Curiously, absorbing, pondering and then trying to write about the stories these extraordinary women confided in me has been extremely difficult. I think those of us of a certain age may think now, in retrospect, that the 30s were probably one of the best decades of our lives.
Did we see them as a period of angst, assessment, last hopes to be acted upon in earnest — babies, for example — career moves, a marriage after all of our friends found their partners, searching for the passion not so much in love, but in careers, community commitment, adventure, and, oh, yes, babies.
Here we have a generation of highly educated young women who married later than their mothers, worked on building careers which in many cases they tell me seem to be, ultimately, a means to other ends — travel, house buying, friendships — and to their great regret not the passion they had hoped for as they studied for their master’s degrees. One told me her parents raised her to believe she should be passionate “about what I do. But I’m not,” she said.
And, oh how they question their worth. It’s distressing. One of these women was selected to be “a young leader” in one of the largest cities in the United States. There were only 20 some men and women chosen. She’s convinced it was a fluke, that she somehow slipped in under the radar. “I don’t know how it happened,” she said, “all these other people are amazing.” And she’s not? Curious, as I said.
They are not complaining, not at all, they’re questioning, yearning, restless. They take classes in everything from languages and painting to diplomacy and creative writing, they throw themselves into community service, they belong to gyms (and they actually go regularly) they run marathons and they cultivate their deep friendships carving out time to keep them strong.
Then, there is the positive side. Everyone mentioned close friends who provide perspective and moral support, “extra curricular activities” that fill the void of a less than fulfilling career. Those who are married are happy. Though their careers are not necessarily, at least for the moment, their dream jobs they are grateful for the opportunities their work underwrites, particularly travel. These women love the adventure of discovering new cultures through extended travel, one speaks three languages, plus passible German.
As Cory said, “I’m lucky to have been to India and many, many other amazing places, places most people will never see, places that have helped me gain perspective on my own life.”
Those who are trying to have babies are starting to feel nervous. One, unmarried, is as she put it: “. . . doing online dating, which I absolutely hate, but where else to meet men these days when all my friends are married?”
They all seem to “be waiting for things to happen,” as Cory put it.
Kaitlyn wears her late mother’s charm bracelet because, she says, “something about the noise of it keeps me calm.” She also added that she takes care of herself these days. “Whether it’s buying some flowers after a bad day at work, or my dream bag in Paris while on vacation; I need to make me happy.”
Listen to Rayna who is juggling family, part-time work, writing on her blog Bright Copper Kettles and her passion for fashion: “Although there are more than enough mad days when I’m pulling my hair out, mostly I live in the realm of gratitude and possibility. I try not to think too far into the future. With one child in school and the other sticking to his diapers no matter what, I say, take it day-by-day. Having taught high school Spanish for 10 years, I know how quickly a 14-year-old becomes a 24-year-old: no time flat!”
Andrea has added some perspective to what is clearly a tumultuous decade: “Here’s the thing with the 30s, it feels like there is tons of time ahead of you and you want to make sure you don’t get stuck doing something you don’t enjoy, yet, at the same time, it also feels too late to completely change course and that you have to live with a lot of decisions that may not have been the right ones and do the best you can with what you have. Not that I know what the right ones might have been, if that makes sense. I guess it’s a period of alternating optimism and stress. One thing I know for certain, I want to see much more of the world and never stop learning.”
If I could give them one nugget of advice from my certain age perspective it would be: Relax, enjoy the moment, you would be surprised, as Rayna so wisely pointed out, how quickly time passes and don’t think for one instant that you cannot re-invent yourselves professionally. We, of a certain age, know you can.