Turning 29

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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

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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.

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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.

So I freaked out and went to Bali.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

16 thoughts on “Turning 29

  1. Marta says:

    Happy birthday! (a little late…).

    I turned 30 last September. And you know what? It doesn’t feel special. The world didn’t end that day. I’m as clueless about my future as I was when I was 26 hahaha.

    I never made any plans so I didn’t have any crushed expectations. I’m just deciding things as they come along… I don’t think it is possible to have the happy kids and the successful career at the same time if you are a woman, but anyway, I don’t want the “successful” career… I just want to do something that I like, and have some days off to go traveling! I am easily pleased, haha. Apart from traveling I don’t know what to do with my money anyway!

    Looking forward to reading about your next step, Mary! And that cake made me so hungry… I didn’t eat much for lunch and I am starving right now -_-

    • rubymary says:

      Haha I think I’m the same as you, Marta! Screw it with successful career, I just want to be happy doing what I’m doing and (hopefully) make a difference in the world (no matter how small).

      I just want to travel, travel, travel as well.

      I need to take your attitude toward life, Marta, and I’d be so much happier, haha. For the time being I’m going take the best advice you gave: go with the flow.

      The cake was delicious! I wish I could have air mailed you a slice 😉

  2. R Zhao says:

    Happy Birthday Mary!

    I had a very hard time turning 27. I think I just felt my childhood and youth was slipping away. But the past few birthdays (I’m now 32) I’ve stopped caring. Each part of life brings new challenges and surprises, many unexpected. Perhaps it’s cliche to say, but age really is just a number. There’s no point in letting it define you or your goals.

    • rubymary says:

      Thanks Rosie!

      Haha, I’m glad I wasn’t alone in regard to turning 27–I think I had the same worries and fears as you, which prompted freakout. I’m glad to hear that when you get older, it gets easier and there’s not so much worry about age. You’re right, it really is a number! I’ve met some 35-40 year olds that are just as youthful as me at 29.

      I actually felt ok turning 29. Things are going to get better from here on out!

  3. Kimberly says:

    Society really does put these expectations in our heads from a young age doesn’t it? It really is a shame, because I don’t think many people who actually achieve them are really happy (like you said). I didn’t have aspirations like that because i knew I wouldn’t be happy even if I could be bold enough to work my way up ladders.

    After undergrad I was at a loss about what to do with my life. I went to China with my college roommate and my life changed forever. For me, being able to step out and see how people lived elsewhere, I saw that there were many different ways to be successful. I was able to let go of some of those expectations.

    I’m still in China and I’m making things work. It’s not the traditional idea of success but I am happy. I am 31 (and a half) and didn’t have any regrets on my 30th birthday. I am glad to see you let go of those societal expectations and work toward what is going to make you happy. Good luck to you! Happy Birthday too!

    • rubymary says:

      China changed my life too (and in a good way). Many of my fellow American friends that returned to the United States after living in China started having regrets as to whether their ex-pat stint in China was the right decision or not (since it was difficult to find a job–people say international experience makes a difference, but U.S. companies just see it as a drawback).

      I say, screw society. Let’s do what makes us happy–because at the end of the day, at the end our lives, it’s not about how much wealth or success we accumulate–it’s about how much what we do that makes us happy, the experiences we have, and the positive impact we have on others.

      Anyway, I’m glad you’re still in China and enjoying life there! Age is just a number! Good luck to you 😉

  4. londonshakaijin says:

    Nice post. I agree that you shouldn’t define yourself by society’s standards, but there are perhaps certain assumptions being made that having a successful “high flying” career = being miserable. However, that isn’t necessarily true – some people with this type of career/lifestyle are truly passionate about their jobs, get a buzz from juggling multiple things, and also happen to be extremely happy.
    Yes, that kind of career isn’t for everyone, but it is also true that are plenty of people with “less high flying” careers who are also unhappy.
    I ultimately think happiness comes from a place inside and feeling as if you are living your life “authentically” (whatever that means to you), whether you like stretching yourself to your intellectual limits every day and learning new things, spending time with family, being outdoors, travel, etc.
    I’m sure we will have many interesting future conversations on this! x

    • rubymary says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      I agree with you, I’ve met a ton of people that work 80+ hour work weeks and push themselves to the limit–and wouldn’t have it any other way (and usually they’re working prestigious jobs as deemed by society). Some people have the right mix of gung-ho and personality to make it work for them (here’s looking at you! 😉 There’s so many blogs on the internet nowadays about “I was a lawyer, I was miserable, so I gave up everything to travel.” etc. and… not everyone feels this way. I also have another American friend that is a lawyer and she LOVES her job. Different folks, different strokes.

      I think most of us grow up thinking that we have to do one of society’s prestigious jobs or else we’re a “failure”–and that’s just not true. The most important thing, like you mentioned, is to be authentic to who we are.

      Yes, let’s talk more about it later!

    • rubymary says:

      Thank you Ruth! Actually I still don’t block out all the noise, sometimes I falter, but I have to remember it’s *my* life! Thank you again 😀

  5. Kelly says:

    Happy Birthday! Sometimes, I have to remind myself I’m 28. I feel like I look and act like my earlier twenties self. And sometimes, when I see how some of my high school classmates are doctors or making six figures. . .well, first I feel a little jealous, and then I think, I’d take my life abroad and adventures over those paths any day. It’s been a life well spent already and there’s nothing but time ahead. And then I laugh about how i used to think I’d be married and settled by 25. You knew nothing, teenage me.

    • rubymary says:

      Thank you for the birthday wishes!

      I’m jealous of my friends making six figures, too… but usually their loans far outweigh mine (well, the ones that went into healthcare anyway) and I feel a little better (I know, I’m so petty!). Anyway, I feel the exact same–if I were on my deathbed, I’d flash back to China and Japan and feel no regrets. I think if I worked up the corporate ladder right out of college without the international experience, my life would just be boring.

      Ha, yeah, I remember teenage Mary saying, “maybe I’ll get married at 25. I’ll definitely have kids at 28.” If only she saw 29-year-old Mary now…

  6. hanna says:

    Happy Birthday, Mary! I’m turning 31 soon, actually, and I can still remember, how anxious I was last year, before I turned 30. So, I can agree with what the other commentators wrote: The world doesn’t end there. I actually know a lot of people, who, like myself, are still clueless about their lifes and the goals they want to achieve (be it career goals, marriage, having children, etc.). If you can be thankful for what you have achieved until now and who you have become, that is really great 🙂

    • rubymary says:

      Thank you so much Hanna! I think everyone has a mini panic attack at 30 and asks themselves: “just what am I doing with my life!?”

      But then you realize, everything is the same and age is just a number. Like you said, many of us nowadays (with the changing economy) are simply lost at 30. We have a whole new set of worries and trials to overcome in this new century.

      Thanks again for your comment. I still absolutely love your photos, btw 😀

  7. Eileen黃愛玲 says:

    Happy B-lated birthday. We almost have the same birthday. Mine is on the 25th and I turned 32. I look so damn good at 32 (thanks to my dad’s baby face genes). 😉 The good thing about growing older is that you become more comfortable in your own skin.

    You have accomplished a lot and that is something to be proud of. 🙂

    • rubymary says:

      Ahaha it’s true, from the photos I’ve seen of you, you definitely don’t look 32!

      Yay! Another pisces! (One of the best zodiac signs imo).

      When I tell people I’m 29 they always do a double take. I think the asian genes (plus living in Asia) makes me look younger than most Americans. In Asia women go crazy over skin care, while in the US we just sit in the sun and broil (thus, women here tend to age faster).

      Anyway, thanks so much for the birthday wishes and sorry for the late reply 😀

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