A woman I love a lot, whose relationship blurs between “friend” and “family” (literally – she’s marrying my husband’s brother) posted on Facebook a To-Do List Before Turning 30. All of the people who are older than her insisted that this is a silly idea. Age is just a number, they said, an opinion I’ve noted most popular among those who have lived a greater-than-median number of years.
I also have a before-30 list. Mine is far less fun than hers, which was a collection of interesting experiences to have and desserts to eat. (She is, by far, more fun to spend time with.) I figured I might share it though, as I am interested in how other people approach their milestone birthdays. I hesitated to post this, fearing sharing it was more an exercise in narcissism – it’s my own life after all. Who cares besides me? At the same time, aging is a universal experience among the lucky, so why not.
In no particular order:
1. Figure out how to wear makeup in a flattering way. I am aware this is what most women’s teenage years are for. I was too busy wearing nothing but black and participating in my own alienation. In college I was resentful of the patriarchy (hey, still am) and expectations that I be beautiful, and so I did not use makeup for that reason. Now? Well, I’m now One of Those People, people who don’t sleep, courtesy of a 23 pound eight month old who is as adorable as he is inclined to wake frequently. I decided I am too old not to know how to paint my face, so with the help of Google, Youtube, and Buzzfeed, I’ve been figuring it out. I think I can cross this one off, actually.
2. Get rid of the clothes I don’t wear and only keep the ones that look great on me. This is called a capsule wardrobe, and I’ve more or less done it since I was a teenager. I don’t have a lot of clothes, and most of them are black. Most of them match each other. Yet. It took years of thrifting (I buy almost nothing new) to figure out what actually looks good on me, and then I had children. My body’s still a strange shape from having babies so I decided that my gift to myself before turning thirty was culling my wardrobe of the stuff that no longer works, or doesn’t fit.
I am really lucky here – I have a good friend who is the size of Thinner Me. Being able to give her many of my too-small clothes has made culling it less an exercise in trying to mute society’s voices about women of a certain size and more an exercise in gift-giving. She could be donating everything afterwards wondering why I have such bizarre taste in clothes. That’s her prerogative and I’m totally cool with it, but it’s been such a better process thinking “Oh, [name] might like this!”
3. Accept the inevitability of death. Y’all, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make this deadline. This is the root of all age-related anxiety, isn’t it? That our time is so short and our bodies are going to deteriorate (if we’re lucky to live long enough). I’m too old to pretend that death is something that happens to other people, and other people’s loved ones. It’s been clarifying thus far. I am embracing the ephemeral through my social media practices, which is liberating. The existential terror of knowing everything, and everyone you know, is temporary? Uh… about that.
4. Get better at letting go. It’s a combination of non-attachment and forgiveness of self and others. Once upon a time, I thought I was really good at not holding a grudge. I then learned that I wasn’t, it just so happened that few had angered me enough to be grudge-worthy. I also did not recognize how unreasonably high expectations for knowing things beyond my experience led me to begrudge myself rather harshly. I think I am improving, for a few reasons. One, I’m more discerning about my social circles, and slights from people outside of them? Whatever. The people in them? We’ve been able to work stuff out. Another thing that’s helped is having kids – my emotional energy goes mostly into them, and they provide a great lens for perspective. There are a few things I would like to leave in my twenties, all of which are some flavor of forgiving myself for stupidity or inexperience. Being on the older-end of 20s, I see that some times, but not all, I was too hard on myself for not understanding something or thinking I should be feeling something other than what I was. I am no longer holding my emotions to high moral standards. I am being real about what they are, and processing accordingly, that’s helping me let go of things. Recognizing that it is not completely possible to be the SuperWoman I aspire to be, and to be more compassionate to myself when I am not, has made me more effective as I accept my limitations. You can work with feelings and limitations that you’re brave enough to admit you have.
5. Get more sleep. Hahahahahahahaha I mean, a girl can dream, just not while she’s sleeping, because I’ve got babies.
6. Think ahead professionally. I have a fantastic job where I work with wonderful people doing meaningful and necessary work in ideal working conditions. It’s perfect, perfect for the moment. So on one hand, I am working to get better at it and learn more. As soon as I think I know what is going on… something else comes up. On the other hand, something this good risks complacency, and complacency kills creativity. I am old enough where I should have a 20 year plan and I should keep looking ahead, staying on top of the research, and figuring ways to do the work I do better and to figure out how I can keep adding to my community professionally.
7. Narrow my goals of what exactly it is that I want to accomplish in the community. I’m all about social justice. I’ve chosen to narrow that down to empowering the traditionally disempowered. Professionally, that means right now I’m working in homelessness alleviation. I dabbled a bit (I suppose that’s a fair way to describe it?) in other political stuff, and it is a useful somewhat-ongoing experience, in that it’s clarifying that I am not entirely sure what I am bringing to that table, or to the table of my community at large. I’ll always write about social justice, I’ll always be thinking about it, but what is my value-add to my community at large? What holes exist that I can put my talents to use? I have ideas, and by the time I am thirty, I want to have a clearer sense of something to explore, at least. I am old enough to realize that wide-eyed idealism is too naive to be practical, and to assess things a bit more accurately. I am also starting to see some glaring weaknesses in my social justice skill set. I need practice fundraising. I need to sharpen my political nose. I could stand to be better in the persuasion economy. These aren’t going to happen before I am thirty, but it is a goal for the next decade.
8. Relationship goals, writ large. Too personal to detail except that I have a happy family, with a happy spouse and happy kids, and so watching how we grow together. No one makes me feel so young and old simultaneously as my kids. I continue to seek to be a better member of my family, which is a learning process every day.
9. Re-anchor myself in my faith. To the extent that it is possible, I think can cross this one off. One of the ways that keeping my faith explicitly on my radar (it’s always implicitly there) is going to church. I tried to integrate into the nearby brick-and-mortar church’s community, but I came across a few structural obstacles, the greatest of which is my habit of taking weekends to visit out-of-town kin. Kin happens to be the reason we returned to New York State. Finding the challenge of becoming a member of a community without actually showing up to be a bit daunting, and because the friends and acquaintances I have in it are all fantastic people, I joined The Church of the Larger Fellowship. I am inspired by the work they do as a church, especially the prison ministry, and I am inspired by the faith-driven work of those involved in it. It’s not to say I won’t be darkening the door of the local brick-and-mortar churches when the opportunities present themselves; I will, but I am not relying on them for my spiritual anchor. I have been wondering what the implications of this mode of thinking could be if people started making such decisions en-mass; we’d need a new model of church.
10. Be OK with lists that are not an even ten items. Working on it.