I used to look forward to getting older each year, and I don’t mean with some sort of generalized optimism for change. I mean I enjoyed the act of aging. I was getting stronger, smarter, more adult. It felt like I was being pulled up, ascending through floors — each one a little bigger and more detailed than the last.
I turn 30 on Wednesday, and this time I’m keeping watch on time’s river. I spot a year marker on the shore, and instead of putting the paddle in my lap and acknowledging it with a nod, I find myself paddling toward it. I want to grab the earth and hold fast. I want to freeze time in early autumn.
Thirty hits different than twenty, partly because parts of my generation have solidified into the past. I’m not sure if “hits different” is even in anymore. My truth — my life, is just history to someone else. Boomer jokes don’t bring the same kind of joy; we share the same poison of age. Instead of belittling something foreign, it feels like making fun of a part of myself I can no longer deny.
When I was 23, I knew I was figuring myself out, and this denied mistakes some of their sting. Each error could pass by with a nod of self-improvement. Sure, I squandered beautiful romances, set fire to healthy relationships, and wasted immense hours projecting false versions of myself, but I was learning. It would all pay off. Next time would be easier. I had time!
At 30, you know your vices, how your foolishness manifests. And those quieter stings of years past suddenly turn into slaps. You have no excuses. You had the knowledge — the only failure was in awareness or execution. You can admonish yourself for not being yourself, because you know yourself. Straying from your truth is easier to catch.
Understanding your individuality is the work of youth, but there is an inevitable trade: with more self-knowledge comes more pain when we ignore who we are or hurt people we care about. And that’s not a bad thing. We should feel the full consequences of our actions.
But, like with most things, there’s duality: 30 is an empowering age. Chances are you have more independence than ever. You‘re laying the psychological and social foundation for the remaining decades, and being able to understand what those stacked bricks are building is deeply rewarding. Hopefully this is a time when the people in your life feel strong, safe, optimistic — protected by the overlapping strength of youth and the wisdom of age.
If I’m being honest, I need these defenses. Growing up is realizing that life rushes along, regardless of your decisions. The pace is relentless and agnostic to your ego, your story, and your desires. You have no choice but to be pushed and pulled by it.
If you google “depression rates 2022”, the primary word you see is increase, and we all know the events that contributed to this. I have immense privilege, and even with all of my security and luck, I find myself about to take a new job after freelancing for 5 years straight. Stability is a word I used to despise. Now I’m trigger shy in multiple areas of my life. The fabric of my life feels more tenuous. I’m scared to lose my security. I’m more scared than ever of losing people. The only upside is that this fear of loss makes the world feel richer. Experiences are more meaningful. People more important.
Here’s some wisdom I hope to use more in this next decade:
Every day is a lifetime. The only thing that matters, the only thing you can control, and the only thing worth noticing is what is happening right now. Awareness of experience equals depth of experience, and there’s always something worth paying attention to. So notice what you are giving your attention to, and enjoy it. And if you realize you don’t enjoy something, choose to notice something else. Be proactive with your life. Revel in your friends. Don’t just think “I need to call them” or “I wish I was closer to this person” — text them now. Call them, now. Plan events with people you love, and be fully present with them. Love harder. Be creative, and share your work no matter how insignificant it seems. You never know how an idea or art, no matter how small, can change someone. Give back as much and as often as you can to help others experience the same peace and rest you yearn for. But also relax and rest on your own time. You aren’t a machine, and you should give grace to your humanity. In fact, you should celebrate it.
As much as this upcoming decade feels too soon and will pass by too fast, as much as parts of my life still aren’t where I want them, and as much as the world feels like a spinning top slowing down and wobbling, seconds before the fall… I am safe and secure. I played jeopardy with 20 wonderful people two nights ago. I went and made fun of The Room in a crowded theater after cooking and sharing food with inspiring friends on Friday. I dressed up in a tunic and spent a popcorn day watching every Lord of the Rings extended edition the week prior. I met my cousin’s new daughter last Sunday. I found out my neighbor’s tree I’ve been staring at for 3 years is a silver maple. I saw a gorgeous orb weaver prepare her web for the evening’s catch. I felt the first chill of fall on my summer skin and reveled in its difference. I over-invited people to a cookout for my birthday and genuinely think we don’t have enough room for everyone. I looked at the world’s indifference and chose to find meaning, and I’ve realized that’s all I’ll ever need.