35 & Beyond

Like most girls who grew up in the 90s, I had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. I probably shouldn’t have because I was only twelve at the time and, as my mother often pointed out, “There’s no reason to buy this. You can get it at the library.”

She was right. But even still, there was something special about having the latest issue delivered right to my mailbox. I’d usually read it in a single sitting after school and then page through it every day for a week afterwards. I liked looking at the ads as much as I enjoyed reading the articles, which is probably the first sign that I would end up being a writer for a marketing agency.

Regardless, I read each issue of Seventeen so many times that I practically had them memorized – which is why I can still remember a Q&A from around 1994 in which a high school student describes, in detail, the symptoms of depression and asks why she has them since “everyone says high school is the best years of your life.” In response, the columnist pointed out that wasn’t at all true and then suggested she see a doctor.

I let out a huge sigh of relief when I read that because even though I was only in middle school, I was hardly having the time of my life and I sincerely doubted anything was going to change in the next few years. Thank you, Seventeen, for setting realistic expectations, if only just the once.

 

In many ways, high school was a pleasant surprise for me. I had a close circle of friends, my class was oddly free of cliques and bullies and everyone went about their merry way even as I did ridiculous things like joined the German club or edited the yearbook. Still, graduation couldn’t come fast enough. Catholic school, especially in a small town, was stifling.

Plenty of people I knew at the time – dance instructors, teachers, managers at the library where I now had a part-time job and could read back issues of Seventeen at my leisure – insisted that I’d like college better.

“You’ll love it,” is how they put it. “It’s going to be a whole new world.”

And I believed them – right up until I got to the campus of Drexel University and realized that two – yes, two – of my writing courses centered on drafting and editing my resume. By my sophomore year, a third course had added cover letters to the curriculum. I used all of that newly developed writing prowess to land a criminally underpaid internship that involved escorting a French actor dressed as General Lafayette on a mall tour in Bucks County to promote Valley Forge Park.

I was bored and I hated every minute of it, just like high school. To make matters worse, whenever I told someone I didn’t enjoy college, they insisted, once again, that these were “the best years” – which was true enough so long as those people thought that the highlight of my life was getting ejected from a mall food court after a certain colonial re-enactor brandished his sword at a small child and his mother. These things are subjective.

Never met a red carpet that I didn't like. #paris #airport #travel #travelgram #blog #travelblog #blogger #travelblogger

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After college, I took an entry-level job in the media relations department at Comcast. On my first day, HR gave me a Blackberry and a free DVR-equipped cable box. It was 2006, and such a show of technology was so unexpected that I was certain this was where my “real” career would start. It all looked pretty good until the two women who hired me resigned. On their way out the door, they did me the favor of suggesting I take the next Amtrak to New York City and get a job at a PR agency. A few weeks later, having done just that, what was left of my team wished me well on my way to Manhattan, where they predicted I would have “the time of my life.”

I’d love to tell you that was true, but I can’t. Not exactly, at least. The truth is, New York is fun and exciting and busy and once you get there you can’t imagine how you got by living anywhere else. But it’s also a lot of work. And it’s crowded. And dirty. And expensive. And lonely. If you’re just getting started in your career, it’s not the easiest place to learn. People say moving there is a “sink or swim” moment, but it’s really more like, “swim or get drowned.”

Luckily, I landed in a decent agency and I turned out to be good at my job. One day, a few months after I had moved, my boss took me out to lunch and after several glasses of wine, slurred, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be set. You have a good job at a great agency in the best fucking city in the world!”

It was a refreshing spin on the tired “time of your life” bit, but the message was still the same. I kept waiting for the city to turn into some magical vortex to the best years of my life, but, sadly, it never did.

 

“Thirty is the new twenty.”

I bought into that hype, as did anyone whose 20s were marked more by corporate clawing and climbing than the carefree bliss buffet that Hollywood leads us to believe it will be.

Of course, no sooner had I turned thirty than I was told from a very reliable source that it was thirty-two that was really the golden year.

“Just wait,” she said. “That’s when your career falls into place and you meet a man and you finally learn how to fix your hair.”

“I’m a vice president,” I reminded this woman. “And my hair already looks great.”

“Just wait until 32…” she insisted knowingly.

“I’m dating a doctor,” I added.

“Thirty-two,” she repeated. “Wait for it.”

I did. And believe me in the years between 30 and 33, I tried. I found a hobby. When the doctor and I didn’t pan out, I started dating. I changed jobs. I traveled. And when, on my thirty-third birthday, it felt like not a single thing had made a difference, I had a full-scale breakdown in a bar that was aptly named No Fun.

By now you know the rest of the story. A few days after I turned 33, I quit my job with the intention of taking a year off to travel. I had no way of knowing for certain, but I believed doing so was going to make me happy.   Ironically enough, very few people shared my optimism. Hardly anyone heard my news and said, “Congratulations. You’re going to have the time of your life!”

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past two years. I’ve had rough days and bad weeks, but I wouldn’t change a thing. If anything, I regret not doing it sooner. I spent all of my twenties and part of my thirties waiting for people’s predictions to inexplicably come true instead of doing what I wanted. Or in my case, figuring out what I wanted.

I know such thinking is pointless, but I can’t help but wonder what I could have accomplished if only I had realized all that sooner.

A few days ago, when I turned thirty-five someone warned me that the years between now and 40 are “the last good years for a woman.”

“Use them wisely,” she advised.

I didn’t ask this person to elaborate, but I’m sure her thinking has something to do with fertility and youthful skin and earning potential. That may all be steeped in fact, but I don’t believe a word of it. If I’ve learned one thing in all of this, it’s that generalizations aren’t accurate and putting stock in them is a recipe for disappointment.

I fully expect 45 to be just as good as 35. Because the truth is, now that I’ve seen how great life can be, I won’t settle for anything less.

10 Comments
  1. If you had been handed this life you’re in, 15 or even ten years ago, you could not have appreciated it nearly as much. Some things you have to earn, emotionally, mentally, and some things you have to grow into. Which may or may not be the same thing.

    And trust me, age has nothing to do with “good years”, but wisdom does. You’ll be fine, I suspect, at any age. Im nearly 72, living the life I love, working like hell, and can’t imagine anything better.

    That is, by the way, a fascinating post. All the way to the bottom.

    • I totally agree! In so many ways, I wish I made a change sooner – but I realize that if I had, I wouldn’t have been mature enough to handle it, or established enough professionally to continue to work along the way. I guess at the end of the day, it’s nice that the hard work I did upfront paid off – in a way that actually mattered to me. So not salaries and titles like I was once focused on, but just enabling the lifestyle I want and doing something that I like and am good at. I’m lucky, I do realize that. It truly is a surprise that it turned out this way. If you told me this would be my set up when I was 25, I wouldn’t have believed it. Hopefully I can say the same when I’m 72. As always – thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughtful comment. xx

  2. No reason things can’t keep getting better and better. I have always assumed that stuff about women & age was ridiculous, and now that I am 65, I can tell you I was right. You have clearly never accepted others’ opinions about your life, and you are absolutely right not to worry about this one, either. Keep on having a great time! And I hope continuing to write about it will be part of your future – your blog is lots of fun to follow!

    • well thanks for saying so! appreciate your stopping by and hope things continue to get better and better for you too :)

  3. As someone who finds herself divorced after 15 years with the same guy (so 32 and single) I am learning that life is very rarely what anyone else thinks is perfect.
    That said “Happy Birthday!” Your blog has inspired me for over a year to go on my own journey – not to locations near and far – but certainly not to settle into what is easiest.
    Thank you for the wonderful blog – please keep it up now that you are in the “Ice Box”!

    • Aw – thanks so much for the nice comment. I’m glad to hear you’re choosing to follow your gut instead of settling into whatever it is you’re “supposed” to do now. And I do realize that everyone’s path is different, so maybe someone’s ideal life is, in fact, moving to New York and working at a PR agency. The important thing, I guess, is to just do you and not worry about the noise. Good luck to you!

      And don’t worry, I don’t plan on ditching the blog now that I’m moving in with Ice Bath. Things will change but they aren’t likely to get boring. For example, just yesterday he suggested that we try to wash a carpet in the ocean this weekend. So stay tuned for that!

  4. I recently came across your blog and am so glad that I did! My 35th is just around the corner and this post is exactly what I needed. Hope you had a nice celebration. Cheers!

    • thanks so much! so glad to hear that! I’ll check yours out as well…. and happy birthday! hope you have a great day and fabulous year ahead!

    • hey! glad you like it! so… my employment situation is pretty unique. I quit my job in marketing a few years ago, and i intended to take a year off to travel. I had money saved for that. but then my employer gave me the opportunity to take a part time role as a writer and work remotely instead, which was pretty great because i got to step out of a career that had gotten stale for me, but still keep my income. plus, i got to work from wherever i wanted. i’ve kept that job since, so – at this point – i can travel indefinitely because my monthly expenses are (on average) the same as they would be in nyc. that said, i think it’s entirely possible to take time off and travel on a budget, however small, so long as you plan ahead and go to places that tend to be less expensive. good luck – i’ll check out your post!

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