All the things you’re supposed to do by 30 and all the things I did instead
By Olivia Drabczyk
When I was in middle school 28 years old felt ancient. I knew that if I made it to 28, I’d be a real adult and then I’d be satisfied. My friends and I would talk about all the things that we would do by the time we were in our 20’s with self proclaimed authority over “the important things in life.” Somewhere along the way we had picked up on which milestones mattered and on the concept of “failing at life” before you were 30. Now that I’ve made it to that ancient mark and am teaching middle schoolers of my own, I realize we weren’t the only ones. I had lunch with a group of 7th grade girls the other day and one stated emphatically, “ if I’m still living at home with my parents by the time I’m 22, I should just kill myself.” Somehow generation after generation is getting this message that the life worth living looks and sounds and feels a certain way. And yet, generation after generation is disappointed-at least a little bit. Each of us finds ourselves within a life that we can’t recognize as important because it doesn’t match the mold. When we worry about these missed milestones; however, we miss the fact that the life we are in is uniquely our own and because of that, is perfect. So in the spirit of embracing the quarter life crisis here’s a list of milestones I’ve been matching myself up against for too long and the list I stumbled upon for myself along the way.
Buy a house
Given the realities of the market, this milestone seems to be on its way off the list, but it still feels important to address. Just like my 7th grade students, I thought a sure sign of a failed life was still living with one’s parents. And yet, here I am packing up my clothes and planning for a move back to my parent’s basement in a few months. What I didn’t realize when I was 12; however, was that it was possible to live at home AND have a full life. My address doesn’t account for the countless countries I’ve visited and joyous meals I’ve shared with strangers and friends around the globe. Instead of putting money towards a down payment, I spent my summers and school breaks living out of a suitcase, checking items off my life list. And every time I’ve come home, I am relieved it’s my mom waiting for me at the terminal. Because something else I’ve realized in my travels is that in so many places around the world, living with your family is an honor. It is the norm. Somehow we got a different memo. We were told that you need to move out, “spread your wings” and subsequently scrape by and struggle. I have spent the last few years post college teaching abroad, traveling, and wasting way too much money getting Seamless deliveries to apartments I shared with my very best friends. And then there are the other realities most of us face which prevent us from signing on the dotted lines and getting a set of keys to our new place. The reality of a monthly student loan payment that leaves you with next to nothing. The reality of living in a city where rent is significantly more of a percentage of your paycheck than the recommended amount, and where having a healthy social life almost requires you take out another one of those debilitating loans. There is the reality that your family may need you to “chip in” for a bit or that some unexpected paternity test may put a serious dent on your credit card balance (more on that later!). And of course, there is always the reality that you may have been doing your taxes wrong for years because let’s face it, they really just need to start teaching us about this in school, and you owe the federal government more than you are willing to admit (or is that just me?). I don’t feel like a failure because I’m headed back with mom and dad. We should find comfort in the ebbs and flows of life, and acknowledge that sometimes a narrow focus on buying our own home dismisses all the homes that we could let fill our heart if we let things go off the excel spreadsheet budget a bit.
Fall in love and commit for life (get married and post an album about it!)
I’ve found that the journey towards love is a funny one. When I was younger, I got this idea that you found someone to love you for your quirks and to fall for all that made you imperfect. This would happen if you were open to it and “when the timing was right.” It was often portrayed as a very passive process, something that happened TO you, especially it seems if you were a heterosexual female. As I waited, smiling wide and laughing that big Allie in “The Notebook” laugh hoping my soulmate was watching, I got caught up in side acts, one night stands and three date long OK-Cupid relationships. I explored what it felt like to have sex without intimacy, and improved my eye contact skills. When I found a guy who seemed like the real deal, I did all the things you’re “supposed” to do. Introduced him to my family, met his, brought him to big family and friend events, wished him a happy anniversary on Instagram with our best photo together. We spent four years together doing what couples do and talking about what couples should talk about. And somehow it didn’t feel right. I tossed and turned for months wondering what was wrong with ME because I just couldn’t commit. And then I realized that the most important person I’d need to come to love was myself. I needed to believe I deserved effortless love and to not settle for less. I needed to realize that even if I met the love of my life and settled down that I would be responsible for my own fulfillment and contentedness. So often we are blinded by the search for the one to spend our lives with that we forget to improve and embrace ourselves and make ourselves someone we can lay down with every night…because boo we’re all we got sometimes. So make you precious.
Start a family
Even writing the word family conjured up an image of a Birkenstock wearing couple swinging a little one between them as the family dog ran ahead to the park around the corner from their house. To be fair, I don’t think there is as much harm in this being on the list as in the caveats it has dragged along with it. Start a family has always seemed to imply to start and maintain the right type of family; Where soft music played when problems were solved and there were always plenty of hugs and fresh cookies to go around. Somehow even when we don’t grow up within that type of family we find ourselves fixated on building it when our turn comes around, getting it right once and for all. A few unsuspecting months ago, after a run that hurt my chest just a bit more than it usually does, I found out I was pregnant. A few months and almost a couple of thousand dollars (remember that credit card bill I mentioned?) after that, I confirmed who the “father” was and confirmed he didn’t want anything to do with the family I was building. And instead of crumbling, my family built itself around me. Love poured out of my parents, friends, sisters, aunts, uncles, and coworkers. Without hesitation, we all vowed to love the little one growing aggressively within. I realized that our families, our villages, our tribes have already been started and are constantly being built with love and little moments. Instead of rushing to “start” a family, look around, reach out and touch the one that has already supported you to this place. They are there. Love them.
So here’s my new list. The list I hope to hear future 7th graders chatting about over pizza and mozzarella sticks.
By the time you’re 30…
- Do you, Glen Coco
- Never apologize for #1, unless it comes at the cost of hurting someone unnecessarily, then just be an adult and say you’re sorry.