Tuesday, 26 July 2011

30th birthdays; milestone or millstone?

A few of my friends turn 30 this year and it reminds me how anxious I had felt at that stage of my life.   Turning 30 is such a common cause for anxiety that even eHow.com has an entry on how to survive that particular birthday.

I remember the big 3-0 being difficult for a few reasons:

1.  We cruise through 16, 18 and 21.  30 is the first milestone birthday that's no longer a rite of passage into adulthood.  In the UK the only exception is our 27th birthday when we lose our Young Person's Railcard discount and cry because we're then forced to take the bus until we get a decent-paying job.

2.  30 is the age by which most of us thought we would be married and own our own home.

3.  30 is a natural place to pause and reflect on our careers.  Right in the middle of a recession.

Around the time of my 30th birthday I was still an entrance grade Civil Servant, earning just £24,000 a year, single and living at home with my mother.  I had a Master's degree, was fluent in two foreign languages and had more than seven years of international work experience.  But there I was, on the cusp of 30 with absolutely no idea how to climb the career ladder.  Promotions seemed to slide right past me, without even a nod in my direction.  I was stuck in a rut.

I was not the only 29-year old in that position.  Several fellow graduates had joined the Civil Service the same year as me, many of us with good work experience already under our belt - but it was our youth, not our skills, that seemed to be continually remarked upon.  We expected our hard work to be noticed and promotion to be suggested by our managers.  It didn't happen.  We started dropping hints.  We were told we were not ready.  With the big THREE-OH on the horizon and my first Director General's Commendation under my belt, it was becoming harder to continue seeing myself as an average entrance-grade employee.  So I did something crazy.

Faced with the impending prospect of entrance-grade-at-thirty status, for the first time in my life I started using my network.  I began showing friends my draft job application forms, getting interview practice and reading books about recruitment and selection centres.  I smartened up my appearance, stopped politely agreeing to make the tea in meetings and I started telling people everywhere that I was ready for the next stage.  I sensed an immediate difference from my managers, who were really supportive.  Maybe they just wanted to get rid of me, I don't know, but they staged mock interviews and offered excellent advice on getting ahead.  I discovered a huge network I'd been growing informally for seven years and never drawn upon.

Around the time of my 30th birthday, I was offered two promotions and received a second commendation from the Director General.   I bought my first home with my sister.  And I met Hank.

My relationship with Hank is in no small part due to a crazy decision I made when a now-deceased friend introduced me to Danny Wallace's The Yes Man. This book describes the author's quest to say yes to everything for a year and it inspired me to see out my twenties with a bang.  In the run-up to my 30th birthday, I said "yes" to every (respectable) invitation for five whole months.    This may also explain why my managers liked me so much. [I'm afraid I did not start dating Hank because I "couldn't say no" - however funny a story that would be! - Hank came along some months later...]

I had a great time just going crazy during those months.  It was not all wild partying, although of course there was a lot of that.  I said yes to attending a bachelor weekend, where the boys stuck a fake moustache to my top lip during the clay pigeon shooting and we had a blast.  I drank at swanky or cheap bars indiscriminately, ordered pizza delivery to the office at lunchtime, went alone to parties where I knew only the host, attended cozy parties and lavish balls and crossed London multiple times in a single evening to attend event after event.  The more I turned up, the more I got invited along to.  I gained a terrible reputation for arriving late and leaving parties early because of another engagement which I literally had not been able to turn down.  It was wonderful.

At around this time I started to realise that my nearly-30 life was actually pretty darned good.  I also realised that I could afford to buy a home if I went in with my favourite person in the world, my sister.   After getting promoted, I thought about adopting as a single parent and was ready to do it soon.  I really did not need a boyfriend.  So that, of course, is when Hank came along.

Being thirty turned out not to be as scary as turning thirty.   Don't we gain a perspective in our thirties which we lack in our twenties?  For one, I've stopped saying "I'm never drinking that much again" and started confessing: "I just can't drink like I used to".   Nowadays, the idea of two people sleeping in a single dorm bed seems a ridiculous economy, while forking out $300 to attend a friend's wedding seems like a bargain.  And, of course, many of the weddings I attended in my twenties have not led to happy-ever-after love stories in our thirties, confirming for me that we must not hurry the important issue of "the rest of our lives".

Our twenties are ugly.  Let's face it.  As a wide-eyed 21-year old, I put up with nonsense from boyfriends because I feared that every attractive man interested in me might be the last.  It really is good to leave all that behind.  I'm not saying my thirties are about deluding myself that I'm irresistible.  It's much more that the extra years have given me the perspective not to care whether or not I am.  And that saves me a lot of time, money and heartache.  (I think Hank would say I should care a little bit more because I spend too much time in sweatpants, but apart from that it has been a change for the better. )

So, Jake, Tanya, Elise (and everyone else hitting the big 3-0 this year)...

Thirty.  It's not that bad.  Because, kids, the best is definitely yet to come...


  1. Turning 30 soon...this article was so helpful thank you!


  2. Thanks for getting in touch, Brea. Good luck with the blog mission! You look great today!


Search This Blog