Seeing as Rachel turned 30 the other week, and Rose’s 30th is coming up before the end of the year, I think it falls to me as the tribe ‘elder’ (that’s 32 – just) to impart some words of wisdom as to what to expect on the other side. Here follows what scant enlightenment my thirties have brought me so far…
1. Sleep trumps all of life’s other pleasures – so order a decaf. There’s something BC/AD about ordering your first decaf – it shows a distancing from your devil-may-care, stimulant-fuelled past in favour of the certainty of a good night’s sleep. I used to think nothing of knocking back an espresso – an espresso! – after dinner; I would then trot off to bed for eight hours of deep, uninterrupted slumber. These days, that sort of caffeine injection is waaay too risky. So, decaf it is.
2. Choose your hangovers carefully. This is doubly important with children. I work to the rule that I can have either a late night or a lot to drink – both options will make me feel equally rough the following day. But a night of heavy drinking that stretches into the wee hours? Unavoidable hangover hell. Make sure it’s for a worthwhile cause.
3. Things that seemed daring or counter-culture in your twenties are just plain embarrassing now. Drugs and alcoholic excess are obvious examples here, but I’m reminded more of my petty infringements of the law, such as weeing between parked cars on a drunken night out or jumping the tube fare. At the time, I reasoned that I could brazen it out if I was caught, but when you’ve passed 30, that option is unthinkable. I’m inclined to think tattoos have a 29-year cut-off point, too – am I right?
4. The career choices you make at 18 can impact your relationships. In my thirties, I finally accepted the fact that I can’t keep up with the lifestyle of some of my lifelong friends. That’s because those who pursued gold-plated careers such as law, medicine or accountancy are now reaping the rewards, while I opted for journalism. This doesn’t mean I’ve ditched friends who have made it in high-paying sectors; just that I opt out of certain get-togethers for purely financial reasons. At least my bank manager thanks me.
5. Friendships are fluid – especially in your thirties. Once I hit thirty, I realised what a kaleidoscope of experiences this decade is, and how much our friendships are tested because of it. Currently, due to our different life choices, some of my friends and I have very little in common except the past. In the future, I know this will all come out in the wash, so I’m hanging in there. But finding common ground while respecting and accepting each other’s various life stages can be hard.
6. There are no Hollywood moments. For a long time I was a sucker for those Damascene scenes when the leading man realises the humdrum protagonist is an 18-carat beauty, or a passing showbiz type discovers the next big thing humming to herself as she cleans dishes. But finally I accepted that these fantasies just do not apply to real life (likewise intense first kisses and attractive sex). Now I work on the assumption that everyone around me is too busy thinking about themselves to notice what I do. And on that subject…
7. You have to shout about yourself. At school, we are taught to work hard for hard work’s sake. But actually, no one notices the worker bees. If I dutifully plug away at my to-do list and meet every deadline, I will rarely get anything except a cursory pat on the back (and a monthly wage, obviously). So I have two options: either I stop producing work and meeting deadlines, getting myself fired in the process, or I tell my managers regularly and loudly about all the work I’m doing and how well I’m doing it.
8. The respect that age brings with it is not as thrilling as you expect. As a teenager, I was thrilled when people thought I was older than my years. In my twenties, I hated making complaints because nobody took me seriously. Now I’ve realised respect is a double-edged sword, because people start addressing you as ‘Madam’. Sob.
9. No one has a dream job. When I started my job as a restaurant reviewer (yes, really), I was in heaven – but the truth is that every job has its soul-sapping elements. Brain surgeons, charity workers, make-up artists, accountants – God, especially accountants – all have down days. GPs are well paid but spend a lot of time signing sick notes. Teachers get amazing holidays but their day-to-day is dominated by paperwork, politics and policing. Even A-list actors cite long hours and months away from their families. As the man says, they call it work for a reason.
10. Keep your friends close but your family closer. My teenage years were all about sacrificing my parents in the quest for my own identity. My twenties were (and will no doubt forever remain) my most sociable decade, when all I cared about was pleasing my friends (and myself, natch). Now though, I finally appreciate what unsung heroes my parents are, and how much they do for me. Yes, friends are the family you choose, but those relationships require a lot more effort and maintenance than blood ties. And the friends who count treat you like family anyway.
What do you agree – and disagree – with in this list? What would you add?