Got it? OK. Are you feeling terrified, or energized? I walked away from listening to the talk with equal reactions of fear (did I mess up my entire twenties), inspiration (cool, I can do those three things), and skepticism (is this even a valid theory?). All three reactions probably have a little truth to them.
I agree with Jay that your twenties shouldn’t be about wasting time—although a little fun is good, right?—and I think she makes a lot of great points about what a person should be doing to work toward the life she wants while she’s young. But I’m also glad that at age 29, I still felt young enough to be able to walk away from a career I hated and start a new one, even though it came with some sacrifices. Those of you who are familiar with me from over on Smitten know that before joining the Glamour.com team, I was a lawyer. I wasn’t “killing time” with it; I just came to realize it wasn’t for me, and so I made a change. I got some new identity capital. I think Jay would be behind that, and I don’t think she would necessarily criticize someone who did what I did.
However, part of the reason I had the privilege to take such action is because of the very idea that 30 is the new 20. When my mom was about to turn 30, she had a husband, two kids, a mortgage, and a job in the field she’d stay in her whole life. I had exactly none of those things. Sometimes that makes me feel like a failure, but more and more, I realize how much freedom not rushing into those things has actually given me to work toward the life I want instead of staying stuck in the one I happened to have at the end of my twenties. (FYI: I don’t meant to imply my mom was stuck in a miserable life. I think she’d say she’s happy with hers. But not everyone in her generation—or mine, for that matter—was so lucky.)
So, are 20-somethings today just wasting their time, or is there a bigger picture here that’s actually beneficial? It’s not to say there’s no room for criticism of today’s young adults, but I also don’t think an entire generation decided they could just do whatever they felt for an entire decade. For one, there are circumstances that lead us to feel “less adult” and the older generations to treat us as such. A recent economic crisis means that many 20-somethings are financially insecure and less likely to be able to achieve that marker of the American dream, a home purchase, at least not in their twenties. We’re getting married older, yet our society continues to treat marriage as a major milestone of adulthood, meaning that an entire population of single 30-somethings is treated like kids because they haven’t yet thrown a black-tie dinner for 300. No offense to marriage, which seems awesome and I’d like to do it one day, but it’s not the only way for a person to become an adult. For two, I would venture to guess that a lot of 20-somethings aren’t intentionally wasting their time, but if they take some wrong turns in that decade, they’re relieved to know that’s not the end for them.
So maybe 30 isn’t the new 20. I, for one, certainly don’t want to be drinking the cheap keg beer and wearing the ratty boot-cut jeans I was in my twenties. And like Jay, I don’t want to see a lot of 20-something women thinking that these years don’t count. They count for a lot, and we should all make the most of them. But 30 isn’t what it used to be either—and that can be a good thing.
Watch the full talk here:
Do you think the mantra of “30 is the new 20” is a bad thing?
- Summary of Why 30 Is Not the New 20
- Why 30 Is Not the New 20: Claim Your Twenties
- Meg Jay
- 30 Is Not the New 20: How Author Meg Jay Sold Me on Entrepreneurship Today
- No, 30 Isn’t the New 20: Your 20s Are the New 20s
- Working our way up
- Hanging the party hat up
- Body hang-ups
- Bucket list dreams
- Best friends forever
Why 30 Is Not the New 20
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We rate each piece of content on a scale of 1–10 with regard to these two core criteria. Our rating helps you sort the titles on your reading list from adequate (5) to brilliant (10). Books we rate below 5 won’t be summarized. Here’s what the ratings mean:
5 –Solid. A helpful and/or enlightening book, inspite of its obvious shortcomings. For instance, it may be offer decent advice in some areas but be repetitive or unremarkable in others. 6 – Notable. A helpful and/or enlightening book that stands out by at least one aspect, e.g. is particularly well structured. 7 – Good. A helpful and/or enlightening book that combines two or more noteworthy strengths, e.g. contains uncommonly novel ideas and presents them in an engaging manner. 8 – Very good. A helpful and/or enlightening book that has a substantial number of outstanding qualities without excelling across the board, e.g. presents the latest findings in a topical field and is written by a renowned expert but lacks a bit in style. 9 – Superb. A helpful and/or enlightening book that is extremely well rounded, has many strengths and no shortcomings worth mentioning. 10 – Brilliant. A helpful and/or enlightening book that, in addition to meeting the highest standards in all pertinent aspects, stands out even among the best. Often an instant classic and must-read for everyone. While the rating tells you how good a book is according to our two core criteria, it says nothing about its particular defining features. Therefore, we use a set of 20 qualities to characterize each book by its strengths:
Applicable – You’ll get advice that can be directly applied in the workplace or in everyday situations.
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Comprehensive – You’ll find every aspect of the subject matter covered.
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Eloquent – You’ll enjoy a masterfully written or presented text.
Engaging – You’ll read or watch this all the way through the end.
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For beginners – You’ll find this to be a good primer if you’re a learner with little or no prior experience/knowledge.
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Inspiring – You’ll want to put into practice what you’ve read immediately.
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*getAbstract is summarizing much more than books. We look at every kind of content that may matter to our audience: books, but also articles, reports, videos and podcasts. What we say here about books applies to all formats we cover.
Why 30 Is Not the New 20: Claim Your Twenties
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Why you should listen
Lately it feels as if 25 is just a bit too young to get serious. In her psychology practice, and her book The Defining Decade, clinical psychologist Meg Jay suggests that many twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation about what Time magazine calls the “Me Me Me Generation.” The rhetoric that “30 is the new 20,” she suggests, trivializes what is actually the most transformative period of our adult lives.
Drawing from more than ten years of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, Jay weaves science together with compelling, behind-closed-doors stories. The result is a provocative, poignant read that shows us why, far from being an irrelevant downtime, our twenties are a developmental sweetspot that comes only once. Our twenties are a time when the things we do — and the things we don’t do — will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come.
Jay is a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development, and in twentysomethings in particular. She is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia and maintains a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent her own early twentysomething years as an Outward Bound instructor.
What others say
“A four-alarm call for the 50 million 20-somethings in America.” — Kirkus Reviews
This is not my opinion. These are the facts. We know that 80 percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35. That means that eight out of 10 of the decisions and experiences and “Aha!” moments that make your life what it is will have happened by your mid-30s. People who are over 40, don’t panic. This crowd is going to be fine, I think. We know that the first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn. We know that more than half of Americans are married or are living with or dating their future partner by 30. We know that the brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood, which means that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it. We know that personality changes more during your 20s than at any other time in life, and we know that female fertility peaks at age 28, and things get tricky after age 35. So your 20s are the time to educate yourself about your body and your options.
So when we think about child development, we all know that the first five years are a critical period for language and attachment in the brain. It’s a time when your ordinary, day-to-day life has an inordinate impact on who you will become. But what we hear less about is that there’s such a thing as adult development, and our 20s are that critical period of adult development.
But this isn’t what twentysomethings are hearing. Newspapers talk about the changing timetable of adulthood. Researchers call the 20s an extended adolescence. Journalists coin silly nicknames for twentysomethings like “twixters” and “kidults.” It’s true. As a culture, we have trivialized what is actually the defining decade of adulthood.
Leonard Bernstein said that to achieve great things, you need a plan and not quite enough time. Isn’t that true? So what do you think happens when you pat a twentysomething on the head and you say, “You have 10 extra years to start your life”? Nothing happens. You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition, and absolutely nothing happens.
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30 Is Not the New 20: How Author Meg Jay Sold Me on Entrepreneurship Today
October 8, 2013 5 min read Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Even for those who back into entrepreneurship, starting up remains a deliberate act that requires thoughtful planning.
According to Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay in her recent TED Talk, “Why 30 Is Not the New 20,” 80 percent of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35. Little did I know that, on a recent two-hour plane ride, I would experience one of these moments.
Beginning in late 2012, I caught the entrepreneurial bug. Hearing a mentor speak about his own business and clients gave me an intense desire to innovate. I started discovering more twentysomething entrepreneurs online who were moving their career needle at a rapid pace. I wanted to attain that same influence in the sports business community. But I never quite got my idea off the ground.
Fast forward to June 2nd of this year, the day Dr. Jay’s book, The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter & How To Make The Most Of Them Now, landing on my lap as I traveled from Detroit to the Big Apple for an eight-week internship. After 70 pages, Dr. Jay had me convinced: This is the perfect time to start up.
Related: What My Corporate Internship Taught Me About Entrepreneurship
Below are three key lessons that I learned from Dr. Jay about how to take the plunge into uncertainty and become an entrepreneur. Maybe she will make a believer out of you, too.
1. Grab some identity capital.
First a definition: “Identity capital is how we build ourselves — bit by bit, over time,” explains Dr. Jay. Some capital gets placed on a resume, like your undergraduate degree or unpaid internships, while other capital is more personal, such as where we’re from or how we interact with our colleagues. Those twentysomethings who embark on exploration eventually develop a stronger sense of self, along with a more nuanced picture of their identities. That in turn, can lead to a more developed sense of purpose and confidence boost.
As I sat there bound for New York City, I quickly realized I needed to grab some identity capital. I wanted more than ever to solidify my identity as a sports career consultant instead of just having a lingering thought that it could happen.
I eventually decided to troll twitter for aspiring sports-business professionals who wanted “free” coaching. The response was overwhelming, as clients started referring friends. To date, I have assisted roughly 15 individuals around topics such as online/personal branding, resume and cover-letter review, and how to leverage social media to advance your career. I did not realize it at the time, but I was investing in myself for my future and who I might want to be next. I now had a clearer sense of myself.
Related: How to Find a Personal Trainer for Your Business
2. Engage with weak ties.
Your close circle of friends. Your family. Your significant other. They are your urban tribe and offer you support in times of need. Their similarities are usually their detriment, though. They are unable to offer perspective because they know much of the same information that you do. Where do you then turn? Our weak ties — those one-time acquaintances, LinkedIn connections, and former employers — feel very different from our urban tribes. Yet, it is through weak ties that information and opportunity spread, according to Dr. Jay.
None of my family members or close friends are entrepreneurs. Naturally, they wouldn’t be too helpful in my quest to start up. That led me to LinkedIn, the best resource for expanding one’s network and engaging with your weak ties, in my opinion.
Over the past six weeks, I have been reaching out to sports-business clubs/societies along with sports-management professors. By consistently communicating with individuals, I have developed relationships – effectively strengthening my weak ties in areas where I needed help.
3. Conquer present bias.
During our 20s, the human brain experiences its second growth spurt. In a sense, we rewire ourselves for the remaining years of life. As a result, it can be harder for some people to plan for the future and accept the consequences for present actions. Others continue to stay distracted and avoid making any decisions whatsoever.
Thanks to Dr. Jay’s narrative, she ingrained in me a sense of urgency, not to rush life along, but rather, to be intentional with my everyday present actions. The little success I had garnered in the past two years and the positive feedback I received from my “free” clients was enough to convince me to enter the world of entrepreneurship for real.
Related: From Zero to ‘Shark Tank’ Hero in 3 Months Flat
Beginning each month, I outline my plan of action for the next 30 days. Even looking further out, I know how I want the next 60, 90, even 120 days to go. By having a timeline of defined events and benchmarks, I am better able to construct how my future will unfold.
**Apply Now** Are you an enthusiastic college- or graduate-student entrepreneur, eager to share your on-campus experiences? Apply to be a College Treps columnist.
No, 30 Isn’t the New 20: Your 20s Are the New 20s
When psychologist Meg Jay’s TED Talk, “Why 30 Isn’t the New 20”-in which she essentially asserted that your 20s are not a throwaway decade and that today’s 20-somethings don’t take their 20s seriously enough-hit the Internet last week, people started buzzing: Is she right? Is she being too simplistic and overly rigid? Is she putting more stress on an already-stressed out generation of young adults?
Jay starts out by saying that she hears many clients (especially women) say things like, “Well, this relationship isn’t great, but I’m just killing time” or “I’ll just bartend for now, and as long as I figure out my career by the time I’m 30, I’ll be okay.” But then, Jay goes on to say, these women come to her when they reach their early 30s and say, “I’ve got nothing to show for my 20s. What was I doing? What was I thinking? Uh-oh.”
Uh-oh, indeed. There’s been no shortage of articles written that bemoan the lack of work ethic among 20-somethings or analyze the reasons why millenials can’t (or won’t) grow up, so Jay isn’t necessarily saying anything new, but hearing it couched in terms of statistics (“80 percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35” and “We know that the first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn”) certainly drives home the point that there’s no time to waste on establishing both your professional and personal lives as soon as possible. So what’s a confused 20-something to do?
RELATED: Twenty-three successful women share the top steps, missteps, and advice that allowed them to advance to the top of their careers.
First off, don’t panic, says LinkedIn career expert and author Nicole Williams. But your 20s are a good time to start thinking seriously about what you want. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun or you won’t make any mistakes or that you won’t ever change your mind about anything, but it’s a good idea for two reasons: One, you probably have fewer obligations, and two, the earlier you start thinking about what you want, the more leverage you’ll have as you get older, especially careerwise.
“Your 20s are actually a great time for career exploration,” Williams says. “Because you’re young, people often really want to help you. It’s also the best time to take the greatest career risks-most likely, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have kids. It’s a good time to try something significant. Even if you fail, you have time to rebound.”
One criticism of Jay’s TED Talk is that she’s putting too much emphasis on moving ahead in your career or finding the perfect partner as soon as possible, which are all valid points (after all, not everyone wants to be CEO of the next Facebook and not everyone plans to get married or have children), but those criticisms miss the broader point that it seems Jay is trying to make: It’s not necessarily what you do in your 20s, it’s how you do it. “I am not discounting 20-something exploration here,” Jay says. “But I am discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count-which, by the way, isn’t exploration. It’s procrastination.”
If traveling the world is what you want to do during your 20s, do it. If you want to learn a language, do it. If you want to launch a startup, do it. But whatever you choose, be mindful of it.
“Think of it in terms of, ‘How can I intentionally move myself toward my goals?'” says Cali Williams Yost, author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit that’s Right for You. “If you don’t know where to start, sit down and think about it: Do you want to live in a particular city? Be the head of a division at your work? Learn a language? Everybody starts somewhere. The important thing is to be intentional about what you do. Try not to let 10 years go by without realizing it.”
RELATED: Got a difficult boss or a gossipy cube-mate? These expert work strategies will help you save face-and your sanity.
Yost suggests having a regular check-in with yourself wherein you sit down and ask: What do I want? Where am I going? But before you start hyperventilating, think about this: Both Yost and Williams emphasize that it’s never too late to start over: “Your 30s are not old,” Yost says. “You may change your mind about something in your 30s and again in your 40s. Every time this happens, you’ll have a new skill that you can take to the next job or step.”
Your life doesn’t stop at 30, Williams says. “You can always learn, grow, or produce.”
Gretchen Rubins, author of The Happiness Project says in her book that she was riding a bus in Manhattan one day when it hit her that “the days are long, but the years are short.” Really living life will look different to everyone; so too does everybody’s definition of career or professional success differ. But the main thing that Jay, Williams, and Yost agree on is this: Time is cheap. It runs out for everyone, so try to make the most of the time you have as often as possible.
- By Alanna Nuñez
“30 is the new 20. It’s all good.” — said by most people on social media.
You’re a few years removed from college. You haven’t found the perfect job yet nor do you really know your place in the world. You know that you want to travel and make lots of money (who doesn’t?). You just don’t know how to get there. So you spend your time posting motivational quotes on Instagram waiting for something to happen. You wonder why you aren’t traveling the world in a private jet while signing deals with CEOs yet.
I have breaking news for you: 30 is not the new 20. We all need to freak out a little and pick up the pace.
“We often assume that the world moves at our leisure. We delay when we should initiate. We jog when we should be running or better yet, sprinting. And then we’re shocked –shocked!—when nothing big ever happens, when opportunities never show up, when new obstacles begin to pile up, or the enemies finally get their act together.” — Ryan Holiday
I’ve put off too many things in my life. I took me forever to release Next Round’s On Me. Seriously, like forever. I wanted to release this in 2009. Luckily, I wasn’t ready for such a book as a college student. I was ready in 2014 but I was too busy posting motivational quotes on Twitter. I was too busy loitering and acting like I was busy.
I convinced myself that I was busy for years. When in reality I was wasting time and not doing any truly productive work.
In 2015 I snapped and self-published 4 books.
I’ve also seen too many friends put off VERY important tasks (courses, making a phone call, effort at work, relationships, joining a gym, etc.) and it’s sad to see.
Why would you not want to invest in a course that’s going to increase your income by 50%? Why would you not want to train to look better and feel confident for once?
Because we just put everything off. We think that 30 is the new 20. We think that we’re magically going to get more motivated one day.
How did this all start?
I found an older post from my friend Bridget on how 30 is not the new 20 (along with a link to an amazing TED talk by Meg Jay) and this really got me amped up. Thank you Bridget for posting this on Twitter.
How do we waste our 20s?
- Not saving money.
- Not increasing our income.
- Avoiding real life.
- Not pursuing goals.
- Forgetting to explore.
- Staying in school in useless programs.
- Hiding behind excuses.
- Waiting for someone to save us.
- Putting off important decisions.
- Waiting for the perfect moment.
- Blaming the economy for everything.
- Listening to the wrong people.
- Not surrounding ourselves with mentors.
I’m very guilty of most of these. Don’t be another heart breaking statistic. I don’t want myself or for you to turn 40 and feel dumb about the goals we never followed through on.
Where am I going with this?
There’s a huge difference between exploring and procrastinating. There’s a huge difference between growing and staying stagnant.
I don’t want you to have an anxiety attack. This post is more of a reminder for myself and for us as a community to freak out a little about our goals.
Everything won’t be okay. Nobody’s coming to save you. You’re not a unique snowflake. You’re not getting screwed over by the system. You don’t need to share another conspiracy theory on Facebook.
I got serious about my money at 17 because I didn’t ever want to be broke. I started pro wrestling at 25 because I didn’t want to turn 40 and wonder why I never tried. I earned my degree because I never wanted to be out of options. I never ever got into debt because I didn’t want to feel limited.
30 is not the new 20.
I freak out every day about my age and my goals.
Some members of the community have also snapped to obtain real results.
Jacquelyn paid off $48k worth of debt and turned her life around.
Matt quit his job to create tables.
Will your story be next? I don’t know. I’d like to think so.
How can you not waste your 20s?
Stop waiting until you turn 30!
I’m 28 now. The goal of Studenomics at first was to help you with your money in college. Now it’s about financial freedom before 30. It’s about seizing opportunities so that you’re not a broke joke who can’t afford a round of drinks.
It’s easy to dismiss the tagline of financial freedom or to mock me. I’ve stayed true to this mantra the whole time though. I have some big moves in the works for the next two years. I’m not going to be a millionaire in the near future, but I’m proud with the money that I’ve been able to save up and invest.
I don’t want you to turn 30 and wonder where the time went. I don’t want you to blame anyone else for your problems. You have ten years in your 20s to get your act together. You certainly don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start and ruthlessly pursue your goals.
All of the answers are there available for you. All you have to do is a simple blog post and apply the tips.
I have a podcast out on four ways to make more money. You can start an online business in five minutes today.
Here’s a quick story…
I went to meet a friend the other night on a Tuesday. He showed me his new downtown condo and told me about how his job was going before we went out for a bit. I was so proud of his success. It made me smile. Then I remembered that this guy came to Canada as a teenager. He wasn’t even able to speak English ten years ago. Now he’s living a great life. On the flip side, I see friends with amazing potential squandering it by complaining on social media.
Stop putting off your goals.
30 is not the new 20. Start working on the following:
- Your debt.
- Lack of savings.
- Poor fitness.
- Lame job.
- Low income.
- Inability to take any action.
I’m not here to lecture you. I needed this post as much as you did. I had to write this so that I can hold myself accountable the next day I feel like going out on a Thursday when my work isn’t done yet.
“The day you graduate from childhood to adulthood is the day you take full responsibility for your life.” — Jim Rohn
One of the early scenes in 13 Going on 30 finds 13-year-old protagonist Jenna Rink locked inside a closet of her own accord, literally banging her head against the wall and shrieking, “I wanna be thirty! Thirty and flirty and thriving!”
It’s no coincidence her assumption — that to be thirty is to thrive — is illustrated by a spread in Jenna’s favorite (fictional) magazine Poise. Women’s media and pop culture are major contributors to the oft-cited narrative that ages 30-39 are a woman’s supposed “prime” — socially, professionally, physically, sexually and emotionally. The resulting stereotypes are endless: Your thirties are when your true friend group finally crystallizes. Your thirties are when the hours of time and mental energy you’ve devoted to your career start to pay off. Your thirties are when you learn to take care of (and even love!) your body. Your thirties are when you have the best sex of your life. Your thirties are when you figure out who you are. Your thirties are when everything just starts to click:
“Turning 30 was really big for me,” Reese Witherspoon told Glamour. “I feel better — so much better now than I ever did in my 20s. I am calmer; I know who I am. And as a result, I feel much sexier. I don’t think I realized that no one else makes you whole… You have to take responsibility for your own happiness. That took me until I was about 31 to know. ”
“This is such a pivotal moment in my life!” Beyoncé told Harper’s Bazaar the year she turned 30. “I’m transitioning as a woman, and I’m finally able to express myself as I am.”
“If my 20s were pumping it, then my 30s were like the release button,” Lizzie Caplan told Elle Canada. “It was amazing. I’m 32 now, and everything they tell you is true: You just kind of chill out; you become more yourself. It has been a very welcome shift.”
“All through my 20s I spent more time worrying about what I didn’t have than thinking about what I did have,” Shakira told Daily Star. “I wished I was taller, had longer legs, slimmer hips, a smaller bottom, even straighter hair… Now I’m in my 30s, I’m very happy with who I am.”
The extent to which women, famous and otherwise, openly celebrate the revelatory clarity of their thirties has cemented it as a bonafide cultural stereotype, ripe for both sweeping generalizations and confirmation bias. As I approach the decade myself, I can’t help being curious about whether or not it actually lives up to its reputation.
Statistically speaking, there may be some science to back up the stereotype (or at least the illusion of it). A recent Payscale analysis indicated that on average women’s salaries peak at age 39. A study conducted by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 50s stipulated that women in their 30s had more orgasms than women in their teens. A study of over 2,000 people in 2014 found that 31 is the age when women felt most comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality. A 2012 study by Friends Reunited found that 33 was the age at which people of all genders felt happiest thanks to fulfillment from their professional lives and their network of family and friends.
Leandra, a recently minted 30-year-old, told me she was “distinctly excited” to leave her twenties behind. “It seems too soon to comment on this with any real experience given that I’m a mere two months in,” she said, “but I can see where and why that stereotype comes from given how I have felt thus far. If your 20s are an exploration phase, then your 30s seem to be the landing phase.”
Crystal, age 37, acknowledged a notable uptick in self-confidence and purpose after turning 30: “I didn’t have some huge awakening that somehow turned me into a proper adult, but I feel much more certain and resolute about the things I want and need out of work, friendships and life in general. I still feel young, but I’ve let go of expectations around where I ‘should’ be and am just focusing on where I am.”
Gina, age 35, relishes being in her thirties because of the authority it’s given her at work: “Being a twenty-something is hard because even though you’re not a kid anymore, you’re still perennially the youngest person at your office. Now that I’m in my thirties, I feel like I’ve truly earned the respect of my peers. That’s not to say I know what I’m doing all the time and never make mistakes, but I’m definitely more grounded in all my decisions.”
Your thirties as a golden decade sounds lovely in theory, but its broader implications are complex: that, as a woman, everything before your thirties is a critical warm-up and everything after is a decline — or worse, an invisible abyss. Moreover, by positioning a woman’s thirties as the era in which her life begins to make sense, it puts a unique kind of pressure on anyone for whom uncertainty persists on the cusp, or in the midst, of this hallowed stage.
“On the morning of my 28th birthday, I woke up and cried,” my mom, now 57, told me when I asked about her relationship to her thirties. “I had the expectation that my life would have greater direction as I approached my thirties. I think I was more focused on marriage and starting a family than many young women of today would be, and even though both of those things ultimately came to fruition, at that point neither seemed close to being a reality.”
Another woman I spoke with, Sarah, now 55, acknowledged a similar consciousness of these milestones as she reflected on her thirties: “Leaving my twenties and entering my thirties, I felt relieved that I had hit all the ‘checkmarks’ — married at 28, pregnant with my first child at 30 and a homeowner.”
Sheryl, now 51, experienced the repercussions of hitting some milestones but not others: “My thirties were traumatic because when I got married and had a baby, I felt like my social life stopped. It was hard for me to maintain balance and juggle life and career as a professional model. The baby made my body look different, and I had stretch marks. It was great being a mother, but very stressful. I thought I would become more sexually fulfilled, but it didn’t happen even though I was married. It was depressing. I constantly felt like I needed to be accomplishing more.”
Eva, now 40, was also surprised by how “unsettled” she felt in her thirties: “Growing up, I figured I’d be ‘settled’ by 30, married and with some sort of foothold into a career. I spent my 30s in total upheaval. First Law School, then a real whirlwind romance (married and a mom within nine months of meeting each other), then a cross country move. Starting over in San Francisco at 35 was humbling.”
While generational differences could conceivably contribute to these pressures, a number of women who are currently in their thirties today expressed familiarity with them as well.
“I was really anxious about leaving my twenties,” Crystal told me. “I didn’t think I was where I was supposed to be by ‘traditional’ standards, and I struggled with that quite a bit. My mom was married with children and was a successful business owner in her early thirties, so I was anxious that I hadn’t achieved that yet myself.”
Women’s media and pop culture work in tandem to position a woman’s thirties as her moment of true clarity and success. The Cut published an “Ode to Being Almost 30”. Inspired by an Instagram of Rihanna wearing a T-shirt that read “Don’t trust anyone under 30,” Elle put up a slideshow of “31 Reasons Your Thirties Are Your Best Decade Yet, According to Rihanna and Beyoncé.” Shows like Sex and the City, The Mindy Project and Girlfriends depict a version of 30-something womanhood that, although not devoid of hurdles, is decidedly aspirational.
Simultaneously, this messaging reinforces the notion that failing to meet certain expectations during this stage is an indication of failure. Personal essays written by women with headlines like “I’m Freaking Out About Turning 30 — Here’s Why” and “The Friends Episode That Made Me Feel Better About Turning 30” abound. Bridget Jones Diary tells the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she is 32 years old, single and childless.
Considering no one is immune from the pressures, triumphs and pitfalls involved in the process of growing up, it’s interesting that the cultural ideology of thirty-something transcendence (or acute lack thereof) appears to be largely targeted at women. I spoke with a handful of men about what their experience was like approaching 30, and many of their answers mirrored those of the women with whom I corresponded.
“I was not too thrilled about hitting 30, which loomed large over the second half of my 29th year,” Avi, now 32, told me. “Turning 30 felt like some sort of milestone where you were obligated to stop and reflect on whether you had steered your life in the direction you wanted. Something about my future felt ossified to me, as if large swings in the direction of my life were no longer possible and I would only be able to make minor course corrections from then onward; and I did NOT really like my life’s direction.”
The reality of his thirties was a lot better, however. “I’m still an anxious person but have learned to cope better and appreciate myself more,” he said. “I’m a much less moody friend now, and feel pretty satisfied socially. Professionally I’m doing better, and now have a better sense of the importance of a ‘good’ job in my life. Sexually, I feel in my prime, too, in that I am much more fulfilled by sex and feel less social pressure as it relates to it. Emotionally, I’m the healthiest I’ve been, which is easy for men because we’re mentally teenagers until 30.”
George, age 35, experienced the same transition: “I definitely got my act together more in my thirties,” he told me. “I was less enthralled by the prospect of dinking around and more interested in being intentional about my life and where it was headed. Especially in terms of work and relationships.”
Brian, who turns 30 this fall, is looking forward to the increase in self-assurance and perspective that comes with this new decade: “There’s a certain level of confidence that comes with having lived and worked in the professional world for seven years or so that makes the next chapter feel so much more accessible and ripe for the taking,” he said. “My 20s felt like a lot of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ but now at its closing, I’ve now seen enough to realize no one truly knows what they are doing—which really frees you up to just do what you feel is right.”
At the same time, he also acknowledged a tangible increase in expectations: “Professionally, my peer set is beginning to ascend to leadership roles in their companies, or they’re just finally becoming doctors, or actually switching careers, and personally, weddings and babies and home purchases — the real kicker to us city-folk — are accelerating. That can amount to a lot of pressure.”
Still, even if similar pressures and emotional growth spurts occur across genders, the cultural messaging about women in their thirties is palpably greater in that it remains a significant topic of discussion. Without making too many generalizations, it seems likely that this cultural noise is to some extent a rebellion against the clichéd fear-mongering women experience around aging (i.e. not only is turning 30 “not so bad,” it’s actually GREAT). To that point, there’s a logical reason soundbites from celebrity women proclaiming the virtues of being thirty-something go viral. They suggest something radical: that leaving behind the pinnacle of youth embodied by your twenties isn’t a thing to be feared, but rather desired.
While any steps in the direction of more acceptance around women and aging are positive ones, it’s disappointing that the hype appears to cut off around 39. What’s more, many of the women I spoke with who had passed the threshold of their forties rejected outright the idea that their thirties were their “prime.”
“Based on my experience, the idea of an ultimate ‘prime’ seems wrong to me,” my mom said. “Perhaps it is a prime for some things (maybe physically speaking) but certainly not a prime for everything. I find new primes with each passing phase of my life, and I am certain that there are greater heights to come. Each stage has its own particular joys which makes me grateful for things that are as well as things that have passed.”
Sarah echoed this sentiment: “At 49, I took a hard won financial settlement from an unexpected divorce, moved across the country and bought and renovated a 100-year-old heritage building. At 53, I learned how to surf, and I can finally do a handstand. I have a lover who makes me laugh, and true friends. I revel in my adult children who are still teaching me about everything that matters.”
As for the rumor that your thirties are your sexual prime? “Sexual bliss comes much, much, later,” she said. “Trust me.”
Ultimately, ascribing any degree of universality to an experience that is innately diverse is a fool’s errand, but that is particularly true when the ascription is vague to begin with. What exactly is a “prime,” emotionally speaking? Professionally? Sexually? Not only will women’s answers vary, but they will also change over time — further proof that just as we contain multitudes, so do our lives, and our perspectives, and even our primes.
Feature photo by (c)Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection; Illustrations by Meredith Jensen.
We’re always being told that our twenties are the best years of our lives, but what if that is all about to change? It seems as though we’re settling down a lot older now, as opposed to getting married and buying homes in our 20s. Does this mean that actually, our 30s are the new 20s?
Working our way up
It used to be that people would find a job in their teenage years and stick with the same company and career until they retired. However, nowadays it seems as though we’re much happier to shop around for the dream job and then work our way up the career ladder. We’ve been told to chase our dreams, and many of us will continue searching for that dream job until well into our 20s. By the time we hit our 30s, we’ve got the career we’ve always wanted – and if not, we’re very close to finding it.
Hanging the party hat up
While it used to be that our party hats were well and truly hung up by the time we hit mid-20s, things are changing. People are partying a lot later into their lives now, as the need to settle down doesn’t seem to be as pressing as it used to be. However, when we hit our 30s, we’ve finally found the perfect balance between hitting the clubs and hitting the couch with Netflix and a tub of ice cream.
Teen and twenty years are tough when it comes to our self-confidence. We can spend a lot of time scrolling through Instagram and wishing we had the same bodies as the stars we see every day. However, by the time you hit your 30s, you realize that it really doesn’t matter. Self-love definitely starts to happen around this decade, which is something to look forward to.
Bucket list dreams
What is it you’ve always wanted to achieve? Maybe you want the marriage, the kids, the perfect house. Perhaps you want to see more of the world. With more money at our disposal and less partying to be done, those bucket list dreams become much more of a reality in our 30s. In our 20s, we’re still trying to work out on earth anyone gets by with all these bills to pay. However, by the time we hit our 30s, we’ve realized our dreams and hopefully have the finances to chase them.
Best friends forever
Another amazing thing that happens in your 30s is that you have fewer friends. “How is that amazing?!”, you ask. Well, when you hit your 30s, you tend to have found a better quality of friend. You cut out all of the negative people and surround yourself with real BFFs. These are the kind of people you’ll want to grow old with, and that will love and support you forever.
People used to say that your twenties were the best years of your life, but everything has changed now. Instead of dreading the big 3-0, it’s time to start embracing it instead.