This Is How I’m Overcoming That Suffocating ‘Age 30 Complex’

Blonde woman with shawl and white dress
Brooke Cagle

If you were to take the time to get to know me, you’d find out in about seven minutes that I like to have a plan for everything. Lists basically run my life – and it’s probably the main reason why my desk at work looks more like a post-in note station than anything else. See – I enjoy making plans and the unrivaled satisfaction that comes from crossing something off the checklist I wrote in pretty cursive on my $6.99 stationary pad. The feeling is basically orgasmic. But, the one thing I can’t seem to cross off my list – and the one thing I probably shouldn’t – is having a time line for my life. I call it the 30 Complex.

I’m three years from turning 30 – which I’ve heard is the new 20 – which makes me wonder why I’m even so concerned about it in the first place. Kids my age – er, adults my age (sigh) – hit a tough break that those before us didn’t really have to experience. While we went to college, we also had to choose career paths that meant a steady income rather than what we were passionate about (like all the lies our parents told us). Even when we did, applying for a job was a catch-22 in many ways, because the person the company wanted to hire needed to have experience, yet, the only way you could advance in your chosen field was to find a job that would actually GIVE you the experience. Finding a job became a chore in itself because we couldn’t really do that as easily as our parents told us we could. “Go to college, Courtney, and you’ll find a job with ease!” was ingrained in my thinking when I was in the third grade, yet, as an adult in the real world, it’s been a lot harder than I imagined.

Growing up, I had the image that by now, at twenty-seven years old, I’d be a successful writer living in New York City with a cute house, a handsome mate, and a life I wasn’t struggling to adapt to.

I didn’t think I’d be deciphering between working a job that will pay the bills or a career that ignites my soul. In so many words, I basically wanted a life from a sitcom, but hey! – don’t I know better now.

My life has basically gone the opposite of the way I envisioned it when I was practicing for my SAT’s back in high school.

Back then, I wanted to go to NYU and was on the path to do so. But then, I fell madly in love with a military man and so three weeks after graduation, we got married and moved halfway across the globe, living on an island being (for a brief amount of time) even more passionately in love. When that ended, and I was a sad twenty-one-year-old divorcee living under her parents’ roof and working behind the jewelry counter at a chain store for a hefty $9.00 per hour, life seemed pretty bleak.

All the things I wanted out of life were suddenly flipped completely upside down. The dream of NYU was over – so now what?

It took me several years of finding out. It took me several years of realizing that what I’d always wanted to do was write – and for that – it meant putting myself out there. It meant letting those thoughts run free on tainted yellow scrap paper that I clipped to my bag everywhere I went. It meant being honest with people about who I was and what I’d been through. It meant finally talking about my abusive relationship and what it meant to shudder with fear from PTSD. It meant finally talking about how lonely I was, and admitting there was a definite difference between feeling lonely and being, quite distinctly, legitimately alone.

It meant talking about my mother being diagnosed with cancer – and admitting on paper when I was too scared to mention it out loud – that I didn’t want her to die. It meant writing about the trauma of receiving the phone call on a breezy, Tuesday morning, that my mother died from a heart attack on my parents’ dining room floor, and how for many weeks, I did everything but starve myself and wished I could do whatever I could to join her. My life had not turned out nearly how I expected. At twenty-seven, I would have never imagined I’d be on my second marriage, or that I would have lost my mother, or that I am still kind of paralyzed with fear over becoming a parent myself even though there is a lot of pressure in my life saying it’s the perfect time to do so. At twenty-seven, I never thought I’d still be in school, finally pursuing that degree in creative writing when everyone around me told me I should go to school for something a bit more practical.

I’ve had the tendency to put a lot of pressure on where I should be at this point in my life as opposed to where I am. I compare my standings to friends, and family, and people I went to high school with who are younger than me and already more successful, and have families and an actual house instead of an over-priced apartment they can’t wait to move out of. Social media allows for the opportunity to view life with rose colored glasses and allude to the idea that life is so much greener on the other side of the plastic and cracked screen.

But my life, in the greater scheme of all that I’ve been through, is headed exactly where it’s meant to go. I’ll probably have a child before I hit 30 but it’s perfectly fine if I choose to delay it one more year to be selfish for a little while longer. I know one day I’ll be working in that office, perhaps not New York, but maybe in my own little space tucked away in the corner of my house, with my husband two rooms over and our pictures dangling above me, continually writing about those experiences – about love, and growing up, and how I hate mortgages and changing diapers, but love sleepless nights, and pursuing dreams, and maybe, just maybe, about how life eventually gets on track when you’re least expecting it. I’d say I did some things out of order. I’d say I did the whole love and education thing backwards and took the time later on to discover those passions I’d always convinced myself were mindless hobbies. But maybe that’s the greatest part. All I can say is that I’ll never stop writing, never stop trying or pushing myself out there even when I get a flat out rejection that should inspire me to do otherwise. I’ll never give up in this life because eventually, I will make it. Whatever our dreams, we will all make it. TC mark

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