I recently turned 30.
Like most people (I think!), I spent most of my twenties trying to get it all ‘figured out’.
At 21 I left university, ready to start my ‘real’ life when I got my first job. I can’t describe the crushing disappointment that followed when my first ‘real’ job turned out to be the most mind-numbingly boring thing I’ve ever done, and I had to quit a few months later to work in retail while I figured out my next move. So much for starting my ‘real’ career.
What came next were a series of what I can only describe as life experiments: training as a secondary teacher for something to do while I figured out what I really wanted, loving then hating teaching so training as a life coach, quitting teaching to travel and study psychology, then back into teaching when that hit a dead end.
All the while I felt like such a failure, mainly because I didn’t really enjoy teaching but couldn’t quite figure out what else I wanted to do. I kept thinking, shouldn’t I have this sorted by now?
This was accompanied by lots of partying and drinking as a way to escape (plus, aren’t your twenties supposed to be wild?) but that didn’t bring me much joy either.
And then I met my now-fiance. Finally, something going according to plan! But I watched as many people around me got married, had babies and got houses, while my boyfriend of 2, 3, 4 years still hadn’t so much as proposed.
What the hell was going on? I panicked as 30 loomed on the horizon, drawing nearer and nearer. I just wanted to have it sorted by my 30th. Surely by then I should have it figured out?
Well, yes and no. Sure, my boyfriend and I got engaged, bought property and are planning for our future. So I guess I can tick that one off. As for my career… well, I’m still in teaching, but since moving to part-time I’m enjoying it more.
And as for my ‘real’ career? Well, I don’t know. I’m passionate about creativity, journaling and writing, helping people, art… some of these skills get used as an English teacher but not all of them. I know I won’t be teaching forever, but I’ve yet to figure out what the next step will look like.
And you know what? That’s ok.
Strangely, I approached 30 with a genuine sense of contentment. Gone are the judgments towards myself about not figuring it all out, gone is the guilt at having ‘wasted’ my twenties (what does that even mean, anyway? I couldn’t possibly have gotten to this point without going through the experiences I have).
I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have to. It must come from growing up, I guess – when you’re young, you see life as black and white, and you think it should be easy enough. (I once had a student of mine, about age 14, remark in surprise that I wasn’t married with kids by age 26. She declared that she certainly would be by then. Yes, I once thought that too, love.) But once you get mired in the mess of becoming an adult, you start to see it’s not that straightforward. I think the only reason this causes pain is because we cling to that childish notion of having everything figured out.
So, on my 30th birthday, I celebrated having made it through the bumbling, awkward, disappointing, exhilarating and confusing ten years that were my twenties. Here’s to not having it all figured out!
Try to think back to the way you imagined your adult life would look as a child/teenager/young adult. Do you feel in any way that you have let yourself down?
What are some of the judgments you have about how your life is now? What do you think ‘should’ be different but isn’t? Why?
What are some ways you could show more acceptance and contentment towards your current life?
What are some expectations or judgments you need to let go of?
Bonus prompt for those over 30: List ten ways that your life has been better in your thirties than your twenties!
Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.