As of mid-November, I am now squarely in my mid-30s. I’ve discovered the magic of dressing for comfort. I buy under-eye concealer with vaguely insulting names like “Youth FX.” In my spare time, I like to research probiotics.
My 30s feel practical. Comfortable. Real. Not like the anxious, tipsy “real” of one’s 20s. This is a more honest, easygoing authenticity. So if I may be real for a minute, I’d like to declare that I really, really like my 30s. In fact, you can pry them from my slightly veiny but sufficiently moisturized hands.
To be fair, I am by no means in a perfectly confident, satisfied place, but I can firmly pinpoint some of the reasons I’m enjoying this particular decade — mid-life perks that have been echoed by girlfriends over a restrained glass of wine before a sensible bedtime.
In my 30s...
My flaws are becoming my friends.
I spent my 20s with an asterisk attached to my physical appearance. I was OK with my hair, but I wished it were thicker. I was fine with my face, but wouldn’t it be awesome if my nose were cuter and less marsupial? I was totally cool with everything, except for...everything.
But a few years ago, after discovering just how drastically having a baby changes your physical sense of self, a kind-of-simplistic notion hit me: this is who I am. And unless I’m willing to spend all of the money we don’t have on extensions, personal trainers and plastic surgery, this is who I’m always going to be.
For the first time, I get it. And for the first time, I’m totally cool with it too.
I genuinely like myself.
In childhood and early adolescence, I was weird and oblivious. I liked cartooning and comedy. I sucked at sports, dressed like a dork and genuinely didn’t care that I wasn’t hanging out with boys because look at these Sea Monkeys I just got! But somewhere in between then and now, I became aware of who I wasn’t hanging out with, what I wasn’t doing and what I didn’t have — and it was the absolute worst.
Cut to today: I couldn’t be more grateful for the strangeness I was able to cultivate so many years ago. I believe it’s made me a more creative, more empathetic, more open-minded adult, and I like that. I like me.
My happiness is less dependent on other people.
If you too are a lifelong people-pleaser, you know how hard it can be to feel happy and calm when you are worried about other people’s opinions, emotions and overall well-being. I have a tendency to internalize what I perceive other people to be thinking or feeling and carry it with me — stacked on my shoulders, stuffed in my purse, filling my pockets with undue stress.
But that stuff is super heavy, and it keeps me from feeling good about my own life, choices and opinions. Slowly (very slowly) but surely, I’m learning I can’t control what other people think or feel. That’s on them, plain and simple.
I appreciate boring things like solitude and moderation.
I’m pretty sure the pressures of young adulthood sometimes force us to override our natural tendencies and opt for what we think we’re supposed to like instead of what we actually enjoy. What actually brings us energy and peace. Turns out, I’m a morning person. I like alone time (as scarce as it may be). I like one or two drinks, early bedtimes and a party every once in a while. I crave quality over quantity — fewer overwhelming events, less small talk, more high-quality conversations with great girlfriends that leave me feeling refreshed, restored and understood.
“Life is short” has become more than just an adage.
Getting older. Losing loved ones. Having children. All of these things have been eye opening when it comes my understanding of the impermanence of life — and the value of time. In my 30s, I am getting better at using my time wisely. Sticking up for what I value. Making thoughtful choices about how I spend my days, and letting the rest fall away.
All of this comes with a huge, blinking disclaimer: I am not wise. I still, hopefully, have decades left in which I’ll learn more, gain a deeper level of self-awareness and possibly look back on my 30s and laugh. Because seriously, what did I know?
But for now, I do know this. This place in life: it feels good. Like a good pair of slipper socks on a Saturday night, it fits well. And in that way, it makes me look forward to things to come.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.