The Pressure to Succeed Before Turning 30
Closing the car door with my hip, I shifted the iced latte and stack of notebooks to my other arm and rushed inside, my heels clicking frantically on the pavement. I had left the office a few minutes early, attended a half hour of a monthly board meeting, and was heading in to an evening finance workshop carrying the fourteen-page business plan I had meticulously written - ahead of schedule, of course.
I had recently read an article that said people have the capacity to balance their choice of three of the five: work, family, friends, physical activity, and sleep. I worked in digital marketing writing copy and tracking campaign results, and most days, I participated in a continual group chat with faraway family members, grabbed cocktails with friends, attended early morning spin classes in a hip studio, and got at least seven hours of sleep each night. On weekends, I leisurely shopped the farmer’s market, read the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal, wandered the museum or went to matinees with friends, and spent hours making dinner from recipes ripped from the pages of Bon Appétit. I was 26 and convinced I had it all.
The week before my 27th birthday, I signed the lease on a small storefront space in a burgeoning part of town and went home buzzing with pride imagining all I would be able to accomplish before 30. I had been feeling fatigued and crampy, but I figured it was from juggling all my responsibilities and some recent travel for an out-of-state wedding. On a hunch, though, I bought a pregnancy test on my way home and was shocked when I peeked and it was positive.
At my birthday dinner the following week, friends asked about the progress of the retail store I was planning to open and I beamed, happy things were coming along so neatly and thrilled with the secret inside me. A few weeks later, right before I was going to ask my boss if I could begin working from home part-time to get the store going, our employer laid off our entire team on a sticky July morning. While I had plans to open my storefront that fall, I was twelve weeks pregnant and suddenly without a paycheck or health insurance or a structured schedule. A friend offered to take me out for hot wings at lunch, and because the layoff felt like a colossal failure and I had decided failure was not an option for me, I made too many jokes and blamed the tears wetting the corners of my eyes on the spicy sauce.
Finally, one morning in October, I opened the doors to my store for the first time to a line of supportive women ready to shop. My daughter kicked inside me throughout the day as I rang up purchases and poured small cups of champagne for customers. At the end of the day, my feet were aching and the sales dashboard was lit up in lime - both signs of a successful opening.
Months passed, sales grew, and the store received some press. The day before my daughter was born, a local magazine - one I was determined to be on the cover of by age 30 - interviewed me for an article they were writing about my company. The next morning, my daughter arrived, and everything changed.
That spring, I was barely averaging two or three walks around the neighborhood a month and seeing friends even less. I was always yawning and forgetting the names of frequent customers and snapping at my husband over nothing. Around me, friends were receiving promotions and classmates from my hometown were landing on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list. I had spent most of my twenties wanting to be the best and to achieve the most, making sacrifices and constantly assessing how I measured up to my peers. I thought, Janis Joplin and John Lennon were wildly accomplished in their twenties - why can’t I be, too? I relished the validation I felt when friends demanded to know how I was balancing it all - as if they hadn’t noticed I missed the last happy hour and afternoon movie - but deep down, I was unmoored.
Just before my 29th birthday, I closed the storefront. With my toddler on my hip, I locked the door and handed the keys over to the landlord, my eyes crinkling with tears as I walked quietly to the car. For the first time, I didn’t have a plan for what to do next and my calendar was completely empty. I couldn’t stop crying with relief.
I’m a few months from turning thirty, pregnant with my second child and slowly working on my first novel. Now, there’s no benchmarks or deadlines. Just time, and plenty of it.