“Words of Wisdom from my 30s”
I've still got time...nine months to be exact. But the reminders have been hitting me like a battering ram. One by one, friends have been dropping like flies, entering the realm of the dreaded “big 4-0”—or anxiously awaiting the bomb to drop in far less ceremonial fashion than the new year’s eve ball in Times Square. I just saw the headline while scanning some news blogs: "Generation x turns 40." Blech...and the other day, I got a lovely message on Facebook from my high school reunion chair: “So we’re turning 40 this year…let’s celebrate!”
“Thanks for the reminder.” I thought. “I’m well aware…”
Though some of my tweener co-workers (ok…to be fair, twenty-somethings!) may think I've officially hit “ancient” status, I feel pretty darn good for an ol’ lady. Perhaps I should scorn the day it actually hits, but quite honestly, I just don’t. I’m ready.
I was reminded of this fact a few months ago when I bumped into a good friend while grabbing coffee in the office kitchen. She had just turned 30: gorgeous, glowing, and graciously embracing this new milestone.
“Happy happy birthday!” I gave her a long, heartfelt hug, and almost felt maternal as I thought back through my own experiences and how much “life” she had to look forward to.
“Thank you! you know, I thought I would dread it but I’m ok with it…actually more than ok. I’m in such a good place! So now that I’m 30, what do I have to look forward to?”
“A pile of shots, a wok to throw up in and a few hours of recovery time to do it all again” …Oh wait, that was my 20s! Yeesh.
Anyway, it was a lighthearted question…that inspired a much deeper answer.Sometimes when you’re living it, you may not realize how far you've come, how much you've accomplished, the perspective you’ve gained, how much you've grown. And then a question gives you pause, and there is, simply, clarity.
“What do you have to look forward to in your thirties?” The answer was far too loaded for a drive-by kitchen chat, so we booked a proper lunch to celebrate and discuss. Here is a topline of what I said:
7 Lessons Learned
1. Perfect Imperfection: One of the biggest epiphanies I experienced in my thirties was a true awareness—and acceptance—of myself. I vividly remember the painstaking self-consciousness of youth. Of begging my parents to “drop me off at the corner” for roller skating Saturdays at my grade school, terrified that my friends would make fun of our white Oldsmobile Toronado (can’t imagine why) or my parents’ Filipino accents. Of first dates in college where I’d pound enough Grape Ape Everclear before the barn dance to wipe away the inhibitions…and sadly, on occasion, the unfortunate mess when the liquid courage dissipated and the liquid upchuck surfaced in its place. In the working world, being faced with following someone else’s dream or carving out my own path, when I felt utterly clueless about what it should be. All of these misadventures were part of the learning process, culminating in the biggest lesson of all: that no matter how “put together” people appear, how much they seem to have going for them, everyone’s got their baggage, everyone’s trying to find their way. The more you get to know people, the deeper you scratch beneath the surface, the more you realize we are all the same: perfect in our imperfection. Instead of chasing an ideal or worrying about your limitations, you learn to be comfortable in your own skin.
2. Your Voice: An essential part of embracing you who are is finding your authentic voice. In my thirties I realized that, as life gets more complicated, nobody is going to figure things out for you, nobody is going to set you on a course toward greatness—or mediocrity for that matter. “It’s all up to you.” When you’re out of the protective bubble of college, where group-think reigns supreme, and you surround yourself with friends who look like you do, think like you do, it’s safe, secure…and the furthest thing from real life. Without that safety net, you are forced to decide: What is important to me? What issues matter? What do i like/dislike? Without anyone else weighing in, what do I want? It’s terrifying at first, but also empowering. Whether through work or hobbies or interests or passions, you begin to discover—and own—your voice.
3. No Drama: Also known as “shedding the deadweight.” In your twenties, you’re on a process of self-discovery, and with that comes a plethora of interesting characters: people who expand you, experiences that push you out of your comfort zone. Some people are inspiring. There’s an instant connection…and they become an indispensable part of your lifelong journey. But inevitably, you realize that others are just dead-weight. “Friends” who bring you down. Or like Pigpen in the “Peanuts” comic, they move through life with a swirl of drama that follows them wherever they go, and engulfs anyone (including you) that happens to get sucked in. For a while, it may be entertaining, but as time goes on, the electricity wanes. And it’s just plain exhausting. By our thirties, many of us realize that it’s time to ditch the drama and cut the cord on the clusterf**ks in your life.
4. The Core: All this talk of clarity and confidence would make one think that with each year, nuggets of wisdom simply pop into your consciousness like pimples on a preteen, but nothing could be further than the truth. For most of us, your 30s is a time of incredible milestones: marriage, kids, moments of bliss that give
meaning to an otherwise self-centered existence. But in other ways, your 30s will find a way to shake you. Rock you to the core. For all the good, you may experience, first hand, loss like you've never known: of a parent, of loved ones, of friends, of jobs. Of relationships that you thought would last forever…but didn't. Illnesses that might strike without warning. Real-life reminders that you’re not invincible will hit you over the head like a hard, blunt object shattering your ruse of control. Perhaps it stands to reason that the heaviness that comes from hard times tends to hit when you’re older, wiser, stronger. When you’re more prepared to handle it. And when you realize that your core—the people and values that you hold closest to your heart— are the key to helping you through.
5. At Any Moment: This decade has taught me that life is all about moments. Not the trajectory from point a to point b. Not your best laid plans mapped out on a calendar. Not the “single moment” where you thought you’d finally “arrive,” but the many little moments from which you learn and grow. We don’t always know
what final shape it will take, but those moments pieced together form the mosaic of your life. Moments with loved ones that mean everything. moments meant to be cherished but often missed. Moments that, at any moment, could be taken away.
6. Simple Things: I used to flip through magazines and earmark pages and pages of things that I simply “had to have”: clothes, bags, shoes, baubles. But when I hit my 30s and life grew infinitely more complex, those must-haves ironically became simple things: more time spent laughing with my kids, breathing in the air atop the sand dunes, enjoying the stillness of quiet moments, taking in the sights and tastes at the farmer’s market, strolling the neighborhood in search of the next cozy nook. Sure we all want to look and feel our best, but
ultimately the finer things don’t bring true fulfillment.
7. Young at Heart: Sometimes it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the years. We all grow tired of the juggling act: trying to keep up with work and housecleaning and kid-chasing and list-making. The bones may be a little creakier, your eyes a little sleepier. But other times you may feel more alive, more aware, more inspired than ever. There’s nothing like having two little living, breathing reminders to not take life too seriously. When I see the world through my childrens’ eyes, I share in their wonder. When I’m texting “OMGs” and “LOLz”, I feel like a giddy tweener. When I’m reminiscing with old friends and the laughter flows as freely as the wine, there’s no pretense and no purpose other than to say that we've made it this far—and are sharing in this journey together. And last but not least, when I hit the bars, I do still occasionally get
carded, which always makes me crack a Cheshire cat smile (even if they are just throwing this old dog a bone!).
Whether 30 or 40 or 60, age is just a number. The clock is going to keep on ticking until your time is up, so make the most of every moment…I'm not professing to know all the answers, but I feel like I've cracked enough nuts to be ready for anything that the next decade throws my way. So come on 40, bring it. I'll be ready!
I am also a wife and mother. A sister and a daughter. A writer and an aesthete. A lover of beautiful things and making things beautiful—whether by capturing them on camera, expressing them in words, or experiencing them, truly, in the moment. I am mostly an optimist but sometimes a pessimist. I am a believer in life—despite all its imperfections—embraced and fully lived.
I write about finding everyday inspiration on my blog, “sea glass”: and I’m also a featured writer on 'Chicago Now,' a Chicago Tribune site showcasing Chicago bloggers, where I write “Kicking and Screaming,” on the pleasures, pitfalls and infinite inspiration in raising kids in downtown Chicago.