Turning Almost-Thirty In a World of “Do This Before your Thirty…”


John Dominis, 1968. LIFE Picture Collection.


I turn 29 this week!

I’ve got one year till I turn 30- trust me. I’ve crunched the numbers– so I found myself googling those “things you must do/read/try/remember/see before you’re 30” lists just to see how well I’m doing.

Some notable items from these lists:

  • Run a marathon – I’m not doing that.
  • Forgive your parents – I’m more hoping my parents forgive me. I’ve been an expensive child.
  • Own a decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family – Where is the furniture decency rubric? Who do you think you are? The furniture police? Who gets to say what decent furniture is? FYI, I’m sitting on the floor, so it probably isn’t me.

  • Buy your favorite arcade game – …what?
  • Get yourself out of debt – I can’t. I bought an arcade game.
  • Come face to face with Mother Nature – Well, I mean, I’ve started a fight club with the Wisconsin chipmunk community, so there’s that.
  • Build your brand – The fact someone put “build your brand” on a list of things to accomplish before you’re 30 is the reason people hate my generation.
  • Get lost! – Emotionally? Spiritually? Existentially? Does it count that I forgot where I parked my car the last time I went to Target?
  • Be nice  – “Be nice” was number 22 on a list of 30 things to do before you’re 30. “Buy an arcade game” beat out be a nice person.

There were lists of books to read before you’re 30. And things you should know how to cook before you turn 30. And shows you should watch before you’re 30. And foods you should eat before you’re 30.


Cornell Capa, ca. 1940s. LIFE Picture Collection.

Why? Does Mother Nature shut her doors to people no longer in their twenties? Do you lose your ability to process Jane Eyre? Do all your joints implode and you’re left hobbling the rest of your years, so say goodbye to Kilamanjaro?!

If there’s joint-imploding, and no one told me, I swear to Franklin- the ring-leader from my chipmunk fight club- I will have so many angry Facebook statuses to write.

Guys, these lists are the reason people make such a big deal out of turning 30. It makes turning 30 sound like you must retire from any physical, mental, or cultural activity and sit quietly in a poorly lit room eating saltines and doing word searches, talking to anyone who will listen about your thoughts on arch support.

The world does not shut down just because you get older.

I was getting ready to run a 10K once, and nervous at the starting line, my sister said, “don’t worry. Everyone should just go at the pace they feel most awesome.”

  1. That day, my pace was, as I like to call it, “very slow.”
  2. Life happens at its own pace too.

They’re discussing their 401Ks. It’s a thing you’re supposed to do before you turn 10. Photo: Kids from Cheremoya Avenue Elementary, 1950s. Photographer unknown.

Getting older is not a checklist. We shouldn’t write experiences out of our lives just because we’ve hit a certain milestone.

I understand that most of these lists are written with the intent of encouraging living life to the fullest, but often a person’s twenties are spent paying dues and starting at the bottom. And dealing with the fact that sometimes “the fullest” is getting the bills paid.

It’s silly to create a set of expectations for any decade of our lives, but that being said, I have made a list of things I can confidently say a person shouldn’t do by the time they turn 30:

  • Buy an arcade game – I can immediately think of 72 better uses for that money. #47: Buy me sensible shoes. I’m turning 29. My feet aren’t what they used to be.
  • Stir coffee with a veggie peeler because all the spoons are dirty – That would be a low point if that ever happened. It definitely didn’t happen to me. Just in general. I’m great at spoons.
  • Do drugs – Trust me, I was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education essay contest winner in fifth grade. Plus, I’ve seen Breaking Bad. I know what I’m talking about.
  • Eat Flaming Hot Cheetoes – I get it. They’re very red, and that’s exciting. But things that are that red are probably not good on your insides.
  • Say things like “build your brand.” It’s weird. You’re a person. Talk like a person.
  • Kill a man – You shouldn’t do this by the time you turn 30, and then you should continue to not do this after you’ve turned 30. With “be nice” on the list of things to do before you turn 30, I feel like this bullet is important to include.
  • Ignore people older than you – They’ve been you’re age. They get what you’re going through, and have experiences to back up what they’re saying. Are you listening to me, coworkers?! I am very very wise!

Everything else is probably fine.

You’re learning how to be a grown-up: Pay the bills. Call your parents. Eat a green vegetable. Then read a book. That’s my list.


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