Last weekend I turned 29—in other words, I’m that much closer to 30.
I used to dread turning 30. Growing up, we often believe 30 is the age that you become a true “adult.” If you didn’t have your life in order by 30, then by society’s standards, you were seen as a failure or a screw up. It’s why if you google ‘turning 30,’ you’ll find questions and blog posts filled with fear, anxiety, and questions.
Yet I’ve met countless people my age or older that have been struggling not only to find a job—but their path in life. For many, life begins at 30.
My Birthday Wish
After a wonderful birthday dinner at a French restaurant with my boyfriend, we returned to my aunt’s house where she put out a cake with candles.
“Make a wish,” my aunt smiled.
Yet I was at a loss.
I actually had nothing to wish for. Of course I could always use a little more money, a free trip to Italy or perhaps drop ten pounds and fit into my skinny dress, but sweating the small stuff aside I realized:
I have an amazing boyfriend, family that loves me, friends around the world that would take a bullet for me (although they may not be here in L.A.), and my health—and really, at the end of the day, these are the things that bring you true happiness.
Two years ago I wrote a post about turning 27. Basically at 27, the harsh realities of life as an adult and my childhood fantasies had a head-on collision—and I flipped out.
When I was in my early 20s, I told myself I could still become a hotshot career woman at an international company. I told myself that I still had a few years to get married, and married on schedule (around 27 or 28). I told myself I still had time to make tons of money, be successful and change the world.
I was a wee bit ambitious.
At 27, I wasn’t married. I wasn’t working a hotshot job. I still didn’t even know what I wanted—or could—do with my life. I told myself that I was “running out of time.” I was almost thirty, yet I wasn’t making the kind of money or achieving the type of ‘success’ that I had always envisioned for myself.
Two years later, after working at large-scale companies and experiencing a slice of almost every job sector (education, consulting, finance, business, advertising, public relations), I realized that the ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ I was looking for wasn’t what actually made me happy—in fact, it wasn’t even defined by me.
It was our society telling me that unless I was working at Apple, Google or another Fortune 500 company with a 6 digit salary and a 80+ hour work week, then I was a failure in life. Somebody was telling me I had to be hot and beautiful, married at 28, pop out kids by 30 and somehow have an awesome career on top of all that.
You could say my childhood dreams were crushed by reality—because in all honestly, no one has the above—yet it’s subconsciously expected of us (particularly women). It’s what our society regards as “success.”
At 29, I now realize that everyone has a different path to their own personal success.
I may not be the CEO of a major company or working at a Fortune 500 conglomerate—but when I look at myself in the mirror, I ask myself: Is that what I really want?
When I thought about turning 30 before, the anxiety monster crept up from behind me and pounced. I was choked by the fear of being a failure when I hit the big 30.
Yet now, on the verge of 30, I feel good. I look back at my life and say, “goddamn, I’ve done a lot.”
I achieved my life dream of living in China and Japan, and with those two experiences alone I feel like I could die a very, very happy woman.
I’m going to try my best to no longer let society’s definition of success poison my dreams and childhood ambitions. When I was growing up I dreamed of being a writer and journalist, and although I’ve strayed from that path mostly due to financial reasons and the pressure to ‘succeed,’ I want to finally get back on the course that 13-year-old Mary set for herself.
On an ending note, at the L.A. travel show, I met a travel writer from San Francisco. When I inquired about her job and life, she replied:
“Ten years ago, I wasn’t making six figures—I was making seven. I was working for a hedge fund and I had it all. I had the big house, the yacht, the beachside view—but I was working 18 hours a day. I never saw my kids. I was miserable. And when the financial crisis happened, all my money went poof.
Then I told myself: Screw it, I’m going to be a travel writer. I know that writing doesn’t pay the bills, so I took a part-time job at United Airlines as a reservations clerk. I only make 13/hour, but I get free flights to travel and write my stories. I only work 40 hours a month. I see my kids almost everyday. I love my job.
And I’ve never been happier.”