Guest post by Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie
I just turned 30 which is both sobering and shocking. Turning 30 means shit just got real: I have to examine the woman I’ve become and the woman I still aspire to be.
Turning 30 is mind-blowing because while I theoretically always understood the aging process, I bought into the idea that I’d be forever young and invincible. But then Sallie Mae started calling. And just about every artist or athlete I like is at least five years younger than me. I can’t fit into my clothes from college and unless I drag myself to the gym, my body will have that Laffy Taffy. Not the good kind. I’m not immune to aging. This is happening.
When I was a girl, I imagined everything that I would be as a woman: a wife, mother, home-owner, and happy (whatever that meant). I am many of those things now (sans children, and not sure if I’ll ever want them), but somewhere in my twenties, I failed at living up to my childhood vision of womanhood.
My marriage to my college boyfriend completely fell apart in the first year. We were long-distance (bad idea), and though we spoke and visited each other regularly, we rarely communicated our deepest needs and our dreams for our marriage to each other. As a result, we checked out of our union in different, but equally destructive ways. It was one of the darkest times of my life. My marriage had become a Tyler Perry drama.
Things went sideways on the family front, too. After discovering the depths of my father’s flaws and the impact of his behaviors on my family, I attempted to sever my relationship with him. A couple of times. And I failed to stay completely out of his life each time. I refused to forgive him, yet couldn’t live with him being permanently out of my life. Each attempt to disown him left me feeling ungrateful for the positive force he had been my life.
The career path I was taking to become a college professor (because if you’re a good student, you should go to grad school, right?) was slowly killing my spirit. I depended on Nas and Lil Wayne to get me hyped for graduate seminars that I found boring and uninspiring. I was disconnected from my research and going through the motions with each passing year.
But I’m in a better place now. My husband and I are rebuilding our marriage based on honesty and integrity. I accept my father for who he is and speak to him regularly. I found a career that allows me to apply all the theory that grad school gave me to communities I care about. Through therapy, being honest with myself, and submitting to growing pains, I’m liking the person I’ve become. Most importantly, I’ve finally realized that the most important relationship I’ll ever have is the one with myself.
Despite the media’s messaging that turning 30 is the beginning of the end for women, I’m looking forward to it. Here are the top 5 lessons from my 20’s that I know will help me own my 30’s:
1. Be your biggest influence. Whether it’s your grandma, dad, bae, or bestie, chances are that someone will impose their vision for your life on you. If their voice becomes louder than you own, you will not find fulfillment, and will instead find bitterness and emptiness in its place. Always trust your gut and make sure that your decisions are authentically yours.
2. Build your dream team. When I was a varsity athlete, I noticed that my game dramatically improved whenever I practiced with more skillful players. The same is true in life. When you surround yourself with people who are levels above you—in their romantic relationships, finances, profession, or spirituality– your game comes up. So be strategic with who you surround yourself with. If you hang around people who encourage you to be mediocre and petty, change your roster.
3. Own your issues and work on them. You can’t blame your unhappiness on other people forever: sadly, you are the common denominator. If you leave your emotional baggage unchecked, it will sabotage your happiness and unfairly burden others. Find Jesus, a yoga studio, self-help book, or Iyanla, but you gotta get your shit together. The work you do on yourself may take a lifetime, but the sooner you get started, the quicker you’ll live and love more fearlessly.
4. Tell the truth. To yourself and to others. Telling the truth doesn’t mean you have to be cruel, it means voicing what needs to be said, even if it rocks the boat. And especially if it means advocating for your needs and wants. Get good at constructively saying things that are difficult or uncomfortable to say, but will make a situation healthier. This skill will take you far in your work and relationships.
5. Love on yourself. (Non-Black people, this is not a typo, it’s a transformative phrase in Black culture). As Black women, we’re taught to love and support everyone else before we love ourselves. Let’s not roll like that in 2015. Take time to regularly uplift yourself. Think positive thoughts about yourself, celebrate and pamper yourself, and dance like nobody’s watching. How you love yourself will teach others how to give you the love and support you deserve. And if they don’t, love yourself enough to watch them kick rocks all the way down the street.
Zahida is the Assistant Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Kenyon College. She has lived and worked in Seattle, Madison, Ithaca, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Zahida live for all discussions of gender, education, race, relationships, and coming of age.
You can visit her website at blackonbothsides.com.