There’s something about round numbers that affects people as if the presence of a 0 in the one’s place necessitates additional introspection. To some degree there is a practical element since we tend to count in base 10 so every 10 units serves as a useful metric for evaluation. But in the context of age, our culture attributes certain societal values and expectations to the decades of your life be it 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, etc. such that the turnover can be viewed as an actual benchmark on one’s life. Of these markers, the change from the 20’s to 30’s is perhaps the most significant transition, representing an absolute break from the immaturity of youth to the responsibilities of adulthood.
“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” – C.S. Lewis
Depending on one’s personality, this can be particularly depressing. For one it’s likely that no matter who we are we know someone whom we would consider to be “better off” than we are at the same stage, or worse, life may not have met the expectations formulated in our youth. In either case, there can be a sense of lost vitality, opportunity, and idealism. Who we are at thirty is likely who we’ll remain, thus sentencing us to continue our lives as it is – for better, worse, or redundant.
“Life is islands of ecstasy in an ocean of ennui, and after the age of thirty land is seldom seen” – Luke Rhineheart
“The conceptions acquired before thirty remain usually the only ones we ever gain.”
– William James
“It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has been set like plaster, and will never soften again.” – William James
The boy gathers materials for a temple, and then when he is thirty, concludes to build a woodshed. – Henry David Thoreau
“A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.” – H.L. Menckin
However, not everyone is content to go gently into that good afternoon. As Julie Lynem writes:
No one has all of the answers or reaches every goal. The important thing is to keep striving toward one.
So you’re not where you thought you would be at 25, 35, 55 or 65? Everyone’s life plan deviates off course at some point. What matters is that we make the most of the journey.
Now that I’ve turned 30, I’m no longer afraid of what’s in store. Unlike a birthday present, life is not always neatly packaged and tied with a bow.
Indeed, the Talmud (Pirkei Avot 5:26) [sic]1 declares: “At age 30, one receives strength.” This is the strength of character needed to pursue life’s goals. The 20s process of trial and error leads to a more secure decade of the 30s, when a person is focused on true talents, pursuable goals, and genuine accomplishments.
The old cliche is true: A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. The 20s are the training ground to become a jack-of-all-trades. The 30s is the time to focus and master those talents that can be applied in practical directions.
Of these comments I find R. Leff’s comments resonate the most. For the past several years I’ve been mostly involved in three different worlds: computers, Rabbinate, and academia – with significant subdivisions therein. For each field of which I have been a part I see friends who have chosen and stuck with one career path and often find them successful. Classmates who took tech jobs straight out of college have built up nice nest eggs and moved up the latter to positions of management. Some friends who went the Rabbinic route are established in their own shtellers, and others who did PhD programs are published, delivered papers at conferences, and are either finished with their programs or finishing shortly. Professional development aside, most friends of mine are married, and/or have children, or are otherwise “further along” in their lives and goals.
On the other hand, I’m reminded that life is not about accomplishments as much as it is about living. To quote Vincent Van Gogh:
“I do not intend to spare myself, not to avoid emotions or difficulties. I don’t care much whether I live a longer or shorter time. The world concerns me only in so far as I feel a certain debt toward it, because I have walked on this earth for thirty.”
Of course, Van Gogh later shot himself at thirty seven, but that’s not really the point. Turning thirty I do look back on my life thus far and where I currently am and I’ve realized that despite all the roadblocks and downturns I have been extremely fortunate in many areas of my life. Being a “jack-of-all-trades” has also allowed me to encounter some truly wonderful people. And by being exposed to so many different environments I can approach the world with a particularly unique perspective.
For some people turning thirty represents a psychological change, and for others being thirty is no different than being 29 and 364 days old. I don’t think for me there has been any immediate change, but I’m must more aware of how I’ve developed personally and emotionally in the past 10 years. And while I would still to be satisfied in a more stable situation, I hope that I will be able to be as open to possibilities and have faith when doesn’t go as expected.
To everyone who has been part of the first thirty years of my journey I thank you. And to everyone whom I have not yet encountered, I am looking forward.
Until the next round number…
1. Actually M. Avot 5:21