By Charlotte Hollingsworth
In just under 90 days, I am going to turn 30 years old. Every year around September I start to get reflective, there are quite a few anniversaries this time of year leading up to the oldest anniversary of my life, and the changing of a season is always an inspiration to introspection. But I’m excited this year. The last two years of my 20’s have been tumultuous to say the very least, and I am excited by how much I’ve learned, and how much calmer my life is becoming.
I can name the worst years of my 20’s easily, 21, 25, and 28. All of those years were shit. Utterly terrible. 28 was easily the worst year of my life so far, and that’s not even the year my dad died (20) or the year I worked two jobs after being unemployed for a month (25.) And the restlessness, oh dear god the restlessness of my 20’s has been a source of so much anxiety I’ve been medicated for it.
Being nearly 30 also gives me authority to tell you a little what for about aging and wisdom. So, here’s a summary of the most important things I’ve learned about my last decade on earth.
Things I’ve learned:
How to give things up. I’ve learned to be more focused on a few things instead of feeling like I have to be kind of good at everything. I don’t need every friend, every hobby, to listen to every song, to like every movie, to fight for every cause. I have focused in on the people and things I really care about and learned, over the course of almost this whole decade, how to not care about the rest.
How to be happier with less. My expectations are just lower, that’s it. And that’s ok. I don’t need a romantic comedy life. I don’t need to climb a mountain every month. I don’t need to have already won an Oscar. I’m happy, genuinely happy, with what I have, and I look forward to what is coming.
How to handle it. Nothing gets easier, absolutely nothing about my life is easier now than it was before. But I am so much better at handling it. Things that, at 22, would have thrown me in to desperation are now just a quick email and a little bit of focus to get through. That goes for my mental health, as well. When the waves hit, I can take them. I’ve learned to embrace my feelings, let them happen, and not let them take me over. I trust myself, because I’ve been through a lot and I got to the other side with relatively few casualties.
How to be a friend. When you stop trying to get everyone to like you, you start realizing that the people that matter already did, without you having to try. And the people that are easy to take care of are the people you want to hang on to. I find no effort is needed to send encouraging texts, find awesome gifts, or share in glory and defeat with the people that matter the most to me. And I’ve learned better and more satisfying ways to show affection to those I love. Your friend has a favorite book? Read it! Lonely friend far away? Share a movie night over Netflix and Google chat. Friend going through a hard time? Make it a point to check in every day. And when you’re not ok? Let them help you. Let them in. The stronger your friends are, the stronger you are. Same goes for relationships.
How to be alone. This one took the longest. I wrote about it before. I’ll write about it again. But becoming comfortable with myself was the most difficult and most rewarding struggle of my 20’s. I hid behind so many costumes and ideas of who I was SUPPOSED to be that I completely lost track of who I am. I wouldn’t say I am a different person than I was, but the person I am today is not covered in so much other shit. The person I am now, from tip to tail, is exactly who I always was. I just learned to really, really like her. And I’m not interested in changing her or hiding her anymore, and anyone who doesn’t like her will be happier elsewhere. Thanks, solid year of therapy and decade of struggle.
Of course there is part of me that is afraid of aging. To be fair, though, I’ve had that since I was a kid. I don’t do well with change, and for all kinds of deeply interesting psychological reasons, I have a hard time letting go of an idealized past that gets further from me as I age. But at the same time, I’m so excited. Whatever is coming my way, I know I can handle it. And I’ve been working so fucking hard to get it together that god damn if I don’t have it together. More than I ever have.
I’m excited to be 30. There’s less pressure. It seems so calm on that side of the aisle. And there’s still so much possibility. I’ve got so much time left, so much left to see and do and feel. Getting across the rickety rope bridge of my 20’s, it’s like I can see the solid ground at the end now and I’m so much more ready to make the most of it. Starting now, obviously, no point in putting off making my life stronger and more stable for another 90 days. But boy am I happy to be able to look back on that bridge and give myself a huge pat on the back for making it out alive.
Likely there are other bridges and potholes and avalanches ahead. It’s not going to be smooth sailing, and I don’t want it to be. I’ve got more to learn. I’ve got more to cry. I’ve got more mistakes to make. And if I’ve learned anything, I’ve got a lot more laughing, dancing, kissing, and adventuring to do, too. I’m not anywhere near where I thought I would be at 30, and for a while that made me really unhappy. But now I know I’d be more miserable if I were there, because here is what I’ve earned. This life I’ve built for myself is imperfect but strong. This me I’ve built is clumsy but grand. And she’s only getting better.