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Nobody talks about the unique struggle and societal pressures assigned to each of the decades that you manage to make it to and live through.
Specifically, the ones when you’re considered “in your prime”—your 20s and 30s.
Like many millennials, I spent my 20s flailing around in random jobs across every industry—except the one I actually earned a degree in. At one point, I was working in healthcare doing the literal dirty work of wiping the butts of all ages, from infants, to disabled teenagers, to the elderly. I can’t even put a number to the amount of sh*tty jobs I worked—restaurants, retail, customer service. I was in survival mode to just pay my bills and make ends meet, with multiple part-time and seasonal gigs on rotation.
Most likely from my high school guidance counselor, I was sold this idea that if you just “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” “your purpose is your passion,” “work hard and you’ll succeed,” and all that jazz.
Except my purpose wasn’t clear, I had too many passions that weren’t paying me, and I didn’t love what I was doing, so every day was more meaningless and painful work.
My love life from age 17 to about 28 involved a lot of trying to “fix” and mother my romantic partners. I dated guys who had “lots of potential” mixed in with their red flags to keep me hooked, but who would ultimately eventually become the toxic exes who I would use as examples of what to avoid when giving relationship advice to my friends.
I even had a little single and wild phase in between there, where I unleashed all the pent-up sexual frustration I felt at never being seen or heard or loved in my previous long-term relationships (not that it was an effective or healthy way of building my self-worth or receiving validation, but in hindsight, I will say that my power and confidence started coming back simply from the freedom to express my sexuality again after such unhealthy attachments).
I hit this breaking point where I had finally had enough of my own sh*t and feeling like I was a complete failure for not following society’s script—some configuration of graduate, get a real job, find a good guy, get married, have kids, all before you turn 30—and I finally just broke down and said f*ck the script. I decided to give a big middle finger to everyone and everything that was expected of me and do only exactly what I wanted.
After I broke down, I broke free.
I’m naturally stubborn as hell and I was determined that this quarter-life crisis would not take me out in my “prime.” My life was not over—it was just beginning.
I got deep into personal development. I learned to say no. I ditched the loser guys. I cried a lot. My eyes (and my third eye) were swollen, but wide open. I swore on my soul that I was going to heal my sh*t, once and for all.
So I did. Not overnight. Not even in a few months. It’s actually still an ongoing process. But wouldn’t you know it? I found peace at the tail end of my 20s.
I handled my business, in work and relationships. I figured out my career, finally. Through a lot of trial and error, I finally do feel that I have turned my passion into purpose—serving people in various areas of health and wellness through life coaching and nourishment of their bodies.
I met a guy who would turn out to be my soul mate, my third and final love, my cycle breaker, game-changer, man of my dreams…and five years later, at the ripe old age of 32, we’re happily engaged!
But now the real “fun” begins.
Enter the quintessential struggle of your 30s!
Societal expectations include (but are not limited to) the following questions, comments, and insults:
>> So, when’s the big date?!
>> Better get on having those babies; you don’t want to be the “old” parents!
>> Are you really looking to buy a house in this market!?
>> Let me help you plan your wedding. I know a photographer/florist/venue!
>> When are you gonna start having babies?
>> You can’t stay in that apartment forever!
>> When will you be giving me some grandbabies?
>> You can’t elope—think of your family; they want to celebrate you!
>> Don’t wait too long; I heard it’s hard to get pregnant after 30!
>> Oh, did you know that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce?
Yes, we sure are in our prime. Adulting. In love. Living our best lives.
But we’re also inching closer to geriatric-pregnancy-candidate age, drowning in wedding and marriage commentary waters, and stuck in perpetual apartment-living-land since there’s no dreamy 10-acre potential homesteads popping up in our local housing market right now. (Who came up with the term geriatric pregnancy anyway? It’s awful.)
The weight of the world, friends’ and family’s opinions, even people we barely know can have this heavy, crushing effect on our soul, if we allow it.
I never subscribed to the traditional life path when I was in my 20s (as much as I was pressured to do so), and I sure as hell don’t intend to in my 30s, either.
The pressure to choose the “right” path that is pushed on us from the time we are children—starting with the oh-so-innocent, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”— is actually detrimental to how we navigate these “prime” years of our lives. When things don’t turn out as we had planned, hoped, wished, or have been told they “should,” it can feel devastating.
For example, I’ve never felt so inadequate and as “if I was doing it ‘wrong'” as I have when someone has pointed out that they had already been married and had kids, or that they had been at the same company for 10 years by the time that they were my age. Or when I’ve compared my milestones to a peer’s and fallen short.
There’s this unspoken, almost indescribable, but deeply felt sense of time running out, being left behind, rushing toward the same final destination as your peers; whether you’re ready, or even want the same things they do, or not, that leaves you feeling like the biggest loser on Earth.
Yet at the same time, I feel compelled, again and again, to remind myself (and you):
You’ve got to follow your own path.
It’s not too late. You’re not too old. Your “prime” is when you say it is.
You are not geriatric in your 30s, or even 40s, or beyond. (Healthy pregnancy is possibly beyond 30, women! Please don’t fall for the false narrative that your life is over at 25!)
You don’t have to do things the way your parents, your friends, or anyone else did.
Release any expectations that make you feel like sh*t.
Give that big middle finger liberally, as needed, and often.
Babies, marriage, homeownership, career, whatever you are feeling the pressure to achieve right now…it will happen at the perfect time (or it won’t, if that’s not what you really want).
Remember that you’re out here co-creating with the Universe.
Be proud of how far you’ve come and focus on becoming optimistic for what’s next.
You’re exactly where you need to be right now.