Thoughts on Thirty, Part 1*
Even though Sarah in Small Doses isn’t quite two months old, the Sarah behind it is in the last few days of her twenties. Sigh. Although thirty is very young–if life is a three-act play, I’m just entering the second act–I still find myself apprehensive about this change. I never used to care that much about getting older, but I’m not going to lie, someone may need to make sure I get out of bed on Saturday. I already found a few gray hairs sprouting from my head–they really do stick straight up, don’t they? As if they aren’t noticeable enough against my dark brown hair. I don’t bounce back as easily as I used to, kids in college really do look like kids (people born in 1991 turn 21 this year. Yeah, now you feel old), and I can’t sleep in like I did before. Maybe it’s because winter is a time of reflection, or maybe it’s because birthdays make me nostalgic (okay, everything makes me nostalgic), but I wondered what makes turning thirty so panic-inducing. Here’s what I came up with:
1. I’m only going to get older.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, and I’ve known it for a while, but I’m really feeling it with this change from “twenties” to “thirties.” I contemplate major decisions more than I ever did before. The thought of picking up and moving to Costa Rica for a year still sounds appealing, but it feels like I can’t keep delaying adulthood. On the flip side, I feel like I will only get older, so I should do all the things I’ve always wanted to do.
2. The stars seem out of reach.
I will never be an astronaut. I will never play for the WNBA or win Olympic gold in figure skating. Heck, I’ll be lucky to get my thesis published, and they publish ALL of them. I think most people have dreams outside the realm of possibility, which make our dull, everyday lives more livable because, gosh, it feels good to imagine standing at the podium, holding that Oscar in one hand while the other one clutches your heart because you are so very, very grateful. Even though many people realize this earlier, and turning thirty by no means makes any of these things impossible, I think the move from twenties to thirties signals an acceptance of the way things have turned out. It means letting go of the hope, however small, that I could someday join Cirque du Soleil.
3. I’m not the “Me” I imagined.
This one is trickier. It also means accepting reality, but for some reason I get stuck on this one. I always thought I’d have a husband, a house, and be pregnant with my second or third kid by this age. And by always, I mean until I turned 22 and realized that I didn’t want those things right away. And really, I only want those things when the time is right. The tough part of this, and I know it’s stupid and I’m picturing you rolling your eyes, is that I always thought I’d meet my “other” when we were in our twenties, and we’d not only grow old together but we’d grow up together. Stupid, right? And yet it is really weird to think he probably won’t have known “twentysomething Sarah.” But who knows? Maybe “thirtysomething Sarah” will be even better…
4. This is the second of a trilogy.
Remember what I said about life being a three-act play? The first act moves slowly and sets up the characters, and the third act contains the resolution, so what happens in the middle? Most of the action. Which is exciting but also scary. I’m a fully formed person but much of my life hasn’t been determined yet. I mean, I don’t even have own a plant. And the second movie in a trilogy is always the one people like the least because we’re dropped in the middle of the action at the beginning of the movie and when it ends we feel no closer to the “hero-gets-the-girl” finale. I mean, look at The Empire Strikes Back: Vader defeats Luke. The emperor still has the upper hand (sorry, I had to). We begin on the wintry Hoth and we end hanging from an antenna in space. Not exactly an uplifting change.
But here’s what I’m excited about:
I’m still young enough that older doesn’t necessarily mean worse for the wear. Despite the gray hairs, I feel like I’m in pretty good shape and I still have some of the youthful resilience of my early twenties. But I also have experience, which trumps exuberance in a lot of situations. I worry much less about finding a job than I did before because I have built a solid résumé, and the general public respects me more, which makes me feel like I don’t have to try so hard. I’ve lived through enough bad times to know I can survive almost anything, and I’ve seen enough good in the world to believe that things will turn around quickly. I have more confidence and take less for granted.
“Embrace it,” my mom said (about getting older). “Consider the alternative and embrace it.” Okay Thirty, get over here and give me a hug.
*Part two of this posting will happen post-birthday and will include my infamous “30 by 30” list. See what I accomplished (or came really, really close to doing).