Turning 30: How it Feels & How to Cope


Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a journalist for an article in Glamour Magazine about how it feels to turn 30. It got me thinking through the clients I've been working with over the past five years and yes, I'd say about 90% of them come to coaching when they're in their late 20s, regularly commenting that it was their looming 30th birthday that had triggered their anxiety about where their life was currently headed. There's something about turning 30 that shakes us awake and gets us asking questions like:

Isn't there more to life than this?
Shouldn't I be successful by now?
Am I on the right career path? My career hasn't turned out how I expected but do I really have to start all over again?
All my friends are settling down. Why am I still single? I thought I'd be married by now.
I'm still renting and living in a flat share. Is that normal for a 30 year old professional? Shouldn't I own a property by now?
Who am I? What do I want?
Is this really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?

Adding to these questions are pressures coming from society, your parents, and friends. Your parents are constantly asking you when you're going to settle down, buy a house, have kids etc. They had it all by 30 but you're nowhere near. Your friends mean the world to you but somehow you're so incredibly busy that you're not spending quality time with them. It's so hard to fit it all in - time for yourself, work, exercise, friends, family, fun etc. It's become a hamster wheel, which you want to get off but don't know how or where to start. Welcome to 30!

So why does this happen as we move closer to 30?

It's a normal transition period that many people go through. Just Google 'Quarter-Life Crisis'. You're not alone in feeling out of whack (despite what everyone's Facebook and Twitter field is telling you). As we head towards 30, it's safe to say that for the first time, life starts to get a bit more serious and we start to think more consciously about our future, and what we want from it. Up till now, we've been pretty much just focusing on the short term, living in the moment, pay cheque to pay cheque. We've not been giving too much thought to our future. Turning 30 creeps us on us and suddenly we wonder where the hell the time has gone. This jolt causes us to start reconsidering our life choices, reevaluating and wondering if the path we're currently on is the right one after all.

All these questions, combined with little certainty about how our life will turn out, creates a particularly unsettling time. We are very lucky to live in a world full of opportunity and choice, one where the world is incredibly accessible, as are a huge range of career paths. However, this can actually create a huge amount of confusion for those seeking new possibilities. You could do absolutely anything, anywhere. Where the hell do you start? It can feel very overwhelming, coupled with a fear of failure and making the wrong decision. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right first time, seeing change and the need to adapt along the way as somehow an indication of failure, rather than a natural and inevitable part of life. How can you know if something is right if you've not experienced it yet? You can only learn what suits you by trying it out and going from there. It's like buying a house - it's unlikely you will stay in the same house your whole life because your situation, taste, and needs change over time. You then look for something new that suits your new needs better.

What can you do if you're feeling overwhelmed about turning 30?

In order to carve out a future that suits your needs better, you first need to figure out what those needs are. What do you see your purpose in life being? What are your values? What are your interests and passions? What are your strengths? What jobs have you had that you've really enjoyed? Whose careers do you really admire? Start to raise your self-awareness. Get to know yourself really well.

Think about a career that would reflect everything you've learnt about yourself. If you were fully satisfied in your work, what would you be doing on a daily basis? Where would you be? What would your surroundings look like? What impact would you be making? Who would you be working with/for? Identify 3-5 companies you'd love to work for. What do they have in common?

You can then do the same exercises to start creating a vision of what you'd like your personal life to look like too, including what a satisfying relationship, fitness regime, and social life would look like.

Lastly, think about the first small steps you could implement, which would begin your journey towards having these things in your life. What would you do and where would you start if you knew you couldn't fail?

Things to remember along the way:

- remember to follow a path that suits you, not one that you think society or your parents expect of you.
- any difficulties you experience are desirable ones. They lead to better things and they are OK because you've chosen to experience them to get where you want to be.
- any choices or decisions you make now are not final or life-long decisions. You can change your mind further down the line if needs be. You don't have to be absolutely certain about the future right now - it's impossible to know how it will feel until you get there.
- you're only 30. There's still time, probably between 30 and 40 years left of work. That's plenty of time to achieve what you want in life. Take one step at a time, and enjoy the journey along the way!

Photo credit: jonibe.de / photocase.com

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.