Transitioning from your 20s to your 30s, at least as a middle-class single white dude in the U.S., is an event marked by fear, loathing, and eventual acceptance. Even in your first year of being 30, you look around and realize things really aren’t so bad, age is just a number. Sure, if your life truly sucks or you haven’t reached certain arbitrary milestones, the going can get mentally tough, but really, the grass is still green, Rice Krispies taste much the same as they did a year ago, and sales clerks and waiters still regard you very much like they always have. Soon, you forget you’re 30 and resume drowning in everyday anxieties and exulting in occasional triumphs, like you always did.
By the second or third year of the fourth decade of your life, you actually start to get the swing of this 30s business. Maybe people are taking you more seriously, maybe you’ve stepped up your social and professional games. One day, you might even find you’re not so obsessed with where you stand in that class you’re taking, where your coworkers see you in the pecking order, or whether you followed protocol correctly on that first-second-third date. Well, maybe you still do, but not as much. In fact, a lot of the things you used to obsess over seem silly, frivolous, nonessential. You wonder why you wasted so much time and energy on these trifles.
Then, as you cruise into your early-mid 30s, you almost start to celebrate this serendipitous, zen-like liberation from the blurry dread of your mid-20s. Sure the girl you really like not calling you back still stings…sure, the zombie pedestrians in the street still haven’t learned how to walk…and sure, you still don’t know your exact place in history and the universe, even if you did get a 10% raise last month. But HEY–hey–it’s cool, right? I mean, tomorrow is another day, and you’ve got more pocket money for better coffee. You can finally export that hike up the Inca trail from the bucket list of your online dating profile into a booked-and-paid-for reality. You’ve even got a gray hair it two, and you’re not sure if that’s the reason your boss is starting to regard you with more respect, but you’ll take it.
And then, at some point between 30 and that next signpost, 35, you get it in your head that, much like the president of the Hair Club for Men, you not only want to be a client, but also the president of the thirtysomething club. Suddenly, like a weirdo inspired by their visit to the Holy Land who now thinks they’re a Messiah, you want to preach the gospel of thirty.
Man, oh man, look at these kids today. Sitting there, fretting over their roommate situation…worrying about their rent, their looks, their talent. Don’t they KNOW?
Suddenly, you want to volunteer to save every anxious twentysomething soul that flits through your life on the way to dates, auditions, and job interviews, biting their fingernails, shifting their gaze nervously from side to side, sizing up the room, drinking away the night with exaggerated cheer.
“Chill, don’t worry. It gets better…it gets easier. Why are you shilling out hundreds of dollars for this comedy class? You’ve already got the talent.”
“Wait a couple more years, you’ll see how silly it all is.”
“You’ll find the right person, but you’ve got to look in the right places. Join a club, a class, what’s your passion?”
Even as you realize your self-serving sermons are a just a loud whimper through an impossible wormhole from a still uncertain future into a past long washed away, you try. You’re Cooper, banging against the back of the bookshelf, screaming across time at your old self, but you’re really talking to someone else, a real person with real thoughts and dreams and aspirations. Millennial, trillennial, whatever. They need to live their own life, their way, with their mistakes, and their own lessons. Don’t waste your breath, spend it on yourself. Reset the focus, figure out what’s driving you now, what mountains you’ve still to conquer.
You’re 34, and people live unbearably long these days. So stop being the village elder, Grandpa. Go learn a few new lessons, and maybe take advice from a few fourtysomethings. Sure, they’re strange, frightful creatures burdened with the weight of responsibilities and resignations, but maybe they have a thing or two to teach you yet. After all, you’re thirtysomething now, you’ve learned to listen. Right?