After a decade filled with moments best framed as “learning experiences,” the big three-oh may feel a bit overwhelming.
Even if you’ve finally landed in a bona fide career and be sophisticated enough to know not to order the cheapest glass of wine on the menu (the second cheapest, thanksverymuch), some areas of your life may feel unresolved, in progress, or part of a harsh new reality that didn’t seem as apparent at 20. And that’s OK.
Turning 30 is complicated business–while aging brings a new perspective on life, it also brings with it some less-than-delightful gifts and realizations.
Be prepared to encounter seven unfortunate truths as you inch toward the big three-oh:
- You may still have acne. Ever dream about the day you’d outgrow those zits on your teenaged forehead, only to watch that acne migrate to your chin and morph into painful red bumps that wouldn’t *go away* as your twenties progressed? Hello, adult acne. Not everyone deals with this particularly stubborn condition. But I’ll speak for those of us that do: man, does it suck to jump through hoops of skincare products and supplements and dermatologist appointments in an effort to solve the mysteries of female hormonal acne that appears to want to stick around well into your thirties.
- You may also now have wrinkles. The 17-year-old version of you who shunned sunscreen by the pool and never gave a thought to using a daily SPF moisturizer deserves a stern talking to. Your experience may vary based on genetics or past sun exposure, but fine lines may begin to appear at the sides of your eyes and mouth. Along with the variety of acne-related products I use daily, I’ve recently incorporated eye cream due in part to my unfortunately haggard appearance in a recent passport photo. Acne + crow’s feet = A hefty skincare line item of my budget.
- And gray hair. Unless you’re highlighting or coloring your hair all over, curiously radiant single strands may begin to poke from your part or temples at the twilight of your twenties. You pull, examine, and gasp: yep, that’s a gray hair. A few years ago, I cut away the last of the bleach-damaged ends of my hair and have been wearing a lob with my au natural light brown color. Now I keep finding wisps of silver and am grappling with what to do next. When should I start coloring my hair again? What if I just highlight my hair? What if I want to commit to gray? If I don’t, does that make me a bad feminist? I have no answers (except to the last question: no).
- Life insurance is not to be ignored. Maybe you have a significant other and/or children. Terrifying as the thought of dying is, when you have people depending on your income, you begin to think about how to prepare for the worst so that they can be comfortable. I realized this year that with a fiance, a house and–importantly–a dog and a cat, the bare-minimum term life insurance offered by my company at no cost to me isn’t going to cut it on its own anymore.
- The dream job probably doesn’t exist. That’s the thing about the dream house, the dream guy or gal, and certainly the dream job: the qualities that make it a “dream” depends upon a lot of factors. Have a great job and then get a new boss who totally sucks? Or get stuck having to deal with a very difficult, patronizing customer? What if you get laid off? What if your S.O. gets a new job in or is relocated to another state and you’re forced to grapple with what to do about your own career? In any of these situations, the once-dream job becomes more of a nightmare. Plenty of positions look great on paper. The one career constant is your talent, passion and drive. Period.
- Making new friends is hard. Graduate, take a job in a new city, or live in an area with a transient population (like a college town) and wow, does it become a lot more difficult to develop a friendship base. Without school and its peripheral activities, and being an uber-introvert, I struggle to meet people my age and often fail to bring myself to the “let’s hang out!” stage; the vulnerability required often terrifies me. But by the time you approach 30, you learn that to have a healthy social life, you have to put yourself out there–join the book club, volunteer, go to that MeetUp. You also learn how important it is to put in the time and energy to maintain the strong friendships you already have.
- Family ages, too. Once upon a time, the older adults in our life seemed as though they’d live forever, a constant in our lives. By 30, one event or another has forced us all to drop this naivete. While I was lucky that both of my parents and most of my extended family were healthy for years, my father is currently very ill with a degenerative condition. While my mom is very diligent about eating well and exercising, watching her care and worry for her 93-year-old mother, my grandma, reminds me of her own mortality. If she is able to reach 93, too, we’ll have to battle with the age-related issues that come with growing older.
But here’s a happy truth: Age is just a number. (Unless, of course, you’re buying life insurance. Then that number becomes a significant factor in the cost of your premium. #thingsilearnedat29)
Thinking about what I’ve done and, more importantly, who I’ve become in the past 10 years makes me want to give myself a little shoulder pat. I’m fitter, eat better, and respect the importance of exercise way more than I did at 20. I practice self-care in more productive ways. I’m a much better dog and cat mom than I would have been at 20. And if I keep living a healthy, proactive, present life, I may be lucky enough to look upon myself at 40 (or, if I take after grandma, 90) and be proud of where I am, too.
Turning 30 isn’t a source of your identity–it’s a checkpoint on the journey.