Let's Be Honest: Thirties Can Be Rough
A few days ago, my best friend and I were talking about getting older. She turns forty this year and I am two and a half years away from the big 4-0. We both agreed that the thirties have been rough and we are more than ready to enter a new decade. This got me thinking about why? Why, at least in our experience, have the thirties been a struggle? So I thought I'd share some thoughts, in case your experience is anything like the struggle we've had in our thirties.
In our twenties, we make mistakes. In fact, we make a mountain of mistakes, but it's ok because we are still young. There's time to fix things. There's learning in those mistakes so it's all good. It's even encouraged. We are experiencing so many new things, so many changes and there is a pervasive theme of hope and excitement for the future. There's pressure, but it comes with a caveat of "It's OK, you're still young."
In our thirties, we are typically settled into a job. Maybe we are married. Maybe there's kids. If not, there's definitely pressure for them now. And do you have a 401K? Do you have life insurance? You don't? Well...now you are just an irresponsible adult. You can get away with that in your twenties, but now you need to grow up and start thinking about the future. Studies have shown that more people in their thirties report existential crises, ticking biological clocks, and heightened job dissatisfaction than any other decade. There's less a sense of hope and excitement for the future and more a sense of obligation and responsibility. So we keep keeping on. We may find ourselves overwhelmed with day to day life. So many times I have heard it described as feeling like we are just running on a treadmill, doing the same things every day and really going nowhere, but you can't stop. You are an adult. You have responsibilities. I believe that somehow, in our thirties, we put our personal fulfillment and happiness aside in order to do what's expected of us. It was ok to be a little "selfish" in our twenties, but not now. We also tend to keep our mouths shut about things that we, otherwise, would have spoken out against. We may find ourselves feeling like doormats because we are just "taking it" because we are trying to hold it all together and make things work because that's what is expected of us and frankly, the thought of starting anew at anything is just terrifying. I'm not sure exactly when the shift happens that we start living this sort of zombie-like existence, but it just happens and day to day we put one foot in front of the other, but we feel like we are going nowhere. And who are we anymore? What is our identity? What do we actually want from our lives? These are the questions that start to surface, for many of us, in our late thirties.
There is a shift that can happen quite suddenly though. It's like someone switches the light on and we see things for what they actually are. I've always been very confident in who I am, but for me the question was, "What do I really want from my life? How can I fall in love with life and myself again?" Suddenly the thought of staying stuck was much more terrifying than the thought of starting over. I have talked to several people now in their forties and fifties that have similar stories of finding themselves feeling suddenly lost and desperate for change in their late thirties. They told stories of realizing that they had been going through the motions, but had lost touch with who they really were or what they wanted. They felt like they lacked any real purpose other than surviving. Some had been working in a job that they were very successful in, but truthfully wasn't fulfilling at all. Some had been married to someone that felt like a stranger, holding it together for the kids, but realizing that it had drained them completely and left them feeling sad and bitter. So many similar stories of finding themselves, as I had, standing there, looking at their lives through a clear lens for the first time in a while and saying, "No more. Something has to change."
For all of them, for my best friend and for me, change has meant something different and is still a work in progress. But all of us shared the same notion that we needed to stop feeling guilty for not reaching expectations that others have put on us. That we needed to take better care of ourselves and not feel guilty about that either. We stopped caring about what others felt we should or shouldn't do and focused on doing what's best for us and the people we love. We stopped putting ourselves in the box that society gave us and asked ourselves the question, "What do I want? How can I live a life that I actually am in love with? How can I be in love with myself again?" As I said, this is a daily work in progress for me, but I can tell you one thing. I know for a fact that my forties won't be filled with feelings of running on a treadmill going nowhere and feeling obligated to do and be anything other than what is best for me. I know that my forties will have their own set of struggles, but I'm done doing things that don't bring me joy. I'm done keeping my mouth shut when something that needs to be said. I'm done feeling guilty for not meeting society's expectations of me. I'm done putting more into people than they are willing to put into me. I'm done putting up with BS that sucks the life out of me. I'm done with anything that doesn't serve my greater purpose. I've realized that I have a choice in all of this. I have a say as to what I allow and what I don't and I am going to use that say to create the life that I want and deserve and I am observing myself of any guilt for doing so. So cheers to finishing out these last couple of years in my thirties with gratitude for what they've taught me and heading into my forties with hope, excitement and a new sense of self and purpose.
How do you feel about your thirties? Have you had a similar experience? I would love to know your thought.