Thinking back to my 20s, I was living for the moment. Not in the cool and mindful “I’m so present in the moment” way, but more like I lived for the weekend. Where were my friends and I going out that night? Who were we going to meet? What were we going to do? My life revolved around these three questions. It was carpe diem all the way, with no commendable philosophical merit whatsoever. I lived in a bubble-like world, akin to Bachelor in Paradise, and although I had access to social media, current events seemed to have very little impact on my own small world. You could say I was self-centered, self-involved, or really any other self-adjective—and I would say you were right.
Then, I got married, had babies, turned 30 . . . 32 . . . and grew up—sort of.
Here are five truths I’ve learned in my 30s (so far).
1. Adults are just grown-up kids.
You know how when you’re growing up, you look up to adults and think they’ve got it all figured out, and you’re just waiting to finally arrive at that point in your life?
Yeah, that point doesn’t exist.
When I was in second grade, I overheard my mom talking with another parent at morning drop-off. This parent felt bad because she was purposely being excluded from the school’s PTA group. I remember thinking to myself it just had to be some misunderstanding. I mean, I had 7- and 8-year-old girls in my class doing the same thing to me—surely these 30-something moms weren’t STILL acting like this?! Ahh, so young, so naïve, so full of hope.
This realization that adults are just grown-up kids is a good news-bad news truth. Yes, some adults don’t ever seem to fully mature—there will always be lies and gossip and exclusion and mean-girl stuff. Anything you dealt with in junior high, you will continue to encounter throughout your adult life. But the cool thing is you don’t have to sit with it . . . unless drama’s your thing, of course.
And if there’s a bad side to being kid-like, there’s also a good side. That awkward, gangly 10-year-old girl inside of you will still make up impromptu interpretive dances to Taylor Swift songs (keep ‘em comin’ T.!), but now you might have a toddler by your side, clumsily dancing with you. That emo preteen will still love blasting Fall Out Boy while singing at the top of her lungs, albeit on her way to the grocery store sans kids . . . but still. That irresponsible 20-something will still live for a good laugh with friends, the kind that makes you feel like you just got in a CrossFit ab workout, but this time around it’s probably genuine and not because everything is funny after your third shot of tequila.
So yes, on the outside you may see a tax-filing, baby-raising, independent woman, but her inner kid is still in there, like a lifelong ride-or-die.
2. People change.
I know this one may sound contradictory since I literally just said adults are grown-up kids—but hear me out.
While I do believe our inner child never fully leaves, I don’t think I’ve experienced more growth and change than I have from my early 20s to my early 30s. A solid decade.
I mean, think about it. From one’s 20s to 30s, many of us go from single, living on our own, figuring out the basics of adulting to marriage, babies, and a mortgage. While I fully recognize this isn’t every woman’s story, I have realized the sheer emotional growth and maturity caused by said life-altering events (in such a relatively short time span) is significant enough to prove we can change, we can grow, we can evolve.
The girl who would impulsively get tattoos with her roommates on the weekends now thoroughly researches anything she puts in or on her body. The girl who was known for drama and deep-seated trust issues is now happily and confidently married. The girl who slept through most Sundays after a night downtown now has her family up and ready for church at 9 a.m. The girl who blew off her friends for boys now has a sisterhood of amazing women in her life. Oh, and that immature, self-obsessed girl is now selflessly raising two beautiful babies.
Life experience changes people—something I believed false until it became my own truth.
3. Ordinary is extraordinary.
My first year away at college, I lived with three other girls in a dorm room. One of the girls came to the United States from Indonesia where she had lived in a palace-like home with a hired staff. Her parents drove luxury cars and she had designer everything. As a 19-year-old, this lifestyle enamored and excited me. I wanted to know every detail about her glamorous life, she was a semi-celebrity in my mind, and I found myself daydreaming about what it must be like to have a life like hers.
I had already committed myself to a teaching degree and, well, we all know how good the money is in that profession, so I decided I’d marry a businessman. He’d quickly work his way up to the top and be CEO of some Fortune 500 company, making Forbes 30 Under 30 list. We’d live in a penthouse in the city, go to glamorous galas and noble fundraisers, and we’d vacation in the Hamptons. Done and done.
Remember when I said people change? Still true. As I grew up, I realized that though I’m a city girl at heart, I craved a much simpler life. When I was 24, I met a small-town farm boy at college. We were complete opposites in every way, but like any cheesy city girl meets country boy Hallmark movie, it somehow worked. We were married a year later, had babies, and moved to a town of 2,100 people, where we are currently living what most people would call a very ordinary life.
My favorite memories aren’t lavish and they definitely aren’t glamorous—they’re moments that would appear insignificant to the untrained eye. An undeserved “you’re the best mommy in the world,” a perfectly-timed hug at the end of a long day, an imperfectly drawn stick figure family—all evidence points to this truth: The ordinary things, the little moments—those are what create an extraordinary life of big love.
So, I guess this one ends the way all those Hallmark movies do—big city businessman misses out, and city girl lives happily ever after with her country boy soulmate in his small town. I think they just might be onto something after all.
4. Your comfort zone shrinks.
Hopping on a flight to another state to visit a fling and telling no one about it, allowing a newbie tattoo artist (I use that term very loosely in this case) to freehand on your wrist, inviting friends of friends of friends (a.k.a strangers) to come to a party at your apartment, choosing to buy designer shoes when your rent is due in a week—all things currently (and now, forever) outside my comfort zone.
It’s a fact that your brain—specifically your prefrontal cortex, the part responsible for controlling impulses and behavior—isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. Cue risky behaviors and bad decisions. So, while society may view adults at age 18, most of us have at least another half a decade of growing up to still do.
They say the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. While I won’t disagree with that statement, I will say I’ve experienced enough magic for at least the rest of this decade. I’m perfectly content holing up in my tiny circle of a comfort zone and, on occasion, dipping my toe outside of it (you know, to try a new restaurant or something).
5. Life is complicated.
“You can only get drunk once. On this kind of naivety.” I heard this lyric in a Sam Hunt song and man did it hit. Everything in your 20s seems so black and white. You have almost zero world experience, you think you know who you are, but you actually don’t, real-world problems don’t seem to apply to you yet, and you have a running list of things you swear you’ll never do as an adult and/or parent.
And then adulthood kicks in, followed by parenthood, or maybe vice versa—either way, your little bubble pops, and you realize life can no longer be reduced to this or that, good or bad. It’s just not that simple.
My parents divorced when I was in junior high. I saw my dad every other weekend on Sundays for lunch and on Christmas Day. I held onto anger and resentment toward him throughout my adolescence and into my young adulthood. Why did he never seem to want to talk to me on the phone? Why didn’t he invite me to his house? Why didn’t he ever look happy to see me? Throughout those years, I told myself he just wasn’t a good dad, and that was that.
Until it wasn’t. Until I grew up.
When I was 28 years old, my dad passed away unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. He died alone in his bedroom in the early hours of the morning. I had seen him a week earlier, as was our Christmas tradition, and spent an hour alone with him in the basement of my grandma’s house, helping him figure out how to access his email account. He had debilitating anxiety his entire life, something I never fully understood the depths of until that moment, watching him become physically ill over not being able to recover his email account’s password. My son was 17-months at the time, and I was at the peak of postpartum anxiety myself. For the first time in my life, I saw my dad for who he really was, a good man with a heavy cross. And, for the first time in my life, I had compassion, empathy, and understanding. A week later he was gone.
As my sister went through his belongings in the days after his death, she found that his house was filled with photos of her and me and our kids. Every end table in his house was covered with framed photos of us and our families. He had kept every single card, drawing, and gift we made for him as kids. He had well-loved Bibles and prayer books with creased pages from habitual use. The only money he ever spent was on charitable donations. He lived small and loved big.
The fact that life is complicated may be the biggest truth I’ve learned thus far. It’s one that riddled me with guilt from my youthful naivety. But while it was a painful pill to swallow, it was also medicinal. It cured me of my immature and narrow worldview. It allowed me to love people without passing judgment, to care for those without qualifying expectations.
As I approach my mid-30s, I wonder if I’ll discover more truths from this decade into the next. I guess I’ll let you know when I get there. Until then, my faded tattoos and beautiful babies will continue to remind me of how far I’ve come and how far I can go.