Seven years ago yesterday, I started this blog to chronicle the approach of my fourth decade of life. My internal premise was that momentous things might happen over the course of those 10 years, and I would want a way to commemorate them for real-time analysis and future perusal.
Turns out, I bet on the right decade. Each year of my 30s seems to have featured something unexpected or new: the purchase of a condo, my first serious relationship, an engagement, the purchase of a house, a job change, a wedding, a cancer fight, and the birth of my daughter.
This year, as I marvel at how I am now entering the second half of that momentous decade and contemplate the fact that this blog’s name is no longer technically accurate, I realize that my 36th year was no exception to the “big changes” theme of my 30s.
And I feel like 36 is the year that I finally grew up.
As recently as last year, I was writing about how I didn’t feel like my advancing age was befitting of my mental, physical and emotional state. If anything could swiftly flip that switch to “adult mode,” it would be the events of the past year: the birth of my second child, an unexpected layoff, an intense job search and the start of a new job.
Over the past few months, I have found myself feeling more responsible and indispensable both personally and professionally. There are more people counting on me. There is more riding on my decisions. There is less room for selfishness. There is a greater need for collaboration. This goes for work projects, child-rearing and marriage maintaining.
I’ve always been slightly obsessed with the past and the present–heck, that’s what this blog is all about–but I find myself thinking a lot more about the future now. The unrelenting onslaught of big life changes over the last seven years has finally taught me one overarching lesson: good or bad, no stage of life lasts forever and you’re not the one in control.
That sounds trite–and probably obvious–but when I’m engaged in the daily grind, it’s easy for me to forget. My two-year-old daughter will always speak in delightfully broken English. My six-month-old son will always need to scream himself to sleep. My family and friends will always be around. My coworkers will always be my coworkers and my job will always be my job, until I decide it’s time for me to move on.
These are the lies that I’ve convinced myself of. These are the lies that punch me in the gut when unplanned change rears its ugly head, or time marches on and life evolves. Change is the truth that demands perspective, animates life and inspires gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude, I love the fact that my birthday lands right before Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season–a time to annually renew your spirit by taking holistic stock of where you’ve been, where you’re going and who you’re going with.
If the last year has shown me anything, it’s that the word “change” can be a synonym for “blessing.” I’m convinced that everything that happened to me in the first half of my 30s–good or bad, fun or sad–happened for a reason that was later made obvious to me or eventually will be.
There’s no doubt that the next half of this decade will be just as unscripted as the first. But if I’m doing this right, I’ll view the present with a renewed passion and the future with a grateful hope.
Today I turn 35 — a number so foreignly close to 40 that I’m questioning its veracity before I even finish typing this sentence. I was born in 1982, which puts me in that confusing is-he-or-isn’t-he camp of “cusper” millennials who remember the eras when phones had cords and Facebook was just for college students. I feel too old to be on Snapchat, but not too old to understand the appeal. I feel too young to already be a decade into my career, but not too young to be in a managerial role commensurate with my skills and experience.
Mostly I guess I just can’t account for the passage of 35 years — especially the last 10. Time is flying, a condition that marriage and parenthood have only exacerbated. At this rate, it seems that I’ll be 50 before I know it. But when I am 50, I’m sure I’ll have no trouble knowing it.
For now though, I’m 35. As it is, I woke up this morning feeling roughly the same as I did when I was 25. Despite an unexpected and victorious cancer fight, I have no physical indications that the hill is approaching and I’m bound to go over it. Sure, when I look in the mirror, there’s a little less hair on top and a little more thickness around the middle than I’d like, but my daily activities are still blessedly unconfined by my advancing age. I can run. I can jump. I can accidentally sleep in an awkward position and wake up with minimal stiffness.
Physical abilities aside though, I sometimes feel like I’m still waiting for a switch to flip me psychologically into adulthood. I’m waiting for the secondary Pinocchio moment: When do I go from Real Boy to Bonafide Adult?
Now I’m well aware that I have been “hashtag adulting” for quite some time. I know this because whenever I see someone use that insipid hashtag, it’s usually describing some mundane activity that is par for the course of my everyday life and not something I’m compelled to brag about on social media. That kind of restraint is a sure sign of adulthood, right?
I also know that I’m not the youngest generation in the workforce anymore. When I walk into the office lunchroom and hear someone say that the food truck grub they’re eating is “straight fire” or that they are “low-key in love with the new Taylor Swift album,” I have no idea what they mean and little interest in finding out. I must be an adult — I’m officially out of touch.
When I pull up in the car that I’ve owned for several years to the house whose mortgage gets the bulk of my paycheck to greet my pregnant wife of three years and my one-year-old daughter, I guess I realize just how embedded in adult life I really am.
When one of my parents has a health scare or a knee replacement or a number that starts with 6 on their birthday cake, I realize that they are swiftly moving into the years when I will be taking more care of them than the other way around. It’s an inevitable role reversal that is decidedly adult.
But none of this makes me feel any older — it all just leaves me confused about where the time has gone and wondering if I need to start acting my age. And then I start wondering what that even means.
In some ways, I think social media is responsible for my inability to feel like a real adult. It has turned us all into perpetual 14-year-olds, snapping selfies as we pay our bills and raise our children. Maybe recent generations of adults are just more self-absorbed than their predecessors. Adults be #adulting, and we want the world to know it. If we pass a major life milestone (or even a mundane one) and we haven’t marked it with a commemorative digital record, did it really happen?
I used to joke disbelievingly in college about still being on Facebook in my 30s, sharing photos of my children. Well…been there, done that. And it doesn’t even seem so weird anymore. All of this leaves me wondering if perhaps adulthood is a myth and no one ever fully accepts the title of “adult.” Maybe even the “established” adults in my life are holding mental images of themselves as 20-somethings and experiencing the same confusion I am about where the time has gone — but they’re wondering where the last 30 years went, while I’m only questioning the last 10.
So if adulthood is a myth, perhaps what I’m really seeking is a worthier pursuit: maturity. Between marriage and children, I think the realities and responsibilities of maturity are slowly coming into focus for me — no matter how young I feel or how many social media posts I share each day. True maturity has less to do with playing the part of a “serious” adult who is too mature to participate in certain behaviors than it does with the ongoing recognition that life is more meaningful when you’re living it in the service of those around you — whether that’s your spouse, your kids, your family or your community. A life lived for others is a life well-lived. Maturity is recognizing your gifts and talents, and using them toward a purpose outside of yourself and your own self-interests. You can do all of that and still enjoy tweeting memes or live-streaming your daughter’s Saturday morning playtime on Facebook.
If my next 35 years are a similar blur to my first 35, I hope I’m looking back as one happily mature 70-year-old who left a wake of kindness, service and love — and who’s just fine with still not technically feeling like an adult. I wonder what the hashtag will be for my retirement party.
While many of those who read this blog might think I started it to document my Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer treatment, that is certainly not the case. I actually launched it shortly after my 29th birthday as a place to track all the thoughts, changes and experiences I assumed I would have as I embarked on my fourth decade of life. Since that makes this a bit of a birthday blog, it’s only fitting that I write a post today as I turn 33.
And so at last I arrive at the momentous occasion that inspired this blog in the first place. You probably should have seen this post coming, as it wouldn’t make much sense for me to have a blog called Rounding 30 and not devote a post to the actual age change. So here we go.
I’m 30 years old. Or, to use a much less enticing description that I heard in several birthday greetings, I’m entering my fourth decade. That one really makes me want to reach for the black crepe paper and over-the-hill signage though, so let’s just say I’m 30.
On every birthday (not just “milestone” ages), my Grandma used to ask me an illogical question: “You feel different?” My answer was always, “No, not really.” Come on, Grandma–it’s just another day. Why would I feel different?
In reflecting upon my three decades on Earth, however, I think I can honestly say that I do feel a little different, even though I didn’t necessarily see it coming or feel it happening. My Grandma sadly isn’t around to ask me anymore, so I guess it’s a good thing I’ve got this blog to prompt the question.
I don’t feel different because I was 29 on November 12 and I officially turned 30 on November 13. It’s obviously been a longer transition than that, but it’s clear that every moment of my life has prepared me to be the relatively well-adjusted, moderately successful human being that I have become. And I take very little credit for any of it. This may sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, but I am well aware that I would not be where I am today without an endless supply of blessings from God, an endless supply of love and support from my parents, and an endless supply of people sent into my life at just the right time to gently guide me or drag me kicking and screaming in a better direction. I’m lucky that things in my life have largely come up roses and the few thorns I’ve faced have usually served their purpose to promote growth in some aspect of my life.
I didn’t always see it that way at the time (and still usually don’t when I get pricked by a new thorn), but sitting here on the 30-yard line, it’s a lot easier to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. Like any good QB, I’ve spent some time studying the game film from the last 10 years, and I’ve come to a few conclusions.
20s Takeaways (in no particular order)
That thing that’s weighing on your mind so heavily right now? It won’t matter soon. So many of the things that I’ve (misguidedly) ascribed importance to have ended up not mattering in the least when they’re in the rear view mirror. I guess I’m talking about all the small stuff and all the sweat. Here’s hoping the previous 30 years can function as a sweatband for the next 30.
Running is not the worst thing in the world.
I’ll probably devote a full blog post to this at some point, but discovering that I don’t want to die when I run for more than a block has prompted me to run several 5Ks and to even go running for exercise on a somewhat regular basis. Since I sit in front of a computer the majority of the day, this is also potentially a life-saving discovery. If you haven’t tried running in a while, give it a try. Or maybe wait until spring. Your odds of sticking with it might be better…
As you get older, it gets easier to help people. When you think about it, you’re incredibly resourceful. So am I. And the older I get, the more resourceful I become. I’ve met a lot of people who are doing a diverse array of things in different parts of the world. I connect people. I’ve acquired skills and learned life lessons worth sharing. I’m financially independent. I have a car. I have a condo. I have an able body and an above-average mind. I have a desire to help others. These are all facts about my life that I take for granted, but that might be really useful to someone else when compared to the facts of their life. Finding opportunities to match my offerings with their needs seems to be getting easier and more obvious with each passing day.
Hungry? Eat at Portillo’s.
I’ve never had anything on their menu and not thought to myself, “My, that was quite an exceptional [whatever it is I ordered].” Also, their caesar salad is the cheapest and most satisfying weeknight dinner you can imagine. I will eat at every Portillo’s location before I die.
Interested? Ask her out.
Even if it doesn’t go anywhere (and it frequently hasn’t), it’s worth a shot if you think it’s really worth a shot. (See also: small stuff, sweating) Realizing that the fairer sex is legitimately interested in me sometimes was one of the more empowering/self-esteem boosting discoveries of my 20s. Thanks, contact lenses!
Cling to your religion.
My Catholic faith gets me through everything. While there is always more to learn, I’m finally at a point where I want to get other people to share the peace, joy and renewal that I get from my faith. I’m trying to figure out a way to share that effectively with those who are looking for that sort of thing. Inquire within.
So you hate running? I have an alternative for you: swing dancing! In my early 20s, I took a swing dancing class on a whim and its been an enjoyable part of my life ever since. Aside from the fact that you’re enjoying music and moves from a bygone era, swing dancing–and dancing in general–allows you to communicate with the person you’re dancing with on another level. The feeling of being perfectly in sync with someone on the dance floor needs to be experienced to be properly understood, and it’s an experience that everyone should have at least once. Swing dancing has become a major leisure activity for me these days and I think I’m starting to get better at it, too. I think I finally found my sport!
Confidence is the secret stuff.
One of my goals for the next 30 years and beyond is to live life more confidently and, consequently, more fully. I believe confidence is a major player in many of the items listed above (like having the confidence to order a caesar salad when your other option is a delicious Portillo’s cheeseburger). The times in my life that I’ve shown the most confidence have been the times in my life that are most worth remembering–usually because they made a difference from which I’m still reaping the benefits.
I’ve learned more, but those are the highlights that my 30-year-old brain can recall at the moment. I have to admit that I’ve loved every moment of my 30s thus far, and I’m sure that will continue even after people stop buying me meals, giving me gifts and celebrating my sheer existence. Thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to making me feel so special this past week. I hope I can return the favor at some point.
For my small number of loyal readers, you should know that the title of this blog will remain the same, as I consider myself to be rounding 30 for at least the first few years of my fourth decade (there’s that phrase again). It could be a moot point by the time I turn 35 though, as I’ll probably have started and abandoned three more blogs by then. I’m only 30…I can’t have everything figured out yet.