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The tremendous relief of turning 30

A week from today, my 20s will be over.

What a relief.

The term “messy 20s” is a popular one among my generation and for good reason. It’s hard to find many people between the ages of 20-29 who don’t feel like at least one part of their lives is somehow out of control or at least not what they imagined for themselves when they were younger.

I’m not talking about people with no direction or ambition. In fact, I’d argue many who enter their 20s with laser-focus on their goals are more likely to slip into a quarter-life slump when forced to dismantle the life they’ve built in their minds in exchange for the one they’re living.

Many of us also fall into the trap of spending these crucial years “waiting for something to happen,” whether it’s landing our dream jobs or meeting our life partners or having children. We worry about not racking up enough details, from education to career to marital status and beyond, and what that says about how much we’ve accomplished.

And yet, when we do rack up those details, it often feels more like a box of odds and ends we’re forced to carry around and try to piece together while questioning the entire time if we’re even holding the right box.

There’s an uncomfortable instability about these years that no amount of success can erase. It’s only amplified when reminded that every decision we make – good or bad – is shaping the rest of our lives.

The result, at least in my experience, is getting to the end of this defining decade and realizing the bulk of our achievements and shortcomings aren’t in the details at all but in all of the things we didn’t expect or plan and how well we adapted to them.

In my 20s, I became a parent. I lost a parent. I landed a few dream jobs. I left a few dream jobs. I experienced the absolute best and worst days of my life. So, yes, there is tremendous relief in being able to take those lessons and experiences into my 30s having already accepted that life as I know it today will look nothing like the life I have in 10 years. I no longer have to fear disappointment or loss or grief, because I’ve survived it all.

I have no big plans for my 30th birthday, as it is just another day. No before-30 bucket lists or self-inventory on whether my life is what my 20-year-old self thought it would be.

That girl had no idea what life would hold in store for her.

And it made all the difference in the woman she would become.