According to popular wisdom these days, 40 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20.
Or something to that effect. The main point of reasoning behind that concept, either way, is that people are apparently doing the same things (if not more) that they were doing when they were younger. Age is just a number, after all, and when you put together youthful vitality with the wisdom of experience, you have an unstoppable combination.
I had quietly absorbed this thinking throughout my 20’s and, up until recently, pretty much believed it. That is, until I began the descent from my late 20’s and the metaphorical airplane started to land on the tarmac of my 30’s.
I’m turning 30 soon. Granted, not for about five and a half months, but it is quickly coming for me. How do I know, you ask?
I know that I’m approaching 30 just like children know when they’re in trouble. Or when you know you’ve taken a swig of milk that expired awhile ago. When you’re close to 30, you just know.
You literally start to feel it. When I woke up in the mornings at age 22, I could leap out of bed and hit the ground running. Nowadays, I have to take my time. Joints have to crack, muscles have to be jerked awake, and caffeine must start to brew. When I get up, my body tells me if I get up too quickly, and it is not in a good mood when it has to do that.
Not to mention that your metabolism changes. It’s like there’s a switch somewhere in your body that, one day, just turns itself off. You don’t know when, and you have no warning. All of those days of eating an extra serving of pizza, or sneaking cookies after a rough day at work, now show up for the world to see. You start thinking about if you’re getting enough fiber, if your multivitamin has enough iron in it, and if your disdain for milk as a child will contribute to osteoporosis when you’re older. Just the stress from thinking about all of those things makes you want an ice cream sundae (which is now the enemy).
You have more “out of it” days. Post-Its become not just a handy tool, but a lifesaving device that should be covered by health insurance. You find yourself starting to leave yourself little reminder notes that remind you to remind yourself to do something. And you’re not quite sure what that “something” was, because you wrote that part down on another Post-It whose location you don’t quite recall.
You have to take more breaks. I personally look back at my college days and marvel at the amount of “stuff” I was able to soak up. There were books to be read for each class, papers to write, meetings with professors to attend, sorority functions to organize, and friends to be seen. Sleep was an option, and even if you didn’t get 8 hours a night (or 5 or 6), your mind still tended to be pretty sharp in the mornings. When you begin to approach 30, however, it’s a different story. If I don’t get my 8 hours of sleep per night, I feel it the next day–usually because I run into something in a foggy haze. And I have to raise the “I’m cranky” flag for my husband.
That’s not to say that reaching 30 is void of perks, though. You have more experience, whether professional, life, or otherwise. You might not have your life’s calling figured out, but you’ve tried enough things and made enough mistakes to know what it’s not. You’ve either kissed enough frogs to find a prince, or you now have a better understanding of what a non-prince transforming frog looks like (and that you should run away). You pretty much know whether or not you want to get married (or you already are), whether you want to have kids (or already have them), and whether or not you want to continue on the career path you’re on (or whether you don’t).
Turning 30, of course, is not an excuse to become complacent. There is, however, a balance. For instance, my grandparents, before my grandmother passed away, were avid travelers. They embarked on all sorts of adventures when they were young, and when they were old. They did not let their age stop them from traveling; they did, however, tailor their travels to more comfortably fit their age bracket. They took buses when before they would have hiked, they did group tours when before they would have ventured out solo, and they packed plenty of vitamins when before they would have packed, well, not vitamins.
I will hopefully follow in their footsteps. As much as I would like to think of myself hiking up the summits of Machu Picchu with a walker, however, I’ll have to take age into consideration.
In the meantime, I’ll try to approach my 30th birthday with realistic expectations of the challenges (and advantages) of that decade. And of course I’ll leave myself a Post-It note reminding me when my birthday is.