Contributed by Teresa Schneider
On a recent socially-distanced walk with 2 girlfriends, one of my friends shared that she was considering turning down a job offer in a new, exciting industry she was highly qualified for while we both nodded sympathetically, even encouragingly. At that moment, despite agreeing with my friend’s rationale - she needed her energy for her 2 young kids and surviving the pandemic - all I could think was how much my 20-something self would have been shocked at this turn of events. My other friend was planning on leaving her profession altogether. I, myself, had just committed to scaling back my hours in a business I co-founded to 30 hours a week for the sake of my mental health. Why weren’t we - educated, strong, intelligent women - all leaning in?
The pandemic and financial reasons aside, I reflected on other things myself and my collective social circle had endured; miscarriages, divorces, the workplace motherhood penalty, anxiety and depression.
So I turned to my friends and lamented - why did not one warn us that our 30’s would be so hard?
Each decade of a woman’s life is stereotyped in it’s own way; the teens are for rebelling; the 20’s are for partying, college, and finding a career; the 30’s are for settling down, and the 40’s are for mid-life crises and PTA meetings. The 30’s appear to be a quaint lull in activity between the twin peaks of the first burst of adult freedom and the drudgery of adulting.
We all come about our lives with different timing, but I couldn’t help but be struck with the monumental shifts my friends and I were going through. The 30’s have clearly not been given their due! The truth is, we needed every little bit of strength we had to get through each day. The tool set we need to survive each decade, each phase of life, changes as our lives do.
The stereotypes do little justice to the realities of growing up. For many, the 30’s are when we transition from caring just for ourselves (not that we did that so well in our 20’s!) to caring for other people. Partners, children, and aging parents all potentially enter the picture, sometimes all at once, and none come with comprehensive guidebooks (or the energy to read them, let alone act on them). The self-care of our 20’s no longer works (enter the Disheveled Wine Mom meme) so our support systems for ourselves - as well as our families - need a complete overhaul.
It all sounds so predictable, but the truth is it blindsided me and many of my friends. We slowly evolved into new people with new needs. I jokingly tell people that my 20’s something self would have rolled her eyes at two of the things I treasure most in my 30’s: exercise and therapy.
At 38, I’m not sure I’ve really gathered all the coping strategies I need to survive my 30’s; who knows what is around the next corner? But I do know that all those hard times helped me find some strategies, which is a lot more than I had in my 20’s. It’s a journey, unexpected in many ways, and a welcome one; even if I had been warned, I wouldn’t have internalized what was really coming.
Would we do it all again? Absolutely! Challenge begets reward, and I’ve never felt so grateful as I have in my 30’s. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy, or simple, or all that much fun.
Now someone please tell us what is coming in our 40’s?