So, it happened. A few months ago I reached that monolithic milestone I had long been dreading… I turned 30.
I’m pretty sure that in previous years, during all those countless discussions about the future and what it may hold for us, friends and I would reel off these stupidly excessive-sounding years which back then sounded so distant, and talk about what life may be like by then. “We’re gonna be 18 in 2003, 21 in 2006, and 30 in 2015!” went the conversations that used to take place of a lunch-break as we sat in the classroom squeezing cartons of Capri Sun and bitching about Maths teachers. We were just a bunch of naively ambitious thirteen year olds who believed we knew exactly what our futures would look like on the basis of what our parents had done, or how people lived in Albert Square.
Like most, I fell into that trap as well, although I was marginally more flexi-minded about the future than some of my friends. Unlike them, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career – and to be honest, I didn’t really care – all I wanted was to do like my siblings and go to University, and then get married and have a couple of children by the age of 25. And own a Dyson hoover.
I’m quite sure that the thirteen year old me would probably have choked on her Capri-Sun straw had she been able to see the reality of what would be: Thirty years old, still single (and beginning to think – after numerous soirees with Tinder – that I’m just too used to my own personal space and too afraid to give it up to be anything but) and still living with my parents, albeit purely for financial reasons.
It just doesn’t sound good, does it? Thirteen year old me would’ve been most ashamed had they known this. In fact I’m pretty sure I made several vows to enter lesbian matrimony with a few school-friends of the time should we mutually have arrived at this same conclusion in life. It’s a pity I can’t remember which friends, or that we didn’t archive some official decree, written with a scented gel pen on a piece of recycled A4 (with margins).
It’s very easy to use the value of hindsight and sit back now labeling the above as naive close-mindedness borne from a lack of worldly wisdom and exposure to only the likes of Bliss magazine and Blue Peter, but as somebody who will forever preach the value of living a life that is true to yourself, and not baying into mainstream trajectories just for the sake of it, I’ll admit that even the more adult me had apprehensions about 2015, and turning 30.
Very early into my twenties I had decided that I wanted to use that decade to learn purely about myself and the world – and have my own story – rather than expend my energies into making a family of my own, and I like to think I did just that, but as 28… 29… rolled around I was finding myself feeling the doomed breath of 30 down the back of my neck once again. I set some targets to achieve by October 2015 and suffice to say I didn’t achieve all of them because I’m still sat at home in my parents’ house with no idea how – as a single person who is determined not to rent a property- I’m going to afford any alternative.
But it’s okay. I’ve reached the milestone I dreaded, and I’m not worried anymore.
Many people have told me that your 30’s are your best years. It’s early days, of course, but from what I’ve seen so far, I think they might be right.
I loved my 20’s but only now can I see how much pressure I was putting on myself in those later years by setting 30 as a deadline for various things. In small doses pressure can be powerful, and a useful catalyst for self-improvement, but if you’re not careful it can also be exceptionally detrimental to your well-being.
In February last year I saw the familiar face of one of my best friends all over the national press. A coroner’s report had deduced that she had taken her own life on the basis that she was “about to reach 30 feeling as though she wasn’t where she should be in life”. Those of us who knew her were enraged by this most simplistic of conclusions which was clearly written for mass impact rather than to reflect truth. There was a great deal more to her circumstances than that, but at the same time, reading those articles and particularly the comments attached, written by anonymous internet users all over the world, was enough to demonstrate to me that this whole ‘fear of thirty’ is a real and genuine thing that many people experience, albeit quietly.
Reading those comments alerted me to the fact that those insecurities often attributed to our teenage years really do last until much later. Many of the comments left had been written by people of a similar age, who expressed their empathy for my friend, and explained that they too felt as though they had “failed at life”. The comments all alluded to the idea that 30 is an age twinned with macro judgment, but having now been there and got the t-shirt, I can honestly say it’s not as bad as people may expect.
In truth I can think of a lot of things that have had a worse effect than turning 30: A much-loved Primarni pump dissolving in a puddle on the seventh straight day of rain in a row when I was a student, failing my 93rd driving test, the takeaway pizza I ate in Crewe… all of those prompted more disappointment and woe than the milestone birthday I had been dreading.
In fact, turning 30 has – so far – proved to be nothing but a positive thing. And why?
Purely because it was as though the needle on the ‘giveashit-o-meter’ reached zero without there being any kind of penalty. It’s like with any kind of fear; the run-up and the trepidation that ensues can be the worst part. When you’re finally faced with it, it’s a lot easier to confront, because then, you’re actively dealing with it. You don’t have a choice, so can no longer float around fearfully in the circumspect.
The way to stop caring about being 30, is to actually turn 30 and be able to accept that this is the way things have turned out, and all that has happened has happened with reason.
Where there’s any dissatisfaction, rather than allow it to be the subject of disproportionate focus, it should be used to identify where any changes can be made, and if something can’t be changed, then it’s out of your control, so stop judging yourself for it. Speaking of judgment – we all know how great other people can be at it too, and that’s bound to be another reason why many people fear turning 30 – but it’s important to remember the basic rules of Science here. Unless two people have lived parallel lives and had exactly the same set of circumstances, it wouldn’t be a fair test to compare their current situations. Anyone who fails to realise this, and continues to judge others, is probably not the kind of person whose approval you’d want, anyway.
Those who extolled the virtues of the 30’s in response to my expressions of fear were adamant that one of the best things about these years is the fact that you no longer have to worry about turning 30, silly though that may sound. With that perceived deadline now just a part of history, the pressure dissipates and the freedom to do the things that we really want and are destined to do – whatever those may be – begins. Decisions become bold because we take off the shackles of fear and allow them to be.
That’s the reality of thirty, and so far it’s been fun.