There’s a scene in the movie 13 Going On 30, when the main character—Jenna, a young woman sick of being a teenager—makes a wish to become “thirty, flirty and thriving.” To her great surprise, Jenna wakes up the next morning as her 30-year-old self, which begins an adventure where she learns that life can be challenging at any age.
In my experience, there are two dual expectations around arriving at the big 3-0: You either have it all figured out (ha!) or you’ve just hit an expiration date on multiple personal levels. For instance, when I turned thirty, people asked with a smirk how it felt . . . as if they expected an angst-ridden answer.
But here’s the truth: Hitting the third decade of life can actually be pretty awesome, so read on to learn why.
You realize age is just a number.
True to the Aaliyah song, age ain’t nothin’ but a number. On my thirtieth birthday, I woke up and felt . . . exactly the same as 29.
Sure, I’m definitely noticing extra creases around my eyes and I’ve upped my skin care game like whoa, but I don’t “feel” older. Nor do I feel more “grown-up,” despite having checked some societal boxes like marriage and parenthood. Most of the time, as my friend Elyssa says, I still kind of feel like a kid trying really hard to be an adult.
So when it comes to the number of candles on your birthday cake, remember that your attitude defines your outlook going forward. You can choose to be stressed and anxious about a certain age, or you can choose to be grateful and open to another year of life on this earth.
You learn to practice daily self-care.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every day, someone came up to you and was like, “Hey. You work so hard. Treat ‘yo self.” I hate to disappoint you, but nobody is going to necessarily remind you to take care of yourself, which means that you have to be the one to do it.
At thirty, I’ve learned there are many ways to practice self-care. It might mean eating a nutritious salad or indulging in a cookie, appreciating your curves or going for a run. It could involve carving out an hour (or three) on the weekend to watch your favorite television shows, skipping that happy hour event with a bunch of acquaintances, or journaling every morning before work. You get to decide how best to prioritize your mind, body, and spirit.
You know your own impulses.
For better or worse, I am much more aware of my impulses—like when I’m getting cranky and about to say something rude to my mother but really I just need to get off the phone and go to sleep. Or when I’m dwelling on 747382943 things but really I just need to let all the things go. Or when I’m tearing up because I got cut off in traffic but really I just need to cry about something sad from the other day.
Being thirty has taught me to be a little more in tune with my patterns, habits, and behaviors. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect; it just means I’ve lived with myself long enough to know when I’m about ready to take action in a certain way. Sometimes I can cut poor choices off at the start (“Hi, maybe don’t drink half a bottle of wine tonight”) or acknowledge how best to push myself further (“Hi again, I know you like to procrastinate but maaaaybe start that project now”).
You are more confident.
The older I get, the more confident I become regarding my appearance, career decisions, relationships, and overall choices. I care less and less about pleasing other people, spending money on the “right” materialistic items, and obsessing about how my life looks on the outside or on social media. I’m better at saying no, backing off and turning away from the people and things that do not serve me.
That doesn’t mean I always feel confident, of course—but I know that I’m doing my best and trying to grow as a person. And that’s good enough for me.
You quit judging everybody all the time.
Okay, so maybe you don’t 100% quit, but you at least notice where you’re doing it and call yourself out. At thirty, I’ve lived long enough to realize that A) lots of things are gray, not black or white and B) you never know the battles other people are fighting. Sure, being critical makes me feel high and mighty for a hot second, but then it feels kind of yucky, like I just ate too much candy. I also know what it’s like to be judged, and it sucks.
So, I am trying to gossip less and be more open-minded and wait for context (because there is always more information to come!). What other people choose to do is none of my business, which makes it a waste of time for me to spend so much time criticizing.
You own your mistakes.
One big sign of maturity? Taking full responsibility when you mess up, instead of blaming it on other people or external forces. Similarly, there comes a point where you should know how to deliver a real apology, one where you say, “I’m sorry I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.”
Learn how to have empathy for yourself and other people; we all know that it doesn’t feel good to hurt someone with our words or actions, and it also doesn’t feel good to be the one who royally messed up. At age thirty, I’ve started to hold myself accountable to a higher standard related to my own mistakes and missteps.
You admit what you don’t know.
This is a strange thing to admit on the Internet, but I used to majorly stress out when I didn’t know the answer to something, or I wasn’t familiar with a subject of conversation, or I didn’t have a ready-to-go response upon being asked a question. I thought it made me look dumb, and I wanted to seem intelligent and smart—so sometimes, I would pretend rather than simply say, “I don’t know.”
And then one day, I realized that . . . it’s OK to not know. People actually respect you more when you’re honest about the gaps and limitations in your knowledge bank, and admitting what you don’t know allows you to ask questions and actually learn something new.
You stop wasting time.
For some of us, turning thirty brings us closer to a sense of our own impermanent nature (you know, death, which is scary to think about it). But instead of letting it bring you down or paralyze you, allow it serve as motivation. You don’t know how long your life will last, and the longer you live, the more you realize how quickly things can go in a different direction than anticipated.
So, surround yourself with the people you love, and tell them you love them every day. Pursue hobbies and activities that bring you joy. Say no to shit that weighs you down. Forgive the best you can. Help others whenever possible. Let your ambition be a light guiding you forward on a journey of exploration. Learn something new, even if you don’t get paid for it. Allow yourself to be surprised, so that you can embrace change and make the most out of the one short life you’ve got.
You discover there are no rules.
The best thing about turning thirty, for me, was realizing that I literally did not have to follow the rules. I mean, yes, I have to pay taxes and all that stuff—but what I’m talking about are the dumb societal rules that suggest you must live your life according to a certain trajectory. The truth is, you get to decide.
Maybe you want to live in an apartment with no pets and run your own online business. Maybe you move in with your parents to help take care of them in old age. Maybe you quit your job, and maybe you stay the course for a few more years to save money. Maybe you break up with your boyfriend of five years and start a new life across the country. Maybe you get married and have 2.5 kids and buy a big house with a picket fence. Maybe you land the corner office. Maybe you have a plush 401k or maybe you have a couple hundred bucks to your name.
There is no “right” way to live your life, even if your parents and siblings and friends all think so. A good life is one that feels right to you in terms of where and how you spend your time, health, and wealth.
How do you feel about turning thirty, or if you’re already there, what is the best part about it?
This article was originally published on December 11, 2016.