As someone who will be turning 29 in just a little over a month, I’ve been thinking more and more lately about where I will be in my life when I turn 30. Frankly, I wish I were turning 30 — particularly in my line of work, having a three in my age is extremely beneficial to being taken seriously and treated with respect. But I’m sure that’s a very 28-year-old thing to say, and that actually turning that age will come with its own attendant mini-crisis. I’m happy to be where I am, and don’t want to confuse “being thoughtful about where and who I am as I age” with “obsessing over an arbitrary number.”
But I think that a lot of that arbitrary obsession comes from this idea that the age must look a very specific way, that if we haven’t checked off a certain number of boxes on an imaginary checklist, we are disappointing ourselves — even if we’re happy with where we are. The age becomes fraught with a thousand expectations, many of which we didn’t even put on ourselves in the first place. We become obsessed with where someone else is at that age, where our parents were, the things we assumed at 20 would be important to us a decade later. And I think this way of seeing this (or any) age is profoundly unproductive, and sets us up to feel inadequate, no matter what we’re doing.
To that end, I want to welcome you to a new TFD series I’ve been excited about for a while, What 30 Really Looks Like! In this series, I want to talk to a wide variety of 30-year-olds — and I’ve already heard from so many, it’s difficult to keep up! — and ask them all about who they are at this age. Everyone approaches 30 differently, and wants different things from it, and had different expectations about exactly what it would look like. Hopefully, in getting a wider and more honest perspective about this age, we can all relax a bit in our fixations on what it will mean to us, or what we “have to” have accomplished by that point.
Our first 30-year-old is Danielle, a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. Here is our interview with Danielle:
1. Paint us a picture of your life right now, especially financially. Think things like: Where do you live? What do you do for work? Are you in a romantic relationship? Do you have kids? What is your salary or total income? What do you spend on rent? Do you have debt? Etc. Let us get to know you.
I live in BedStuy Brooklyn, New York with my three-year-old son and my partner. My partner is the father of my son and we’ve been together for four years, but we aren’t married and, honestly, don’t plan on it. Finances are definitely one of the reasons why we’re foregoing a wedding anytime soon, too. I am a lifestyle editor for a large digital media group, and I make around $70,000 a year. I’m also a reproductive rights advocate and public speaker, so I do a lot of volunteer work with Planned Parenthood, DayOne, Youth Voices Network, etc. My partner is a veteran of the United States Navy and is currently unemployed and going to school full-time to obtain his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. We’re able to save a significant amount of money on child care because he stays at home during the day to watch our son while I work, then I go home and watch our son while he goes to school at night.
We don’t get to spend a lot of one-on-one time at home as the result of our opposite schedules, but it’s a way for us to make sure our son is cared for by his parents while I continue to do what I love and my partner continues to further his education. Currently, I’m the only financial provider for my family, but my partner does receive a stipend from the United States government to attend school, and that definitely helps us pay our bills and buy groceries. Currently, our rent for a 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment is 1,950.00 a month.
My partner has a significant amount of credit card debt, about $10,000 in total. I was able to go to college on an academic scholarship, but my father took out student loans in my name as a means to supplement his income while I was going to school. I was naive, unsure of what exactly was happening or how it was going to impact my future financial situation, and signed a lot of papers as a freshman in college that allowed him to do so. So I have some college debt, as well was about $3,000 in credit card debt. For that reason, and because I am the only one working, I also supplement my income by freelance writing and securing other paying writing opportunities. We don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck, per say, but it’s close. For example, I don’t have a savings account to speak of, but I do know that our bills will be covered for the month, every month, with a little extra left over so we can do something fun around the city with our son.
2. At 20, where did you think you would be at 30? How close or far are you from that person?
When I was 20 I honestly saw myself as a single 30-year-old editor in New York City. Yes, I was obsessed with Sex & the City and, no, I am not sorry. I never wanted to get married or have children, so I didn’t really picture a house with a dog and 2.5 kids, or whatever. So I’m close to being the person I have always wanted to be, with the added bonus of having my family.
3. Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment where you felt “I am an adult now?” If so, what was it that made you feel that way?
Ha. I’m a working mother with a pretty decent career and sometimes I still find myself looking around the room, wondering when the adult is going to show up.
I will say that the days when I can wake up in the morning to cook my son breakfast, sit and actually enjoy it with him, make my partner coffee, answer some emails before getting ready to go to work, read a book on the way to work, actually make it to work on time and attend some meetings and publish something I’m particularly proud of while managing writers, then make it home early enough to see my partner for five minutes before I need to cook dinner, spend time with my son, put him to bed, and do some more work while watching Netflix with my partner after he comes home from his class, makes me feel like I’m an adult with a solid handle on things.
But like anyone else in life, at 30 I have my “big kid” days and my “holy shit I am not responsible enough to handle any of this” days. I don’t think there’s a certain age that magically provides you with all the self-esteem and confidence in the world. When I can go to Washington, D.C. and lobby for reproductive rights, I feel like I’m an adult. But 24-hours later you might find me binge-watching Sex & the City and stalking my ex online while silently cursing all my friends with parents who paid for them to travel overseas for months on end. It all depends on the day.
4. Tell us about your educational background — do you have a degree? If so, to what extent do you feel like you use it? Do you regret any of your educational choices, or feel particularly glad you made any of them?
I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Western Washington University, and I definitely use it every day as a writer and editor. I do regret going to post-baccelaurette teaching school after I graduated, then wasting so many years thinking I couldn’t actually become a writer and/or an editor. So many people told me the only thing I could do with an English degree was teach and, sadly, I believed them. So I went into a post-bacc teaching program that is worthless to me now, and spent time as a social media editor for various companies instead of trying to become a writer and editor. In so many ways, I feel like I had a late head start in my career.
5. Tell us about your relationships at 30, both romantic and platonic. What are your friendships like? Do you have more friends than at 20, or fewer? Is your romantic life what you thought it would be like? Socially, how active do you find yourself?
I definitely have fewer friends now than I did when I was 20, but these friendships are substantially more authentic, more meaningful, and more intimate. I have five very close, best friends, and then acquaintances that I can get along with great when and/or if I see them, but don’t rely on for emotional support. The only issue, sadly, is that when I took a job in New York City I left the majority of my friends back at home, in Seattle, WA. So it’s been difficult going through the trials and tribulations of life (recently, a miscarriage, but also the normal everyday annoyances that come with being an adult) while they’re so far away. Financially, none of us can afford to visit as often as we would want to, but we talk every day and/or almost every day, and those conversations have actually brought us closer together.
My romantic life isn’t what I thought it would look like at 30, only because I assumed I would be single and casually dating. But having a partner that I can do life, and parenthood, with, has really been a valuable part of not only my life, but my career. Working in media isn’t easy, so to have someone I can talk to, rely on, vent to, and who is constantly supporting my endeavors has been a big reason why I’ve been able to reach the goals I’ve set for myself.
But with the demands of parenthood, my job, my partner’s school, our opposite schedules, and the majority of my friends living across the country, I don’t think anyone would consider me to be “socially active.” I’m usually at home with my son, at home with my partner, or at home working when I’m not at work. And since I supplement my income with other writing assignments, I have obligations outside of my “day job” that I have to spend my evenings on. We also, as a family, can’t really afford to go out frequently in the city. We would rather stay home, just the three of us, and save money than pay for a babysitter and $15 cocktails.
6. In terms of career, what has been the best move or decision you’ve made in your professional life? Which one sticks out as the worst?
It will sound counterintuitive, at best, but the best decision I ever made for my professional life was deciding to work three really shitty jobs at once, including being a bartender at a strip club. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at 25, working three jobs and struggling to keep myself financially afloat while living in a studio apartment in Seattle, WA. Nothing about my lifestyle was healthy, including how often I was working, but it made me acutely aware of what I wanted, and did not want, for myself. It was impossible to remain complacent, because I could see what my life would look like if I did and I didn’t want that at all.
That situation was the reason why I started writing and submitting work online and taking chances that I would have normally been afraid to take. And that feeling — of working all the time, for shitty pay, at horrible places of business, barely able to pay rent, and washing my hair with hand soap because I was too poor to make a grocery store run — is why I eventually learned how to demand more for myself and my work. Working as a bartender at a strip club left me afraid of, honestly, very little else, including rejection. So I considered sending my work to editors to be child’s play when compared to what I was dealing with five nights a week. And now, asking for a raise or requiring time off isn’t as scary as the yeas when I was working 20 hour days.
And of course, moving to New York City has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I can’t think of a career choice that stands out as the worst, really. I know plenty of writers and editors who would say “agreeing to work for free,” but a piece I wrote for The Seattle Times, that I wasn’t paid for, catapulted my career. So did a few other articles I wrote for “exposure.” So even though I know I should be advocating for every writer to be paid (and they should be!) deciding to write for a few publications for free ended up helping my career, too.
7. What’s something you do now that you never would have seen yourself doing in your 20s? (Could be career-related, money, a hobby, personal care, etc.)
Becoming an advocate and public speaker. I honestly didn’t think I would have the platform that I do now, or be able to use it in this particular way and, especially, in a political climate like the one we’re currently navigating. I have always believed, even in a very romanticized way, in the power of words and writing, but to see my writing and editing career manifest itself into advocate work and public speaking engagements has been truly incredible.
8. What do you want your life to look like at 40? Do you think you’re on track to get there?
I want to be mangling editor and/or EIC somewhere, but if I’m still an editor at exactly the same place I’m at now, I’d be happy. I would like to have published another book and/or have my own column, I would like to have another child, and I would like to be financially capable of affording to provide my children with a top-notch education while simultaneously being able to afford to travel. I’ve never been overseas, as I’ve never been able to afford it, and getting to a financial place where I can do that is definitely a goal of mine I would like to reach in the near future.
I do think I’m on track to get to that place, too. I see these years, right now, as investment years for my partner and I. When I first had our son he was the one working and I was the one staying at home with our son while trying to establish some sort of writing career. He was investing in me and, in doing so, our future. Now he’s staying at home and working on his education while I’m the one working. I am investing in him and, in doing so, our future. So when he graduates and can secure a high-paying job out of college (fingers crossed!) I know that we’ll be in a better financial place than where we are right now.
9. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give anyone in their mid 20s who wants to feel more fulfilled and confident with themselves by 30?
You don’t have to be friends with people you don’t like, or who don’t like and support you. You don’t have to “hustle all the time.” You’re not a machine, you’re a human being. You don’t have to feel like you have it together in order to actually have it together. Consider these years, even the shittiest ones, as an investment. Sometimes the market that is your life will feel like it’s crashing, but eventually the market always rises. If you invest now, when the market starts to head north you’ll get to enjoy all the ways that hard work paid off.
(And don’t become obsessed with Sex & the City. There’s no goddamn way Carrie could have ever, ever afforded that apartment.)
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