My feet are on a different sidewalk of solid ground. I don’t know when it happened. It seems foolish to say that there was something about turning 27 a few months ago that picked me up from the rubble of earlier days and dropped me in this newfound place. Because there is hardly anything special or magical or definitive about turning 27. I am still new. Green. Young. Impressionable. Prone to making mistakes. I’m still following a compass that sometimes sends me into deep seas and dark oceans.
So, yes. It seems foolish to say there was something about turning 27 that reshaped the world and my precious place in it.
And, yet, there was something about turning 27.
There was something about driving up to the sunset of this first decade of adulthood, something that has pushed me to trim the fat, face the facts, and apologize less for the spaces I inhabit. There was something about this age that yanked the curtain up on the woman I am instead of the woman I spent one too many years trying to be.
There comes a point where you can’t run away from yourself; that point both liberates and elevates you. Maybe that is the something about turning 27.
I’m through with running away from myself. I am through with sitting under dim lights as I lean coyly over the table, saying one thing to a man while my spirit screams another. I am through with barricading myself behind walls and praying they won’t crumble. I am through cutting emotional deals with the devil or pouring gasoline on my wildfire heart just to keep up appearances. My portrayal of the cool girl while I was in my early twenties deserves a standing ovation, but she has performed her final act.
Sometimes knowing what you’re not is just as important as knowing who you are.
I am dense and intense, fragile and flammable, a woman with her heart turned up two volumes higher than recommended. I am the sum of all of the goodbyes I ever said and all of the scars they ever left. I am equal parts concrete and shattered glass, whole and broken, complete and wildly unfinished.
And, yet, here I am. Because there was something about turning 27 that summoned me to start singing all of the notes on my staff.
I want to fall hard. I want to dig deep. I want to dive under. I want to taste love on my lips. I want to live big. I want to apologize less. I want to take up all of the space the Universe already carved out for me. I want to stop wanting and instead start soaking up the distance in between then and now, before and after, the things that were and the things that will be.
Maybe therein lies the sweet something about turning 27.
You’re waiting for the day when it doesn’t feel like you’re fighting to keep your head above water. You thought by this time you would have things figured out. Or at least you would have something figured out. You would be more settled. Happier. Freer from the bullshit of your early twenties. But, you’re creeping past the mid-twenties mark and some days, it doesn’t feel that different from 21. It still feels so uncertain and you still feel like you’re walking across this rickety drawbridge bound to break at any second.
You want to stop being such an emotional ass all the time. You see older people who remain unruffled by most situations, and you wonder why your fuse always seems to blow before you can will it to do the opposite. You wonder how much energy, time and emotion you’ve wasted mustering up all of the exasperation you have and releasing it. Over and over and over again. You know you’re not as much of a whiny prick as you used to be, but some days you still have the propensity to be an unabashed and self-absorbed asshole. Hey, at least you recognize it.
Every now and again, you let yourself tumble down the rabbit hole of social media that says you should be on some sort of path to marriage and babies by now. You see the same people you threw back shots with only a few years ago bringing home little Baby Chelsea with a giant bow adorning her bald head. And all you can think is that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop hooking up with that guy you never loved and never will. Maybe, just maybe, you should stop texting your ex. Maybe, just maybe, every friend with benefits has his expiration date. Maybe, just maybe, emotional masochism is ruining you. Maybe, just maybe, there is this hidden and tender part of you that’s ready for the alchemy of love.
If it’s not happy hour or brunch, it ain’t happening. Why on God’s green earth are people still inviting you to things that start past 9 p.m.? Sleep is manna from the gods and people need to start treating it as such.
If you believed in clichés, you would say this is that awkward metamorphosis when you go from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Except you don’t believe in clichés, so you just feel all out of sorts in situations and relationships where you were once comfortable. You are watching things change. You’re watching the layers of your early twenties shed. You are having a head-on collision with the reality that this is the point where everyone’s paths start to diverge and friendship is not as effortless as living three doors down. So, you fight to forge common ground. And you reluctantly begin to grasp the truth that you can’t nourish relationships from the vestiges of good old memories. You know now, more than ever, who is in it for the long haul. Even if things change. Even if the layers shed. Even after you’ve had a head-on collision with the reality that paths are beginning to diverge.
You’re impatient and antsy and never quite satisfied when it comes to your dreams. And like so many other aspects of life, you feel like it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Stop talking about it and be about it. Take some sort of step or giant leap toward the dream that you just keep talking about when the conversation turns all philosophical at happy hour. Now you’ve gotten hungry for it, and you realize that this is the time to cement the foundation. This is the time to put in the work.
You’d like to stop being such a nimrod when it comes to your money. You recognize that money is simply a tool, a means to an end. Money is not the weekend treasure you have squandered for years. Money is a huge part of how that dream you talk about when the conversation turns all philosophical at happy hour becomes a reality.
You wish someone would have told you that your mid-twenties are still your twenties. The drawbridge is still shaky and the wine is still cheap. The tunnel is still dim and the progress is still concealed. The music is still blaring and the men are still buffoons.
But, now you know. You know that adulthood sucks on some level and blesses you on another. You know the double edged sword of independence. You know that Sallie Mae is really not playing with you. You know who you once were and, if even on a small scale, you know who you would like to become. You know when you’ve tested your limits or when you have royally fucked something up. You know when you owe someone an apology, even if it still takes you some time to utter it. You know you need to stop taking shots. Period. End of story. You know when you want to say yes and when you want to say no. You know that keeping $30 dollars in your pocket usually beats agreeing to go out. You know that he doesn’t love you. You know that you’ll always love him. You know that it’s just the natural order of things.
You know yourself and the world around you an iota better than you did five years ago. And that counts for something. My God, in the grand scheme of this rocky and roller coaster existence, that counts for a hell of a lot.
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.
It’s so like you to binge on advice books before you graduate. Because I am your older self, I can laugh and tell you how much of an asshole you are for that. (No one else can say those things, but I can.) Those books won’t be the last. You’ll purchase Katie Couric’s “The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives” and devour that too. That’s how you are. That’s who you are. When you’re worried or anxious, you read up on the source of your anxiety as much as you can. You dig for answers. But, this time, there aren’t any answers to prepare you for the fuckery of your extraordinary life.
People always give you the kind of advice that skews on the side of encouragement. Sometimes they sugarcoat shit for you because underneath your tough exterior, they know just how fragile you are. But, I’m going to try not to sugarcoat this because I know everything underneath that tough exterior, and I know that you can handle what I am going to say. I know that you can handle it because nearly four years later, I know what you have lived through. I know what you have endured. I know the mountains you’ve traversed and the demons you’ve fought. I know that you are not just a tough exterior, but that you are one tough woman.
Stick Spragins on the shelf. Put Couric next to her. And, stop looking for other people to guide you or affirm you or prepare you for what’s ahead. Sometimes the best preparation is not any preparation at all. Sometimes you need the waves to push you over. Sometimes you need the flames to engulf you. Sometimes you need it to hurt. You need it to sting. You need it to downpour. You need it all to fall apart.
Because, only when it all falls apart will you learn this: just because you break does not mean you are broken. Because, you will break. Everyone breaks. But, the only people who remain broken are those who choose not to heal. And, you better believe with every fiber of your being that you will heal. You will crack. You will shatter. You will split apart at your seams. That is what happens when life hurls heartache your way. But, you will heal.
Ellyn Spragins has created a great series, but that series won’t tell you to take your ass to a therapist after you’ve been raped. Kate Couric’s book is nice, but it doesn’t have any chapters about how to find and keep your righteous mind after Roswell suddenly dies on a piping hot day in August. Books are beautiful, but they do not contain all of the answers. You don’t even realize how many of the answers you already have, how much strength you hold in that heart of yours, strength that is just waiting to reveal itself when you need it most.
So, embrace the fuckery of your extraordinary life. You do not need to know it all. You do not need to have it all. You do not need to do it all. This slice of life is yours for the taking. Stop trying to live up to your tough exterior and, instead, let life bring you to your knees. Let people in. Let your heart break and let it get filled to the brim again. Let your guard down. Embrace the mess. Embrace the unknown. Embrace the flames. The fuckery is what makes for an extraordinary life. You do not get to be an artist or a writer or a half-way decent human being without the fuckery. You don’t get to tell these stories and create these spaces and be this person without the mess. The mess is what gives all of it meaning. It’s what makes all of it beautiful. The mess is what makes your story one worth telling.
Kate and I met earlier this year in passing during “Brunch, Blogs and Books”. When she emailed me a few weeks ago to suggest we hang out, I was completely on board. She didn’t give me any sort of ax murderer vibe at the event, so I figured it would only serve me well to broaden my blogger network.
When I walked into M Street Bar and Grill where we were having brunch, I launched in by bitching about how difficult it was for me to find parking. When Kate seemed unrattled by my abrupt entrance, I knew she was the kind of person with whom I would want to chill. We spent the next few hours talking about everything including, but not limited to, Internet trolls, our day jobs, the tone and voice of our blogs and just how damn hard it is to come up with a decent elevator pitch. Early on in the conversation, Kate mentioned her 30th birthday was coming up, so I asked if she would be interested in writing a guest post for my blog. I am always requesting that non-twenty-somethings write for my blog, but they’re always looking at me like “Why the fuck would I do that?” Fortunately, Kate accepted my invitation. Here’s what she had to say on her 30th birthday. (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATE! EVERYONE WISH KATE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOW.)
While swapping stories with Tyece about apartments and jobs and all the usual twenty-something topics, she stopped me: “Do you mind if I ask how old you are? It seems like you’ve lived a full life.”
I laughed as I told her I was nearly 30 – and isn’t the phrase “lived a full life” reserved for the elderly? Still, she was right. I have a lot of stories to tell, and they add up to a very full life indeed. But as we talked, I realized how much mental energy I’ve expended wondering, “What am I supposed to do now that I’m 30?” – or, more accurately, “What am I supposed to stop doing now that I’m 30?”
The Internet has declared lots of rules about turning 30. Google is fullofcountlesslistswrittenbyknow-it-allswhomakesweepinggeneralizations about what life should look like when your twenties come to an end. I appreciate their advice and time-tested wisdom, I do. But if I took these lists to heart, my life would have to change dramatically overnight. I should wake up today, the morning of my 30th birthday, and be an entirely different person.
I’d have to move out of my apartment, because The Lists tell me I should be considering home ownership. I’d have to buy all new stuff, too, because they say I’m too old for hand-me-downs and Craigslist couches. Currently, I live in a very small, expensive studio apartment, with furniture that’s mostly, uh, recycled (read: secondhand) and art mounted in dollar-store frames. Do I wish I had more space and a “real” home? Sure. But am I willing to give up city life for a bigger place? Not a chance. I chose to live here, and I’m not ashamed to scrimp and save to make this lifestyle work within my budget, even if it means less-than-new furnishings at 30.
I’d have to quit my job, too, because The Lists say 30 is the age to “get a career.” I doubt my current line of work what I’ll do my whole life, but I’m also not going to walk away from a non-career on a Tuesday simply because it’s the day I hit 30. My mother, who was 40 when she went back to school for her master’s degree, has been a happy, second-career librarian for the last 20 years. To me, she’s proof that finding your forever-passion does not magically happen when you hit a special birthday.
I’d have to seriously rethink my drinking habits because, predictably, The Lists are big on strict booze rules: Don’t binge drink! Don’t drink cheap beer! If our twenties were a time to revel in the excitement of being of legal drinking age, these lists would have us believe that 30 is where drinking goes to die. While I can’t imbibe like I used to, I’m still young(ish), single, and childless. I don’t intend to give up the occasional night out or bottomless mimosa brunch just because I’m not newly 21 anymore.
If I followed The Lists, I’d also never eat another fast food meal, get another tattoo, or sleep late on another Saturday. The lists go on and on… and on.
But why all the hubbub about 30, anyway? What about that magical number that means we should revamp our entire lifestyles and adhere to a new set of rules?
The author of a list definitively titled “Things Men Shouldn’t Do After 30,” explains, “There’s a lot of downright stupid stuff society will give you a pass on while you’re still in your 20s, but most of it ceases to be amusing and just gets depressing as you soldier on toward middle age.” At some point, though, accidents of youth – drunken antics, questionable decisions, irresponsible behaviors, overblown emotions, and other sundry errors in judgment – become less forgivable, and 30 is as good a mile-marker as any to delimit the age when society expects us to grow up. These arbitrarily authoritative lists, then, tell us what we can’t get away with once we have a new number at the start of our age.
But I balk at the insinuation that our twenties are all about wild experimentation, lack of commitment, and partying. Sure, those things happen – but give twenty-somethings some credit! Plenty of people get married and have kids in their twenties, people who own homes and have careers and are, for all intents and purposes, “settled down.” And even those of us who don’t fall into that category face struggles: jobs, finances, and other ins and outs of life. It demeans these very real experiences – and very real responsibilities – to bill 30 as the age when adulthood begins.
We’re all different. Some of us have kids and spouses by 20 or 30 or 40; some will never have them, and some don’t want them at all. Some of us are homeowners and some are renters and some keep our worldly possessions in storage units while we travel the globe. Some of us are city-dwellers and some prefer farmland and some can’t imagine leaving our suburban hometowns. None of our preferences or experiences is exactly the same, and our lives are as varied as we are. Because we mature at different rates and learn life’s lessons at different times, it’s both unfair and unrealistic to expect the “rules” of adulthood to fall into neatly delineated age categories.
I’m proud of where I am at 30, but I’m no different than I was yesterday. I still live in my tiny apartment, working a maybe-not-a-career job and drinking cheap, canned beer. I’m older today, and surely I’m growing wiser, but my birthday doesn’t mark some big, noteworthy change in how responsible, knowledgeable, or adult I am. Those happen on a rolling basis, over time – not overnight, when the numbers on the dial change.
It’s been 30 full years so far – and I can only hope that whatever comes next is just as jam-packed.
Kate is a writer and prolific TV-watcher living in Washington, D.C. She prefers dives to clubs, beer to wine, flats to heels, & the Midwest to just about anywhere. She tweets far too often at @heyescapist and blogs about her many (mis)adventures at GreatestEscapist.com.