The Big 3-0

Today, I turn thirty. My, how time flies. I was twenty six when I started this blog, and even in spite of how much my life has changed since then, it feels like yesterday.

I’ve heard thirty described as the start of “real” adulthood, whatever that means (I wonder if it means that I’m going to stop forgetting to purchase toilet paper on a regular basis? Or start remembering to make appointments for dental cleanings once a year?). For women in particular, this birthday is surrounded by an unfortunate pall of anxiety, brought on by a sudden barrage of warnings that our biological clocks are ticking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women—smart, savvy women who are otherwise impervious to the dictates of popular culture—talk about being thirty and “still single.” When I Googled “turning 30,” I found a quote from the movie Something Borrowed. Kate Hudson’s character declares, “You’re 30—you can’t afford to be picky.”

Le sigh.

This kind of thinking presumes that a) our primary purpose as we get older is to find a permanent companion and start procreating and b) if that doesn’t seem imminent, it’s because we need to start expecting less, and compromising more. Aside from the fact that marriage and childbearing are not the necessary hallmarks of happiness, and that a bright future can entail many pursuits other than starting a family, the last thing turning thirty should signify is a loosening of standards. You’ve been alive for three decades. If anything, you have more of a right to know what you want, what you don’t want, and how to distinguish between the two. You should feel more confident being yourself, and less apt to give a darn what other people think. And you can certainly afford to be picky. If being “picky” means higher standards and greater discernment than ever before, I think you should be very picky indeed.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with the desire to marry or have children. But the socially dictated deadlines strike me as limited in an era of IVF, an urgent global need for adoption, and surrogates. Regardless of what your biological clock is doing, you will have ways of exploring parenthood later in life, if you truly wish to—even if they are more challenging and complicated than the norm. And as a reader pointed out below, opting out of childrearing is also a choice that should more respected in our culture than it is. As for companionship, well, it’s an important and wonderful thing. But I don’t feel that it should a singular life goal; indeed, I’d say that building a rewarding and meaningful professional life, fostering deep, lasting, and numerous friendships, assembling a rich base of cultural pursuits, hobbies, and passions that sustain your spirit through hard times, and learning how to be truly content in your own company are just as worthy.

Many of the anxieties that accompany turning thirty have to do not only with the notion of family life, and whether or not it’s underway, but also with confronting our own progress in other arenas: relationships, careers, finances, and so on. Have we accomplished everything we said we would do by thirty? No matter who you are, no matter how immune to unfortunate cultural norms, there’s a good chance that turning thirty makes you pause and consider the life you’re living, and how it compares to the life you thought you’d be living.

Have you ever written a note to your future self? I have. We were asked to do it during our senior year of high school, and we were told that we’d open the letter (which the school would safeguard for us) on our tenth year high school reunion. I wrote all sorts of stuff about what I wanted and hoped to have done by the age of 28. Unfortunately, I also skipped my ten year reunion, so I have no idea what my precise wishes were. I do, though, remember the gist. I said that I wanted a successful, ambitious career. I said I thought I wanted to be a writer or an editor. I said I wanted to be living in New York. I said I hoped that Chloe would still be like a sister to me, and that I’d still be close to all of my dearest female friends.

Today, at thirty, I suppose I’ve been blessed to sustain or achieve everything my younger self wished for, with a couple of important modifications. I no longer yearn for a “successful” career so much as a “fulfilling one.” My career is strange and in a state of flux right now, but I did get to be an editor at the house of my dreams. I don’t write the things I thought I’d write—critical essays, book reviews—but I do write, every day, about things I care about. I’ve managed to keep my closest childhood friendships very much alive, and I’ve made new, lasting friends in the last decade through work. And it goes without saying that Chloe hasn’t gone anywhere.

I can’t remember whether or not my high schooler’s letter contained anything about marriage or kids. It probably did, but I if it did, it’s not the dream I remember most, which may be a part of why this birthday isn’t laden with disappointment or angst. I’m grateful to have loved and felt the joys of companionship in my life, but I’m just as grateful, if not more so, that I’ve learned to savor my independence.

They never ask you to write letters about things you hope won’t happen in the future. If they’d asked me to list things that scared me at the age of 18, there would have been a lot of them: heartbreak, loss, abandonment, sickness, failure, and change. Maybe we don’t catalog those fears because we know that they’re an inevitable part of getting older. Predictably, I’ve encountered them all, but I’ve also grown stronger because of them, taken comfort in their universality, and moved on.

The one thing I never counted on as a teenager—the element of my life at thirty that I’d have dreaded and avoided at all costs if you’d given me the chance to—was uncertainty. I’m no different from most people in that I hate uncertainty, and I’ve spent a good part of my life avoiding it: for my first 29 years, I lived in the same place, stuck to the same habits, and I chose a major and a career I knew I would be good at. Until I decided to become a post-bacc, and everything changed.

A few weeks ago, I attended a good friend’s birthday party in Brooklyn. An hour into the evening, as old friends of mine chattered away about their promotions and careers and down payments and mortgages and upcoming paid vacations, found myself overcome with a sense of gloom. Here I am, struggling to make my way through a program that I may or may not succeed in, pursuing a career I may or may not be cut out for, accumulating loans and debt while I live in a city that doesn’t quite feel like home, and I have no idea—really, no idea at all—what I’ll be doing or where I’ll live in two years. If you’d told me at 18 that I’d be feeling this way at 30, I’d have been horrified.

I recently relayed this story—the birthday party story—to my friend Sam. He smiled and said “well Gena, uncertainty is all around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. The only difference between you and your friends is that you’re more aware of your uncertainty right now.” Wise words, Sam. And it’s true—even the best laid plans can fall through or be overturned, and “stability” of any kind is always a little illusory. At 18, I foolishly believed that, if you pursue the right career and live in the right place and get the right promotions that enable the right level of financial security, you’ll be safe. I’m glad that growing older has at least shown me how naïve that assumption was.

So, here’s to being thirty and uncertain. Here’s to not being sure if I’ll be a doctor or some other sort of healer, to not knowing whether I’m going to have children or not, to not knowing where I’ll live, who my companions will be, where I’ll travel, or who I’ll meet. These open ended questions are as exciting and liberating as they are frightening and strange. May the next decade of my life—and all the ones after—make me braver, bolder, and more courageous. May they enhance my sense of humor and increase my sense of fun. May they fuel my passions and give rise to new ones. May they continue to teach me things. Most of all, may they give me the strength and agility I need to deal with all of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Thanks for sharing this “big deal” birthday with me, CR readers. And, oh, yeah, before I forget:


Happy Birthday to me. Those are chocolate avocado cupcakes with chocolate avocado frosting, and they are delicious. And the recipe will be up tomorrow.


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  1. Gena,
    Happy birthday and thank you for sharing your thoughts about turning. I am turning 31 in a few weeks and can relate to you on many of the topics you discussed. You are going in a completely new direction and it isn’t easy but in the long run you are listening to your inner guide and I think you will be happy that you did.

  2. Dear Gena,

    Thank you for sharing! As an independent dancer and choreographer (and also recently turned 30) I can completely relate! Your honesty to pursue what fulfills you is a courage many never find. Thank you for sharing! Happy Birthday!

  3. Happy Birthday Gena! I turn 30 in August and have experienced many of the thoughts and feelings you have so eloquently described here. I can not wait to turn 30! I feel that women really come into their own in their Thirties. I feel like I can put the angst of my twenties behind me, I have a much greater sense of self that I’ve ever had and I am excited about what lies before me. Hope your thirties are everything you want them to be and more x

  4. Le sigh is right! I am turning 30 also this year and feeling EXACTLY like you (It’s scary how much you and your blog reflect my own life and experience, I swear it’s uncanny!) But for a 30 year-old, you have sure influenced so many people all across the world (me included) so when you look back, remember that, although try not to look back, instead look forward at all that is ahead of you (many great things I am sure). I also work in a very uncertain field and am not at all where I pictured myself at this age, but the uncertainty is also very exciting. Otherwise life is boring right? 😉 By the way, I showed your post to my Mom and she’d never comment, but I wanted to share with you what she wrote if that’s OK:
    “I don’t know how to tell her this, but the questions and the uncertainties she has don’t necessarily end at age 30… or 40… or 50…. or 60….. and ooops as I am over that……. it all just seems to go MUCH faster after age 30 that’s for sure… it’s a whirlwind to me actually. (…) My babies have
    grown up and are living their own lives and I just can’t believe I am double that age and the questions are still there. So in the meantime, just enjoy each and every day and make it special and as wonderful as you can… and be all that you want to be…. because in the end, the only one you have to answer to is yourself.”
    Happy birthday from Mom and daughter Lafleur! (and I cannot wait for the recipe for those chocolate avocado cupcakes. My birthday isn’t until september, but I am definitely going to celebrate my UNbirthday with those asap – you have married my two favorite foods so can’t wait to try! 🙂

  5. First, Happy Birthday Gena!

    I’ve been reading your blog now for nearly a year now & have found you to be nothing short of inspirational. For thirty, you’re driven, focused, passionate, & creative, not to mention tenacious. In my opinion, that’s quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, young people today are not always that sure of themselves, hell, I wasn’t either & that was a different time. Life has many paths which include a lot of switchbacks, steep hills, & pot holes. It’s often difficult to see anything but the hand in front of your face, So, you simply place one foot in front of the other until you reach an area that feels comfortable at which time you assess & determine what your next step should be.

    For me, I did what my family did, I got married in my early twenties, got a stable career (relatively successful but definitely not fulfilling) & ponder the idea of having children. However, Sam’s statement, “uncertainty is all around us” couldn’t have been more true! I was divorced by the time I was thirty-albeit kids & left thinking, what’s next?

    Well, at thirty-six while visiting your great city for the first time in December 2001, I, by happenstance, met a beautiful woman named Elizabeth. At the time we met she was a manager at Grayline Tours & there was a snafu regarding one of my excursions & we met while rectifying this problem. However, the story doesn’t end here. My accompanying brother in his naivete asked about tours to the inner city & wanted to see “non-tourist sites”. Elizabeth politely informed him that there were no such tours but after a lengthy conversation she offered a personal tour that she & her family would provide. I later learned that this is not a first for Elizabeth & her family for they have hosted African students (fellow students of her sister) who couldn’t go home for Christmas or a group of professional women who just missed their only opportunity to take the Harlem Gospel tour so Elizabeth & family put one together on their own.

    In short, we took the best tour of the entire trip. After the tour they took us back to their house & fed us NY pizza & treated us like family they have known for years. Her father, bless his heart, drove us from Queens to the the front steps of our hotel in mid-town Manhattan and as Gena can attest, that’s a fairly long drive. For the rest of our stay Elizabeth joined my brother & I in the evenings after she got off work she continued to show us all over her magnificent city. Can I tell you, I absolutely love the vibe of New York City! Upon our departure Elizabeth & I agreed that we would stay in touch. It started with me calling her while waiting for a flight out of Laguardia. For nearly a year, we talked on the phone for hours every day, she flew to Oregon, I flew back to NY. I proposed. She said an astounding yes! In 2002 we got married in Queens (& yes, my brother was the best man). It was agreed that she would move here & start anew. We will be celebrating our tenth happy anniversary at the end of the year.

    So, you just never know where the path of life leads you. For Elizabeth, she ended up in a state that she hardly knew anything about (i.e., culture, people, food, climate, etc.) but she loves many aspects of it, even though she still calls NY home & she is currently there as I write this.

    As a result, we both went back to school. I started my BA in business & graduated with honors. She finished her BA & went on to earn her masters. And even though we were unable to have children we are ecstatically happy to be each others kid.

    In closing, God, the universe- insert your belief doctrine here- has a plan for each & every one of us and it is not bound by age. It’s not a cookie cutter, step-by-step plan outlined by societies timeline. I believe everything happens for a reason & it is seldom up to us. I’m happier now than I was in my twenties. Sure, we have student loans at forty but we’re happy & more fulfilled than ever.

    Now go & enjoy those scrumptious cupcakes!

  6. Thank you for sharing your inner world with us in such a beautiful way! It’s so nice to read about struggles and feel less alone. You describe the common human emotions so well! I love your inspiring words about not living by society’s standards. You also can be quite good at seeing the gray in life. I think you set such a great example for other vegans when you see the gray in vegan (or any) issues.
    I think there is something to be said for being less picky though. When I was younger I thought I would never be with a man who didn’t have a degree and I would prefer a vegetarian, and there were other things I wanted. But I decided to start dating a guy who didn’t have a degree and smoked pot occasionally and was a very unhealthy eater. I decided to start dating him because he was a really nice guy and I knew he was a dependable person who would treat me well. I am now INCREDIBLY happily married to that guy, and he now has a great job (and a great work ethic), never smokes pot, and is vegetarian and cares about his health! I didn’t even force these changes, which is the incredible part. There’s other great stuff about him too. I’m so glad I gave him a chance! So I think it’s worthwhile to get know almost anyone and not judge a person too early on.

  7. Happy ~ belated ~ birthday, Gena! I loved reading this. I turned 30 a few years ago now and could relate to this post in many ways but particularly where you mention knowing more concisely what you want. I have never been happier and I’m certainly not doing what I thought I’d be doing at this age either. The uncertainty is what makes life so enjoyable and rewarding. I hope you have a wonderful decade ahead! Best wishes to you.

  8. Happy Birthday from one Gemini to another!!!! I just turned 32 and I can tell you, thus far, the 30s are the best decade! You can leave behind the insecurities (personal, professional, etc) of your 20s and rejoice in the self-actualization and freedom that your 30s offer!
    For what it’s worth, when I turned 30, that was actually when I made the decision NOT to have children (decision made with my husband of 7 years, of course). So much for that biological clock!!!! making this decision and feeling confident about it was the best thing that happened to me. For me (and I can only speak for myself) owning this decision led to an incredible amount of freedom. So long “you’re 30, get married and have kids”- hello, “enjoy my marriage, my travel adventures and my life passions” the 30s thus far for me have been all about owning myself, taking charge of my life and embracing my freedom. Happy birthday!

  9. Happy birthday Gena! I love reading your thoughts and musings. Reflecting on your thoughts and goals as an 18-year-old high school students, only makes me wonder wht you’ll think when revisiting this post on your 40th birthday.

    When you mentioned that you were 26 at the time you started the blog, I was taken aback. I’ve been following your blog from the beginning, and I remember how wise and also how settled you seemed to me. I am 26 now, and don’t feel like I’m anywhere close to the 26-year-old you appeared to me 4 years ago. Funny how we view others’ lives from the outside. Makes me wonder if I’ll ever feel satisfied.

    Thanks for sharing your birthday with us, and I hope you have a wonderfully special celebration!

  10. Happy Birthday!

    Uncertainty is the best. I know that sounds weird, but I feel like when you’re aware of the uncertainty in your life you’re more open minded to the people/events/opportunities around you and welcome more unique experiences. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I start my senior year of college, the thought job hunting terrifies me.

    Today was my boyfriend’s birthday too, he was born on 6/7/89!

  11. Happy Birthday!

    I remember turning 30 … I got a terrible, frizzy permanent wave… hoped I wouldn’t start getting crows feet around my eyes, and I probably went to a baseball game. Pretty shallow thinking, eh?

    Love your maturity for 30. And… oh. Am I supposed to forget to buy TP? Good thing my husband remembers. 🙂

  12. Happy Birthday, Gena! What a beautiful and moving post, specifically your last paragraph. Couldn’t think of a better birthday wish for oneself (or anyone else, for that matter).

    I actually looked forward to turning 30, perhaps because I have so many role models in my life who I’ve truly seen thrive with age. My own mother finished her PhD in her mid-50’s and went on to become a university professor. At 62, she heads up multiple educational organizations. Having witnessed her late(er) in life success, 30 didn’t seem scary to me in the least. In fact, it actually felt like a milestone. By the way, at 62, my mom still doesn’t remember to buy toilet paper 😉 xo

  13. Gena, absolutely beautiful writing. Your posts are always thoughtful & extremely intelligent, but this one really spoke to me. Happiest of birthdays to you.

  14. Happy birthday Gena! I want to write you a longer comment at a later date about how much I love your blog and approach to veganism, health, food, and life, but I had to wish you happy birthday. I don’t have much time right now, but I will write you a more thoughtful comment later. But in the meantime-I LOVED the oatmeal-raisin bars you posted a little while ago! I had been looking for a wheat-free, no sugar added bar that stuck together and was high in protein and I was so excited that yours worked! Thanks again for all you do and hope you enjoy your day!

  15. First, Happy Birthday!

    Second, what an insightful and personal post. I love the realisations you have reached and the new directions you’re taking.

    I reached a similar point about a year ago, left my law degree and law firm, finished my other degree and started my blog, and right now find that I have the time and mental space to explore and follow any opportunity or direction that interests me! Uncertainty can be so very fulfilling.

  16. Gena, I have a feeling your thirties will be even bigger and brighter than your twenties! I’m now 41 and don’t feel at ALL like I imagined “old at 40” to be when I was twenty. And, most days I feel 32’ish! So, I bet you feel 18!!

    Wishing you the loveliest birthday, and hope that you feel special and loved – as you should!

    hugs!! (now get to those cupcakes) 😉

  17. Happy birthday! This was so elegant and inspiring. And I love your friend’s comment about uncertainty. While it would seem daunting, maybe even unimaginable, as an 18-year-old to think that by 30 you wouldn’t know exactly where your next step will be, that element of uncertainty makes life more interesting and full of greater possibility.

    As a freshman in college we had to write a letter to our graduating selves, so when you mentioned the one in high school this immediately came to mind. Mine was full of doubt at being able to live up to the standards of a highly competitive university and where I would end up. I guess not much changes! Perhaps we will never escape that worried 18-year-old inside.

    Hope this coming decade is fantastic!

  18. Happy Birthday, Gena. I really enjoyed reading this. I turned 30 three months ago, and I felt absolutely nothing about it. I tried to feel SOMETHING, but really I just felt content to be me. Maybe it’s because I never had a desire to get married (even though I did) or have kids (which I still don’t plan to). All I know is that I didn’t feel the crushing anxiety that I think my 18 year old self would have felt about whether or not I was successful enough. I’m in school again too, and I often have all sorts of doubts, only mine revolve around not feeling “smart enough” to get this PhD. So thank you for this long and beautifully written post. You described some of the things I didn’t even know I’d felt.

  19. Happy Birthday Gena!
    I love how willing you are to show your vulnerability and your great courage. Turning 30 is a big deal, to be sure, but you can let go of those “expectations” that you now have to give up your dreams and settle down. I’m still reinventing myself, and enjoying the ride with each change of direction and new venture entertained, and I’m going to have my big birthday in October! Except my birthday will be my 60ieth — and I’m grown up as all hell and still ready to shake things up.

    Enjoy your life! Continue to take risks!


  20. Happy, happy birthday, dear Gena. This post has nestled straight into my heart, and I find myself dancing inside and celebrating everything you say, for so much of what you say is as I feel. Here’s to so many glorious, terrifying, exhilarating, unknown, unexpected, magical-surprises, friendship-filled, maybe-kisses-including, daring, courageous, life-well-lived decades to come for us both. xo

  21. Happy birthday, Gena! Congratulations on turning 30 — I did so myself last year and found it a contemplative moment, as well. I agree that there’s a lot that I didn’t expect about 30, especially since I became a mom last year, too (my 18-year-old self would be horrified, actually). Anyway, I hope you enjoy the adventure of 30 — I have — and all the years beyond!

  22. Happy birthday to you brilliant and wise woman. Just remember, you are already a healer. You have no idea the lives you have touched and made better through this blog, and also in your life, just being who you are. We are all so blessed to have your voice in our lives.

  23. Happy Birthday! It must be wonderful to receive such an outpouring of support and love from perfect strangers. If that doesn’t indicate success and fulfillment, I don’t know what does! I’m still hoping to run into you during my short time in DC! 🙂

  24. Happy Birthday beautiful!!! We hope you are having a wonderful day! Cupcakes looks perfect 🙂
    Wishing you all the best!
    Lori and Michelle

  25. Happy birthday gena! You may not be the writer you thought you’d be but you certainly are a writer and a great one at that

  26. Happy Birthday Gena! We have the same birthday! (Today I’m 29.)

    First of all, I love this post and it mirrors many of my thoughts and concerns about aging. When I was in the 6th grade, we had to predict where we’d be in 15 years (age 27), and then read it aloud to the class. I wrote that I wanted to be studying art in Paris. I distinctly remember that I made no mention of any material gains (such as a house or a car) and no mention of marriage or kids, while almost all my peers, predicted being married, having kids, and then owning houses (usually mansions) and having kids.

    At the time, I felt really odd that my paper was so starkly different from everyone else’s, but in hindsight I’m so proud of myself for not wishing for material gains. And the absense of a husband and kids? That wasn’t because I didn’t want them, but because I saw them as not a goal to be achieved or earned, but as something that happens in the natural course of life, much like grey hair and wrinkles.

    Of course, I still have my days where I question everything and wonder why I’m still struggling with this or that thing, when I “should” have outgrown it years ago, and while I haven’t ended up studying art in Paris, I think blogging in New York – fulfilling my creative outlet and a desire to learn are echoed in my current endeavors.

    The thing I love most about this post is that there is great poetry in how even as young children we have an innate idea of who we are and what we want.

    Happy Birthday again!

  27. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays! May your 30th year be all that you wish it be. And enjoy those deliciously chocolate cupcakes.

  28. I can relate to every single word. I’ll be turning 30 in August and am in a very similar place. *hugs*…. and Happy Birthday!!!!

  29. There was recently a study published that the year most people remember as their “happiest” is 33 – so you have a few years to really prepare for the Big One.

    I’m 33 now and although there a many things I thought I would be doing “by now” that I’m not, there also so many things I have experience that I never believed possible.

    I doubt your 18 year old selve could have imagined how many lives you would touched through your writing. You are a brilliant ambassador for living a compassionate conscious life. I have heard countless people talk about the impact you’ve had on their ability to live a life they feel good in (physically and emotionally).

    I hope this year leaves you looking back with a great big smile.

  30. Have a wonderful birthday! I think you have established admirable balance in your life with school, your blog writing, cooking, yoga, and other hobbies, friends, and family. And I love what Sam told you- I think you are just very aware of yourself and your life, and purposeful with what you do, which is great! I love this post; it’s a great reminder that life isn’t neat and tidy, and we are never “done” with growth or change.

    I am unbelievably excited for the chocolate avocado cupcake recipe – YUM 🙂

  31. Happy Birthday!

    I am 33 and trying desperately to find the motivation to finish my dissertation. I loved this post and your perspective!! Hope you enjoy your day.

  32. Happy 30th Gena!!!!! I absolutely loved this post. I turn 30 in July and I keep getting the inevitable question “are you dreading turning 30?” For awhile I thought I was missing something because I’m actually really looking forward to turning 30. I am about to embark on the greatest adventure of my life! I’m moving across the country and going to school. Just me, my 2 dogs and a tiny UHaul trailer. Am I scared? Yes. Is this where I thought I’d be when I was 30? No. Am I more excited than I have ever been in my entire life? Hell yes!!!!
    Cheers to turning 30 and cheers to you!

  33. Gena! Happy Birthday, beautiful!

    When I turned 30 in 2010, I was just starting into the WORSE year of my life, in all arenas. I was bankrupt, attempting to make a huge career change, and had just called off my wedding…I was definitely in a world of uncertainty, but dang it, it was just the thing I needed to get to where I am now, at 31 and a half. I am still hovering in this uneasy realm – and I love it. Change is good. Being in your thirties, is GRAND!

  34. Hi Gena – Happy Birthday! I’ve been following your journey for a while since we both had a career in publishing and decided to take the journey toward medical school. And if you would have told me prior to getting into medical school that I would be more terrified about to start school than I was when I decided to make a career change, I wouldn’t have believed it. And yet, here I am, about to start school at 31, shakin’ in my boots (I’ve never even taken anatomy, how’d I get into medical school?). But I strongly believe that those who continually opt for the more challenging route become more adaptable, and adaptability is the key to staying young at heart. And you sound like you’re ahead of the game on this. And it’s also kind of fun going through medical school interviews watching all the younger kids and being so grateful I know who I am at this point in my life 🙂

  35. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.
    I bet when you were 18 you never thought you would have an impact on so many people’s lives all around the world and help people become aware of what they are eating and giving reliable support and encouragement.
    Choosing a vegan diet heals your body naturally so you diffenity are a healer per say.
    Your an amazing woman that say many people look up to. Congrats on turning 30 Gena.
    Lisa x

  36. What a great, reflective, and thoughtful post about turning 30. I’m 35 and it has been interesting to read posts from a couple of bloggers regarding their thoughts about turning 30 (or even turning 29). I was also quite stressed out about the life milestones you’ve mentioned until about a year ago. I was so driven to get married, then I got engaged and my fiancee called it off quite suddenly three months before the wedding. That was a huge turning point for me. After that I relaxed about all of those milestones, and I’ve enjoyed my life a lot more. From everything I’ve read that you’ve written, you don’t sound like you have those same issues, and have a much more mature outlook than I did at 30. Anyway, that’s my two cents for what it’s worth. I admire everything you’re doing to pursue your passions in life and I hope you have a wonderful birthday!

  37. “even the best laid plans can fall through or be overturned, and “stability” of any kind is always a little illusory” – so true! As I approach my 35th birthday I find myself in a similar situation. Thank you for describing it more eloquently than I ever could.
    Happy birthday!!!

  38. Happy Birthday, Gena! Your life, your life path, what is going on now, how it’s probably wildly different than you imagined it would be when you were looking into the future at age 18 as you alluded to; yes…life is strange. If anyone had told me 10 years ago, heck even 5 years ago, some of the realities of life; the good, the bad, the in between, I would have not believed 90% of it! And yet, here we all are, just putting one foot in front of the next one day at a time.

    I love your candor in this post and wish I could have sangria and chocolate cupcakes with you 🙂

  39. Happy Birthday Gena! I’m hitting the big 3-0 this year too, although I think my mind is in a very different head-space than yours. Normally, I dont put too much into these things, but I thought this horoscope (for June 7th birthdays) was pretty appropriate based on your post, so wanted to share:

    You get to know yourself better this year and discover what you really want in life. The next six weeks are experimental, and a series of temporary situations helps you understand what your next move has to be. An unusual education begins in August. November brings healing for your family. Aquarius and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 30, 1, 24, 38 and 40.

    Sounds like this may be the year to get some certainty after all! xo

  40. happy bday gena! i turn 30 this halloween. you know…i watch my peers pop out children while i am pursuing my career and it is a shame that turning this age is met with such gender roled societal-hostility.

    so what of convention? i have always beat to my own drum and don’t intend to fall in line any time soon 🙂 this life is what we make of it and we are all free to choose our path! the most important thing is that your choices leave you not with regret but fulfillment! here’s to another year! ::cheers::

  41. This was a very honest and reassuring post. I am nearing 30, and I don’t think having children has made it any less scary or uncertain. I mean, yes, the marriage/kids question was answered, but the fear and uncertainty was just transferred to other areas of my life. Happy birthday, and good for you for embracing the uncertainty.

    Oh and those cupcakes look DELICIOUS.

  42. Happy birthday! What a well-written and thoughtful post. Thank you for always giving me something to think about. 🙂

  43. Happiest Birthday, dear Gena! You appeared to have rocked the socks off your first 30 years, so I look forward to all that still lies ahead for you. And, although I can definitely relate to the discomfort of uncertainty (speaking as a gal who needs a set plan for almost every hour of my life!), I think it sounds like one of most opportunistic and exciting spots you could be in right now. Lucky lady! Cheers to you and to the next 30 wonderful years of your life. <3 <3

  44. Happy birthday, Gena! I loved this post (love your blog as a whole) and I can totally relate to it. I just finished law school and I’m studying for the bar, but I have absolutely zero plans past late July, which is really scary. I guess we both have to take it day by day!

  45. Really? It’s my birthday, too! Though I was born 5 years earlier. Happy birthday! And I, too, am at a totally uncertain career place right now, despite major career achievements … which I feel I’ve left behind by engaging in career change. Here’s to enjoying today, regardless of what the future may bring!

  46. HAPPY BIRTHDAY GENA!! I have been reading your blog daily for over a year. You have inspired me in so many ways, including learning how to be compassionate towards myself and others. PLUS, one of the greatest gifts you have given me is the gift of EXCITEMENT everyday, knowing that you will be there with something new to say. I am lucky to have found your essence!

  47. This post motivated me to comment, perhaps for the first time. I’m 30.5 now, and I’ll be starting an MBA program in the fall . . . leaving behind a city that has been home to me since I was 18 and a career in publishing (educational, not trade) that I started at 22. I’ll be taking on maybe not a mountain of debt, but definitely a pretty big hill of it. And I have no idea where or what I will be when I graduate. It’s even scarier when I wonder how I will fit having a family into this equation. I just want you to know that as I was applying to school and fretting about such massive change, your post-bacc posts really helped to shore up my resolve to follow this through. And this post today reminds me again that I am in wonderful company as a 30-year-old trying to define herself by more than just traditional expectations. So happy birthday, and thank you, Gena!

  48. Yay! Great post! And a very very Happy Birthday to you! Your presence has enhanced so many of our lives! Cheers to your birth!

  49. Hi Gena – wishing you a very happy birthday from rainy old England!

    Two points I’d like to make: firstly that you should be EXTREMELY proud of what you do. I’ve been following your blog for nearly a year, and I love it (and have posted a few times!) – you’re an inspiration. Secondly, when I turned 30 I was newly divorced, back living with my folks and hadn’t a clue where I was going. But things have worked themselves out rather nicely, though I still don’t know what I want to be when I ‘grow up’! But as a wise person once said, the journey is as important as the destination (or words to that effect!) and as I head towards 35, I remind myself of that every now and then 😉

    I don’t have kids, and am not sure if and when I do want them. But one thing’s for sure, there are plenty of kids out there who need someone, and if that’s the route life takes me, then that’s all good!

    Enjoy the cakes….I think I may have to go and fire up my oven now 😉

  50. What a beautiful post. I’m 32 and in a similar situation as you. Happy Birthday, Gena- I raise my glass of kombucha sangria to you! Welcome to being thirty-something and uncertain. 🙂

  51. I hope that your birthday is wonderful and that it ushers in a year of wonderfulness, whatever that means for you. As a side note, I met my husband-to-be at 28 and married him at 29. Although it was very much the right thing, a tiny part of me was sad that I got married before 30 – I had always hoped to get married after 30! Somehow, it seemed a badge of honor to me to have the 20s as a time of freedom and independence. I still value the almost-decade I had alone, even as I am deeply happy as a family gal now. (And hey, now that I’m nearing 40 and starting over with a new job in a new place, I feel you on the uncertainty thing!!).

  52. Happy birthday to the youngest 30 year old I know. Hope to find ourselves in the same city this Summer to catch up over some cupcakes.

  53. Happy birthday, Gena! Beautifully written and I agree with you completely. Turning 30 was a breeze for me and I think that was especially true because I did not have a huge expectation associated with it. I’ve observed that most of my female friends hold or were holding 30 out to be the deadline for getting married and starting a family. I’ve observed that most of my male friends hold or were holding 30 out to be the deadline by which they needed to have their career in perfect order. I have found myself many time reminding the people in my life to not create age-specific deadlines because it only creates heartache to be so attached to a certain age as the be-all-end-all for a goal. Thank you for sharing the same with your readers and for always being so transparent about your experiences.


    This is a great post, full of wise words to remember, so thank you for sharing and keeping all of us lucky readers in the right mind-set! 🙂

    And those cupcakes look delish! I’m going home to make them ASAP.

  55. This was a sublimely eloquent post, Gena. I’m so thrilled to wish you a happy birthday! I am bookmarking it, and will surely refer back to it on all birthdays, milestones, and days of uncertainty. Cheers, and best wishes ahead!

  56. Happy Birthday, Gena! I found your post so relatable, as I’ve also made some big life changes in the last couple of years and definitely learned to appreciate (or at least better cope with) all of the uncertainties. I’ll be turned 28 in a couple of weeks and I’ve had mixed emotions – on the one hand, it seems like just yesterday that I was graduating high school, then college, getting my first job, and so on. But on the other hand, I feel so much wiser and I’ve made such huge strides in terms of getting to a place that feels “right”, especially in the last year. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but man, time flies! I always think about that quote “the days are long but the years are short”…so true.

  57. Happy birthday!

    I firmly believe that the real reason 30 seems like such a big deal is that we use a base 10 number system. 🙂

    In all seriousness, I know very few people who aren’t still struggling with their lives in some way or other, whether they’re 20, 30, 40, or what. I try to look at it from the other direction–instead of “oh no, my life isn’t complete,” go toward “I get to learn and try so much more!”

  58. Happy Birthday, Gena. I really, really loved this. I love how you put “big birthday” in quotes. And thank you for being so honest with us, too, about the uncertainty. I think we are-all at varying degrees-uncertain about things, so take comfort in that. Have an awesome day!

  59. What a heart-felt post. More than ever, I really appreciate your blog. I have recently been struggling with where I am at in life as I approach thirty and where I feel I should be. The thought of pursuing a new direction at 27 scares me, and moving past the stigma that society has placed on women and their biological clock is a challenge to add to it. I really appreciated this post, because you are right about all of it. I think it is great what you are doing and I know you will find happiness and success! Happy Birthday!

  60. Oh wow, happy happy birthday!
    I’ve had more “big” birthdays than I’d like to mention, and I always examine my life at those times. But life doesn’t follow some sort of schedule. We’re just not that in control. I think it’s just easier to be disappointed if we have set expectations. Like, at 27, my Mom had me, a house and a career, a husband, two cars, and was on the way to buying my Dad a business. At 27 I was floundering a little, but I didn’t really wish I had two kids and a mortgage, I just felt like I wasn’t living up to expectations. And, on that birthday, I was unhappy with my body in a big way. As I went along, I got happier and happier with myself. Which I didn’t expect, but do love.

    All of which is to say, it’s just a day. Eat cupcakes. Celebrate it. But don’t let it define you. And, as for adulthood and toilet paper, well, I haven’t gotten that far with those yet either.

    Happy Day!

  61. *HUG*

    Last year was my big 3-0, and let me tell you that even though I am nearly wrapping up my residency, with a fellowship lined up over 2000km away for July 2013, I still have no clue where I will be come July 2014. The job market is the pits for my specialty which really sucks at the end of 4 year medical school + 5 years residency + 1 year fellowship.

    While we have never met, I keep thinking about your struggles and I am really routing for your success. Have you looked into McMaster’s medical program? I feel like you would be a perfect candidate, as they have lower GPA thresholds, no MCATs needed and they welcome nontraditional students. They also take international students and Canadian medical schools are just as good as American ones. I did my undergrad there and it is a great place to be. 🙂

  62. Happy Birthday!
    Uncertain or not, enjoy your cupcakes, live for today, and things will fall into the places that they were meant to. Great post! 🙂

  63. Happy happy birthday! This is such a lovely, poignant post. One of the things I admire most about you (from a lurker perspective since I rarely comment) is that you go after what you want, society’s expectations be damned. I’m in the throes of choosing my next careers steps and I often think of how you are doing something that is really freaking hard because it’s what you care about. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “typical.” So thank you for being an inspiration for me and thank you for bringing up that age is really just a number. My mom had me at 42 and went to graduate school at 45, so she always says “if I could take on school loans in my 40s, you can do whatever you want in your 20s.”
    I hope your day is amazing!

  64. Very wise words from the Birthday Girl. Hope you have an amazing day Gena, and indulge in at least 3 of those cupcakes- you know, one for each decade 😉
    Happy Birthday!

  65. I know this wasn’t the point of your post, and I don’t want to be “that guy”, but your off-hand remarks about IVF and adoption/fostering strike a chord with me. There is a ubiquitous misconception about the need for adoptive parents and the ease of assisted reproductive technology. If you want and are prepared to handle older or special needs children, then yes, the world needs more of you. You should adopt all the special needs kids you can manage, as many wait their whole lives for a parent like you. However, there are very lengthy wait lists for healthy babies worldwide. Many would-be parents wait with baited breath for YEARS to adopt a healthy baby or young child, and adopting an older child is not an easy endeavor. Love is simply not enough for some children, especially former foster kids who have had to deal with more in their little lives than some of us adults have in ours. Parenting difficult children is, frankly, not something just anyone could handle appropriately.

    IVF is still a developing technology. It is expensive and arguably not particularly effective (a healthy 30 year old woman still only has about a 40% chance each try, a 40 year old only 10%). It is invasive and emotionally draining.

    I agree with you on many of your points, but the deadline for childbearing is not socially defined, it is biologically defined. You will even age out of adoption at a certain point. I think that opting out of parenthood is a perfectly viable lifestyle choice that should be more respected in our culture, especially with the size of out population. But for those that want kids, you should be realistic about what that means.

    • I totally agree that those options are incredibly difficult and complex — far more so than having a child in one’s early thirties. And thanks for pointing that out; I edited to make clear that these are not simple options. That said, they are options for people who are aware of the risks, complications, and responsibilities. Having watched a few friends and acquaintances pursue at least some of the paths (IVF, adoption, and surrogates), my observation was that they were challenging options, but ultimately rewarding in their own way. So my point is not to say that childbearing years aren’t biologically defined, but rather to say that, if one doesn’t want to opt out, but cannot opt in during the standard time frame, there are options. Simple options? No, but they do exist.

      I appreciate the thoughtful response!

  66. Happy Birthday! I am so glad I read this post. I think we all have these expectations that we will have XYZ done by such and such age and I truly believe that we start living life the moment we drop those expectations.

  67. Happy Birthday!!

    30 is great!! I know what ya mean about not thinking about having kids or being worried about what you are supposed to have or be doing. However, when 35 hit, I actually became aware that if we were going to have kids-well we better get started!! We chose not to. But there was an age where I realized I had to choose, that my body wouldn’t actually easily allow me to have kids at anytime I might like, such as 60, when I would actually be ready for them 🙂

    I am glad it wasn’t “that” big of a deal for me. But for gals who want to have kids, and I have several friends like that, they are much more aware of their body’s “finite” shelf life of those eggs!

  68. “I wonder if it means that I’m going to stop forgetting to purchase toilet paper on a regular basis? Or start remembering to make appointments for dental cleanings once a year?”

    Checking in at 31 and 10 months here…no and no.

    Happy birthday!

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