1. Cut something out of my diet.
Perhaps it’s just my point of view (and I fully admit here that my dual interests in intermittent fasting and, now, Pilates, have made me a prime target on the algorithms for spurious nutritional and fitness advice), but it seems that in the past 10 years especially, there has been a movement in the diet community that has re-centered the entire conversation from “Eat less and move more!” to “Stop eating this one particular thing but then eat UNGODLY AMOUNTS of these other things!!!!” There are the people who will not come within ten feet of a carbohydrate yet Instagram photos of their keto-approved dinners, consisting of the better part of a cow, wrapped in bacon and surrounded by a few under-seasoned vegetables. There is the gluten-spurning crowd who have managed to blame every ailment from sore joints to clinical depression to pink eye on the substance, and will drive a restaurant’s Yelp score into the ground if they refuse to carry sufficient gluten-free options. There are the vegan recreationists, who in their quest to reconstruct every conceivable junk food using only plant-based products probably consume a cup and a half of coconut oil every day. There are the devotees of Whole 30 as an ongoing lifestyle, who essentially refuse to consume anything that brings human beings joy but are a-okay to eat 40 shrimp in one sitting. There are even the fruitarians, who promote a sugar-based diet for health reasons and should honestly be arrested.
It’s a wild, un-followable pendulum swing of conflicting advice, dubious medical claims, and an infuriatingly-vague focus on words like “clean,” “toxins,” and “cleanse,” in large part because it’s become completely taboo to just say you want to consume a bit less and weigh a bit less. It’s about radically narrowing the scope of what we eat so that we can continue to consume massive amounts of certain things, rather than moving towards a lifestyle in which a bit of everything, and an excess of nothing, is the sustainable goal. And I guess I felt that, because of these diets’ ubiquity, I would find myself eventually cutting something out of my own diet, either in a quest to achieve some otherwise-elusive bodily result or to feel the intangible benefit of “eating clean,” by some definition. But nope, I’m over three years strong on IF, and all it means is that I don’t eat for about 17 hours a day, and in the window I do, I eat a light lunch, and then basically whatever I want for dinner. Everything is game, everything is in moderation, and nothing is The One Evil Food That Is Ruining My Life, as so many of these diets insist on identifying. I’m going into my 30s like Jerry Seinfeld in first class: More of everything!
2. Have kids.
Now here is the thing with this one: I actually don’t want kids generally, but I do realize that for an increasing number of people, the expectation that you would have kids before the age of 30 is becoming kind of obsolete. For many people, though — myself included, for a long time — I think the age at which people always assumed they would have kids was the age at which their parents had them, which for me would be 27 and, lol. That clearly did not happen. I’m maybe a unique case, in that I’ve more or less always known I was not as much of a kids person as most — I told my parents from a younger age than most people probably consider these things that my plan was to only have one, and to adopt her (I always specified it would be a little girl from a country that tends not to love having them), and I held to that theory well into my early 20s. But the older I’ve gotten (and after five years of working in both part-time and full-time childcare), I’ve settled into a more solid feeling of “not for moi.”
And it’s funny, because when you tell people “I don’t think I would be a good mother,” people go out of their way to reassure you that this is not the case, no matter how convincing your argument or how deeply-held your conviction. But if you were to say, for example, “I don’t think I would be a good volleyball player,” no one would contest it — they would trust your analysis of your own abilities and desires. Yet with becoming a parent, arguably the most important and life-altering decision one can make, everyone seems to think that the goal should be to convince everyone even remotely on the fence that it’s the right choice for them, as if it were some sort of small-town mayoral election. Frankly, it’s maybe that exact dynamic that has made me increasingly sure as I’ve gotten older that it isn’t for me: we are so surrounded by a narrative that this is our only destiny that it can be very difficult to tell if it is what you actually want. So if, in spite of the incredible amount of have-a-kid noise, you feel that it’s not really for you: fucking listen to that instinct.
3. Stop having acne.
I honestly feel like the past two decades of my life have been one long, protracted conversation with myself about the imagined date at which I will suddenly have good skin. In my early teens it was “By graduation my skin will definitely have cleared up.” At 18 it was “For sure my skin is going to be good by 22 — that’s the college-grad age. College grads don’t have acne.” (Joke is on me, as I very much did have acne at 22 and also never graduated from college.) Then at 22 my feeling was “Hey come on by 25 at least, 25 is a respectable adult age at which you don’t have acne.” And you can probably extrapolate from here that at 25 I was convinced that my 30-year-old self was going to be clear-skinned and dewy every single morning with little-to-no-effort. And yet here I am, almost exactly 29-and-a-half to the day, and there is absolutely no way that my wildly unpredictable, often acne-peppered face is somehow going to clear up in the next six months. I still get breakouts, I still have rosacea, I still get weird dry patches that seem entirely resistant to every form of moisturizer, including the incredibly-expensive varieties I have been tricked into purchasing by various Sephora associates. I am just going to be a Person With Bad Skin. They are going to lower me into the grave with my acne-spotted face covered by the very specific makeup instructions I provided to the funeral home. (Just kidding, I will be cremated.)
The point is, while some people seem to grow out of their acne issues somewhere in the dignified early-20s realm, or at the very least find a skincare routine that approximates that effortless good skin, I am going to be stuck in this face, with these issues, for the indefinite future. And while, yes, there are certain dietary choices I could probably make to relieve this somewhat — more than one doctor has told me that dairy could be contributing to my skin inflammation — I would rather be a literal gargoyle than give up cheese or ice cream. So I guess I have no right to complain, but I still feel slightly robbed that I’ll be going into my 30s playing roulette every morning with the bathroom mirror. Sigh.
4. Own a home.
Obviously, in my case, a large part of this has to do with the fact that I’ve lived in New York City for the past four-plus years, which means that my home-buying options are inherently limited by a) the eye-watering real estate prices here, and b) my completely nonexistent desire to stay in New York City long-term. (That’s how fucking expensive this city is: a married couple with dual incomes, good jobs here, and no desire to have kids are like “We can’t get enough space for our needs at a good price.”) And I’m not even someone who wants a particularly big home. Basically anything over “exactly big enough for all our stuff, with a nice guest room for when friends and family visit” feels wasteful and difficult to keep clean, and I’ve never had a desire for a lawn. So the sitcom-esque “home” that one might picture when thinking of “buying a home” as a concept is not something I’ve ever even considered. But I guess there was always some part of me that thought, even if it was just a little apartment with enough space on the fire escape to grow some herbs, I probably would have acquired property by 30.
I’ve learned over the past few years, though, that buying a home is much like having a kid: you should not do it for any other reason than it is the absolute right decision for you, and you are ready to commit to the idea for a long fucking time. There are a lot of costs you simply don’t prepare for when thinking about taking on a mortgage, and most of the benefits that come along with home-buying from a tax perspective only apply if it is your primary residence, so you better be ready to stay in that house for a long-ass time. Not to mention, in cities like New York, even if you did decide to rent out your home (assuming you were renting properly and not just Airbnb-ing your place to maximize revenue), there is a strong chance you will collect less in rent per month than you are paying in mortgage, taxes, and fees when all is said and done. So this childish image I had in my head of “buying a house automatically = a good decision” was very much not based in reality. It can be a good decision, but only under the right circumstances, and it’s certainly not the only intelligent thing you can do with your money from a long-term perspective. Quite frankly, I feel grateful as hell not to own a home at this juncture.
5. Have an “adult” wardrobe.
Basically, I have a pet theory that no one ever truly, fully likes their wardrobe. And I say this because, though I’ve been on a concerted path to refine and curate what I have into functional, versatile pieces I actually love, I’m more often than not left with a feeling of “I want to set fire to my entire closet and start anew, possibly in a different city.” And part of that, I think, is more about the weather than anything else — New York is often either too hot or too cold to feel any way about your outfit other than “a bare necessity to shield me from or open me to the elements.” But on some level it feels deeper than that: there is thing thing called Personal Style which I seem to grasp at in small ways, certain outfits that give me a specific kind of confidence or conjure a, dare I say, #mood. Overall, though, I still feel like I’m a ratty kid in a substantial part of my wardrobe, and as though I’m cosplaying as a Professional Adult at the world’s most boring convention in a lot of the more grown-up stuff. I have yet to find that aspirational middle-ground, in which there is a youthful, vibrant insouciance running through my otherwise simple and elegant wardrobe. (Is this mostly a question of money? It’s probably about money.) Basically, think Jenna Lyons, who always dressed herself so much more smartly than the PCP-fueled designs she was clogging J Crew’s racks with during her tenure: a tailored, professional look with interesting pops of color, texture, and accessories. I assume I will eventually have such a wardrobe, and I will eventually reach some point at which I gaze upon my closet and think “Yes, every item in this collection represents me at my most realized self” (presumably while I blow on my hand-thrown morning mug of silver needle tea to cool it off). But that shit is 100% not happening before the age of 30.
6. Get a college degree.
I know that I don’t technically need to go back and finish my college degree at this point, and I’m also lucid enough to say that I would have to take some kind of professional sabbatical in order to have the mental energy to go back to school, as my brain has fully lost the ability to engage with things like “homework” or “tests” or “19-year-old boys who start their moment at the mic of a Q&A with ‘less of a question, more of a comment.'” But I do think that, much as I hate to admit it (because the narrative around ~~startup culture~~ is so heavily about dropping out and starting your business, which is unfortunately the LinkedIn essay-approved way I have navigated my 20s), I always kind of thought I would go back and finish my degree before 30. It’s just one of those ideas I had about myself because it fit the mental image I wanted: I think of myself as a (fairly) good learner, and someone who just should have a degree because she’s smart enough to have one and should have been diligent enough to finish what she started. I’ve realized, though, hurtling towards the 3-0, that none of those reasons actually stem from me wanting to have the degree, or even really to be back in a classroom again. These feelings were almost universally externally-driven, about the way the world might look at me more than how I see myself or feel in my own brain-slash-body.
And if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that important things should only be pursued or invested in if they actually matter deeply to you, if they are driven by some invisible-but-undeniable pull at your center to take ownership of this thing and move towards it. Especially in an age of social media, where not only are all of your personal choices on display but the choices of everyone you’ve ever known are bombarding your eyeballs from the second you wake up in the morning, it can become increasingly difficult to know what you actually want. But if you’re really honest with yourself, and even maybe admit the things you’re afraid of saying out loud, you can know what matters to you. And it’s not a perfect road map to how you should live your life, but it’s a pretty damn good compass for pointing you in the right direction.
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