I turned thirty today. Although the conventional thing would be to sigh ruefully and mutter something about being middle-aged, actually I think turning thirty is pretty awesome.
Fifteen years ago, if you’d asked me what it would feel like to be thirty years old, I’m not sure what I’d have said. I had a vague idea that I’d feel ‘grown up’ in 2016, whatever that means, and that some mysterious force would compel me to do things like read newspapers, be more conservative, have a mortgage, be just like every other adult. Because when you’re fifteen your worldview is based on comparing yourself to others. You don’t have the experience to look within yourself yet.
Young people struggle to comprehend how their own lives will change when they enter adulthood. For a kid – or even a teenager – adulthood is seen as a completely different state of being, a mysterious thing which has no bearing on their lives as they are now.
As I entered my twenties I was, technically, an adult. I worked for my living, had adult relationships and friendships, and I could vote. I enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy and used that freedom to the best of my abilities, doing crazy and dangerous things in the mountains. Of course, like every 21-year-old, I thought I was immortal. My opinions were often stupid, fleeting and contradictory. Worst of all, I still compared myself to others and did not yet have the self confidence to ignore the little voice that said Maybe you aren’t earning enough money. Shouldn’t you have an impressive career and a mortgage by now? Why are you wasting time climbing mountains and writing nonsense nobody will ever read? I was learning, but it took time.
I thought I knew a lot more than people twice my age, and yet I still didn’t think of myself as an adult. I didn’t feel any different. But as my twenties gradually progressed, I started to realise the truth: there is no sudden change, no moment when we stop and realise Hey, I’m a grown-up now! And I learned to stop comparing myself to others somewhere along the way.
You know what? As a thirty-year-old man, I still have the same freedoms I enjoyed when I was twenty-one. Because I have chosen my own priorities. I haven’t let others choose them for me.
Life is many things. Depending on your point of view it can feel like a treadmill, or perhaps a ladder. For some people it looks like one of those pyramid hierarchies depicting the medieval feudal order. I don’t think that world view will ever make you happy, because it’s impossible to climb to the top of the heap. There will always be someone else doing ‘better’ than you – and comparing yourself to others, to what you think society might expect of a person like you at your particular age, can lead only to anxiety and unhappiness.
As I enter my third decade on this earth I have come to realise that life is not a treadmill or a ladder, and the hierarchy is almost entirely an illusion. Life is more like a river. We flow from the person we used to be into the person we are now, and this continuous process doesn’t allow for suddenly turning into a grown-up, although there may be rapids along the way. We mature as things happen to us, as we accumulate experience and wisdom. But perhaps something within us always feels the same, and that’s why it feels surprising to think, Wow, I’m thirty! How did that happen?
I’m a lot more chilled out and confident now than I was ten years ago, or even five years ago – and I’m more humble too. Obviously, life is never perfect, and that’s why I continue to strive towards the goals I set myself. Getting complacent or lazy is never a good plan. But I have stopped comparing myself to others, I allow myself to acknowledge my achievements, I’m better at taking advantage of opportunities, and I don’t worry unduly about what might lie ahead. The best view is back up the river, looking back to the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated already.
So, for me, being thirty is about being a more rounded human being. You won’t hear me complaining about being ‘old’, because I know my life is better now than it was in my twenties. I hope it’ll continue to get better still.
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