I’ve tried to write, in a number of ways, a blog post about turning 30. It’s been difficult to find my audience for this piece. I worry that anyone on either side of this milestone will find my writing a weird combination of self-indulgent, naive, and dramatic. But, as it stands, I feel compelled to write something to mark this occasion, if only to clear out the cobwebs in the writing portion of my brain. My hope is that it also shines a light on whatever dank bacteria is growing in the part of my mind that thinks about the future.
30, for me, has felt like this huge moment that once crossed would “mean something important”. At 30 I would have done all these things that would help define my life and give it some grand purpose and direction. All my shit would be figured out and I wouldn’t be the same weak, undisciplined boy. Looking at it now, none of this has happened and, yet, all of it has happened. Nothing has changed but everything is different.
None of it has happened because I don’t really feel that different than I did at 20. I’m older and I have more experience but it’s still me in there. I don’t feel like the adult I’m supposed to be and certainly not the professional I pretend to be. Like most people, I’m a kid with an adult body doing my best at making things up as I go.
All of it has happened because everything really is different. My experiences in my 20s have added branches and knots to my tree of knowledge and wisdom. I’m still that kid but I have better mental models for handling things in the world; I know better how to have fun and take care of myself and family. I have a somewhat better sense of who I am and where I might fit in this world:
I’m married to my best friend. I bought a house where my whole family can visit. I have two wonderful, crazy dogs whom I love more than I thought I ever would. I have a PhD (hello doctor!) and I have a career that pays me well and mostly challenges me. By many accounts, I kind of do have my shit together.
So why all the angst and worry? Maybe that’s just who I am. A worrier who still manages to make some progress.
But the point is that who I am has changed over the past decade. The world has changed around me and I’ve adapted to it the best I could. My worry and angst are based on a perception of where I should be. It’s in comparison to everybody else who’s doing “better” than me or has achieved more than me. Of course I’m only seeing the external achievements. I have no idea if these people are happy, if they have good relationships with their spouses or families. Crippling depression is hard to see from the outside. In reality, my external achievements and success probably fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Better than many, worse than many. But my inner achievements are really only measurable on the scale of me.
This scale is calibrated based on my experiences (as yours is based on your experiences). These experiences are either direct (divorce, injury, love, loss, and so on) or indirect (conversation, books, movies, etc.). The direct experiences have a much stronger weight: it’s much easier to know what makes a good marriage when you’ve been in a bad one. Indirect experiences have their own weights as well, they’re just weaker. I’ve never been shot before, but I don’t need to be shot to know it’s not something I want.
My point is that it’s very difficult to compare two people’s internal scales directly. Humans, and I’m no exception, are really good at trying to compare our inner scale with everyone else’s outer one. That inevitably creates a chasm between where you are and where everyone else seems to be. And in that chasm, the malaise grows and you become an angsty, worried, and melancholic 30 year old.
I’m just not that good at properly comparing my scales with other people’s scales. I make inferences about other’s internal scales based on what I see from the outside and, wouldn’t you know it, I always come up on the losing team. The only way I’ve found to combat this is consistent discipline on the basics of eating well, exercising, getting up with an alarm clock (ugh! But I feel so much better when I do..), meditating, and focused effort on work and projects. It’s a really boring list of things and I keep hoping there’s going to be something cooler and better that makes it all unnecessary. But a cursory glance through some of my journal entries and I find a clear repeating pattern: Taylor is sad, Taylor writes about it, Taylor recommits to doing the boring shit, Taylor does the boring shit for a while, Taylor feels better, then Taylor stops doing the boring shit, repeat from beginning ad nauseam.
Maybe the waves of life, the highs and lows, the peaks and troughs, are really vicious cycles that never end and simply move forward through time. (Seriously, try drawing a circle while moving constantly in one direction – you make wave-like things). And maybe all I can do is try to find ways to accelerate through parts of the cycle and limit the sad and not-doing-the-boring-shit phases so I can do more of the fun things in life (spend time with family, create more experiences and memories, and, you know, live!).
It’s official now: I’m 30. It’s all over with. I can stop worrying about turning 30 and just move on and be 30, which means getting back to doing all that boring shit that makes me saner and more fulfilled. One can only hope that I’ve learned something from this and maybe 40 won’t be so bad…