An open letter to 30-somethings
A weird thing happens when you hit 30 (or somewhere in that general area). The realization sets in that you are an actual adult. Until then you know in your head you are an adult, but there is still an element of wondering what will happen “when you grow up” embedded in your thinking. But at 30-something you begin to realize that what’s happening in your life is the stuff you’ve always just contemplated. And the actual contents of your grown up reality doesn’t match up with the fantasy world you imagined you’d inhabit; how could it?
All this reality can get to you. I don’t think the mid-life crisis is supposed to come at 30, but sometimes it does anyway. It’s difficult for the mind to make the shift from what could be to what is. You used to dream thirty different possibilities about what your future might look like, now all those choices have been decisively narrowed into one reality. You used to look at the real adults and were positive you’d be able to do everything better than they were. Now you’re one of the real adults and you feel a little less assured that you have all the answers.
I have found my 30s to be a jarring adjustment. But I’m also learning that there are significant reasons to be thrilled about being in my 30s.
Reality is actually real. All those possibilities I dreamt of were enticing, but none of them were real. They didn’t consist of real relationships, impact, or memories. Whatever real impact I’m making is far greater than infinite imagined impact. Whomever I’m able to actually love and build relationships with it is much more meaningful that a million imagined relationships. There is something deeply moving about realizing and accepting that you are now living a real life instead of just imagining what real life might be like.
Possibilities still exist. I’ve had moments when I became pretty fatalistic about the possibilities for the future. But there’s no reason to stop dreaming. In fact, it might be more effective to dream now than when we were younger. Now we have more experience, knowledge, and a larger network that provides a greater opportunity to see some of those dreams come to fruition. For me the mental hurdle I needed to clear was understanding that I am now living the part of my life I’d dreamt about to that point. Now I get to actually live that part of life and dream about the future, and that’s a great position to be in.
There’s still so much to learn. One of the worst things we can do in our 30s is get so settled in career and family that we fail to keep learning and growing. The more I know of the world the more I realize I want to learn. From hobbies to parenting to career to learning how to love my wife better–it’s exciting to think of how much I can grow if I put some effort into it.
We get to live in-between. The 30s are a great time to intentionally seek out opportunities to be mentored by those who are older and to mentor those who are younger. There’s so much to learn from those a little further down the road, but we’re now significantly further down the road than a college student. Living with a desperate need to gain wisdom from others and having some wisdom to offer is a fantastic place to be.
We can start to accept that everything matters. All the little things feel much more important now than they did ten years ago. The extra hug my son comes down to get before going to sleep, asking someone’s name who comes in to get food from the food bank, holding hands with my wife, seeing someone find their passion and begin pursuing it, hearing a quote that inspires me, having the privilege of praying with someone–there are so many beautiful and meaningful moments packed into each day. When I was younger I wouldn’t have accepted the power or beauty of it all. So many moments seemed mundane. But with a little more wisdom and more humility the wonder of the normal unveils itself.
So here’s to the 30s! To living each moment with awe and thanks, continuing to dream and risk to see those dreams become reality, and anticipating the 40s when there will be even more insights to ponder.