I have a birthday coming up next month. Whenever the idea of celebrating the very last entry into the decade that has been my twenties, I start feeling a bit depressed. Regardless of how many times one reads on a magazine cover that 30 is the new 20; the idea that I am edging closer to middle age and all that accompanies it, is just not great (something our youth obsessed culture, magazines included, help to perpetuate). I got to thinking more about this today since someone asked me how I was planning on spending my birthday. There was a part of that wanted to say what would be the point of celebrating (I hadn’t had my usual amount of caffeine at that point). I don’t know if other people have had this happen to them, but I’ve started getting the old jokes being cracked around me from family and friends. On the outside being that palpably close to 30 years old seems less than ideal but if I’m truly honest with myself and forget what society and my mostly well-meaning friends and acquaintances are telling me, I’m proud of who I’ve become in my late twenties, and actually dare I say, excited for the woman that is still emerging as I head into the next chapter of my life.
I really have found that my late twenties have been a period of radical personal growth and transformation. There has never been a period in my life where I wasn’t happy with who I was as a person but now I realize that I am more of a whole person than I ever have been. The first half of the decade I spent trying to please a lot of other people and attempting to please myself in stereotypical ways. Although I have never been materialistic, I associated happiness with being able to buy a brand new purse or go out to eat with friends. I built a solid educational foundation first by getting my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s degree and now working on my PhD so I felt like I knew a lot of things but it isn’t until now that I realize that so much of what I thought I knew was really book learning. I had opinions about many things and while so many years of college have certainly taught me how to put together a cohesive argument, I still lacked the conviction to think about many issues in a truly deep manner and even less to express my thoughts publicly. I also find that I care a lot less about what people think, both big and small. Sometimes it surprises me when some off the cuff moment rubs me the wrong way like the owner of the nail salon I go to reminding me that I haven’t gotten a pedicure there in over three months. While I resist the urge to say that it’s none of her goddamn business when or if I get my toes painted, after all who the hell cares if they are or not; it’s keratin for Pete’s sake. I still file away the exchange as an example of how much more aware I am of my values, like not conforming to beauty standards unless it’s important to me. This last bit has probably been where my most radical transformation has taken place, the discovery of my values. Therapy has been invaluable in this process of discovery, after all everything has always been there; it has just taken a more curious, introspective approach to bring them out to the forefront.
I can truly say I do try to live in harmony with my core values. This has been such a profoundly positive change as it is much easier to spot when something doesn’t quite feel right and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. I also now feel more confident in speaking up when a situation could potentially not be beneficial to my mental health or overall well-being and not allowing it to happen in the first place. Anyone who regularly reads any of my posts knows how important achieving a healthy work-life balance is to me. I didn’t always value this so much and there were times early on in my PhD where I bought into the idea that I was not a good graduate student because I was not spending every waking hour in the lab. Getting older has given me the confidence to express my views on the ridiculous notion that to be productive you need to work around the clock. Whenever anyone around me espouses such anachronistic views, I gently try to explain to them why that argument just doesn’t make sense. I also no longer hold in high esteem anyone who routinely brags about how much they work or how many hours they put in a given week. Instead, I feel pity for them. I refuse to be sucked into the vortex of equating busyness with achievement and high social status. Again, I don’t know if I would feel so comfortable espousing my views on this subject even a few years ago. The bottom line is that getting older has just made me much more comfortable in knowing and expressing who I am and way more comfortable weeding out the people or things in my life that don’t align with the person I am today and hope to become in the future. I think 30 is looking a lot better from this angle.