The 30-something shift

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy,
“and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

Start running. Start dancing. Start studying to train as a medic. Start a church. Apply for a transfer to New York. Transfer to London from Minneapolis. Move to Abu Dhabi. Move to Thailand. Move to Moldova. Move to South Sudan. Quit your job without having a new job to go to…

All of these things have all happened to me and my friends in the past couple of years. And we’ve all either turned or are about to turn thirty.

When we were teenagers we were all told we’d have several careers in our lifetimes. The days of one-job for life were long gone, and the time where you’d only do one thing in your life were numbered when we were 16. Now they are definitely gone. We’re the slash-generation – all of us have multiple roles and identities. Just look at our Twitter descriptions. We’re all ‘accountants/photographers/wannabe breadmakers/proud mothers of two’ these days. No one is or does just one thing anymore.

In spite of having multiple jobs, careers and identities, after almost a decade of working life, those of us without partners and children have still begun to get itchy. ‘Is this it?’ we start to ask ourselves secretly. ‘Am I really just going to be an accountant/photographer/wannabe breadmaker for the rest of my life?’

All our friends are getting married and moving away. Our Facebook feeds start to fill up with the mindless details of the mundanity of parenthood and home ownership – images of living rooms redecorated and statuses featuring the adorable things that the baby just said. We begin to feel we have no stories to tell, or worse still, that we’re not even part of a story worth telling.
We suspect that when it comes to telling the stories of our lives, whole swathes of it will be able to be summed up ‘Got up, got dressed, went to work early, stayed in the office late, came home, went to bed’ with bits of social drinking spattered in between it all to take the edge off the boredom.


For a lot of us our lives are different to how we imagined them – not necessarily better or worse. But, for example, ten years ago, I really did think it highly probable I’d be married with children at this age. (Not that I did very much to make that happen then, or that I was a particularly enticing catch at that time), and would never have dreamed that I’d be living in London, having been and done the things I have since I moved.

I’ve no idea whether I’ll still be in London in a decade’s time, or if I’ll be married with children in the next ten years. If that’s not going to be one of the big stories of my life, what is?

All this existential angst might be precipitated by heartbreak, or by a bad experience at work, or redundancy. Or it could be a characteristic of us as the ‘shoulder generation’, those who straddle Gen X and Gen Y. Whatever the motivation, after the crisis and the self-analysis, invariably we take a bold decision.

Without children, infirm parents or any commitments that tie us into responsibility, we have immense freedom, the advantage of youthfulness without naivity, of experience on our CVs we can return to if we abandon our jobs momentarily, of financial security, and of the certainty of who we are that grows with age.

All of my childless friends are moving, taking risks, doing dramatic or adventurous things. It’s almost as if we woke up one morning, to get up, get dressed and go into work early to come home late to fall into bed, and thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, and I’m not going to be young forever. I’m not going to do this any more.’

So we’ve taken bold steps – moved country, changed careers, quit our jobs, reinvented ourselves entirely. Maybe this is more than a 30-something shift. Maybe we’re actually generationally insane.

Whatever it is, at least we’ll have cool photos to show and great stories to tell at the end of it all. I hope.


90 responses to “The 30-something shift

  1. Proposing a challenge for people to try to identify themselves without referring to ‘jobs’ such as ‘accountants/photographers/wannabe breadmakers/proud mothers of two/student/teacher’ etc. and with personal qualities unique to them. A fine nutcracker.

  2. What would we do without social media like WordPress and facebook? Do you think we would exist and would we be able to get out of the thirty-year crisis, right?

  3. @So we’ve taken bold steps – moved country, changed careers, quit our jobs, reinvented ourselves entirely. Maybe this is more than a 30-something shift. Maybe we’re actually generationally insane….>>I think this can be said for alot of those of us in our 40s also…Mayhaps for different reasons..Kids are now gone off to college & we can for the first time do whatevertheheck we want to DO, sans children. All of my adult life I’ve been a full time hands on parent. It is what I know how to do best..and with the last one off to college & a career that the recession chomped away…I’ve just begun an entire new life 3,500 miles from where I’d spent the past 20 yrs of my life. Anyone out there think maybe the recession , and layoffs, companies going bankrupt…that caused a shift in how people now view jobs vs career and their lives in general?

  4. I don’t think the angst is unique to any generation. People have always wondered if this is all they’ll do with their lives, no matter what they were doing or when thy were doing it. What’s changed, I think, is whether people think you’re crazy for cutting loose of one path and choosing another, and even THAT, I think people did a lot more in the past than we assume. A lot of people make major changes in their twenties and thirties when they’re unfettered, in their forties and fifties when their kids are older or grown, in their sixties when they cut back on work or look for something new to do in retirement. We’re all searching at some point in our lives.

  5. Totally. I love being in my 30s, but having past the 35 mark, I’m starting to itch, like, if I’m gonna do something big, I need to get moving on it. I am desperate to change my career and am trying to get into PhD. If that doesn’t work out, I think I’ll knit things to sell on the renaissance fair circuit. Or make and sell cigars. Any of those three directions – what shall I choose?

    • Well if you go into cigars I’ll happily sample them and write about them!! Good luck and be brave. Maybe it’s the change that matters not which change…

  6. Being an-almost-thirty-something, it is super easy to relate to your post. I’m about to put my 10 year high school reunion on a month before I graduate college. Slowly but surely…:)

  7. I think it’s important to live as rounded a life as possible – with family, career, community organizations, and hobbies – while maintaining a good, healthy balance. It is good to push ourselves, but also good to appreciate the moment.
    That being said, I’ll admit I’m nearing thirty, and looking at going back to school for a masters partially to get out of my local area and try new things.

  8. There are going to be beginnings all through your life- it’s the willingness to allow them that makes the difference… I think you will.

  9. Spot on! A couple of years ago, I quit my job at one of the big banks to write a book. Now I’m a freelance writer/tutor/blogger and a few other somethings. I hope this all leads somewhere.

  10. When you reach 60+, if your memories are intact and pleasant, you may very well wish you could go back to the non-attachment of your 30s. Just saying…

  11. I’m half way through my thirties and am also not married and without kids, so I relate to much of what you’re saying. However, I also want to offer that I think this generation has an opportunity to really make a difference. We may have no obvious responsibilities, but that’s not to say that the world as it is couldn’t benefit from us taking some responsibility voluntarily. Find something that matters to you (the protecting the environment, tackling poverty, improving education, ethical food production) and make a difference. Then you’ll have more than photos and stories to show for it – you’ll have a legacy – and something to keep living for, well beyond your thirties.

    • I couldn’t agree more. It can’t just be about feeding our own narcissism! Most of my friends mentioned at the start of the blog are now working with charities or for the benefit of others. I’ll keep you posted!

  12. Interesting. I’m well and truly long past my 30’s and I could have written this. I don’t think it’s about your generation. I’m a borderling Baby Boomer/GenX, and me and my friends and I are doing the same. I think it’s about the times we live in. So much is so easily available. Airfares are cheap, and the internet links us so quickly and easily with the parts of the world that we hadn’t even heard of 20 years ago.

  13. Good for you and good for you for noticing before and not after your 30s. See…there ARE opportunities in what seems to me misfortunes

  14. I’m one of the mums who doesn’t want to be solely identified as just a mum – although I regularly am. My childless friends have the exciting experiences I can only dream about until my kiddies have flown the nest and I refuse to let them back in. I’m terrified of turning 30. I have the family. I have no career of note. I have experiences but not life changing ones. I have the desire to be the bird that flies the nest, but my foot is stuck. I’d love to do something daring that doesn’t include changing stinky nappies on a moving train or something equally as wild lol. I say embrace the changes. Embrace the life you have. I could get really down about thinking how life would be different without my kids. To be honest, I’d hate it because I’d still probably be too afraid to get off my ass and do something. I say be the generation that just kicks ass and has fun no matter what situation you’re in. If all else fails, just double the wine intake and shorten the mini skirt 🙂

    • Great advice, though I don’t think I really need encouraging to drink any more!! Having kids is an adventure and when they’re older you’ll still be young enough to do the wild and eccentric things you dream of. I think it’s all about making sure you’re making the most of every moment for what it is. And taking the opportunities as you can – I’m sure you are and will!!

  15. live it up, girl! i love your giddy-up! thank you for living so fully and sharing with us. i’m a 30-something with kids but they don’t hold me back from being bold and living my own life, they push me forward. or maybe i’m dragging them forward. nothing mundane to report here. ;-0 peace!

  16. I just turned 31, am martied with 3 kids, and a steady career; and I feel like I’m stuck in repeat sometimes. I love my life, husband and kids! But, I guess it goes both ways; when you’re all settled down, you wonder what it would be like to be out there still figuring it out. I guess it’s just part of living.

  17. Love this. Such a perfect explanation of the shift going into 30’s. I often mindlessly scroll through Facebook and other social media, taking note of the endless lists of ‘my baby just burped!’ and ‘waiting for the loan officer’ comments, feeling how bored and tired I am with life. However, there’s still so much ahead, and all of those bits and pieces that make up our accountant/mother/wife/photographer/book-reader personalities are adventures waiting to happen.

  18. Mother/blogger/worker-bee/knitter/reader/biker/hiker….the list just keeps growing with every decade. As I’m sure you’ve heard from my generation too many times, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” A great post that expresses universal angst on the road to self discovery.

  19. I totally get this! I am 28, and my Facebook feed is definitely the source of my inadequate feelings. If it’s not a cute family picture with the little tyke and a baby on the way, it’s an update from my childless friends who are traveling the world, finishing law school or graduating with a Harvard MBA. We tend to stack ourselves up against each other in some kind of competition to…what? To be able to have the most interesting conversation at the 20-tear reunion? I have no idea. It’s interesting, though. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s noticing it.

  20. You have hit the nail on the head. V enjoyable blog which i completely relate to as woman in her 30s with a house, long term partner, boring job and no children, with a mind full of aspirations!

      • I’m well into the pre-applying process! Thanks for the encouragement, and I love your blog!

  21. I’m 41 and my friends did much the same in their late 20s/early 30s, moved country, changed careers, reinvented themselves, as you described at the beginning of your post. Doesn’t sound like much has changed to me!

  22. There is not need to work 40 hours per week for 50 years. Most people can become financially free in under 5 years and then fund a lifestyle that makes them content. Idleness is the new productivity.

    Mr Simple

  23. Loved your post…

    Everything you wrote is absolutely true. I am 38, been married for 12 years and have a 7 yo daughter. I am certain that if I were single and childless, I’d be traveling the world and being spontaneous and, as you said, “generationally insane”.
    No one knows what’s coming right around the corner, so the only thing left to do is enjoy our life, whatever and however we’re living it.

  24. london gives an unrealistic view
    of the rest of the country and Europe
    only when leaving
    it does this become apparent

    there is no wrong in being the age you are
    any year


  25. Pingback: The 30-something shift | finolawennekes·

  26. Wow – I loved the post got a snicker or two out of it and really enjoyed all of the comments as well. I have been re-living my exchange student adventures Down Under and it’s causing the same type of feelings that you describe (I’m 37). I’ve even said to my husband …..”I think I’m going to get a blackbelt… you think I can do it?” You just start looking at all of those little things you have had in the back of your mind, and say – Today is the day! Now I do have kid’s, home, etc. So for me – I think my big challange adventure (besides the black belt – i’m serious damn it) will be to head back to OZ as a follow-up to my blog adventure. This will be tough – leaving the kids suck – so I have to muster the corage to set forth alone. Who wants to meet me at the top of Ayers Rock? 🙂

  27. Oh God. I am about to be 30 soon, am single and the first bit of this post just looks into my eyes and speaks to me! I haven’t done any of those daring things though.. maybe once the big 30 happens my view may shift?

  28. “mundanity of parenthood”… parenthood makes a massive difference, let me tell you – from a parent that never thought it would happen. Not my idea of things – too much responsibility, too great a risk to possibly mess up someone’s life. Well, I have three kids now. It’s not easy, but it is weirdly richly rewarding in a super way. A society without kids is definitely worse off – like they say in the documentary I can definitely recommend for something to make you ponder over. Called “Demographic Winter” & it is more thought provoking than the name might sound. There is a part two also & the full part 1 used to be / is on YouTube.

    • Hey – thanks for sharing those links. I don’t want to denigrate parenthood at all! I hope to be a parent at some point (hopefully sooner rather than too late!) and in the meantime, am trying to work out where I can bring meaning to the world, without a family.

      • Cool. 🙂

        A worthy pursuit – what is more important than that?

        I hope you do experience the blessing of having kids, it teaches you things about life – lots to do with the selfish ways we all have. Kids force that out of you (painfully) to some extent… but it’s still rewarding amongst all the pain & struggle. I figure God gave people kids to know what He feels & struggles with in our lives – stubbornness, etc, etc.

        I pray you are lead to your maximally great purpose in life & may you have perfect peace there.

        Blessings to you 🙂

  29. You basically just summed up what I’ve started to think about recently! I may be 2 years away from 30 but it is always there staring me in the face. Your comment about Facebook posts struck a cord with me. I was just today looking at all the posts from friends about their children and all the people who are getting engaged and here I am saying look at my cat!

  30. I am not yet in my thirties, but this was a good insight to the itchiness that goes with being an adult in different waves. Similar to the one I’m going through in my twenties. (Minus the kids) jobs, (trying to face careers and changes.) settling into relationships. So many of us try to ignore the little issues, but facing them may give us a little more joy and an acknowledgment of the little things we overcome day to day.

  31. I reinvent myself all the time! At 40 I moved to Asia to teach English and that wasn’t even my craziest reinvention. As I always tell my friends, families, and companions after each hiccup in life happens, “Imagine all the cool stories we will have to tell!” Everything we do, everything that happens, is a cool story. 🙂

  32. Wow, excellent article. I’m 32, in a long term relationship with my partner (I think we’re too old to be BFs and GF) who’s soon to turn 37.

    I’ve noticed something, there are an awful lot of us that don’t have or want children. It’s almost like our generation went, ‘nah, i like being free to do what we want’, or, we thought ‘we’ll get to that later’.

    So are we a headstrong generation of deliberate the perpetually young determined to enjoy ourselves forever, or,  are we a generation of procrastinaters too scared to take the plunge into full blown adulthood?

    Great blog.

  33. This generation has arrived at a new normal. A normal without expectations. Our parents and grandparents experienced great depressions, world wars, civil rights movements and technological advancements at a rate that may never again be felt in terms of historical significance and breaking of boundaries. What that has left us today is a world without benchmarks and deadlines to be something by or change something within. There once was incredible value in living your life solely to get to certain places, i.e. marriage, then kids, start business, retire. The lives of so many before us were defined by the ends. What did they make of their lives. Today, we live with a personal freedom of spirit allowing us to find more value in how we lived, in the journey to our destination. It seems to me like you have a good appreciation for what’s to come of that.

  34. I loved your post and the comments everyone has written. I am single and in my mid-thirties and I love the freedom I have. In my twenties most of my friends were in relationships and had kids and I wanted that too. Now I have a new group of friends and most are about ten years older, divorced and have teenaged kids or older and I keep on observing them and wondering if I want that. Even though I know there can be wonderful parts to it, I think I can be ok without it now.

    I also keep on striving to do something but I’m not really sure what direction to go in. Your post made me feel like it’s not just me and it will all be ok. Thanks 🙂

  35. Beautifully written. I am 32 and can completely relate to this. The post has given me a lot to thin about but now married and a kid its difficult to do anything which your heart say. I guess mind is more dominant after 30.

  36. Pingback: The 30-something shift | Anthony By Night·

  37. Am going to be half way 30 in a couple of years and am still husband-less and children-less thereby snapped by many for not having the rights to have any real or any reason for having stories. (lol) I may not have the responsibilities of changing nappies and serving hot food to a husband but I have dreams and aspirations to quit my job, or to travel for half a year or just get wasted and I want to be responsible for them so I have some story to tell and photographs to show.
    You resonated my words and am definitely not the only one here. lovely article. loved it all especially this ” We begin to feel we have no stories to tell, or worse still, that we’re not even part of a story worth telling. We suspect that when it comes to telling the stories of our lives, whole swathes of it will be able to be summed up ‘Got up, got dressed, went to work early, stayed in the office late, came home, went to bed’ with bits of social drinking spattered in between it all to take the edge off the boredom.”
    congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  38. Not only did I totally relate – but you published this on my 30th birthday! Which was approximately 6 months after I left my wonderful hometown (London), and changed career and country…must by something in the (Thames?) water.

    Thanks for making me smile!

    PS – Love the pic – when the job offer came through I recalled an image I’d seen on the underground recently; a poster for a Frankie Boyle book/show titled ‘Work! Consume! Die!’

  39. Pingback: The end of the Jesus Year | Me and the Girl from Clapham·

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