May 7, 2020

Listen Up: We Don’t Need to have it all Figured Out by 30.


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I don’t know what planted this idea in my subconscious, but somewhere along the way, my 30th year became a definitive line in the sand that determined the value of my life. 

I mean my entire life. I believed with every inch of my being that if I didn’t have my life’s purpose figured out by 30, it was too late for me to ever amount to anything. 

I can’t possibly be the only person who felt this way. I know this because I’ve seen plenty of memes and blog posts invalidating traditionally age appropriate milestones—which I relate to.

However, as I approached (and then exceeded) 30, I still felt like a broken part that had fallen off the assembly-line and was now branded defective. 

I didn’t have a “real” career, any idea of what I wanted to do with my life, or a desire to have children any time soon. I often jokingly told others that my dreams felt deadWhat’s sad is I wasn’t joking. I believed this. All because I hadn’t achieved these imaginary milestones by 30. 

Trauma from my past, paired with fears of the future, distracted me from living in the moment. This inability to be in the present put me in an “I can’t” mindset.

All this anguish caused me to end a lot of friendships in my 20s. I couldn’t bear the bitter jealousy I felt toward other people who were having experiences I longed for, so I rejected them. 

I was emotionally unavailable to support friends as they embarked on travels to India, hiked up the Appalachian trail, went on expensive yoga teacher trainings in Bali, and spent summers in France. Losing those friends is perhaps my biggest regret. 

The idea that I couldn’t have those experiences myself was affixed to my brain in a way I can’t even find words to explain. I honestly thought I was not worthy of anything. Trust me. I know how ridiculous it sounds! 

By the time I reached my 30th birthday, I had a deep well of despair inside me. I had arrived at the big three-zero, having accomplished nothing I was proud of. I thought I was doomed. This toxic ideology seeped so deeply into my soul that it took complete control of my emotional health, and robbed me of a good chunk of my life. 

By the time I was 32, depression and anxiety had taken the wheel. I enrolled in a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) outpatient program that saved my life. Moving forward from the past and focusing on the immediate present helped me out of the darkness

I began to realize a lot of my suffering was self-elected. It had been living on such a subconscious level that I wasn’t even aware I was choosing it. 

My anger at myself for not following these imaginary age-appropriate guidelines stemmed from spending too much time worrying about what hadn’t even happened yet. 

So, for the first time in my life, I focused only on the present moment—mostly because it was all I had the energy left to do. 

As I shifted my focus to taking care of my basic needs—balanced meals, balanced sleep, balanced exercise—my mindset began to change without even intending it to.

I let go of the constant need to be doing something purposeful. Instead, I chose to find purpose in just being a person getting through life. I sought happiness in simple day-to-day things. I was fully present to enjoy taking walks in the woods, reading a good fiction novel, watching funny movies, and sharing meals with family and friends.

I went on like this for a year, and I began to feel a peace I had never allowed myself in my 20sThat peace eventually took over the suffering. 

What followed was a certainty I had never known. It wasn’t too late to still find meaning in my life. I was determining the worth of my whole life, all of my remaining days on this earth, on the ridiculous idea that I had to have it all figured out by 30?

How could that even be possible? The first 20 years of our lives are all about learning basic skills: how to walk, talk, read, write, socialize, care for ourselves, and grow. These years are more or less in the hands of others, the hands of parents and teachers. Because of that, we don’t even have the possibility of figuring things out for ourselves until our mid- to late 20s! 

To have it all figured out by 30 leaves only a five- to 10-year window to learn about ourselves (not according to what others expect of us). 

I wish I could explain this to the twenty-something me. I wish I could tell her to live, to not worry so much about the future, and to stop comparing herself to the people around her

There is no such thing as a right age to have things accomplished by. 

I am now 33 and am pursuing a degree in creative writing. I plan to be finished by the time I am 36. I am proud of myself for achieving this milestone in a way I could not have been at the “appropriate” age of 22. Like many standards in our society, age is just a made-up notion. It is never too late to do the things we want to do.


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