I am nearing the end of my 30’s and in talking with friends and clients who are in this same life period, I have been noticing a paradox that seems particular to this life stage:
There is time and there is also not a lot of time.
We are no longer at the beginning of adulthood nor are we at the end of it. With this comes a particular pressure: Dreams still feel possible but may not be possible forever. There is still so much we can and want to achieve, to do, to experience - and yet possibilities may no longer seem limitless like they did in our 20’s.
And even if we are quite happy with our life as it is right now, some choices suddenly start having a ‘now or never’ feel to them.
Many choices at this time are more choices about a potential future than they are about what we want right now.
We may wonder: Is it too late? Too late to change career, to leave this relationship, to have children, to start anew in some way?
We ask ourselves questions like:
Do I want children?
How can I act responsibly for my future health?
Should I start thinking of saving for retirement?
If I don’t change careers now, will it be too late in a few years?
We’ve lived enough life by now to have several relationships or jobs that didn’t work out. We may even have noticed a pattern in how things tend to happen to us.
And this may bring a fed-up-ness that can lead to questioning and the difficult realisation that the common denominator in many of the patterns we seem to repeat is…us.
We may have reached the point where we’ve had enough of these repetitions.
We realise perhaps, that whether we have been obediently following what was expected of us, or doing the exact opposite just to rebel - we are not free.
Who am I when I am not just pleasing and performing and perfecting - but living life for me?
Who am I really? And what is it I actually want beyond what society tells me I should want?
And perhaps what we want now, in this time of our lives, is to be ME. To be free.
We’ve had enough of feeling like we are never enough. Like maybe we could finally start to like ourselves instead of living in a seemingly constant state of self-criticism and self-sabotage.
We may even realise that our body will probably never look or feel better than it does now. That we are ageing. Should we perhaps finally embrace it as it is - flaws and all - in its last hurrah?
We are moving from being the oldest of the young to the youngest of the old.
There is time, and time is also running out if we want to live the life we want to be living.
By this age, there may be a level of settled-ness. Maybe now that family life and career are humming along and we no longer need that initial make things happen energy and we can breathe a little, that pesky little question of What now? starts showing up.
The sense of settled-ness can feel mighty unsettling.
Is this all there is to life?
Is this what I really want?
Is this the life I want to be living?
With all these questions and the sense that some choices need to be made now and not put off any longer, comes the fear to rule all fears at this life stage:
I’m afraid of making decisions or not doing things that I’ll regret later in life.
This can feel almost paralysing - to the extent that we avoid making any decisions at all and just let life continue as it is. Or we may go into overdrive, scurrying after anything that feels it could work, or settling for something more out of fear of missing out than conviction.
I want to offer a different way of viewing the reality of there is time, and time is also running out.
I want to suggest viewing this as hunger. Hunger is simply a signal that we need something.
Before succumbing to hunger and eating anything in sight, it is good to ask ourselves what we feel like eating, and to try to find a restaurant that serves this.
Once we have figured out what we think we want and have ordered the food, it may not end up being what we actually needed or it may not taste good. Sometimes we can get something else while other times we don’t have that option.
When we can’t just make another choice, we can choose to accept that we did the best we could with what we knew when we ordered the food - both what we thought we wanted and the restaurant we chose to satisfy this desire.
In the same vein, we can use the sense of urgency at this life stage as hunger for something that spurs us to take action.
We can explore that hunger and try to meet it in the best way we can - while also realising there is much which is not entirely in our control. We simply don’t know whether things will work out. We don’t know whether we will find a relationship or career that is truly satisfying, whether we will be able to have children or succeed in our entrepreneurial dreams.
We can only do our best in working towards the things that matter to us, in working on the patterns that we keep repeating, in putting ourselves out there.
And regardless of what we choose, whether or not we do something, we cannot guard ourselves against the possibility of regret or disappointment or loss.
Perhaps instead of this angst, this urgency or pressure we feel to act, to choose THE RIGHT THING - we can accept that we can only make the best decisions we can right now with the resources and knowledge we have at the moment - and make a deal with ourselves to remember this, whatever happens.
Because it simply isn’t possible to live a regret-free life. We can’t live without feeling disappointment. And that’s OK. It’s all part of this human adventure.