The awkward thirties: Your initiation into middle age
Merriam-Webster defines awkward simply as not graceful; lacking skill; or difficult to use or handle. I’m in my thirties; and not particularly graceful or skilled at them, which makes for difficult handling. So lets talk about these awkward thirties. It’s become clear after many talks with thirty something year olds that these years can feel a bit like puberty in middle age. You begin showing physical signs of aging; you’re not quite sure where you fit anymore, and to top it off your relationships are shifting and changing dramatically. It’s a jolt to the system! It’s no surprise so many people in there thirties feel confused by it all.
You probably think your twenties were your “lost” decade; the years you wandered in search for purpose and meaning. However, I would argue that most twenty something year olds have direction [clumsy as it may be]. Whether it’s partying or college [or both], the climb up the corporate ladder, or the search for a partner; you have direction in your twenties, and it’s to figure out who you are and where you fit.
Then you reach your thirties and find yourself thinking, so this is it? The past three decades were spent getting here, now what? And what about those of us that haven’t yet discovered THE career or partner or haven’t decided if they want children. Or how about the ones that don’t want to go to the park with the mommies but don’t necessary want to go out and party either. Where do they fit? AWKWARD.
Your thirties feel like you’ve reached a plateau, only you can’t stop tripping over “imaginary” rocks, uneven cement and your own feet. The ordinary seems so HARD all of the sudden. How is this even possible? It’s possible because you are tackling new terrain and most likely all up in your head wishing it could be different. Until now you’ve been searching for joy in accomplishment [or lack thereof] or perhaps in other people. Here are my thoughts on why our thirties may actually be the transformative decade for sustaining joy.
“Well hello gray hairs [or no hair], fine lines,
muscle loss, and aches & pains.
Nice to meet ya.”
Your thirties make it clear that you are not getting younger. This is tricky because it wasn’t that long ago you were the hot 25 year old. You still feel that way…that is until you are asked by a twenty something year old whether you know what Instagram is. It’s then you realize you aren’t the youngest anymore or the oldest. You’ve reached the awkward middle-aged decade where you can still pull off a hip style without trying too hard; but have accepted that you aren’t fooling anyone younger.
In addition to your hair and skin changing, your body starts to experience the aches and pains of exercise, sports, and partying; you name it, your body starts to feel it! My thirty something friend [looking super cute the other night] illustrated this conundrum perfectly when she stated, “Now I just gotta look like my back isn’t killing me from cleaning all day”.
Here’s the silver lining [pun intended]. Your thirties invite you to embrace the human life cycle; and appreciate aging, which not all are afforded. Perhaps, this gentle reminder of mortality in your thirties is the perfect motivation to live a healthier lifestyle, honor physical limitations and personify Mystikal’s, “show me whatcha workin’ with” lyrics to STRUT YOUR STUFF! [Maybe that last one is just me]. Remember, it’s not the end; It’s still the beginning!
“Bye-bye group dating.
Hello mom and dad,
and anyone else who has time.”
Your physical appearance isn’t the only thing that transforms in your thirties. Relationships take new form as well. As you move into your thirties your once booming social group begins to shrink until it includes only a select few. But before you start to hate on this harsh reality, assume the best and chalk it up to the rise in work and family responsibilities during this decade. It’s true!
Although difficult, it’s important to give relationships the space necessary to evolve or fizzle out gracefully. Otherwise you wind up disgruntled and angry [i.e., thinking she is so lame now OR she doesn’t care about my kid]. On a positive note: I’ve seen how this relational shift can also result in the strengthening of relationships or the creation of new ones. Your support network [not social network] is what steps up when the party stops. The tightening of your social circle is a wonderful opportunity to share new experiences with a smaller audience. Your twenties are for grandstanding and living loud [appropriate for a larger crowd]. Your thirties are a more reflective period; a time to pause, reassess and regain clarity for what truly matters and brings you joy. Something a small group of quality friends and family can certainly help with.
And here’s an added bonus! With the social meter dialed down; your personal interests can dial up. You can pursue passions that were previously tossed aside in order to focus on social acceptance. I see this everywhere with my thirty something year old friends. Your thirties welcome the reemergence of creativity. This also provides you with quality friends that share your interests, which makes life that much sweeter. A double whammy!
Related post: http://blissfullyordinary.com/blog/move-with-the-flow/
“I feel like I should be doing more
but I don’t know what that is”
Your thirties have you sliding further away from early adulthood and into full-blown adulthood; therefore you find yourself once again [like in puberty] in-between stages. Until recently you’ve most likely focused on establishing your identity using goals and the accomplishment of these goals as the qualifiers. You may have been thinking [foolishly] life will be awesome when… You were hyper focused on the destination of where the accomplishment lands you; thinking this is where I will find joy. But now in your thirties you’ve come to understand that the journey [not the destination] is where all the yummy stuff is. Cool, awesome, great. Now your asking, “how do I practice this newfound wisdom?”
World-renowned psychologist, Erik Erikson [if still alive] would probably say “don’t fret”, and explain that you are totally normal and hitting your developmental milestones [way to go!]. His theory on the stages of psychosocial development includes the thirties as the closing period for “self” focused living and the initiation into “other” focused purpose. Basically you begin to think, how can I make this [my life] count for future generations? The alterative is stagnance over lack of productivity. Sheesh, no pressure! I mean, after all, what’s scarier than the sense of leaving nothing behind when you die? Not very much.
Relax! Here’s when I get on my soapbox and start my “take it easy on your self and chill, man” spiel. Now is the time to fuel up for that major undertaking. Take some time to STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES your efforts have helped to bloom. Practice gratitude for the ordinary things you take for granted but work hard for, like your job, having food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, a car that gets you from point A to B, and friends & family that love you. You don’t always have to be DOING or ACCOMPLISHING to be worthy of taking a pause. Savor these moments instead of compulsively finding a reason why you are not worthy of the delight.
By choosing to frame your thirties into a transformative period; one of reflection, authenticity and gratitude, you will likely gain clarity for what is the next best move for you in your life. And hey, it might be to do nothing at all. That’s cool too. Trust me. That’s probably enough anyway.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic? Especially if you’ve successfully graduated out of your thirties. How do you think today’s generation of ThirtySomething is different than previous generations?
[Copyright: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo]