They say 30 is the new 20.
Well some do, and some really don’t agree.
This weekend past I turned 30. Contrary to what friends, family, the media and culture in general told me, it was not to be feared.
In fact, it felt fantastic (and no, that isn’t the drink talking). So I think the 30s are in dire need of a complete PR-overhaul!
Debate on the modern phenomenon of redefining age decades came to a head in 2013, when Dr Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist based in Charlottesville, Virginia produced a TED Talk (the non-profit dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”) in which she made a bold statement to twenty-somethings:
Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade… just because marriage, work and kids are happening later in life, doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now.
Dr Jay’s message claimed that the rhetoric that “30 is the new 20” trivializes what is actually the most transformative period of our adult lives. She said that far from being an irrelevant downtime, our twenties are a developmental sweet spot that comes only once.
I appreciate what Ms Jay was attempting to do. She tried to change how we, as a mass culture, view an entire decade of every person’s life because she feels it is damaging to them as adults later on. I take a lot of her points, but I also think she pushed the pendulum too far, inciting what could be undue pressure on a nation of young adults to panic-plan ahead for fear of ruining their future options.
Yes, as a decade, 30 needs some help. It’s often cited as a lull period, in both personal and professional lives. It would appear from your social media accounts that half your 30-year-old friends are deeply depressed about not reaching their life goals, back living with parents and partying into their drinks in despair, while the other half are knee-deep in nappies, moaning about their spouses and mourning the loss of their glittering careers.
The media doesn’t help either, with articles such as:
“Work and relationship pressures make the mid-30s the start of many British people’s unhappiest decade, a survey suggests.”
Why thank you, BBC, aren’t you just a bundle of optimism.
Also, for the last few months, a certain (hilarious) Buzzfeed article - “30 signs you’re turning 30” repeatedly surfaced on my social newsfeeds, which for the most part, made turning 30 sound like turning into your granny.
This period even has a name - the “Quarter Life Crisis.” If that isn’t enough to make you hide under your duvet as your 30th birthday approaches, I don’t know what is. However, it doesn’t mean that these feelings could be avoided simply by being more serious and less carefree in the preceding 10 years.
You see, I did everything Dr Jay told people to do.
I planned. Heck, I had a 7-year-plan!
I meticulously thought-through my career to reach my management goal before I turned 30. I stuck with a man to plan a wedding. And I made the decision to have a child and work through that, rather than risk waiting until I was older (tick-tock biological clock).
The problem is, it’s not a recipe for success just to ‘make plans’. Because in order to make the right plans, you’ve got to know yourself, you’ve got to be happy in your own body and mind, and you’ve got to experience pain and your own bad judgement calls before you can feel confident opening yourself up to other people.
My relationship went up in flames before the aisle, leaving me a single mother in a high-pressured job that weighed on me like a tonne of bricks. I spent every penny I had to spare trying to keep our home and independence before gratefully returning home to my parents. I experienced depression, debt, heartbreak, loneliness and the death of my beautiful little safety blanket plan.
In that sense, I wish I had been a little more carefree during the last decade. I didn’t travel the world, I didn’t try other career paths, I didn’t meet many people to find out who I was and what I wanted.
OK so I’m not married, or even nearly married. I genuinely don’t care. 25-year-old-me could have been married but it wouldn’t have lasted. I’ve met some lovely people the last few years and I’ve learned so much about myself. I have my son, I’ve experienced all that he has brought to my world and I am a better person for it.
And OK, so my liver doesn’t function quite so good anymore, and I put my back out a lot more than I used to… but I enjoy a drink now, I don’t need to be drunk. And I’ve taken an interest in my health and diet. That’s no bad thing.
Something as important as life choices is not something anyone should be lecturing anyone else about, Dr Jay, no matter how well-intentioned.
But getting older in general would be a whole lot less stressful if more people flew the flag for the thirties. Whether you’ve reached your goals or you’re rewriting them, you’ll be doing what’s right for you.
My PR Campaign for the 30s? They’re not the new 20s. But they can be fabulous!