Chick Wit: Becoming Thirty
You're reading this on my thirtieth birthday.
Thirty is a "milestone" birthday, but it's a confusing one, because it looks so different for different people. I have friends who are newly engaged and friends who are recently divorced, friends with kids heading to pre-school and friends just entering grad school. We all made very different choices in the last decade.
I was talking about this to my best friend, a woman I've known since we were ten, and she made a good point: for most of our childhoods and our young adult lives, we hit every milestone in stride with our peers. We all learned to parallel-park, badly, around sixteen. We took turns holding each other's hair back at twenty-one. We threw our caps in the air the year after.
The sameness was reassuring. No one had to go out on a limb to grow up. It just happened to us, together.
But after college, the choose-your-own-adventure stage of life begins.
People talk about your twenties like they're a wash, a lost decade of struggle and irresponsible fun, a time capsule for future nostalgia and regret and little else.
I did not find this to be true.
My twenties were a decade of decisions. After years of tracked steps to choreographed achievements, I emerged from college stunned by the terror and wonder of choice.
And it did start as terror. I was initially drawn to people and pathways that would make my decisions for me; a part of me wanted to be funneled into my future. Every choice seemed like an opportunity to make a mistake.
But then I just started making them, both choices and mistakes. You can't hide from decision-making forever. That life demands action is its saving grace.
So I decided where I wanted to live, what city, and what apartment. Then where I wanted to move when I couldn't live in that first place another month.
I decided what I wanted to do to make money, choosing which dream to make a professional reality and which to keep just for myself. Then I had to decide how to manage that money, what needs and treats to spend it on, and what new dreams to save up for.
I decided which friends were best for sharing drinks with and which were worthy of sharing secrets. I decided which friends would become family.
I decided which men to give my number and which ones to give my heart.
I can't say I decided whom to fall in love with, that part remains uncontrollable and magic.
But I did decide what to do after I fell in love, how to treat the men I loved so that they felt it in their bones, and how to treat them when the love wasn't enough to keep us together.
And with years of practice, I got comfortable with the business of making choices. I learned to value my own judgment as much if not more than someone else's. Of course it's important to be open to outside perspectives, but I don't think that's most young women's problem. We learn early how to view ourselves and our choices through other people's eyes.
In my twenties, I unlearned how to please everyone. I made peace with disagreement. I didn't always know for sure that I was right, but I decided to trust myself anyway.
So it was far from some careless period—I took all of these decisions seriously. Even when I made them badly, it wasn't for lack of trying. And when I got it really right or really wrong, I took note, all the while improving my personal algorithm for happiness, compassion, and success. I was building my own life's parameters for the first time.
My twenties were filled with the heavy work of deciding the person I want to be.
My thirties will be for becoming her.
This is not to say the choices are over. I still have plenty big ones, maybe the biggest, left to make. But I have a decade of trial and error behind me to help me decide. Now this new, wide-open decade doesn't feel so scary, it feels exciting. I know who I am, I know where I'm going, I'm ready.
So when I blow out my candles for thirty tonight, I won't be making wishes.
I'll be making plans.
© Francesca Serritella 2016