[photo source: BetoBemba, on Flickr]
In nine days I turn 28, and then in two years I will be 30. I’ve been doing that whole “what do I have to show for my life?” bit ever since I came home. 30 stopped feeling like a deadline to me when I turned 25 and realized that I felt fine with not having all the things 16 year old Teresa thought she would have by that age. A marriage. Maybe a kid. A real career. When you are 16 years old, 25 feels so far away. So…old. Then you turn 25 and you realize that yeah, you really are fucking old because you can’t even apply to be on the The Real World anymore. For some reason that made me feel my age more than being unmarried or childless.
When my Mom turned 30, my aunts and uncles threw her an “Over the hill” themed birthday party. They paid a guy to come to the party dressed as the grim reaper for entertainment. She broke down and started crying in front of everyone because no one knew that she had been dreading her 30th birthday for at least a full year before. “What do I have to show for my life?” she asked herself. By the time my Mother was 28 years old, she was already divorced from my father. She was raising three kids alone and working her way up the corporate ladder. We were good kids, and we were good kids because of her. So, she at least had that going for her.
If I were turning 30 this year instead of 28, I’m sad to say I would have regrets. Is that a colossal failure? To have lived 10 years and not have created anything to write home about? For ten years I was too familiar with red wine, bad men, and 3 am. And now, as 30 looms, I have regrets. I’m not sure if this is normal, or a sign of something more serious, or if maybe I just didn’t sleep well last night.
Something happens to you when you get close to the end of a decade in your life. You begin to take stock of the things you’ve accomplished, the things you haven’t. The person you’ve become and the person you think you can still be someday. This is entirely normal and healthy.
A lot of growing up means coming to terms with the wild expectations of your youth. When I was 16 I thought that by this age, I would FOR SURE either be the editor of chief of Jane magazine or married to Joey Lawrence. Jane magazine went out of publication in 2007 and I’m not even attracted to Joey anymore. I’m just saying. Sixteen year old Teresa didn’t know shit.
As a 20something I had (have) an ego that did not match my experience. This dare-to-dream/no-goal-is-too-lofty aspect of our personalities can be an inherently wonderful thing. Put it under the “pros” column. I doubt that I would have moved to New York had I been 36, instead of 26. But as soon as you become insufferable about it, it stops being wonderful and starts being terrible. There are some things that 20somethings do very, very well. Making disastrous mistakes look easy is one of them. I’ve made my share. I have the battle wounds, both inside and out, to prove it.
I stopped having patience for 20something’s struggles sometime around winter. I found that I could no longer stomach “coming of age” stories or when someone would say that they are trying to “find themselves.” I too used that line when I was younger and what I wish someone would have told me is that all I needed to do in order to find myself, was look in a fucking mirror. I would be there.
But of course, I needed to find out the hard way. The lessons I have learned in my life have all come with a price. The good thing about this is knowing where your bottom is. I found my rock bottom in my 20s. You know when you’re driving and you get an eyelash stuck in your eye? And you have to like, drive with one eye open for a little while and you’re trying not to crash but you’re also trying to just fucking see where you’re driving? The worst of my 20s felt like that. Which, I suppose is a godsend. At least I never crashed or whatever.
You have another birthday and you realize what a fucking privilege it is to say I have lived some life and I have survived that shit.