What if I haven’t figured it out by age 30?

When I was younger my whole life had already been set out for me by time frames. My mother told me that I had to have a first boyfriend by a certain time. I needed to be thinking about settling down by 18 to 20. College and University by 21. By 25 I should be married and have had my first child. I definitely should have everything together by age 30.

Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash

I am quite rebellious by nature. I have never conformed to what society or anyone else expects of me. I have always fought to be myself. But this way of thinking I was brought up with has haunted me, causing me to always feel a failure, because I have not reached any of these milestones.

By 18 I had still not had a boyfriend, and was in fact questioning my sexuality. And even whether I was asexual (though I didn’t know what the word for it was at that time). By 20 I was well and truly in the thralls of an eating disorder resulting of me having to drop out of uni. I didn’t get married until aged 30. And now I am divorced.

Every step of the way in my life I have always felt behind. Like things are too late for me because I am older than I should have been when I reached this goal.

This actually caused a lot of anxiety for me at times because I thought I was wasting my life, and because I had missed these milestones by certain ages, somehow my life was over.

With the recent lockdown, I took advantage of the downtime by watching old favorite TV shows and have recently binged watched Friends to cheer me up. But then I got to that episode. ‘The one where they all turn 30.’

In this episode Rachael turns 30 and is not taking it very well, panicking that she needs to be active now if she wants to be married and have children. She then gives herself an extension to have achieved this by age 35. We then see flashbacks of how the rest of the gang coped with their 30th birthdays, and not all of them coped well.

The next day I watched a video from a YouTuber I follow about how they are rethinking things now they have just turned 30. They still have not had a child or got married, and because of this they were worried. The talk was about how they are rethinking their lives and learning to be okay with where they are at in their life.

There was a string of comments about how turning 30 is scary and that in medieval times we would be old, and called spinsters. I’m not going to lie, the anxiety I thought I had managed to cut ties from raised its ugly head. I am divorced in my 30s and still don’t have children. I am not where I want to be in my career, I want to travel more, I haven’t done this, that, and the other, and queue mass panic!

Is turning 30 so bad?

I took to talking to people, reading articles, and watching videos about feelings of turning 30. For some people, turning 30 was a scary thing because it was the time by which one should get their s**t together. If we are not where we are meant to be by this point then it was an ‘uh oh’ moment.

For some it was all about biology. This seems to particularly affect people who are assigned female at birth. It felt like as soon as I turned 30 everybody suddenly became very helpful in telling me that I need to start having babies now and that as soon as I hit 35, overnight my ovaries will shrivel up.

For some people they enjoyed turning 30, with many people calling their 30s their best decade, seeing this time as when they truly reached adulthood.

Whatever the 30s means for individuals it is clear that this number is seen as a milestone age. And this can be a good thing. It’s good to have dreams and goals. But it has left me wondering. Is having such a milestone setting ourselves up for disappointment and even distress? Following this question it then leads me to further think about whether this is a healthy thing for us humans to do.

The further I delved into this discussion about the magic number that is 30, here’s what I learned.

We base our lives too much on numbers

Everywhere we go we are subjected to numbers. We are told what weight we should be, the right amount of calories we should be consuming, the perfect size we should be, and what we should achieve by certain milestone ages.

This is so toxic and counterproductive, because while we are focusing on that perfect number, we are forgetting what really matters, life. We are not living to be ourselves, we have forgotten ourselves. Your self worth should not be dictated by a number. Humans are so much more complex than this.

The journey is more important than the destination

In basing my life on specific milestones I have been more focused on getting things done before certain ages, not because I want to, but sometimes because I feel I have to. And in doing so I am always looking forward to the scary markers, and I forget to be in the now. The destination isn’t the most important part. I mean, of course, it is if you want to reach a goal. But it’s how we get there, what we learn and experience along the way that really matters. It’s the journey where we actually grow and learn. We can’t do this if we are looking forward and not paying attention to the now in order to really pick up what we need to reach the next bit.

Doing things because of my age is not healthy

If I were to have a child just because I was about to hit 30, that is not morally okay. What should decide whether I do something, especially as big a decision as this, should be whether I am stable in my relationship, have a home, and finances that will accommodate an extra human. Oh, and what about being ready?

I have had friends tell me that they need to start having children because they are reaching 30. When I ask if they are ready to have a child, I am often met with murmurs, hesitations, a shrug.

We are ready when we are ready. Not because of a number. We shouldn’t feel forced to do something, or have reached certain goals just because of how old we are. Life throws a lot at us, and this can throw us off our targets, even open new doors. This isn’t failure, this is life.

Bodies don’t have a set clock and self destruct timer

Yes, I know we have a sort of biological clock that means at some point our bodies will change, and things such as having children can become more difficult. But, what I have come to realise, is that this doesn’t happen overnight.

I have been consumed by people’s voices in my head whilst lying awake at night, telling me that by the age of 35 I will struggle to have a child. It’s got to the stage where people seem to be panicking that I won’t be able to have children at all if I don’t start trying now. And yes, afab people in the 35 + range are statistically more likely to be less fertile than those in their 20s. But this doesn’t mean that the minute I turn 35 my fertility falls off a cliff and I am suddenly barren on my birthday. Our bodies don’t work like that.

We are all unique

Life is just like that saying. If you judge a fish, a monkey, a giraffe and an elephant by their ability to climb a tree to test their intelligence, then some will fail. Does that mean the fish is less intelligent or able than the monkey? No. Because it’s not a fair test.

And I see this age game the same way. If you put ten people in a room together and judge their success by what they have achieved by aged 30, you will get a group of people at all different levels of life, goals and achievements. Does this mean that some have failed because they haven’t reached the same as others at that age? No. because nothing can take away the experiences that happen along the way. And age doesn’t mean anything but the number of years you have been alive.

In my 30s and not got my s**t together and that’s okay

This research into the woes of turning 30 has been an enlightening revelation for me. One that I hope has finally broken the spell. I am in my 30s and I am not where my mother told me I should be. I am not where I thought I would be.

But I have gone on a journey I could never have imagined. And life would be pretty boring if it was all smooth sailing and predictable anyway.

I need to stop thinking that my life is over just because I am over a certain age. If I keep sitting here worrying about it, I am not putting any actions into place.

My life isn’t over yet. So I am going to keep on living it. Who knows where I will end up next? But I am excited, instead of anxious, to find out.

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Tasha's Little Corner

Hello! I write about equality, mental health, the climate crisis, and social justice. Welcome to my little corner of the world.