In the last few years, as several of my friends have turned 30 and 31, I have received the same frantic phone call, email, or text. Often times cryptic, always vulnerable, and usually somewhat exaggerated, these pleas for validation remind me that we are living in a strange new world.
I remember a moment four years ago on one of my best friend’s birthday. I called to say happy 30th when she interrupted and, in a whisper that was barely audible, she said, “Please don’t, I don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice muffled and pained, I asked where she was. She admitted to being under the covers, her voice drowned out through her comforter. She was considering going to the movies, and no, she did not want any company. She said that she’d be in touch in a week or two.
Dramatic and true.
For those of us who grew up as the original digital natives, and still recall a time before the internet, approaching 30 is a tempestuous zone of chaos, guilt, shame, and occasionally an ill-fated attempt at graceful maturity. When I was in my early twenties, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. He was 23 and was the archetypical arch nemesis my friends and I both revered and abhorred.
Brilliant, capable, shrewd, and determined, we grew up in a moment where success, celebrity, and the internet collided. The explosive growth in wunderkind visibility heightened our collective anxiety. Speaking personally, it made me question my own validity, capacity, and ultimately potential.
On a daily basis, we are all bombarded with social media and the news cycle has become a living, breathing 24/7 behemoth. Everyone owns their name as a domain name, has a custom twitter template, and a vanity LinkedIn page. Everyone and everything looks glossy, shiny, new, and perfect.
How can we compete with this? And the answer is, we can’t, we shouldn’t, and I personally won’t. It’s not real. For those of you who have ever stayed awake for most of the night, pondering how to make it on a 30 under 30 list, gripped with fear that if you aren’t on the list, you’ll spend your 50s in a motel, surrounded by cats with a flip phone that doesn’t text, this is for you. For anyone who has ever met a smart teenager and looked at them with disdain or envy, and then immediately felt guilty and embarrassed, this is for you. For anyone who purchased anti-aging creams from a fancy department store or even a local pharmacy at the age of 23, this is for you.
First, some facts.
- The average age of the 10 most powerful women in the world (according to Forbes) is 59.5.
- Bloomberg Businessweek states that your peak earning years are between 40 and 55.
- Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State when she was 61.
- The oldest super model in the world, Daphne Self, who still models for Dolce & Gabbana, is 83.
- The 10-year rule states that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of work (or 10 years) to become an expert.
I know that facts alone don’t assuage the ever-existent tension to hurry up and become something, and that is why practical tools and suggestions are needed as well. So if you have pre-30 or early-30 anxiety, I suggest the following:
- Call your mother, father, guardian, or mentor, and ask him or her to help you calm down.
- Call your best friend and remind her that she’s brilliant and beautiful now, and that you can’t wait to see how gorgeous and influential she is when she’s 75.
- Take a selfie of yourself today and remember that in 20 years, you’ll look at that picture and remark “I had no idea I was so amazing.” Save your energy and instead remember it right now.
Lastly, please don’t forget that this is your journey. This is your path. This is your practice. This is your life, and there is enough success and love in the world to go around. Take your time, build a life that you love and one that delights you. Engage in your work with intention. Make sure to laugh enough, and don’t forget to be silly. And if all else fails, remember it’s OK to have a Nutella and Netflix night every once in a while.
Where do you think you’ll be in your life when you turn 30?
Ask Carly Heitlinger what she hopes to accomplish by the time she is 30.