I feel like I’ve fallen behind. Most of my friends have houses, cars, stable 9-5s, wives, and kids on the way.
Me? I’ve got an apartment, a ton of frequent flier miles (though no car), and a business I’ve been growing for the past eight years. And though kids are many years away for me (I’d like a steady girlfriend first…) I am pretty serious about buying some plants soon.
In my worse moments I fear I’m going to be that weird 52 year old. The one still trying to hang with 20-somethings, misusing the vernacular of the day, clad in JNCOs and bright sneakers.
I turned 30 a few weeks ago. One of the most important things I learned in my 20’s is to stare fear straight in the fucking eye. When you actually examine your fears, you uncover their dirty secret: most have no real power and no real connection to reality.
So I went on a long walk and thought carefully about my friends lives, trying to figure out just how much I have fallen behind. The men I’m going to profile are all 30. I’m going to change their names – it would be insane not to – but little else in the following profiles are altered.
Five Men at 30
Mark just got laid off from his hot startup job in SF. He and his wife are separated after two years of marriage. They split because she caught him cheating. Worse still, it wasn’t a one off encounter. He was cheating in a very controlled, intentional way. I assume they’ll be divorced soon. Mark tells me that these changes (loss of love, and loss of employment) are for the better.
Karl has had some very tough years. One of his parents was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. The other parent is an addict with a touch and go relationship to recovery. Last year, Karl was dating a woman he thought he’d marry. Out of the blue, she broke up with him. Karl also suffers from chronic pain that the doctors haven’t been able to alleviate. He’s used his suffering to teach him about life, particularly love, strength, weakness, and the limits (or lack their of) of influence. He is in a monogamous relationship, but it’s future is unclear. It seems like a case of right person, wrong time. He has a job he likes, is very healthy (except for the chronic pain), and has a decent amount of money saved up.
Walter is the most successful of the bunch. He was the first to make six figures, and oversees nearly 50 employees at an organization he co-founded. But it comes at a cost. He works 70-hour weeks. For a long time he was overweight. I asked him a few months ago, “Are you happy?” He said he was neither happy nor unhappy. He’s engaged to a woman he loves, though the relationship is a distant second to his work. His fiancé knows she’s number two. She responds by throwing herself into her work, mirroring his actions. She’s become very influential at her organization. To most people, they look like a power couple.
Asad and his wife bought a big home in the most boring town I’ve ever been to. They say they love where they live. Asad has an advanced degree in engineering but makes less than he expected to. He and his wife have a decent relationship, and are expecting their first child this summer. Asad is the type of guy who likes to have a lot of stability in his life. While his life appears perfect on paper, there’s something haunting him, his wife, and their future children. His wife has a terminal disease that – shy of a medical breakthrough – is going to end her life before their children are grown.
Shawn is in school to become a doctor. His wife is a Physician Assistant. She’s pregnant and due in the autumn. They own a beautiful home in a small city where they have a lot of friends and family. They’re both healthy and happy. While they have a few minor problems, they seem to have won the life lottery.
Carl is my other close friend who seems to have won the life lottery. He married his first love, stumbled into his dream job (and with it a 100% raise), oversees a team of 25 who adore him, and owns a charming home. He is expecting his first child later this year.
What Do All Successful 30-Year-Old Men Have In Common?
When I looked carefully at the lives of my friends, I realized something that surprised me: there was no clear avatar for how a man should be at 30.
It’s not that I was ahead or behind (and you’re not either), it’s that there is no singular path, no way you should be.
I know that sounds obvious — maybe even trite — but to me it was eye opening.
Some of my friends won the life lottery. They’re happy, healthy, in love, stable. Some have endured true pain. Most are somewhere in between. Most have romantic partners, but rarely are the relationships are placid or as easy as they appear. Few have any significant savings, and most are paying off debt of some sort.
Before I started reflecting, I was worried that there was something wrong with me because I am a work in progress. However, I realized that at 30, a man should be a work in progress.
At 30 your employment should serve the dual purpose of shaping you into a better man, while also improving your community. Health should be a priority, as should taking good care of the people around you. When faced with difficulty, I think you should stare it straight in the eye, and when you fuck up, I think you should proactively own it.
So, How Should a Man Be at 30?
In a word, open.
Most of our lives thus far have been spent preparing for (school, first kisses, entry level jobs, etc.), or experimenting (traveling, sex, relationships, asking for promotions, etc.).
Our job now is to stay open. First, open to ourselves and what we find within, and then to the world around us.
That means that if you haven’t found your path just yet, that’s ok. Keep looking. If you have found your path already, then your job is to stride down it.
The error that men make around now (and it leads to cheating on your wife, bad health, living in the wrong place, etc) is doubling down on the mistakes they made in their twenties. The refusal to own and fix a mistake is a form of closure. It’s easier to be closed than open – openness requires a deceptive amount of courage – but being closed will never get you to where you want to be.
And if you get good at being open, you should take on the bigger challenge of finding the courage to be your true self.
Read More By Jason Connell:
Maslow Got it Wrong: What I Learned From Feeding the Homeless on My Birthday
Finding Your Deep Gifts in a Shallow World
Jason Connell is a speaker and writer who teaches confidence, self-love, and self-compassion. He’s worked with everyone from Senior members of the Obama administration and professional athletes to middle school students and emerging entrepreneurs. He shares his thoughts on life, authenticity, and power at: JasonConnell.co.
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