I’m turning 30-years old on Saturday, August 15th. That means I have been alive for 10,950 days and 262,800 hours. Now this nice round number approaches, and I’m being asked by friends how it feels to be old (some in jest; some young people in fear that they will one day feel old, too). So, of course, it causes me to think about my life, my career, my direction. Anybody who tells you that when they turn 30-years old that they don’t consider what their life means is probably lying or just not very great at telling time. So I started to think about the best way to handle turning 30-years old.
5. Freak Out: When I married my wife, I wrote in my vows that I will never let her feel old. Women deal with age in different ways than men. There is just so much more pressure on women to look young, to have “flawless” skin, to never wear mom jeans. While that’s unfair in many ways, it also hits men. I promised myself for years that I would never allow age to worry me, but sure enough, as that birthday approached, I felt something start to rise in the back of my mind, and it was the sense that I was getting old. It was the feeling that I perhaps haven’t done enough with my life. It was the thought that I have failed because I don’t have a novel out yet. I looked in the mirror, and I thought: Perhaps my hair is receding. I brought my wife into the bathroom, and I said, hey, look at my hair. Has it always been like this? She looked at me confused, and she examined my hair in a very serious way. She seemed to be measuring it with her eyes. She touched my scalp and felt my hair and said: “I don’t think so.” Well, that sent me over the edge. Her doubt scared the shit out of me. Could I actually be losing my hair? Isn’t this what made me who I am? Oh my god, I thought, I’m getting old. I started to look at other guys’ hairline and see if it was just perhaps the way my hairline was shaped, and I spun into a dangerous cycle of doubt and insecurity. Yeah, I know it’s lame. 30-years old is not old. I have so much life ahead of me, and I eventually came to that conclusion, but I realized that it was okay to freak out about your birthday. It’s just normal. Just don’t let it consume you. (I also realized how much of prima donna I am about my hair. Shit, that was embarrassing.)
4. Stay in Shape: I remember when I was 24-years old, living in Miami, Florida, and I thought I was hot shit: A young kid in graduate school on his way to a career as a “famous” author (which is still the plan), teaching classes at Florida International University and playing basketball within view of the beach after class. I used to play basketball with my massively tall friend, who was a bit older than me, and he sometimes would complain about his knee. He would have to sit out a game or two, and he sometimes wouldn’t come play ball, citing knee problems. I used to give him a bunch of shit. He was 30-years old at the time, and he used to say: “You just wait until you’re my age; you’re going to be hurting just the same.” I never believed him. I told him I would never let that happen to me. Well, sure enough, I started playing basketball again several weeks ago, and after the first game, my knee hurt so bad that I could hardly jump nor hit my deceptively sweet jump shot. I wasn’t feeling myself, and my wife told me I had to wear a brace. I officially felt like the old man at the Y. But I didn’t stop playing. I just realized I had let myself get out of shape, and if there is one thing I learned about turning 30, it’s that you have to work harder to feel young. You can’t allow age to set into your bones. You have to try — even though it’s impossible — to out work time.
3. Take a Day Off from Work and Drive: I’m planning on taking Monday off from work, and I’m just going to drive into the desert. That might sound like a metaphor, but I mean that literally. In my twenties, I prided myself on my adventurous spirit. My goal is to write novels, and I knew the only way that I could ever have anything to write about would mean that I would have to travel. So I went to school in Florida; I traveled in Europe; I moved to Detroit at the beginning of the Great Recession; I went West with my wife; and I fell in love with a tremendous woman and promised her my life. I’ve taken a lot of adventures, and they were all accompanied by some sort of actual voyage. I have to remind myself of that the spirit for adventure, for the open road, for just driving, and I have to maintain the desire to get lost. Whenever I move to a new city, I always tell my wife when we’re driving home and don’t know where we’re going: It’s important to get lost to learn your way. So I’m just going to drive on Monday, take photos of whatever I see, and enjoy the search.
2. Recommit to a Goal: I have a great wife; I have a tremendous dog; I have a lovely apartment; I have a fulfilling job. I want a home, children, and some material objects. Honestly, I’m pretty ambitious. But I don’t know how I could ever wake up in the morning and feel alive if I didn’t have a goal that I was striving toward. I am writing a new novel that I hope to publish. I’ve written 45,000 words, and I actually feel good about it. (I know all first drafts are shit though.) Every day I have to write at least 500 words or I am miserable. I mean I felt like I just wasted my day and I should probably beat myself with a belt. (Hyperbole, of course.) But I am more committed than ever to write a great story, and I want to spend the rest of my nights and the rest of my birthdays writing other great stories. I think the only way to turn 30, 40, 50, and on and on is to find a way to breathe life again into the promises we made when we’re younger, because growing older is a conversation with our younger selves: Is this where I wanted to be by now? Is this who I wanted to be? Do I like myself and the person I have become? These questions are essential for turning 30-years old, and the way that one can answer yes is by staying true to the promises. One shouldn’t let the things we say when we’re younger just be empty promises.
1. Make a Legacy: I don’t have children yet, but I think the essential part about turning thirty is finding a way to leave a legacy, to leave something behind, so your image or your memory keeps on ticking long after your own heart stops. This is why I write, and this is the same reason that I’m going to have children…soon. Maybe a person’s legacy doesn’t have to be children, but it has to be something that burns, something that is full of life, even if it’s not alive. I think that’s the real important part of growing older: Finding a way to make something that is bigger than yourself.