I guess it’s human nature to want to do what’s cool. It’s also human nature to want to feel included. And to figure out what’s best and then go and get it. To get all there is to get out of life. Conquer the world and have it all, you amazing thirty-something you!
As you may have discovered, “having it all” in your thirties, though the cool thing to have, includes a whole lot of things. And a whole lot of expectations. And the word “cool”itself is an extremely loaded word. Sometimes it’s even cool to be “uncool” (let these words play in your head for a moment and see what images of coolness they conjure: hipsters, stoics, romantics, math geeks, solo travelers, basket-weaving majors, parents… Simply labels, but the coolness levels will vary very much depending on who’s reading this.)
Because the thirties are such a loaded decade, we may tend to feel like life failures if we haven’t figured out all the things already. After all, it’s “cool” in your thirties to have figured out your career. Very cool to be financially stable. So cool it’s obvious to get married. To have kids. To buy a house. There are “everybody’s doing it you’renotwhynotwhat’swrongwithyou??” expectations here. Just because you or someone you know defies these expectations doesn’t mean the rules aren’t there.
After all, weren’t our twenties the decade where we figured out who we were? That’s over, that’s done. We already explored all our life choices in our twenties so we now get it together in our thirties. Wrap it up, people! Exploration’s over! The thirties are the decade where you have your shit together already! Right? Right??
Are we excelling in our career? Are we finally married? Do we finally have an adorable baby? Are we able to travel the world? Are we financially independent? Are we pursuing our dreams? Are we in a beautiful home? Do we have a perfectly fit and strong body? Are our morning and night routines down to a beautiful harmonious rhythm? Jeez, there are a lot of expectations in our thirties.
Sometimes I feel better when I cut out the expectations and the chatter. Because I’m allowed to let all of that go. Really, I am. And you are too.
Realize that you don’t have to do what other people are doing. You don’t have to do what you always thought you would do in your thirties. You don’t have to rush to accomplish a goal that other people expect you to achieve but you maybe don’t believe in or feel like doing yet. You don’t have to feel bad because other people are doing things you thought you would be doing. Or if you are doing a bunch of ‘societally expected’ things and are surrounded by people who aren’t, that’s okay too! You’re where you are and that’s where you should be. You can let it all go. Really. Truly.
Sometimes I realize that I’m asking everyone for opinions on my life and calling it “venting,” when really I’m chattering on as a nervous excuse to continue a negative thought pattern again and again. I ask friends for opinions on my life and then I worry about disappointing them if I haven’t followed their advice. Which sometimes changes anyway. Sometimes, it’s great to vent, and venting in itself can be very healthy. But venting negativity needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. I have to know when I’m venting for a fantastic release or when I’m venting to reinforce my own bad feelings again and again and again.
I’ve also found that sometimes I need to stop and center myself to think about what I really want. Do I really want to make a ton of money by climbing up a corporate ladder, or am I simply envious of some of my friends who are doing that? Do I really like being super busy, or is it just “cool” to be busy? Do I actually want to travel all the time, or am I simply surrounded by people who love to travel all the time? Do I want to be married because I’m 32 and it’s ‘getting to be about that time already jeeeeeez!!’ or do I want to be married because I’ve found a person I love and actually want to spend the rest of my life with? Once I see cultural expectations for what they are, they’re easier to spot and release. It’s always a case by case basis- some expectations are things that truly make my heart sing. While others- come to think of it- don’t increase my happiness at all.
It’s an amazing release to let go of what you “should” do. And gradually, but also suddenly, what you should do becomes strikingly clear anyway.