30 IS THE NEW 20
I remember when I first heard ‘30 is the new 20 ’. It was sometime after Jay-Z’s 30 something came out. I was still a teenager —I was so green at the time.
I was approaching my 20 somethings and I felt naively invincible. I scoffed at the phrase and immediately declared that it was something older people said to make themselves feel young again. Sitting here, now, on the far end of my 20s, I can officially say that I understand and that 30 is in fact the new 20.
I was just like anyone else who thought that my 20s would bring with it complete freedom — freedom from rules, freedom from the overbearing chaos that came from a strained relationship with my parents and an overall sense of feeling at odds with my very existence. I was wrong.
The years between 19 and 30 have been the most uncertain, the least comforting and looking back, I don’t know what exactly possessed me to think it would be any different.
With age came less parental support, although for me, there wasn’t much of that to begin with — the air of black, working class immigrant with no education was thick with limited potential. There was an expectation for me to figure it out that I’m sure stemmed from my mother’s inability to provide any real guidance in any capacity. Any measure of stress triggered the series of lectures embedded with the message, ‘you’re a burden to me. I need you to get your crap together so you can help me financially.’ It inevitably burdened me as it was the song my mother sang endlessly with a chorus of you should be self-sufficient by now.
Each moment added a layer of inadequacy that coded complexed in me that I had no idea how to counter. While I should have been exploring the the possibilities of adulthood, I was battling the blows of inept parenting.
We learned briefly about the concept of inflation in high school in the very concise segments on finance that was taught in history rather than math — and only introduced as it pertained to subjects like The Great Depression. A very simple definition of inflation is a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money. Growing into adulthood didn’t come with diagrams mapping out the different facets of independence and how it would evolve with time. Struggle was in large part due to a lack of preparation of what to expect from the life we were getting ready to wander into and who knew that inflation could loosely be applied to the age of independence as well.
Piecing together the causes and effects of economic inflation would no doubt lead down the rabbit hole of socioeconomics. This includes how future generations would fair given the starting point of their combined familial income, the trajectory of said income [if stable and increasing], education costs, degree acquisitions and job placements. No one in my house was thinking anything about any of that and as a result, neither was I.
I’ve had several conversations in the past few years about how despite certain milestones and the accumulation of certain responsibilities, I still didn’t feel like an adult. I thought getting a job, my license, a car and having a few bills in my name would seal the deal — it didnt. I thought moving out on my own would for sure make me feel grown up — still no. All the while, I accumulated necessities that pushed me further from feeling like “I got this” and made me reliant on family in ways that I never anticipated I would at the ripe old age of 29. Everything I expected to come with my 20s was on backorder and I feared that by the time it came to me, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
It dawned on me that my expectations, for lack of a better place to learn of the nuances of the transition to grown, came entirely from television. There were shows with independent high school students driving themselves to school, living in homes where parents were rarely present, having freedoms and resources that were foreign to me— somehow this is what formed a mental map of how I expected successful navigation through life to be. The examples these television shows and films provided furthered my sense of inadequacy and an unrealistic expectation of just how alright we’d be coming of age.
I expected to have a better sense of self, fresh out of high school. I was sure that the awkward interactions with lockermates and lunch table frenemies were to be blamed for all of my social anxiety and subsequently my failure to launch but there was so much more to it. Between my uncertainty with the growing list of things that were supposed to happen and being blindly led by a desire I hadn’t yet recognized as passion, every year of 20 has been a new level of an escape room to individuality and sustainability that I had yet to reach.
At 20 I was trying out community college after failing to bankroll a semester at university. I got a minimum wage job and began my journey to independence. At 21 and 22 I was bussing between community college and my retail job only to go home to my chaotic family after emotionally draining days. At 23 I was working the same minimum wage job, attending the same community college while paying rent and utilities of my first shared apartment that I moved into after being forced to leave home when my parents split — with no money left after home expenses, car insurance and a cellphone bill. At 24 I let go of the notion of school and moved in with my mother after a year of struggling to make ends meet. At 25 I began to explore art — not thinking it would be my career but wanting to do something that made sense to me while I worked my same minimum wage job and tried to figure things out.
At 26, I spent all my spare resources from my same minimum wage job on creating my first short film — still not knowing if something more could come of it. At 27 I moved out again and wrote my first book, while still working my minimum wage job. My apartment was cheap but so was my pay and my art suffered for all the money I couldn’t put into it even though I finally knew it was the direction I wanted to go and feeling like it was possible. At 28 I put out my second book after leaving the minimum wage job I spent 8 years struggling to cope with. I spent two months unemployed before finding a per diem job that sustained me and my apartment on and off. At 29, I began working occasional contracts as an independent artist making more money in an hour to use my creativity that I did a whole week at any job I ever had. At 2 months before 30, I found myself moving back into my mother’s house to save money so I can invest in the projects I had to put off while I struggled being a self-sufficient independent artist.
There was a recurring dream that I’d have as a child. There was a very tall building with grayish-black tinted windows that I’d start at the top of and spend my entire dream falling from. I felt the motion in my stomach as I fell every single time I had the dream.
There was very little about my 20s that grew from intentionality — there were things I desired, things that I worked towards while deeming them impossible. If I didn’t know better, that dream was preparing me for the free-fall that my life would become.
There are folks who perpetuate the labeling of decades as the ages in which respective life changing events are supposed to take place but if my 20s have solidified anything for me, it’s an attitude of defiance for the concept of supposed to — to hell with all those labels.
Your 20s are developmental years. Your 30s will be more developmental years. Your 40s and 50s will be further developmental and God willing any of us reach our 60s and beyond, we’ll finally be at ease about the never ending development that is life. What are we developing for you ask? — Tomorrow, and for as many tomorrows as we’re granted.
This might mean everything to you as you might’ve lived in a realm of delusion similar to the one I’ve recently vacated. This might mean nothing to you as your 20s might’ve been everything you expected it to be. Either way, life is hard enough without feeling pressured to have it figured out by a certain age. I, personally, have had days that felt a lot more 40 than 20 and ones that were well below adult level. Nothing is certain so take your days as they come and as for the in between — charge it to the game.