Next year I’ll turn 30. As I enter the last year of my twenties, I find myself to be more reflective than usual, more inwards-looking and, honestly, more depressed.
There’s something about 30 that just feels so much more momentous than any other age I’ve reached. No-one thus far has been any help in putting my mind at rest. My partner, who is 10 months younger than me, recently told me that even he was ‘shitting it’ about turning 30, so couldn’t even imagine how I was feeling. It’s always good to know you have moral support…
I’ve turned to other friends who’ve already passed the dreaded birthday mark; their attempt to reassure me consisted of informing me that I’m not alone in my panic. My own mother, who just turned 60, told me that turning 30 was the hardest age, of all the ages. Worse than 40, worse than 50, worse than 60. All very reassuring for my current anxiety levels.
Why is it so bad?
For me, turning 30 represents everything I haven’t achieved in my life. When you’re a child, 30 seems like an age where you should have things sorted: your career, your house, your family. Not be sat on a park bench in the middle of Bristol counting the change in your purse to see if you have enough money to get a cheese and onion pasty from Greggs.
I’ve reached precisely none of the milestones I had expected to reach by this age. I’m still a student, with no real career, no marriage, no kids. What I do have is a mountain of debts, a flat filled with animals and a shit tonne of music equipment that belongs to the boy I managed to bribe into living with me by offering to turn our spare bedroom into a music studio. I spend all my spare cash (when there is any) going on far-flung holidays with aforementioned boy. I spend my evenings reading pretentious literary fiction and attending even more pretentious yoga workshops. I spend my weekends with my other 30-something friends who are also childless, singing our hearts out to 80s ballads at 3am.
The feeling that I might be satisfied with my life and my choices (although I also find choices an interesting word for this – did I choose this life? If so, when?) is fleeting. I wake up with a hangover on a Sunday morning and go to the pub for a Bloody Mary, and sometimes I’ll think how fantastic my life is, how much freedom I have. Then I’ll get a text from my best friend from uni with a video of my goddaughter standing up for the first time, and I’ll feel a physical pain in my gut, and I’ll be back to thinking my life is a massive fuck-up and I’m the most irresponsible human that walked the earth.
Was Rihanna right? Should it all be work, work, work, work, work??
I feel similar anxieties about my so-called career, of rather lack thereof. My working life is very flexible. I’m coming to the end of a research Masters, I have a well-paid flexible admin job, I’m training to be a yoga teacher, and I’m currently exploring building up a portfolio to get into some copywriting/editing work. My life is full, and different every day. The nature of the different types of work I do also means that I have the flexibility to go on holiday whenever I want, that I can always make it to the important events in my friends’ lives. And yet, when I scroll through my Facebook feed and see all those people I hated from school in their boring-but-well-paid jobs, with their beautiful houses, posh weddings, and fancy cars, I can’t help but look at my life and find it wanting.
In my calmer, more rational moments, I know approaching 30 isn’t as scary as I think it is. After all, age is just a number, and I still have plenty of time to have kids and a career, if I decide that’s what I want. I think what really scares me is comparing the person I am now to the person I thought I would be when I turned 30: a together ‘adult’ who had it all sorted. But you know what, expectations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Get it together
Here’s my advice for turning 30, or 34, or 50, or 21, or even 17. Stop being so hard on yourself. Stop comparing yourself to the accomplishments of others, stop comparing your life to what you thought it would be, stop looking at what makes other people happy. Stop scrolling through Facebook! Take a minute and look at your own life, at the life you’ve built, the choices you’ve made, the things that make you happy. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not so bad after all.