I turned 30-years-old a month ago. I am one of those ‘celebrate-for-the-whole-month’ kind of people, but this time I felt different. I hardly even wanted to acknowledge it. I found myself pondering why turning 30 felt so uncomfortable for me. Many of my friends related to this feeling. They described it as “fear of an unknown chapter”, “a lot of pressure and anxiety” and "a time to re-evaluate life choices”.
As a researcher, I had to get to the bottom of why turning 30 made me feel so sick - you find the problem, you find the solution. After pondering over this for weeks leading up to my birthday, I came to the conclusion that, for me, it was all about expectations – I was not meeting social expectations of what a 30-year-old woman should be, and I was not meeting my own expectations of how I envisaged my life by this age. So, should I consider myself a 30-year-old failure? Or did something have to give?
As I closed in on the big three-zero, I felt an immense pressure to have achieved more than what I had. If you had asked me as a teenager where I thought I would be by now, I probably would have said I would be married with children, a homeowner and settled in a lifelong career. I can confirm that I do not tick any of the above boxes.
Everyone around me is getting engaged, married or pregnant. I get asked regularly, “Are you dating anyone?” or “Have you met anyone yet?”. When I answer “no”, I am then hit with the pitying response of, “I’m sure you will meet someone soon”. Of course, I do worry about the uncertain probability of motherhood, plus apparently all the “good” ones are being taken and people like me are getting left behind.
Everyone around me is getting engaged, married or pregnant. I get asked regularly, “Are you dating anyone?” or “Have you met anyone yet?”.
But why is it so hard for people, including myself, to accept that I am choosing to be single? Has our society not progressed from valuing a woman purely by her marital status?
For a few weeks before my birthday I would wake up to my 7:30am alarm thinking, “Is this it? Is this my life for the next 60 years? Because if so, it’s not enough for me.” I always said I lived by the Japanese concept of ikigai – the intersection between what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you will be paid for.
Lately my enjoyment for work has diminished. In fact, I have fallen out of love. It makes every day a challenge, especially when I remember how good it made it me feel only a year or so ago. So, do I make a big career change, do I wait around and see if the spark comes back, or should I just be satisfied with what I have? I can't say I know the answer.
I realise that the anxiety and stress that I felt in turning 30 was becoming too much. And my researcher self felt debilitated in not knowing all the answers. Since social change doesn't happen overnight, I was the one who had to give - I was the one who had to make a change and reframe how I see my life.
I realise that the anxiety and stress that I felt in turning 30 was becoming too much. And my researcher self felt debilitated in not knowing all the answers.
A friend reminded me to be grateful to have even made it this far, as there are many who don’t. This reminder was simple yet so profound (thank you to that friend). I am now actively focusing on what I do have, my accomplishments and all of my strengths. When I remind myself that I have strong values, am brave, compassionate, and inquisitive, I don’t fear the unknown as much anymore. I am learning to thrive on knowing that there are endless possibilities. Whether I excel or fail, I get to choose.
So how did I end up spending my birthday this year? Unlike previous years, I was very selective in who I celebrated it with. At a time when I had been feeling so lost, I needed to surround myself with good people who knew what I needed, even when I didn’t. I also gifted myself a gratitude journal and have started writing in it. The entry on my birthday – “Today I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and for opportunity to decide whatever path I choose to take next.”
Dr Eden Robertson is a 30-year-old childhood health researcher and freelance writer.