Today is my 40th birthday. Birthdays are my favorite holiday. They are proof I’m still here and survived another year of what life threw at me. 40 is great because I get to move up another age group in running. 40 is significant because I have now outlived my paternal grandmother, who passed away from a stroke at age 39. Each decade I’m alive keeps getting better, so here’s hoping that 40 is awesome.
Looking back on my 30s, they were pretty amazing. My 30s were definitely better than my 20s.
The three major challenges I had in my 30s were the heartache of Kip’s death, the heartache of Kitty’s death, and my stroke at age 37. There were other really bad things too, but these three were the worst.
With those notable exceptions, my 30s were (so far) my best decade.
In random, but somewhat chronological order, here are 10 things that made my 30s the best decade ever:
- I completed my bachelor’s degree.
It took 15 years to do so. In those 15 years, I did get an associate’s degree, live in at least 4 different states, battle homelessness, and work 3 jobs 60-70 hours per week, but I got it done. My bachelor’s degree was the only degree for which I was not valedictorian, and it was the only graduation ceremony I attended. Out of all my degrees, finishing my bachelor’s was definitely not only the most challenging, but also the most fun.
- I ran marathons.
More than one. I’ve ran in Philly, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Scranton, and a few other cities. Each one is precious. I ran a marathon down the longest street in the world (true story). I ran my first point-to-point (city-to-city) marathon. I represented Team USA internationally. I had the opportunity to run into an Olympic Stadium (not during an actual Olympics). I’ve gotten a high five at the finish line from the Mayor of a major American city. I’ve had limo service to my pre-race dinner as a “visiting athlete.” My medals actually mean more than my degrees.
- I got to see my MLB team play on home turf.
Every baseball fan should have this experience at least once in their life. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is completely magical to be at the stadium on game day, to watch the maintenance people prep the lawn, and then finally see your heroes take the field to play the best game on Earth. If you have not yet had this experience, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Pro sports tickets are extremely expensive, but try to save to go just once. It’s one of my favorite memories of all time.
- I got to see my MLB team win the World Series (on TV, not in person).
This is another experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. I’ve seen road wins and I’ve seen home wins. The home win is just something everyone should be able to experience once. No one should have to die without having seen their team win the World Series.
- I fell in love.
You hear this all the time. In my 20s, the remark was almost flippant. In my 30s, this phrase took on meaning. I don’t mean the lightning strike love-at-first-sight moment that is a complete whirlwind and then all of a sudden fizzles. I’m talking about the kind of love where you have known a person for decades through good and bad and are 100% supportive of that person, even when they are doing things that are not necessarily great. I’m not talking about being a door mat. I’m talking about actually being someone’s partner and having the ability to love a person so much that you are always there for them even if their life choices take them away from you. The kind of love that you know that is your person and there is no one else you click with like that, who knows you so well.
- I finished my Master’s degree.
If my bachelor’s degree seemed an impossibility, then grad school was a pipe dream. I actually think I was in the final year of my bachelor’s when I started asking people to explain grad school to me. No one in my family had ever even gone to college and the only people I knew with graduate degrees were my professors. It was like some hidden Holy Grail that I was finally able to unlock. I am now a Jill of all trades and master of ONE!
- I rode the unicorn into extinction.
By this I mean that I had that elusive experience of all adulthood – I had my dream job. I had a job I loved so much that it didn’t feel like work. I just showed up to do what I wanted to do – what I had spent 20 years of my life preparing to do – and happened to get paid to do that every day. I would have been so happy to do that every single day until I died or retired. How many people in this country have the privilege of being able to say “I love what I do” and actually mean it? Or should I say, how many people can actually say “I love what I do” and are getting paid to do it at a level that meets all their living expenses. All dreams must come to an end, and the company I worked for decided to pull out of New York State. So I rode the unicorn to the end of the rainbow not to find a pot of gold like I had expected, but just an empty void that I still have not figured out how to fill. Once you’ve had your dream job, nothing else will ever live up to that experience. Especially when the job you find to replace the dream doesn’t even respect you. Now, this is extinction.
- I bought a house.
If my masters degree was a pipe dream, well, I’ll tell you right now that buying a home was never on my radar. At all. I have never lived in a house. I have spent a chunk of my life being homeless. I never figured a “person like me” would even own a home. I never entertained the idea or even saved for one. Owning a home was a joke. My back-up plan for housing was – well, if things go bad, I’ll just move back to Massachusetts or buy a house, insert excessive laughter literally rolling on the floor laughing here. Buying a house is one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. So far, it’s also been one of the best choices I have ever made. I kept my family together and the cats are so much happier here than they were in the apartment. Funny, I never thought they were unhappy in the apartment, it’s just a contrast to see how well they are doing in the house.
- Anything less than 110% is … okay?
I spent almost 25 years of my life burning the candle at both ends. I slept 4 hours a day. I worked 3 jobs to make ends meet because really, who can survive on minimum wage? I worked 60-70 hours per week while going to school full-time working on my degrees. I excelled in school. Some call me an overachiever. So, when my stroke completely knocked me down a few years ago, it is quite a shock to only operate at abut 86%. Which, by the way, is considered my “level of functioning.” I am also considered “fully recovered.” Even though the doctors consider me fully functional, it is hard for me to accept that this is all I can do now. I’m used to doing so much more. What my stroke has taught me, is that it is okay to slow down. I can rest and still get things done. I’m pretty grateful to have learned this lesson now and be at 86% than to have just worked myself into the ground – it could have been worse. Listen to your body is the greatest lesson I have learned in my 30s.
- Family First
Family first has been carrying me through life since Kitty, as a 4-month old kitten, first climbed up onto my shoulders at the animal shelter and would not get down when I was 19. He picked me out. I took him home. We were together until he passed away from cancer just before his 19th birthday. Every major life choice I have made has centered around keeping my family together. Through everything that has happened with work, school, running, and health, at the end of the day, I come home to my furkids. They are always here, happy to see me with unconditional love. Family first is the tenant that will carry me into my 40s. As long as we are all together, everything is okay. My primary job is keeping us all together, loving my cats and being loved by them.
Of course, none of this would be possible without God. That’s the bottom line. God has done great things in my life through my 30s. I can’t wait to see what’s next for 40. Thanks for making my 30s my best decade so far.
My life verses:
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)