Today is my thirtieth birthday, and that seems kind of important, somehow. I suppose it’s not really any different than any other birthday, but it still feels like I’m crossing a threshold of some kind. I guess by the time one is thirty, one is supposed to be indisputably an adult, and Have It All Together, but I have to admit I don’t really feel like either of those things. Is that good or bad?
On the one hand, I’ve noticed I’ve developed increasingly “grown up” attitudes and attributes over the years. As time passes, I find my interactions with teenagers more and more… “entertaining” (no offense teenagers, I’m sure my parents would say I was the same way), and for the last several years I’ve been worried about something called “receding gums”, which is apparently extremely common, but my dentist never mentioned it until it started to happen. I drive at the speed limit, and wonder why everyone is in such a hurry all the time. I’m more conscientious of joint health when working out and moving things, and I keep an eye on my cholesterol.
On the other hand, there are many things that I have not outgrown. I have an appreciation for comic books, an enthusiasm for bugs, and a Warcraft character. I usually only tuck in my shirt for fancy occasions, and I don’t shave as often as I probably should.
Still, I feel like it’s a good balance. I’m fortunate to not only feel young at heart, but also young in body. I’m still ambitious and willing to dream big ideas. I was hoping this summer to be floating from here to the Pacific Ocean, and although that doesn’t seem as likely now, I’m sure it’s still in my future. I think we tend to think of our thirties too often as a decade of diminishment– we glorify youth so much that further we move away from being 22, the more we worry about whether or not we’ll be able to achieve what we hoped to accomplish when we were teenagers. Our thirties are when we start to “settle,” and realize that we probably won’t be professional athletes, rock stars, or famous actors. Several years ago, while watching a Superbowl, I realized I was (even then) “too old” to be in a Superbowl, which seemed just a little sad.
Now, I never played much football, ever. The last time I played football of any sort was probably back in high school P.E., and even then I’m not even sure if I even touched the ball. The majority of games that I have attended and watched have been with a saxophone in my hands (I should clarify I was in pep band… I’m not that eccentric), and I am really, really (still) confused by the minutia of the rules. Nevertheless, I felt the pang of a door closing when I realized that I was three years older than most of the players. It’s silly– I had no intention, ever, of being a professional football player, but the feeling that I no longer could seemed somehow poignant.
As the years have passed, I’ve become familiar with a similar sensation: feeling like people younger than me are more “on track” than I am. Unless I start to lie about my age, I will never be featured in a “thirty to watch under thirty” list. My dentist is now younger than I am. Peers from high school and college have houses, kids, and/or pets. I even find myself comparing myself to my parents, who, at my age, were working at established careers, living in the house they’re still living in, and raising two kids while expecting a third.
When I think about it, though, I don’t really want that… yet. I don’t want to be a dentist with two kids, a golden retriever, and a riding lawnmower (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I like that I spend more time planning expeditions and making art than I do thinking about new bathroom faucets and spraying dandelions. I appreciate that I’m still young enough to be ambitious, and to still have room in my life to be many things, even if I am ten years too old and 200 pounds too light to be a football player.
There’s still a whole world out there for me to explore, and, frankly, still plenty of time for me to change my mind and decide to go to grad school to be a dentist, doctor, or lawyer. And, comparing myself to my parents again, even my dad has reinvented himself in the last then years, when he went to law school to become an attorney. Heck, there’s still always the possibility that I’ll be on the field at a future Superbowl, except as a photographer, team staff member, millionaire team owner, mascot in a funny costume, or crazed fan. I’m not running out of time, I’m hitting my stride, and becoming myself.
I’m looking forward to my thirties, and if I can make the entire decade as interesting as the past year, then I’ll have quite a list of accomplishments by the time I find myself contemplating my fortieth birthday.