Hi Elaine: How can I deal with big landmark birthdays? I’m struggling with turning 30 and leaving my 20s behind. I’m relieved in some ways but unsure of this next transition and how much weight to give it.
Ask Elaine: I’m turning 30. Are my best days behind me?
Are you struggling more with the concept of aging or is it that you are not where you imagined you’d be by this stage in your life? Since it’s not totally clear, let’s tackle both.
Regardless of how you measure up against where you thought you’d be by now, the timelines too many of us are taught to measure our worth against are arbitrary and artificial. Age is not an indicator of where you should be, what you should have, or even that you are getting “old.” All of those constructs are manufactured and so is the anxiety we feel about them. Editing what you give energy to is a big part of maturing gracefully.
Frankly, I’m not sure what you’re struggling to leave behind because you could not pay me to relive my 20s. I like having better taste in everything — especially men — knowing my limits with alcohol and not being broke. Your 20s are all about exploration and discovery, which can feel magical. But that magic can’t last forever. Now, you get to enter a new phase of adulthood. One with a deeper sense of self, more earning potential, different priorities, better discernment in relationships, and hopefully in pursuit of a greater sense of purpose.
Follow Elaine WelterothFollow
However, I would like to have a word with whoever started the trend of making people (especially women) feel like failures for not having their entire lives figured out by 30. This may not be you, but if it makes you feel any better, Americans on average are on a steady decline when it comes to hitting all the traditional markers of “success” by 30. We are waiting longer than ever to get married, have children and buy homes. Yet even when fewer people are measuring up to outdated standards of adulting, the pressure is still at a fever pitch. Just because the culture hasn’t caught up to the data doesn’t mean your happiness needs to be dictated by it.
If society’s standards are stressing you out, let’s practice some self-reflection rituals that can actually serve you so you can celebrate this milestone birthday like the rite of passage it is.
Just like any other life transition, big birthdays are an opportunity to take an honest inventory of who you are in this present moment — without the labels (titles, age, romantic status or familial designations)? What have you learned? And who are you becoming? Now is a good time to set clear intentions for the next era that will help you feel more hopeful and energized.
This may sound a little woo, but if you are still having a hard time accessing gratitude for the opportunity to age, I highly recommend writing a letter to your younger self, thanking her for everything that got you where you are. I just did it and it gets emotional quick!
Judging from your question, you seem to be an introspective person. Keep that same energy! Keep seeking, keep evaluating, and keep refining who you are and how you want to live your life.
And whatever you do, don’t fall into the comparison trap.
So, congrats on your next era. May it be the beginning — not the end — of the best era of all.