Extended in their chairs, ice clinking as their wrists gently swirled their drinks, I noted that two of my male friends were more relaxed than I had ever seen them. No longer trying to strategically maneuver through the social and professional waters we’d seldom spent entire evenings discussing, they now sat there seemingly simple-minded and free. I noticed I could hear the music, the jazz was crisp, unscathed of ramblings.
“What’s gotten into you guys?” is all I could come up with. They each smiled and shrugged. Adjusting himself and turning to me, one of them said, “Prepare for your 30s. There is nothing like it. You finally get it. You finally stop caring and learn how to focus on yourself. But it’s not selfish. It’s different. It’s like a wave of confidence and appreciation that hits you and it changes everything.”
My second friend just nodded and smiled while taking a sip of his drink.
I recently read an article that took me back to that moment. Now 30 — well into it actually — I can say that those final months were when the fog that once seemed interminable and frustrating is now what gives me peace. I’m sure this happens early for some, late for others, but there is definitely something that happens toward the end of your 20s.
My 29th year was when things started to click for me, personally and professionally. I finally found the courage to quit a job I’d long hated and leave a city I liked even less. I was still working really hard, but felt like I was finally gaining some traction. It was around age 29 that the number of fucks I gave about other people’s opinions dipped to critically low levels. Which freed up all kinds of mental and emotional space for the stuff I was really passionate about…I think this has something to do with the fact that many women won’t really go for it, pour their whole selves into something and push like hell to make it work, until they’re convinced they can crush it. Creative breakthroughs and professional successes require a significant amount of confidence, which is something that most of us spend years building up.
Ann Friedman, The Power of 29: An Ode to Being Almost 30
It’s possible that as a society we’ve always seen the 30s as a turning point. Most of us, at least my generation, assumed that we’d all have our shit together by then. For me, the weight of those final years was excruciating. I was stuck in the current, each challenge smacking me against the rocks. I lost a great deal of time beating myself up, wishing I wasn’t where I was. Lucky me, the waves of challenges persisted, and I eventually used the skills God gave me to get out.
I’m 30 now and though that once seemed scary it isn’t anymore. I kind of like it to tell you that truth and if it wasn’t a Wednesday morning, you just might find me telling you this the way my friends did–body extended, feet up on a table, and the ice clinking to a circling wrist.
So, what is it that changes?
I didn’t understand that every single wave that came at me helped define a skill, a muscle, confidence, and unbeknownst to me, patience. If you are against the rocks, please relax. No one is going to put you on a stage and read you your list of mistakes, fuck-ups, and bloopers. I actually thought this might happen to me one day.
Ann Friedman said it best, “Breakthroughs and successes require a significant amount of confidence, which is something that most of us spent years building.”
So, what changes? There is a shift in focus. In three words: confidence, gratitude, and purpose. Don’t be mistaken, even 30-year-olds falter, but the 20s build-up come together to offer more of these three than you’ve had before. You realize that your knees might start giving you trouble in the next 10 years. Now it’s about the run, it’s about the gratitude that you are able to cover ground with this unique instrument you have. It’s about listening to your breath, being okay with our own pace. You can’t do that while focusing on anyone else. The rest is bullshit and you see that now. You realize that your friends might move away someday, get sick, or have 39 kids so dinner tomorrow might not be so impossible.
You realize that some of the things you twisted and turned for in your 20s that didn’t work out weren’t always your fault. In fact, you’re thankful you didn’t get them. Slowly, you begin to trust your way. You realize that sleep is good. You realize that you don’t need a drink for bravery. Maybe you absorbed the liquid courage from yours 20s? To add, you’ll realize you were wrong about what ‘scary’ meant and that most of the acts of bravery you’ll have to exercise will involve saying that you are sorry. You will realize that you’ve never ever figured anyone out entirely. Not even yourself. You realize advice is free. Listen, then use or drop.
You realize that your parents might not always be around. Let them repeat things three times. If you think about it, it usually only adds up to about +50 seconds. You realize that maybe focusing on why church is boring had more to do with a refusal to listen and learn how to express love than anything else.
As babies emerge, the fact that life is a miracle is undeniable. Life is hard, yes. Definitely. But you realize that ‘problems’ is still a very strong word. You realize what’s real is what’s good. Real food, real love. Real becomes another strong word. Lastly, what you realize is that you won’t always be this person that you are now.
You realize two things about time. First, this moment that you have is fleeting. Second, there is time. There is still time to do things, see things, be things. We may not have forever, but certainly have right now.
There is something about our 20s that make us so eager to indulge in all the bad habits. Like kids, we poke, pry, and watch what happens. We test our limits and pick at our scabs. We worry a lot, and we experiment more.
If you’re lucky, the 20s build-up is ready for you to test out towards the end. We must finally muster the courage to use the data that we’ve picked up over the years. Realizing that every time, we figured it out. Opportunities passed, mistakes made, and most of the time, we were still all home by dinner.
It’s not a perfect age, but it’s a special time.
There is something about 30 that makes you realize that there is a path you haven’t yet taken. More than that, there is a better path that you are in good enough shape to try. As Robert Frost once said, “it makes all the difference.”
No matter how old you are, perhaps today is a day to be 30.