30 is Not the New 20, and I’m so Relieved

I said goodbye to my 20’s this year. In fact, I sally forth-ed right out of my 20’s at the stroke of midnight on my birthday with The Guy proclaiming that I was old. He looked at his watch and clambered out of bed, trailing his hand along his present like Vanna White enticing me to open it. The prospect of being back in the same decade of our 30’s together appealed to him.

The first time I vocalized, “I’m 30” sounded odd. After all, it’s a brand new decade, foreign to a tongue that had grown used to saying twenty-something. Yet I anticipated 30 like it would somehow promote my credibility and take me completely out of the, “You’re just a baby” sentiment. Long before 30 came, I’d determined it wouldn’t be time for a crisis.

After all, I already trudged through a very real quarter life crisis back when I was 24, and again at 26. Luckily, 30 doesn’t feel as soul crushing from falling short of societal expectations or from the pressure of other people’s judgments. Mostly it’s because I give much less of a shit about anyone else’s approval. Don’t get me wrong, I still give plenty of shits, just much less than I used to.

Actually, 30 deserves a super badge of honor for maneuvering through all the crap my 20’s threw at me. No time for a crisis here, only celebration.

Sure, my metabolism might have hit a wall and fine lines are creeping their way onto my face – but I’m more comfortable in this skin and I like myself more, flaws and all. My 20’s chewed me up at times but regurgitated me out a better person. They also gave me the guts to craft the life I used to only dream about. And who would want to go back on that?

Here’s a closer look at some of the most valuable lessons I learned during my 20’s:

Work Politics can be THE WORST

Seriously. Can’t you just go in, do your job, and get a few kudos (or even no kudos)? We live in a social world and work politics are a big part of daily life. Would it surprise you that the toughest work situations arose from a bunch of women talking?

Trust me, between the 30 jobs I’ve held since I was 15, I’ve been in TONS of weird work situations. For example, I worked for some old guy who spoke only to my chest everyday like it was my face. I’ve worked in a quickie wedding chapel and a late night funk rock lounge (i.e. with a lot of drunks).

I’ve worked for incompetent bosses, angry bosses, racist bosses, and bosses that took advantage of my agree-ability. The good ones are few and far between.

I’ve been hazed into cleaning toilets on my first day as new girl and scheduled to 50 hour weeks (between 2 jobs) while attending school full time because my boss knew I wouldn’t say no despite my repeated requests to work less. I’ve been puked on, had shit flung at me, and been sexually harassed by co-workers and strangers alike on a daily basis. I’ve been through it all.

And STILL, the worst is when you get a group of catty women that band together to gossip and make your daily work environment a living hell. It’s the worst because none of it happens to your face but quietly taints every following interaction.

Being the new girl 30 times teaches you a few things. Namely, don’t be a catty bitch. If your job or office has a group of gossipy women who are ruining the quality of your work day, keep your head up and hang in there because they will eventually sink their crappy claws into some other piece of gossip.

In the worst case of catty bitches, the seasons never changed before I left the job. Talk would literally stop when I walked in the room. Each time, I felt their judgments hanging thick in the air, outweighed only by my own desperate need for approval. I never did gain it because they’d made a decision about me and shared those opinions with whoever would listen. And there was nothing I could do about it.

So I did what I always do. Lived my life by my own principles and acted how I would with anyone else. After so many days of repeated self soothing, I liked myself increasingly more and cared about their opinions progressively less.

The age old adage is true. Stay true to yourself. Because it is the only thing that matters no matter what anybody says about you.

 Do Things You Want (Even By Yourself)

Doing things by yourself is pretty grand in a way that you wouldn’t think was grand. Going somewhere by yourself seems kind of lonesome, doesn’t it? Imagine yourself sitting awkwardly alone at a restaurant table – out in the open, no less! – not even in a booth to the side. People might glance at you and wonder why you’re there by yourself – but you feel like you’re in a fishbowl the entire time.

Trust me, you’re not.

That’s how it started for me – dates by myself. Pretty soon, I traveled to another country on my own. Imagine being surrounded by foreigners and locals who eye you curiously – and not a single person beside you speaks your language. Sometimes you ARE actually being scrutinized.

But it’s exhilarating.

I went on to store away all my belongings to go live in a city where not a single soul knew my name – just to follow a dream. I moved myself across the country, doe eyed and hopeful, and came back tougher and more cynical with a pocket full of some of the lowest times in my life.

I wouldn’t give back those experiences for anything.

Doing things by myself took guts I didn’t know I had, assurance from myself that I didn’t know I could give, and the courage to believe in myself in a way that no one else in the world did. These are the invaluable gems borne out of independence. They gave me enough personal grit and belief in my own path to pursue my dreams, even if I didn’t know what they were.

And you don’t have to wait for anyone to join you. Go get ’em!

If You’re Not Envious of Your Boss’ Job, Quit

Now, this piece of information might not be applicable to everyone. Maybe you already love your job. If so, that is incredible and I’m very happy for you. However, I was always looking to change job descriptions or move up.

Whenever I’d been in a job for awhile, I evaluated my peers and superiors, gauging their professional satisfaction. If you want your boss’ job, you’re in the right place. I think it’s as simple as that.

I never found a boss whose job I envied, which is why I work for myself now.

Handle Tough Situations with a Bit of Grace

Let me tell you a little story. I had driven across the country, knowing only that I wanted to work with sea  life. I rented a room in a dilapidated house that was literally being lifted from the ground up by tree roots. The woman who remained in the house was charging rent to short-timers like me until she was permanently removed due to foreclosure.

After 3 months of that sad situation, I finally landed a job working with the Florida manatee and a traveling exhibit of African black footed penguins. It was a dream position dampered only by catty office politics – but taught me a lot about personal integrity and how I feel toward animal captivity.

I completed that internship and went to see The Guy, who I hadn’t seen in 5 months. I would have half an afternoon (3 – 7PM) and one night with him before he shipped off for additional training. I took an overnight bus from Florida to South Carolina and was seated next to an overweight man who slept on his side and shot fart cannons toward me for the duration of the trip. We shuttled into the train station before sunrise and because the station emptied out quickly, I knew I needed to leave as well.

I dragged my luggage in the dark several blocks uphill and found a closed McDonald’s that still shone a welcoming beam of light for me to wait under. I took the first bus toward Ft. Jackson, which was filled with only black people who eyed me suspiciously as I dragged my 60 pound suitcase on board. I was acutely aware of the huge wealth disparity and race situation all of a sudden.

By the time I checked-in to a hotel, the bed beckoned more convincingly than the shower. Right before my head hit the pillow, my phone shrieked, alerting me to a call from one of The Guy’s good friends in Portland. I ignored it only to be alerted immediately by another call from his other good friend.

They never call me, so I knew it was bad.

His best friend had died.

Do you know what it’s like to have to pick the moment to unleash such horrific news to the person you love?

I withheld the news the following day until the end of the evening. Every time I looked at him, I felt overwhelming joy from our reunion but also the heavy burden of knowing I’d be ripping away that feeling from him soon.

It was difficult. But I learned that sometimes your immediate emotions aren’t the most important thing. Sometimes, the only choice you have is to think about the other person, and that means to wait.

Waiting for things is a large part of being an adult. Patience is a virtue.

Dammit. All those common sayings that old people and corny philosophical internet memes are always telling us are true.

So, am I Just an Old Lady Now?

Has turning 30 made me old? Has my life reached an apex of just looking back on my 20’s, spouting out wisdom that I’ve gained?

Definitely not!

I’m certain I have a whole lot of other crap to go through in my 30’s. But the difference is that I feel more prepared to handle it and I trust myself more.

I used to look back at my teen years, cringe, and vehemently profess I’d never relive those years again for anything. I still stand by that statement. But when I look back at my 20’s, it’s a similar (albeit subdued) feeling.

My 30’s are going to be amazing. Instead of job hopping, changing residences, and general lack of concrete direction, it’s going to be about digging my heels in.

If 30’s were the new 20’s, it would mean I’d be getting more of what I already spent a decade exploring. I’ve never been one to wish for the past, so here’s to turning the page into the next chapter.

Regardless of the decade that I’m living through, my philosophy remains the same.

Don’t wait to do the things you want to do now. Travel. Quit that job if you hate it. Try all the things and eat all the foods. And above all, don’t live your life with any regrets!

I, for one, won’t be left wondering what it would have been like if only I’d [fill in the blank].

In fact, I wouldn’t even know I should feel any anxiety about TURNING THIRTY if it weren’t for the people around me that keep asking how I feel about turning 30. Am I supposed to feel some kind of way? I’ll just stick to my original gut instinct about it. I feel great!

Here’s to getting older, wiser, and enjoying the hell out of it. We can compare wrinkles later 🙂

Now, about turning 40…

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