Turning 30 years old is a milestone birthday. It’s natural to reflect on your life and accomplishments, but what if you feel like you’re going nowhere?
I’m asking myself this question because I’ve just turned 30 this month. I’m grateful for all that I have, but I can’t help but feel like I should be further along in my career and personal life.
What’s that old saying “comparison is the thief of joy”? Who said that again …
If you read the first chapter of former Foreign Minister and NSW Premier Bob Carr’s book Run for Your Life, you would know that it is titled “30 and going nowhere”. If you then read the following 300 pages, you realise that Premier Carr was definitely going somewhere with immense pace and passion. His definition of “nowhere” would be other people’s “somewhere”. And other people’s “somewhere”, could be another person’s “destination”. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Mr Carr on several occasions about his journey through political life and it was never linear, but he was driven by his mission.
I think all too often in life, as you look to what is coming next, you look back at what you have achieved with a hypercritical lens. If you did pat yourself on the back for any success so far, you would also risk being caught in the act of self-congratulations. Otherwise, more likely, you may opt to admonish yourself for failing to achieve more by this point. After all, I have failed to launch an entire social media platform like Mark Zuckerberg did by this age. As a small win, I am never accused of being a lizard disguised as a man but is that really enough?
As I write this, I’m thinking about what variation of chest and arm exercises I will be doing at the gym in 45 minutes. At age 30, Oprah Winfrey was getting ready to be the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show … and here I am stirring some pre-workout in cold water? Come on, man!
Comparing, contrasting, measuring… comparison is the thief of joy. Great saying, GREAT saying. Whoever said it first deserves a Nobel Peace Prize because that has given me some mental peace.
But seriously, did you think that at 30, you would have it all figured out? According to a 2022 survey by Deloitte, 67 per cent of millennials said they are struggling to find their purpose in life.
When I was 15, I had a clear plan. Go to university, become a lawyer, travel the world, marry the woman of my dreams and by 30, be settled down with one kid, another on the way, and a chocolate Labrador fur-baby, living blissfully in the outer suburbs. (Pretty colourist of me not to go for the golden one, but something about a choc lab speaks to me.)
What is the report card on these goals and aspirations, you ask?
- Went to university. Graduated with a Commerce & Law degree, not a lawyer though.
- Fell madly and deeply in love… with politics, activism, campaigns and social change. No wife, no partner – but an expert in dating in the era of dating apps. Hinge’s “pay to play” model has fleeced hundreds of dollars out of me. Hopeless romantic, always!
- Sadly, no choc lab either, or kids that I know of …
But now, things are more complicated. The World Health Organisation estimates that 7.6 million people each year die before making it to 30, with some of the leading causes being road traffic injuries, suicide and neonatal conditions.
Should we just be grateful when we make it to 30 and call it a day?
Rough to think about, I know. So, I guess, we shouldn’t? Comparison is the thief of joy after all.
There is one comparison that I make yearly, monthly, weekly and sometimes daily. It is a comparison that never steals my joy but emboldens my commitment, resolve and resilience. When my parents were 30 years old, they hadn’t met yet – but both were living in a Sri Lanka ravaged by civil war, terrorist activity and brutal military activity.
Both civil engineers, they were working on one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic regional development programs which aimed to harness the power of the Mahaveli River to increase agricultural production and generate hydroelectric power as well as create jobs, and resettle landless families. An ambitious program, it led to them meeting on an outstation posting, right on the boundary of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) controlled territory. They both lived away from their families then, but a few years later decided to move even further away for a better life, to Australia. And I’ll be forever grateful. I could speak about my parents and their sacrifices for pages, but the fundamental teaching is that this particular comparison always grounds me in gratitude.
I need to be clear; this isn’t a cry for help. I don’t sit up at night crying into my freshly brewed, extra-strength Dilmah Tea thinking about the fact that I haven’t lived out every teenage dream. Nine days out of ten, I awaken with a heart full of gratitude for the success I’ve achieved, the company I keep, and the love that lavishes me from those who choose to share it. But we need to normalise the feeling of uncertainty that ageing brings, and perhaps even more, the detrimental effects of comparative analysis on mental health.
So, wherever you are on your 30th birthday, sip on the ultimate cocktail – the key ingredients being, gratitude, reflection and daring to dream.
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