By the Time I Turn 30…

by K.M. Zahrt

At age 20 and in the early twenties, age 30 is inconceivable, a future so abstract it’s hard to envision. Mid-twenties are close enough to college-age that many of your peers are either still taking classes, just finishing their schooling, or in graduate school. At best, mostly everyone you know is still groping in the dark to try to grab hold of something that resembles the foundation of a career, financial independence, and a steady relationship — if not a marriage, a house, and a kid or two.

I don’t remember thinking through specific goals — “By the time I turn 30, I want to have accomplished…” — until I turned 28. That’s when 30 became real. Older siblings were turning 30, and a confusing picture of what it looked like began to materialize. Sure, they had a lot of those 30-year-old landmarks in place (marriages, careers, houses, kids, check check check) and had for a year or two, but still. They didn’t look 30. They didn’t feel 30. The question “Can you believe your sibling is 30?” started to appear in many conversations, making it seem like an evermore important idea to contemplate, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there was enough Buzzfeed lists circulating on the horrifying subject of turning 30 that there were new ones appearing on Facebook every day. And, age 29 was just one short year away, which meant the time to accomplish anything significant in the remainder of the twenties was now on a ticking clock.

So, what should I have wanted to accomplish by 30?

This morning, even before the e-cards and the Facebook birthday wishes came in, I received an inbox full of emails from every e-newsletter list that managed to secure my birth date. Many of which declared some form of congratulations, which made me start to think of 30 as an achievement — “Congratulations, you’ve made it.” So, I started wondering about life expectancy. Here’s some interesting information: “According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration:

  • A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
  • A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.

And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.” To be more specific, according to the SSA Life Expectancy Calculator, I should live to be 82. That’s impressive. That’s a lot of life left.

Come to think of it, if I had the chance to turn 20 today instead of 30, would I take that deal? That would only take me ten steps backwards, both personally and professionally. All that work to complete my education, to get married, to navigate the job market, to find some sense of financial security, and to father a boy would all be for naught. No, I wouldn’t take the deal. I’ll take where I am now and the estimated 52 years of life left, and I’ll go from here (as if I have a choice).

And then, I brought up the website from which I receive my morning news, and I saw headlines with words like “ebola” and “suicide bomber” and “ISIS,” and I thought of the kind of year people in places like Crimea and the West Bank have had, and suddenly, the idea of turning 30 felt so trivial I started to question whether or not it was a topic worth writing about at all.

Maybe that’s what I want to accomplish by 30 — an in-the-moment, realistic, tangible, contextual understanding of my life, with all of its privileges and all of its potential. After all, I’m a 30-year-old American male, who lives in a secure state, with a comfortable job, a beautiful and loving wife, a new baby boy, and approximately 52 years left. If I felt anything but blessed, then I should feel like a failure.

So, what’s my 30th birthday going to look like? Well, the finale of America’s Got Talent is on tonight. My wife and I have watched the entire season so far; it would be a waste not to tune in tonight, wouldn’t it? And, I’ll try to ignore all those comments from contestants who are younger than me, who are saying things like, “This is my last chance to achieve my dreams.” I hope, when they turn 30, they have as much to be thankful for as I do.

But, if I may make one birthday request before I go: When I was born in 1984, the Tigers won the World Series. My son was born this year in 2014, the same year in which I’ve now turned thirty. Can that also be the same year the Tigers win their next World Series? That would make for a great (albeit belated) birthday present.

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