Turning 30 this year was a surprisingly stressful time in my life. I always perceived my 20s as creating the foundation for my life as an adult. That was when I would try and stamp out who I was as an individual, as a worker, a friend, and a partner. The decisions I made in my 20s would shape me into a man I could be proud of in my 30s, and beyond. I expected my personal development to slow, as though I had already figured out what I needed to get the most out of life. As a lazy man, I didn’t want to have to put in too much work or effort. Just enough so I could get the things I valued most, mainly downtime to enjoy my hobbies and recharge my batteries. I have that now. My job is generally low-stress, I don’t need to take it home with me, I arrive at eight and leave at four Mondays to Fridays. If I had told myself that this is what I accomplished, 20-year-old me would say “mission successful.” Why is it not enough for me now at 30? Am I stuck on this path that, while comfortable, remains unfulfilling?
I didn’t have a life plan mapped out, but I knew I wanted to pursue higher education at University and get a bachelor’s degree. Doing so would put me on the “career path” rather than the “job path” so that afterward I could find something that provides enough to lead a relatively low-stress life. So, at 20 years old, I enrolled in University to get my BA in… I didn’t know yet. I didn’t have to declare a major or minor at that time and decided to just see what interested me. I knew all I wanted to get out of university was “a career.” I didn’t particularly care what it was, as long as I could go home at the end of the day and enjoy myself I would be happy to work a job I didn’t love. Not having a specific end goal in mind was a mistake. The absence of a concrete plan led to me not taking it seriously. I didn’t care if my grades in my anthropology class were poor, because I knew I wasn’t going to be an anthropologist. As the year went on, I then knew I wasn’t going to be a political scientist, an English major, or a historian, and suddenly I was on academic probation. Not a lot of people know this, but I was eventually kicked out due to academic standing. I tried my luck at a different school, but after a semester I dropped out, saving myself the embarrassment of repeating the same mistakes. There were other factors, including an unhealthy long-term relationship and its subsequent end that led to me not achieving what I knew I was capable of, but after the dust settled I knew I needed to take some time off and reflect.
My first attempt at school taught me valuable lessons. The most important was that I needed an attainable end goal. I needed that definitive something to work towards to motivate me to do well. The second was that the lack of structure in which I approached education was not sustainable with how I learned or worked. Picking classes and schedules based on my interests did not enable me to be the most successful that I could be. I knew that when the time came, I would approach school with a more disciplined mindset.
The long-term plan was always to go back to school, and eventually, I did. However, my sabbatical lasted longer than expected. I spent my time working a wonderful job as a server in a restaurant, with some of the best people I could ask for. My life was actually better than I expected it to be. I made enough for my own apartment, I had made some incredible friendships, the work was hard but not necessarily time-consuming. I was extremely happy for about four years. Then that little voice in the back of my head got louder, telling me that no, this wasn’t enough. I needed to get back on track and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
The foundations that I had created up to my now mid-20s led to the successes in my late 20s. I did go back to school, back to the same school I had flunked out of, and this time was able to graduate with distinctions. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications with a Major in Journalism. I was able to leverage that degree into a marketing position that I’ve been at for nearly three years. Now, at 30, that same little voice in the back of my head is getting louder once again. I know I’m not done yet.
I decided, once again, to go back to school. Rather than looking for something that would get me “a career that would provide enough” I know I want to find something that is fulfilling. Something that will make a difference, that will hopefully make the world just a little bit better. Going for a Master’s degree was something I never intended, even though I know that door was open to me based on the grades I had achieved. I knew I would be able to fulfill my goal of living a comfortable, lazy life with the education I had received. And I have. I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life, we own a beautiful home together and have the sweetest dog. I have accomplished the goals that I had set out for myself. What I never expected was for those goals to change.
So, at 30, I’m deciding to reinvent myself. There’s still so much that I want to be able to achieve, hobbies I want to try, and so much left to learn. We are truly lucky to live in a world where so much is attainable to us, provided we have the motivation to pursue them. It is easy to learn new things, but so much harder to get up and get started. I have learned so much in the last decade. I have created for myself a solid foundation on which I can continue to grow.
So to answer the question, yes I believe you can reinvent yourself in your 30s. And in your 40s, and 50s because life is about learning. Life is about figuring out what works for you, and more importantly, figuring out what doesn’t work and having the discipline to change it. It takes courage to look inward and say this is not working for me anymore. Your changes don’t have to be as drastic as mine; it could be as simple as saying these pants aren’t working for me anymore, and going out and finding a new pair of Levi’s. That realization prompted action, and admitting to yourself that something is not working is also telling yourself that you are ready to change that thing.
I recognize now, at 30, that the foundation I started building in my 20s is not yet complete. And, while solid, it continues to want to grow bigger. I wonder what my goals will be at 40?