From Our Readers
August 05, 2015 11:51 am

The year before I turned 30, I started a new big girl job, got married, bought a house, lost my beloved grandmother, and almost everyone I knew had a baby. I am a reflective, thoughtful human to begin with, so all of these milestones had a lot of hems and haws associated with them and the “power” of them shaping who I was becoming. However, with 30 looming in the background while I was fighting through all these life changes,  a new strength and confidence slowly started to grow inside of me. When my actual 30th birthday arrived, I felt as if I acquired a “30-shield,” an imaginary clear suit of armor that allowed me to be my authentic self more often. Unsolicited opinions and nastiness just bounced off of me. It was a switch of strength: after spending years feeling not good enough and constantly obsessed with what people thought of me, this gift of the 30-shield transformed my life.

When expressing my new found confidence, older friends and my mother said, “just wait until your 40-, 50-, or 60-shield.” This is not a new concept: as you get older, you tend to care less about what people think about you or what you do or say. You become more comfortable with who you are. However, sometimes the transition (especially out of your messy 20s) can difficult, as sticking up for yourself sometimes feels like being nasty to other people. Here’s what my 30-shield has taught me.

Spend your time your way

Work is a reality for most of us. And for most of us, it takes up a lot of our time. Calculate the amount of actual free time you have each week and carve out time things you like to do. This sometimes includes being on the couch watching Bravo. It’s the most restorative thing to me, and sometimes I go a week without any commitments in the evenings because I need to recoup. This is harder than you think, especially if you suffer from FOMO, but there is power in a quiet night.

Stand up for yourself in your friendships

In my 20s,  I spent a lot of time with friends who judged me about everything from how hard I worked to the unwashed pasta pot in my sink when they came over. They weren’t bad people, but the judgements made me feel like crap. You don’t have to  “defriend” these people or have a sit down to explain why you are hurt (unless you feel like that would be productive). Simply spending less time with them can solve it. You deserve to feel good. Plus, sometimes when you back away, friendships become even better.  As you get older, they get older too, and people become nicer and more understanding.

Do whatever the heck you want to do for your birthdays from now on

For years, I had friends saying to me, “Oh, I really want to see you for your birthday” or “We should do XYZ for your birthday”. Sometimes they were being genuine and nice. Sometimes they were being selfish. Either way, now my rule on my birthday is family only. It makes me feel connected to my life, existence, world, etc. It’s your day! You pick! Whatever you do, don’t let others make you feel guilty!

Hang out with your family

All of a sudden, I found myself wanting to spend more time with my mom and my family. It’s a weird thing: you come out of decade where friends seemed to be the priority, but as you start to get older, you see the value in the unconditional love your parents, parent figures, siblings, and other family folks have for you. Plus, they really know what they are talking about with some grown up stuff. If it’s a tough relationship, consider working through it.

Try out spending time alone

It is the only way you can truly know what the whispers of what fate or your gut is saying. Just a couple of hours at a coffee shop, a walk in the park, or a long drive can do the trick. Respect your inner voice, but also be patient with yourself if you still have yet to master a regular meditation routine (I’m working on it).

Be connected to those who make you feel good and tell them so

The 30-shield isn’t all about getting rid of bad energy, it is embracing good! I use Snapchat regularly to stay connected with people I don’t see often as a fun, causal way to say I am thinking about them in a very ordinary way. Email and text are good too. Also, put the time into seeing people if you can. I have a group of friends from college who try to get together for “girls’ night” every couple of weeks, and in spite of babies and jobs and marriage, we have been doing this for over 5 years. It nurtures sisterhood and support in a special way.

Be genuine with “thank-you” notes and birthday cards

A genuine handwritten notes of thanks or a birthday card in the mail is the best thing especially in this digital world we live in. But don’t do it because you feel you have to.

Be flexible with jobs, houses, opportunities

Don’t let the anxiety of change get in the way of entertaining it. You never know what’s going to happen, and sometimes it’s for the best. Always allow yourself to dream.

Try your best to be understanding with people’s life choices

Oh man, we are so different! People buy all sorts of different houses, have different numbers of children (or no children!), spend money on ALL sorts of different things. Love your friends for who they are, not what they have or the choice they make. Putting this energy into the world will help your 30-shield be accepted everywhere.

Kids or not, your life is important

Kids are a big deal in the 30s-world. I don’t have them yet, but I might soon. I really hate all the comments and judgements I sometimes get from family and friends: since I don’t have kids, I must get sleep all the time, I must not stress the same way my parent friends do. It’s so not true; it’s just different. I worry about several things, all the time. I don’t have kids, but I do my best to be thoughtful. If I do become a parent, I will do my best to respect other people’s choices.

Go for it

If you have always wanted to be a writer, a musician, a teacher, and feel like it’s too late, it’s not! My husband just joined a band and after years of feeling that he wasn’t nurturing his musical self, he had reconnected with that creative part of himself. Stop telling yourself stories about why you can’t make it happen. You can! Own it!

Do your best to love your body

This is a big one for me. I have a whole sob story about my relationship with my body, and it’s still not the best it could be. I have run two marathons thinking it would fix my body image. But here’s a newsflash: confidence is the best beauty product and diet there is. You have to respect your body at the very least. My body gets me up a lot of hills, through a lot of miles, and let’s me show up for very long work days. It makes me feel like me. And because of that, I have stopped weighing myself. I have started trusting my body. I feed it when it’s hungry, rest it when it’s tired, move it when it’s antsy. Put that shield on and make some sort of peace with your body.

The 30-shield is about being intentional and genuine. It’s not an excuse to be dismissive to others or to push people away when they are trying to help you. But, you’ll see, with 30 comes some maturity whether you want it or not.  Embrace the shield and own it.

Liz McCaffery is a 31-year-old higher education administrator and freelance writer in Syracuse, NY. She takes her coffee black, loves rainbow sprinkles (more than the ice cream), and is a proud self-proclaimed National Public Radio nerd. She can recite the ABCs backwards but cannot sing a note to save her life. She believes grit and saying “good-morning” to everyone are the secrets to success.

[Image via ABC]

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