|I pretended to laugh as I stared at the candles on the birthday cake my husband had bought for me. The top of it read ‘Happy Almost-Thirty Birthday.’ My family teased me, and I laughed it off, pretending that age was just a number and I didn’t really care.
After all, I’d learned from one of my favorite movies, 13 Going on 30, that the age of 30 was marked by being flirty and fun. Right?
But here’s the thing. That cake, that 29th birthday, that smile I plastered on to tell the world I didn’t even care about my age—it was all a lie.
I’m afraid of needles, spiders, heights, and at least ten other things. These things send mind-numbing chills through me and put me on the verge of tears. However, they still don’t compete with the one fear that kept me up night after night in my twenties—turning 30.
I know I’m not alone in this, either, I’ve talked to so many friends who are my age or younger, and there just seems to be something about the 2 creaking over to a 3 that buries us in terror. There seems to be some sort of self-imposed deadlines we put on ourselves—and 30 just feels like the end.
In a 20-something’s mind, 30 is the end of a fast metabolism and smooth skin. It’s the end of wild nights with friends and the element of surprise. It’s the end of excuses for your life not being exactly where you want it to be. It’s the end of adventure and romance and the best years of your life.
As a society, whether we mean to or not, we portray the age of 30 as the final destination for women, in many ways. By thirty, a woman should have it all figured out—her skin routine, her eating habits, her friends’ group, and her job. She should have the perfect house squared away, the job that requires stiletto heels—which she can parade around in with perfect poise—and the family that is settled and happy. She should be all things to all people. She should know who she is. She shouldn’t be floundering around exploring and adventuring anymore.
I think it is this view that subconsciously puts absolute terror in so many women’s hearts about the changing to a new decade of life. No matter how frequently I chanted the “age is just a number” mantra or told myself I was being ridiculous, 30 hit me hard. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and my stomach would lurch thinking about how I was 30.
Thirty, the age that seemed so old when I was in high school.
Thirty, and I didn’t have it all figured out yet.
Thirty, and I wasn’t even close to being the confident, sophisticated, charming woman I had once imagined.
But now, at 31, I’m on the other side of the momentous birthday. And do you know what I’ve realized?
Thirty is absolutely, positively, the best my life has been.
It’s true—my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. I swear looking at a cookie derails my whole body for a week. My fine lines aren’t getting any less noticeable, and hangovers are the thing of terrors now instead of signs of a fun night.
Some things definitely end once you hit 30—but here’s the thing no one tells you.
Not all of those things that end are things you’ll miss.
At 30, I’ve finally stopped worrying about what people think of me or who is judging me. I finally feel like I’ve found my happiest, truest self, like I know what I actually want. I’ve stopped saying yes to things I want to say no to just because I worry about what people will think or how it will hurt my success. I say yes to living the life that makes me happy, even if that means sitting at home watching Netflix and eating pizza or wearing that crazy T-shirt that should embarrass me. I’m still a go-getter, and I still strive to achieve my goals. But unlike in my 20s, I don’t feel like I have to be constantly busy doing things I don’t want to do in order to find my best life.
At 30, the constant self-doubt has also dissipated. I remember my twenties being marked by this constant judgement of myself. Was I smart enough? Driven enough? Talented enough? Was I working hard enough? Did I know the right people? Was I skinny enough, pretty enough, strong enough? The questions were endlessly rotating through my mind, causing me to doubt myself. When I turned 30, it’s like I settled into exactly who I am at this moment. I’ve realized that you can never be all things, and you can never perfect every aspect of yourself. I’ve learned that you don’t have to hold yourself up to the ridiculous, sophisticated, stiletto-heeled version of yourself if you don’t want to.
At 30, I’ve stopped obsessing over how many friends I have. I have a core group who has my back, even if we don’t get to talk or spend time together as often as we would like. Life never slows down, even though it seems like at some point it will. The friends you have in your twenties might not still be there in your thirties because life changes. But the friends you do keep in your thirties are tried and true—they will be there through it all, even if large chunks of time pass by. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the life of the party or go to parties with hundreds to make connections.
It’s hard to describe what turning 30 is actually like. I remember being 29 and hearing so many people tell me their thirties were their favorite years, but I know I didn’t listen. How could getting older be better? How could saying goodbye to all the adventure and changes and excitement of your twenties be a good thing?
It is only now that I can appreciate what they were talking about.
Yes, the twenties are a wild, fun, adventurous decade of your life. But they’re also filled with uncertainty, risk, and social pressures to conform and find yourself. They’re filled with the fear that the adult world will eat you alive—and sometimes it does. But once you hit thirty, you realize something very important that it just takes a while to learn.
No one has this whole thing figured out, and the adult world will always try to eat you alive, no matter how much you’re networking or growing or changing or dieting or learning. It is at thirty that something seems to click, that something seems to say—you know what? You’re doing okay. Find happiness in yourself and in what you’re doing every day, and it will all be fine after all.
So to those women in your 20s right now, here’s what I say: Don’t stay up at night worrying about those thirty candles. Don’t freak out that your twenties are over.
Greet thirty with open arms and know that there really is a decade of self-fulfillment waiting for you if you just are willing to reach out and greet it back.