Posted by: Andrea | March 9, 2009

On comparisons and turning 30

I was reading Jezebel the other day and came across a post about women and goal setting, based on an article from The Sunday Times.  It discussed how common it is for women to set goals for themselves based on their ages, things like, ‘I’ll be married by the time I’m 25’ or ‘I’ll have children by 30’ or ‘I’ll be a partner in the law firm by 35.’  This article said basically that this was very common and this sort of goal setting was more about women comparing themselves to their peers and feeling pressure to meet the same milestones at the same time.  It’s another ‘look how women sabotage themselves’ article, but it made me think about my own life and what sort of time-frame goals I’ve made for myself.

I’m coming up to thirty on my next birthday (in May, which is getting closer and closer by the day) which is a big ‘milestone’ birthday.  Thirty is sort of the end of the time of being young, especially for women.  When I was twenty, thirty seemed to far away.  This is sort of random, but ten years ago I’d just started to collect all the state quarters, which were just starting to be released.  For all you non-American readers, for the past ten years the US Mint has been releasing quarters with a specially designed obverse side for each state.  They were released five every year, starting with the first states and then going along chronologically until all 50 were released.  My mom bought me one of those big maps with little inserts for every coin so that I could collect them all.  I started collecting them in 1999 and the last one was released this year.  I vividly remember standing there with that map and thinking, wow, I’ll be thirty when this whole thing is complete.  I will have done SO MUCH by the time I’m thirty.

So yes, of course, of course, I had things I’d planned to do by the time I hit thirty.  When you’re twenty, you have this big list of things that you’ll have done by thirty because, DUH, thirty is REALLY FREAKING OLD.  I figured I’d have the time to circumnavigate the globe practically, I had that much time.  I wanted to live abroad, get a good job, date a bunch of guys on my ‘guys to date list.’  And sadly no, this wasn’t a list of names, it was a list of types of guys.  You know, ‘guy in a band’ and ‘guy with a motorcycle’ and ‘guy with lots of tattoos.’  It’s so ridiculous to think about this now, as if you could collect guys like you would pick a bouquet of flowers.  ‘Uh oh, can’t date another guy with tattoos, I already have two of those…’  Also, I dated a guy with a motorcycle and it DID NOT make him cool.  He just looked like a dork on a motorcycle.  Seriously guys, if you work at Intel?  DO NOT get a motorcycle.  You’re not fooling anyone.

I think that sort of goal-setting is very common when you’re young.  When I was 20 I had definite plans for what would happen when I was 25 and 30.  Of course that was shot all to hell when I turned 25 and had accomplished NOTHING on that arbitrary list.  I was living at home, was working at an accountant’s office (a field which I had no interest in), had never had a long-term relationship, was still attempting to get onto the masters course I wanted (rejected the first time), had no savings and no idea what I was doing with my life.  25 turned into a prime opportunity to panic.  I thought that I’d have my life all figured out by 25 and in reality, I was as much of a mess at 25 as I was when I was 20.  This was NOT how it was supposed to go.

So I had my freakout and then I got all my shit back together and moved forward.  I decided that it was ok if I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, as long as I have a plan for the next year or two.  To be honest, I still don’t really know what I’m doing with my life.  But I can say with absolute conviction that I am a much, MUCH happier person now than I was when I was 20 or 25.  I’m happier with who I am and I’m ok with the things I haven’t accomplished yet.  I know that if they’re really important to me, I’ll make them happen.  If they don’t happen, then they weren’t supposed to and I can still be a contented person without them happening.  One of the things I had really wanted to do for my 30th birthday was to go to Nepal and to travel up to Everest base camp with the expedition group.  That hasn’t exactly happened, but it’s still a goal I have and I know I’ll get there someday.  I think for me, the one pleasant surprise about turning 30 is that I’ve let go of that need to have hit all my goals on that arbitrary list that I made when I was 20.  I know now that it’s really not all that important.

So what was that list?  There are a few I remember.  At 20, I definitely thought I’d be married by the time I was 30.  Doing the ‘ole ‘reverse baby chronology’ thing, I also thought at 20 that I’d be thinking about having babies.  Not necessarily having them, but I thought that I’d start having kids around 30.  And since I wanted to have babies around 30ish and I wanted to be married for a few years before then and I wanted to be engaged for a year before THAT and I wanted to have been with the guy for a year before THAT, that all means that I would have met said hypothetical baby-daddy around the age of 25-26.  Which at 20 sounds totally reasonable.  Obviously, that did not happen.  I met a LOT of guys that I would never in a million years have children with, so I guess that’s still moving in the right direction.  I’m eliminating possibilities, right?  Of course I’m also unsure now that I even want to have children, but that’s a whole different blog post.

At 20 I thought I’d definitely have a career.  I thought I’d have figured out exactly what I wanted to do and I’d be well on my way to doing it.  That…hasn’t exactly happened either.  I finished my masters degree and I am now a social worker, but I can’t honestly say that this is definitely my career.  I like it for now, but I don’t think I’ll necessarily be a social worker forever.  I’ve only been doing this job for two years, but I’m still already thinking about what else I can do next, where else this job can go.  I guess insecurity is exactly where I am in my job because I honestly don’t know what sort of career trajectory I want to have just yet.  Which at one point is terribly scary (and is one reason I don’t like thinking about this too much) but is also sort of freeing.  Yes, I don’t honestly know what I want for my career and yes, I DID spend a lot of time and money getting a degree that I may not always use, but the world is also wide open to me.  I still could go and do just about anything.  Well, not ANYTHING.  That whole Forensic Anthropologist thing is probably not going to pan out.  But I could still do quite a lot of stuff.

Now, for the one thing I HAVE done!  I’m currently living in Scotland, which was my absolute heart’s desire when in my early twenties.  I yearned for it, I longed for it, I thought never in a million years could my life be as exciting living in the U.S. as it could be in Scotland.  The only way I can really describe the feeling is to say it was like being homesick for a country that wasn’t actually my home.  The funny thing is that in my early twenties, I never considered that I’d ever want to move back to the U.S.  I figured I’d move to Scotland, meet my gorgeous Scottish husband and never come home.  Now that I’m ten years wiser (and have dated a few Scottish guys) I see things differently.  I know that Scottish guys aren’t really for me and that being close to my family is much more important than I anticipated it being.  I’ve had adventures and done some amazing things.  But after five years of that, I want some stability.

Now that 30 is looming, I’m trying really hard not to give in and start making goal lists for 35.  I’m not saying to myself, ‘ok, you’re not married by 30, that’s ok, you’ll DEFINITELY be married by 35!’  It is really really hard not to do this, not to set these goals and not to judge yourself by what other people have done.  The article I read said this was a ‘female thing’ but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.  I think all people set themselves time-sensitive goals.  Maybe women are more likely to judge their own accomplishments by how their friends have done accomplishing the same thing, but the article seems based on anecdotal information.  All I know is that I can thankfully say that as I’ve gotten older, that obsession with meeting deadlines has diminished.  These days I can say to myself, yes, ok, I might be married by 35.  But I might not.  And that’s ok too.

Don’t get me wrong, comparisons still happen.  I can’t help but feel a little bit left behind as all my friends get married and I’m nowhere near to that happening.  Even though I know it’s not a big deal and that everybody has their own timeframe, a part of me wonders what I’m doing wrong.  However I think that feeling is mainly about losing a friendship than about wanting a husband.  It’s hard when people’s lives change and they grow apart, but I don’t think anyone else is better than I am because she’s done things differently in her life.  Now that I’m seeing 30 get closer and closer, I’m just happy that I’ve had the opportunities to do what I’ve been able to do, even if it is a little bit different than what I expected.


  1. Again… we’re on the same wave length (except I’ll be 36 in April). I thought I’d have life figured out by now. HA. I thought life got easier as you got older. HA HA. I believed if I followed my rigid plan, all my goals and dreams would become reality. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

    Life doesn’t turn out the way we plan or expect it and I’m actually grateful for that. I look back over the past 10 years: I moved to DC, I worked on national safety aviation plans, I dated losers, I was a loser, I gained and lost weight, I traveled, I almost died in 2 terrorist attacks, I had major surgery, I went to grad school in 2 countries, I realized that hanging out with gay men wasn’t helping my social life, I learned that Trader Joe’s rocks, I had a nervous breakdown when my parents’ divorced…

    So much angst and pain but along with that came joy. No one else has it figured out either. I worry about the next 10 years. I hope the economy gets better so I can grow my 401K. I wonder if I’ll adopt or go with IVF or actually find someone who wants to marry me.

    It’s important to have a life plan but don’t get too attached to it. sometimes the unexpected turns out much better than you could have ever imagined. Give yourself a break and take a breath. You have an amazing life and turning 30 shouldn’t make you think otherwise. You’re brave, strong and hilarious… you’re going to be just fine.

  2. I’m not saying that goal setting by age is all bad. I did it. But it had nothing to do with dating, kids or marriage. I left it pretty specific as to being what I wanted, and things for ME. For example, going back to school, living in a house and not an apartment, having a career I loved, etc.

    Perhaps there’s a lot of women who set goals involving relationships and what not by age. But, they involve there being other people, who, as a whole, can be unreliable. I mean, how many times have we been let down by someone who didn’t hold up their end of the bargain? Someone who was supposed to pick you up at “X” time, but was late so you were late to your important thing? Or forgot that they were going to pick up something you requested that was critical to whatever important thing you were doing?

    Maybe goal setting shouldn’t be about relying on other people, but learning to rely on ourselves more.

  3. Thank you for this reminder. I actually have kind of tried to stop doing that – the age/goal thing. I knew it wasn’t the best way to live and accomplish things, but I still find myself doing it. And yeah, I think it’s about comparisons. All my friends are married or getting married soon, and I can’t help but think that that means I should be finding husband real quick too. And two of my younger sisters are talking about marrying their guys in the near future, and then I’m really intimidated because they are my YOUNGER sisters!

    I do that with money too. Like, I’m 28, shouldn’t I be making more money than I am right now? Shouldn’t I be able to afford a better apartment? Shouldn’t I be able to buy groceries at 28 without worrying about money?

    It sucks and it’s not very healthy. So I’m with you, I’m trying to not do that so much.

  4. Talk about comparisons: girl, there are times when I compare my life to yours and find that I’m J-E-A-L-O-U-S! What I wouldn’t give to have had the balls 10 years ago to head off to a different country to experience life there–for more than just 10-14 days, that is. And to go back to school and persue a degree that you’re actually PASSIONATE about (even if it isn’t something you might do for the rest of your life)–again I ask: where were my balls? For that matter, where were they when my first college go-around didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to?

    Sure, that Quarter Life Crisis thing kicks in for everyone–and life never really turns out the way we *thought* it should. But just remember, “it’s not the road, it’s the journey”–or whatever.

    You’ve turned out to be an EXTRAORDINARY woman that I’m proud to call my friend…and, like wine and cheese, you’ll get even better with age! (yes, I just compared you to cheese)

    Here’s to the next 30! Let’s chat again at 60 and we’ll talk about how silly we were at this age! 😉

  5. See, that’s what I mean! You look at other people’s lives and you think, Why can’t I do THAT?! But you look at your own and think, eh, that’s not so tough. I sometimes feel so incredibly lucky that my life aligned in such a way to allow me to follow my dreams to their full extent, no matter how crazy or strange they seemed to some people (I have my wonderful parents to thank for a lot of that). I know my life is definitely not the norm for a lot of people, but I’m glad that I’ve done what I have. Even though I haven’t done a lot of OTHER things, it doesn’t make what I have managed to do any less great. And I like to think that I may be just as fantastic as cheese, but hopefully don’t smell quite as much like feet. 🙂

    Oh and Doahleigh I do that with money too! I always think, I’m almost 30, why can’t I afford to buy a place? I saw the pictures of a new friend’s house on Facebook and I seriously though, wow, he moved into a grown-up house! Um, no, that’s just A HOUSE. Which I could never afford unless I auctioned off a kidney. But then I tell myself to breathe and think, ok, everything does things on their own time. I’m on my own timescale. It’s ok, crazy lady, it’s ok.

  6. I’m so glad I came across your site. I TOTALLY feel you on this post. I am turning 30 in May also! (May 6, when is yours?) and feel like I have gone on some crazy journey in the last 10 years that has brought me nowhere near where my 20 year old self thought I would be. I actually recently started a blog to start documenting my life in my thirties and wrote one entry similar to this, about my goals and where I am, and where I’m going.
    But i feel like we’ve had similar journeys. I went to school for accounting, to work in that field for a few years, and then jet off to Australia for a year just to travel. When I came home (NY) I left again for California to pursue my passions in dancing, now wondering if in fact I made the right decision, and wondering if I should move back home again!
    Here’s what I say though, try not to compare yourself to where everyone else is. Yea, they might have fancy job titles, and boyfriends, and husbands, and babies and what not, but you’ve got all of your experiences that you can treasure forever. You’re on your own timetable and are just taking the time to figure out who you are and what matters to you most. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself!

  7. Hey Jaymee, thanks for stopping by! My birthday is May 23 so I have a few more days to go before I start to panic. 🙂

    I go through phases ALL the time where I feel like chucking it all in and moving somewhere else to do something totally different. I seriously considered moving to New Zealand for awhile a few years back (they were doing a big recruitment drive for social workers at the time). I think the grass will always look greener and that no move is totally perfect. I know my current situation isn’t perfect and sometimes I want something different, but then I’ve done a lot of amazing things that other people my age haven’t also. I hope all of your moves have been good ones in some ways, even if maybe they weren’t what you were expecting. And i’m sure my 30’s will be just as exciting as yours will be!

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