Since I was 23, I’ve dreamt about turning 30. For some reason 30 felt like actual adulthood. Forget the whole my mom was married at 25 and had me at 27 thing, 30 was truly arriving. My best friend and I would talk about our 30-year-old selves — professional, poised, having fancy dinners on Valencia Street, being in mature love relationships, and dressing to the 9s. I’d finally gain mastery of heels and lipstick when I hit 30. I had even created a list of “Things to do before 30.”
A month ago, I looked over the list. I had completed about half the items on it, answering the bulleted desires with outcomes I hadn’t expected when I wrote it. But the rest of the list didn’t resonate any longer, so instead of guilting myself to power through completing it, I deleted it off my phone. This is what turning 30 feels like to me now: being honest with myself and letting go of previously set expectations for the sake of being more me. Choosing imperfection. Not the manicured ideal I had at 23 (I still feel like a little girl when wearing heels and lipstick), but just an honest human with limitations. Like the other night when I was trying to shoot a banner photo, after carefully laying out each candle, I found our apartment only had 29 birthday candles in our junk drawer. I laughed, shrugged, and took the photo. I was tired and wanted to take this photo before going to bed. And I’m pleased with how the photo turned out. This is 30 to me.
If I learned nothing else from my 20s it is that the best things that happened to me weren’t planned or expected. Many were random rabbit holes I went down while waiting for “the plan” to happen. Each time the current draft of “the plan” blew up, I found myself left with the delightful gifts from the rabbit holes. Like making a music blog to get over a bad break up, which turned into housing musicians in my living room, which turned into going to Seattle to see some of them perform at a festival. Or trying seminary in the hopes of becoming a theologically educated therapist, and then finding seminary culture not to my liking after a semester. Instead I worked for a Christian formation nonprofit and got an excellent training in what mattered most to me. Which turned into participating in a 3-year certification program in spiritual direction that was a better fit for my particular giftings. I fell in love a few times, and got my heart broken about the same. At moments, I had thought each was the one. A few of them are married now and procreating in cold states. And I kiss the dirty, warm San Francisco ground that I get to live this life here. I’d love to be married, but I never regret not marrying them.
Over the years God’s invitations to release have gotten louder and clearer: go with the flow, stop holding tight to future details, and be grounded in the present. Sure, I save money each month for the future, but it’s a “?” savings account. I know I’ll need it at some point: moving, a car, a home, etc. Other that being intentional about saving money though, I’ve been focusing my energy away from making specific plans and living into the life themes I always wanted to live: companioning through spiritual direction and mentorship, writing regularly, loving well, and connecting with the divine. The specifics of where, who, and how will change. White knuckling onto a plan will not alter that reality in any direction. Since I was 20 the Spirit regularly has peeled back my fingers one by one off of my plans, and my envisioned 30-year-old self is no different. Of COURSE real 30-year-old Dani looks different than my 23 year old self had expected. She’s better. She makes decisions in order to be the best version of herself, like drinking less coffee and alcohol to keep a clearer mind. Same with the social life — it’s decreased so she can rest and write more. In other ways, she’s just more of the person she was at 23. Still an extrovert, goofball, friend, external processor, klutz, spiritual seeker, and a writer. There was a time I questioned the gifts of these traits, but now I’ve finally begun to embrace them and make choices that highlight them. After years of struggling to know, accept, and communicate who I am and what I want, it feels like a huge relief to see it becoming a bit easier for me to do.
A big part of this shift was bringing writing to the forefront of my priorities. The last few months I’ve felt more fulfilled than ever because I’ve made time to write several times a week. It means I say no more, and not just to things I don’t want to do. Saying no to good things for the sake of focused priorities is a bummer. But it’s also one of the best decisions I’ve made. There’s a lot less noise, but a lot more me. I hadn’t planned for that at 23. I thought she’d be even busier than I was then. Instead I have distilled my time, relationships, and projects to what really matters most. Life feels more potent and free. This is 30.
Everyone said this shift happens when you turn 30, and continues to deepen in the 40s, 50s, etc., and I am grateful to not be an exception to the rule. I also acknowledge it’s not just aging that brought this about — it’s been a long journey through therapy, spiritual direction, cultivating relationships that encourage and challenge me, and a lot of frustrated prayer. In short, I feel invested and partially responsible for this shift, so I am proud and grateful I chose in as much as I could, and didn’t run away. I fought and want to continue to fight for the healthiest version of who God made me to be.
I live my life in themes and symbols, and each year at my birthday I pick a new one as my intention for the year. This year, though, I don’t need an abstract symbol to guide how I want to live — I simply want to continue focusing on being more direct, more open, and more myself.
I spent a lot of Novembers in my 20s planning potential epic 30th birthday parties. An open mic night where all my friends perform, a themed dress-up, or at a cabin in a beautiful location for a weekend. And then last year I realized parties really stress me out. I will always be “on” in those settings, and being on isn’t enjoyable for me, because I’d rather be real than be on. Instead I want to go on an adventure and also be leisurely. So today my boyfriend and I are hopping a plane to Palm Springs. We’ll lay by the pool, rest, eat, drink, and explore funky desert art like Salvation Mountain.
This is 30.
Bring it on.