Last week, it was a friend’s thirtieth birthday and a few of us decided to throw her a big party. After all, it’s not everyday you hit the big three-O. Amidst all the other more predictable gifts (perfumes, stationary and clothing), one of her co-workers gave her a novel called Turning Thirty. While I thought it was a nice present, my friend thought it was horrendously mean of her co-worker to give her a present that reminded one of a youth bygone. “Youth bygone,” I shrieked. “You just turned 30, not 60,” I said. But my friend was none too pleased so I took that book with me and said if it had anything worthwhile I will let her know.
How different 30 is from 29 that the transition evoked such a strong reaction, I wondered. Well, for starters, when you’re 29, people just think you’re lying about being 30. Whereas when you really are 30, you have to face the fact that you are an adult and you have taxes to pay (you probably were paying them since you were 23 but they hit you harder when you are 30). In your twenties, you can deny adulthood. You can afford not to have a career and say that you are experimenting with what you really want and get away with it; turning 30 changes it all. Thirty is when denial meets reality, which is why most of us have resolutions where the benchmark year is — you guessed it right, 30. We often hear people saying ‘I will be a published author before I turn 30’ or ‘I will make my first million before I turn 30 (although inflation has made it a possibility for most of the white collar corporate workers). To most of us, 30 seems just the right age to have life sorted.
While going through the book, I asked myself, why is it that people dread turning 30 the most? After all, you have had 29 birthdays before that and you will continue to have many more (hopefully) after that one. So what is it that makes it either the most anticipated or most terrified of birthdays? Is it as bad as Ally McBeal thought (she thought it was worse than death) or something less gruesome. Is it the transition from youth to adulthood or something much deeper and profound? I asked a few people who either have turned 30 or will hit the mark in the next couple of years to find how they view their thirtieth year on this planet.
Haroon, a 31-year-old marketing exec, said that turning 30 was quite an event for him. ” I think I’ve started to internalise only then how finite our time on earth is, there’s so much that I wanted to accomplish in my life and in my career, and it felt that I have yet to make decent progress on that,” he said (quite not what you expect from a marketing whiz).
Sidra, a mother of two and a teacher, took her thirtieth in her stride. “My thirtieth birthday was not that different from my 21st. I am just 20 pounds heavier, a mother and most of my male friends are follically challenged and live in the land of wispy strands,” she cheerfully said. Ali actually looked forward to his thirtieth birthday. “Isn’t your thirtieth all about what you have achieved in life?” he asked. “I probably felt good because I had achieved most of the things that I wanted to do in life (with the exception of getting married to Miss World),” he added.
For Mustafa, it is not about how much one has achieved in the previous three decades of one’s life but about how happy one is in one’s own skin. “I think it takes you roughly three decades to figure out who you are and how you feel about most things in life. Now, I know who I am and so I don’t really waste a lot of energy trying to be someone I’m not,” ponders Mustafa.
Naheed, 29, does not know how she would behave on her thirtieth. She thinks she will probably be having a nervous breakdown from turning 30. Isn’t it too strong a reaction, I asked. “Well, 30 is difficult,” she said. “When you turn 40, it’s expected of you to have a mid-life crisis, but if you are having one at 30, people think you are just a whiner,” she thought. For Sana, the idea of turning 29 was more trying that than the realty of turning 30. To her, 30 means starting a new decade of her life, whereas turning 29 was the end of a youthful era.
So how markedly different the thirties are from the twenties? Quite different, if I may say so. When you are in your thirties, you seriously think gardening is a good way to spend a lazy Sunday morning. Turning 30 also means buying life insurance and refusing to give your age away when someone asks you how old you are and saying something like ‘age is nothing but a number’ or ‘you are as old as you feel’ (unless you feel no remorse in lying blatantly to everyone’s face). Thirty is when you prefer watching BBC food over MTV and it becomes really important for you to know actually how many people work under you. Most of you probably have people at work whose part of job description is to listen to you.
Another way to find out that you are well and truly in your thirties is that you look at firebrand activists wanting to save the world with a cynical and knowing smile. For you, the biggest service to society would be actually getting out of your bed on Election Day and voting for someone. Previously, there used to be lots of things you didn’t do because you had no money; now there are lots of things you don’t do because you have no time. Previously, you were not making enough money to be eligible for a credit card, now people are trying hard to sell you one.
In my personal opinion, turning 30 isn’t so bad. Lots of people would love to be 30. Especially the ones who are 40!
(It was originally published in dawn http://www.dawn.com/weekly/dmag/dmag24.htm and the lovely illustration is by Fieca)