A coworker friend of mine turned 30 this weekend (which had the twin delights of making me feel ancient and amazed at her accomplishments in just 8 years of working). I wrote on her Facebook wall hoping to add some sage wisdom but came up somewhat short.
My 30s are still so fresh that the paint hasn’t quite dried, largely because I spent so long figuring out what to do with them. My so called wisdom pertained to avoiding the third martini and not expecting life to be like Sex in the City so I decided to have a think about what I really did learn during that decade (if anything at all).
1. Reveal in your physical self.
I spent my 30s thinking that if only I lost 10lbs and had smaller boobs, grew out my hair or had better skin, I’d make more of an effort to look good. Meanwhile I hid in baggy sweatshirts and ragged Levis, trying to make myself as ‘boy like’ as possible. I was horrified by my curves wishing myself thinner, flatter, bonier. I look back now and think ‘what was I thinking?’ to hide my body and feel embarrassed about my shape. Back then I was bangin’. And little did I know that I’d never have that same body, never do it so easily, with so little thought or with so much energy. So while at 30 you might think that your thighs are huge, or your boobs are too big (or too small), to the world around you, you’re smokin’ so enjoy it. Revel in dressing like a woman (what looked overdone at 25, now looks sophisticated at 30) and don’t hide your light under that college sweatshirt or baggy khakis. What looks sexy at 30, looks desperate at 40, so show it off now girls.
2. Don’t take your foot off the accelerator
By the time I hit 30, I’d had a long spell in consulting, and what felt like 7 years on a United plane, sleeping in Marriott hotel. At 30 I decided to ‘take a break’ from working so hard and took a job that was easy, figuring I could jump back on the treadmill once I’d spent all those miles and found myself a boyfriend.
A little known fact is that a woman’s career salary generally peaks at 40, where as a man’s peaks in their mid 50s. So while you’re doing great in your career at 29, don’t think that taking a few years off won’t make a difference. I got off the treadmill and by the time I decided to get back on, the speed had ramped way up and all my peers were miles ahead of me. I couldn’t keep up, never mind accelerate and I had to step off permanently.
So unless you’re planning on going ‘old school’ and being taken care of for the next 50 years, at 30, its time to hunker down in your career. The next level is just a few years around the corner so if you’re not in love with what you do, now’s the time to stop and get focused on what you really want to do. Teaching yoga, making babies, starting your own business or hell, going back to college, now is the time to commit to something. At 20, you didn’t know what you wanted, and at 40 you’ll be too tired to even start, so use your 30’s energy to pursue your passion. Whether that leads to the boardroom or the baby’s room just don’t settle for ‘whatever’. And 30 is not the time to take a break.. unless you’re prepared to run like hell to catch up later.
3. Don’t worry about ‘commitment’ marriage or babies
I spent my 20’s not caring about marriage or any of it, then freaked out completely at 30 because I wasn’t dating and I didn’t even want kids. If I temporarily forgot my single status, I was constantly reminded by others until I felt like ‘Must.Find.Husband’ became a mantra every single chick I knew was singing. Collectively we freaked ourselves out and I really don’t blame guys for running in the opposite direction. Talk about man eating zombies.
If you haven’t already had your starter marriage at 29, you might have it in your 30s’. You might not. You might be dating or winding up a long term relationship. You might be already married and starting a family. Your ring might still be shiny, or just an idea in your dudes head. The point is at 30 – there is no one normal. Its all normal. Just don’t freak out about it. Relationships happen all the time. As do babies. And you will be happy whether you get married or not, have babies or not. Its in our nature. And no, marriage and babies isn’t a game of musical chairs and no, you’re not going to wind up the only old maid at everyone’s wedding. That seat is mine.
4. Stop thinking ‘if I just did X, then I’d be happy’
If only I had long hair. If only I was taller. If only I had a nicer car. If only I had more friends. If only, if only, if only. Yes, I honestly believed these things would make me happier. It took 5 years, but I finally got the long hair and it just made me sweaty (and got stuck in dude’s mouths). I’m never getting taller and my car, even if its a Merc, will always be a dog hair shit show. I love my friends but I honestly don’t need 100 besties. I am happy without any of these things. In fact last year I got rid of most of my ‘thing’s’ and have never been happier. Sure, a new pair of Manolos will always make my heart race but I know that I’m happy with or without them.
I wish I could tell my 30 year old self not to spend those 10 years wishing for things to make me happy. Tying my future happiness to acquisitions, status, the idea of something instead of just enjoying the everyday. If I’d spent more time just reveling in who I was – right then- I’d probably have enjoyed my 30s a whole lot more.
I don’t regret my 30s – I just wish I’d been a bit quicker to get to some small degree of self knowledge and had a little less angst. I wish I hadn’t rushed through so much, so fast, with so little thought, and I sure as hell wish I hadn’t cut off all my hair and dyed it black the day my husband left. Boy, that was a mistake.
But those 30-something days are a long gone now, and in a few months I’ll be 42. According to Douglas Adams, at 42, I become the answer to life, the universe and everything. So I think that’s about right.