7 Things I Didn't Learn Until I Turned 30: A Retrospective

Jillian Knox Finley
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Christian Vierig/Getty Images

"Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now," go the lyrics of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages." When I was in my teens, turning 30 meant something. I grew up weirdly enamored with artists who didn't live beyond three decades. I went to Catholic school. One's 30s were sacred ground. Christ lived to 33. Jim Morrison to 27, along with the rest of the 27 club. The last thing I expected to think on my 30th birthday was—Sylvia Plath was just a kid

When you’re in high school, you're sold a dream of your 20s. It's this glowing "best days of your life" bumper sticker of a thing that, in my experience, barely resembled actual reality. At 17, 23 sounded a reasonable age to have one's act together. There's even a line about it in Reality Bites (arguably the single best celluloid meditation on post-graduate angst ever). I related to Lelaina Pierce ad infinitum. I, too, believed "I was really going to be something by the age of 23."

As an artist in my 20s, I mostly aspired to emulate prodigies. Young wunderkinds were romanticized ideals. Hemingway and Fitzgerald both penned masterpieces in their 20s. I thought real talent looked like Mozart. At the age of 33, I find Bukowski's publishing of his first novel, Post Office, at the age of 50 to be more inspiring. The older I get, the more enamored I become with grit, with earned things. 

There is much to be said for the bravado of youth. It is a wild thing. Don't get me wrong, I loved my 20s too. I loved them the way a vacation gone completely sideways can end up the story you dine out on for months. They were chaotic and beautiful, and I don't want them back. My peers don't always share my opinion. Aging occurs differently to everyone, I suppose. Me? I'll take my 30s over my 20s any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Here's why in seven parts.

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