On turning 30, getting serious, and embracing the symbolism of birthdays

“Everything is more serious, but in a good way” is something I said to a friend about getting older, and by “getting older,” I mean turning 30. I have always been the kind of person who feels her age. Some of my friends openly roll their eyes at me when I discuss aging; some of my friends commiserate with me. Don’t get me wrong — I’m only 30; I have never actually felt like an Old Person on my birthday. But every time that date rolls around, I do feel…different.

When I was a kid, my family always asked me, “How do you feel?” on my birthday mornings. Even though I knew that literally nothing changed between 11:59 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. on that day in August, something within me changed. I remember turning 10 and thinking it was the biggest deal in the world. And it was! Two digits is a lot of digits. A decade on Earth is a lot of years.

And now?

I just celebrated three decades on this green and blue planet.

I know more things, and in some ways, I know much less. Regardless, I take my goals and my accomplishments much more seriously — and that’s a good thing.

Each new job I started in the last decade of my life made me nervous — whether I was selling jewelry at the mall or answering angry financial questions in a call center. But my job title means more to me now than ever before — it’s what I do for money and life fulfillment.

About two weeks before my 30th birthday this month, I switched careers.

While I’ve been a freelance writer for years, my new full-time position is more writing-focused. It’s also at a nonprofit that benefits kids. I have finally transitioned from working at jobs that were just “okay ” to working at a job I am passionate about.

Heading into my first day at the nonprofit, I felt confident, strong, and welcomed — all traits I would have struggled with “in my 20s.”

Taking the bus to my new office, riding an elevator up to a very tall floor, and seeing the Seattle skyline from my desk is surreal. At the same time, I think I always knew I deserved to have this kind of professional success. Still, that confidence and self-assuredness is not something you could have pulled out of 24-, 25-, or 27-year-old Jess. Ever.

To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone needs to have a very serious job that involves a bus commute and a city skyline. I almost took a job at a coffee shop for a $10-per-hour pay cut because I knew it would be fun. But I also knew that working at this nonprofit would make me deeply happy — and at 30 years old, I recognize that my happiness is the most important thing.

I no longer want to be casual about relationships, either.

Anyone who has ever read my writing — or my tweets…or my text messages — knows that I have had a roller coaster of a dating life. It is not particularly interesting or special — it is just very much a 20-something’s story.

I met my partner when we were both 22 years old, and we spent a good chunk of our 20s figuring out what we wanted to be to one another. Even after making it “official” and deciding to for sure not date other people, it was so hard for me to fully emotionally commit. I’ve had many scattered relationships — friendships and otherwise. I’m flirty by nature, and I seek out comfort when I feel neglected. It’s probably my biggest flaw. It was only recently — just a few months ago — that I decided it was time to put my all into my relationship with my partner. For us to really be together.

What a funny thing to decide. Putting my all into the person I have loved for eight years sounds like it should be easy, but for me, it wasn’t.

Devoting myself to a partnership meant changing my perspective.

I’ve had to teach myself how to tell people I am in a relationship. I didn’t struggle with the “relationship” label because I wanted to be with anyone else — I have truly been rooting for us for nearly a decade — but it’s hard to realize that I am a person in a relationship, not a person who can do whatever she wants without considering anyone else’s feelings.

I love my person, and I’m so happy we made it to where we are right now. I didn’t know how to be in a relationship in my 20s. But now? Here’s hoping I’ve figured it out.

Turning 30 is a big deal. It is okay to say that. It is okay to feel that. It is probably not as okay to worry about new wrinkles or the fact that you never get carded when buying a bottle of wine on a Friday night, but hey. That’s all part of getting older, too.

Happy birthday to me. And to everyone else celebrating any birthday, I wish you wisdom and strength on this journey called life.

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