Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk amidst piles of client files, shuffling through them, making notes, organizing, I get the sense that I’m still just “playing doctor.” I suddenly feel like I’m back in my childhood home pretending to be a college professor with my old biology textbook and workbook exercises that I’m assigning to my imaginary students. 20 or so years later, I still feel like I have to play an adult.
I keep reading articles about things you’re supposed to know/have done by the time you’re 21, 25, 30 years old. Lists about what you can expect as you get older. Life lessons that you will some day be able to hand down to younger generations in all your glorious adult wisdom. So often, the lists leave me feeling… well, unaccomplished. I was apparently supposed to have traveled the world and had all these new experiences already. I’m supposedly able to balance my finances and stick to a budget. And I certainly should have this whole self-esteem thing conquered- women in their 30s are so confident! At least that’s what I’ve been reading.
But here’s what most of those lists won’t tell you- sometimes, when you’re feeling like a confident, self-loving 29 year old woman, something comes along and shakes you. Sometimes when you think you’ve learned your lessons about who to date and who to look out for, you make a big mistake that leaves you feeling like you’re 18 again. There are times when you feel like an expert and moments when you feel like a child learning to walk. One month you may save more money than you anticipated and feel like you’re right on track, and in the next, you somehow blow through your money and have nothing to show for it. I still have panicked moments when I think: “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.” It doesn’t matter how many times people express their admiration over me having my doctorate- sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night terrified that I forgot to make an edit on my dissertation.
This idea that maturity, happiness, having it all together, is a stable state to be reached is just a fallacy. And the idea that each age, with all its knowledge and wisdom, is like a new base camp to be reached is just not true. My external age is progressing at a steady rate, but my internal age fluctuates wildly. There are times when I feel 16 and times when I feel 80. It’s just a number with a lot of arbitrary expectations placed on it.
And that, my dear 20 year olds, is my life lesson on what life is like when you’re on the brink of turning 30.
Ok, so I suppose life lessons from older adults have been kind of helpful, so keep reading those lists and chugging your way through life. But when you read those lists, remember this- A former professor of mine who I hold in high regard once said to me- “I have a secret for you, the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing never goes away.” I walked away thinking “well that sucks.” But it’s kind of comforting to know.