paths in our thirties as we did as teens and in our twenties; we just have to be brave enough to step outside the narrative to grab hold of what we want. It’s always been here. And there’s never been a better time to realize it.