This Saturday, I turn 30 years old. The beginning of a new decade.
So far, I have managed to pass most of the year without overanalyzing how I feel about turning 30, but this week it became almost impossible for me to continue ignoring the fact that it is happening. I am entering my 30’s how most young women dream of; unemployed and homeless.
Of course, I realize it is not as dramatic as all that, and it is a very literal (also, negative) way of looking at my situation. I try to remind myself that I should be nothing but thankful when I make it to another birthday when there are so many people that do not get the chance to live to 30. Each day I am alive and healthy is a day to be grateful.
But, still. It’s 30. All the positive thinking in the world still didn’t stop me from spending the morning googling articles about successful people who didn’t hit their stride until after they turned 30.
I keep thinking about all the shows and movies I watched growing up when characters hit 30: Rachel on Friends freaking out over where she is at 30 compared to everyone else, then frantically planning out how she was going to make her dream of having kids happen within the next 5 years; when Jennifer Garner’s character on 13 going on 30 dreams of being ‘thirty, flirty, and thriving‘ and gets transported into life at 30 only to find herself having grown up to be a huge jerk at the helm of a major advertising company. Also, realizing that Danny Tanner was only 29 years old in season one of Full House, and they celebrated his 30th birthday in episode 11, meaning that he was a father of three with a giant house in San Francisco and a booming journalism career all before the age of 30.
Back then, 30 seemed so grown up, and a lifetime away. Now, 30 feels so much younger than I thought it would, and it seems that nobody has life all figured out at this point. As excited as I am to find out what this next decade has in store, there is part of me that feels sad and nostalgic to leave my 20’s behind.
These past 10 years were some of the best of my life, filled with so much adventure, growth, and friendship that I felt the need to honor it in some way. So I decided to do what I have been doing so often on this blog, which is make a list.
I have made a list of the 5 most influential moments of my 20’s. Some of these moments were amazing, some were extremely difficult, but all of them had some type of major impact on my life.
1.My First Solo Trip Abroad: Africa
When I was 21, I took my first trip abroad by myself. I decided to spend 6 weeks volunteering in South Africa, after which my best friend would join me for three weeks camping through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. It was the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college and I was itching to throw myself out of my comfort zone.
It took several months of saving and planning, but it just so happened that a few weeks before I left for my trip, I went through some extremely difficult things in my personal life. I seriously considered backing out of the trip due to my emotional state.
I am not quite sure how or why I decided to force myself to go (my best guess is the thousands of dollars already spent on the flights and volunteer program). I arrived in South Africa at one of my lowest points and spent the first couple of days crying in a run down hostel while trying to talk myself out of flying home. Every single moment, I asked myself “What the hell were you thinking?!” Each day was a huge effort for me just to step outside of my comfort zone (not to mention my room), when all I wanted to do was get back on the first flight home.
It took a couple of weeks but slowly, I found myself getting stronger and finding courage where I honestly had no idea it existed. I could write about this experience ad nauseam because of what it did for me (I promise, I wont), but at the end of my 2 1/2 months away from home, I arrived back in Indiana a completely different person than the girl who had left.
This trip taught me so much about myself, about my personal limits and my ability to stand on my own two feet. I left Africa feeling like there was nothing in the world I couldn’t do if I worked hard enough. It also cemented the fact that I wanted to travel as much as I could in my lifetime. Although I wasn’t sure how I would make it happen, I trusted that after this trip, I would find a way.
2. Living and working overseas post-college: Thailand
My original plan after college was to get a job, save as much as I could, and travel the world. What I did not plan for, was graduating at the height of the recession and that employers wouldn’t exactly be fighting over a 22 year old with a Communications degree. I applied to what felt like hundreds of jobs, and got zero interviews.
I started reading about people having success moving overseas and finding jobs, and teaching abroad seemed like the perfect way to gain work experience, travel, and earn money at the same time. So, as a fresh college graduate, I signed up to get TEFL certified and a month later, I was on a plane to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
After 3 weeks of training, I was placed at a private school in Bangkok. I spent 8 months living and working; attempting to keep my head above water and teaching English to Thai high school students. This was followed by 6 weeks traveling through Southeast Asia.
This time in my life is what I sometimes consider the most wild and carefree period of my life, and also the most aimless. Looking back now, I cringe at some of the ridiculous things that I did, and in all the ways I was the most irresponsible traveller (like stupidly riding elephants). Much of what I learned from this trip happened after I got home. One of my goals this year is to travel much more responsibly and educate myself so much more on the activities that I participate in. Since I have had some major personal shifts in my beliefs towards tourism since then, this will serve as a small apology to the earth for how reckless I was.
3. Settling Down and Finding Balance: Chicago
After Thailand, I returned home determined to find work and move to Chicago. I was ready to start building my life and to stay in one place for awhile. After a few short stints at really horrible jobs, I nailed down an entry-level job at what was my dream company at the time.
From 24-29, Chicago is where I put down roots. I learned how to become a responsible, fully functioning adult. I worked hard, enjoyed all the city has to offer, moved in with my husband for the first time, and cemented some of the most important relationships in my life. I really can’t put into words what my time in Chicago has done for me as a person (so I won’t try right now), but it is very safe to say this is not the last you will be hearing on this topic.
4. Taking a Major Risk and Failing: Turkey
It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world, and for Al and I to do it together, as I have mentioned a painful amount of times, so I think everyone gets the point. What I haven’t yet mentioned here (or really anywhere) is that this is not the first time Al and I have attempted to live out our dream of travel.
Back in 2012, we left our jobs and moved to Turkey. The plan was to teach English, work and save, and then do a road trip around Europe together. Yes, that’s right. We went through the whole thing before: moving out, saying goodbye to friends, getting rid of all of our stuff, finding work in Turkey, I even started a blog about it.
After a few weeks in Istanbul, several things started to unravel, and rapidly. Due to a multitude of circumstances, we had to come home. We returned to our jobs, our lives in Chicago, and I tried to forget the entire thing.
Essentially, we took a leap and fell flat on our faces. I will never forget the feeling of arriving back in Chicago after everything went down, feeling like Al and I had not only failed, but that we had lost our one chance at traveling the world. I tried breaking the wheel, and I paid the price for it. As a result, I felt that it was time for me to permanently lock away my travel dreams.
So, that’s what I did. For a really long time, I let what happened in Turkey define how I saw the world, how I made decisions, and how I saw myself. I pushed down my dream as far as it could go, then put a stack of books on top of it, and then I sat on top of the stack of books so that it couldn’t try and wrestle its way out again.
It sounds cliché, but it really did just hit me one day like a bolt of lightening; that I was letting this one failure control me and dictate my life and I wasn’t willing to give it any more energy. I knew that no matter how far I pushed down my dream, that it would never go away. Instead, it would become like a weed growing inside of me; making me miserable until I paid attention to it.
So, we started again. Only this time around, we’re doing it better than the first time. And now that we’re making it happen, it feels all the more sweeter accomplishing a dream after having to work so much harder for it. I can’t believe that I ever doubted my decision to try again.
Turkey taught me that my failures don’t define me, no matter how big it may seem at the time. How I handle the aftermath of failure is more important. If I really want something, I have to keep trying and believe that I can get it done. It also taught me that I’m apparently really stubborn when it comes to getting what I want.
Maybe one day I’ll get around to writing about that experience more in depth.
5. Getting Married: Chicago
Even though Al and I had been together for almost the entirety of my 20’s, I still had to put our decision to get married on the list.
Our wedding itself was one of my favorite days, but I realize that choosing to get married is much deeper than one really fun day of celebrating. I can’t really think of a decision that is more impactful than deciding you are going to share your life with another person. The person you choose is the person that is going to lift you up, help you grow, and be by your side during the hard stuff. It took my almost all of my 20’s to truly understand the value and importance of a decision like this, and why it was something that I wanted to do. It also helps when you have the best person in the world as your partner (I may be biased).
I feel slightly better after having written this list. It felt like a send-off to let my 20’s know how thankful I am for everything they taught me, and for the best years of my life (so far), even when I felt like I was getting pummeled in the face at times.
Alright 30, let’s do this.