Claiming My 30’s

I have been spending a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about my 20’s. A lot. You would think that I would have done this in April, when I turned 30, right? Well. When I turned 30 I was in the middle of doing a rather small thing, otherwise known as re-launching this site. When I turned 30 I was so busy obsessing about what I’d ACHEIVED and what I had to show for my life that, um, I didn’t take time to actually think about where I’d been. Which might have been useful.

I spent the bulk of my 20’s in New York City, making art, being exceedingly broke, drinking a lot of Makers Mark and soda,* working a patchwork of jobs, and doing things that I never imagined I’d get a chance to do. Like getting my BFA in experimental theatre, say, or starting a theatre company, or having Peter Yarrow sing “If I Had a Hammer” in his living room to raise $1,000 for our next production, or throwing a black tie gala for 350 people, or meeting my soon-to-be husband and finding out he was my high school rival (what? yes.), or having the World Trade Center collapse while I was trapped in my apartment building a few blocks away, or watching a gun being fired on my street, or being so broke that I had mice climbing around in my sofa.

So it was a mix, really – a mix of profoundly wonderful and profoundly awful. But the thing about living through the darkest days is it means you notice the small glorious moments, in a way you never did before. You notice them, you absorb them, and you remember them.

When I look back, I see performance art in empty studios at my conservatory, I see a cloud of ash stretching straight up to the sky, I see margaritas in red cups at the end of a pier, I see temp jobs, and yoga classes, and opening nights. I see late nights in Hells Kitchen, and so many production meetings, and walking barefoot around the theatre office I managed in midtown.

I remember being out at a bar, trashed, at two in the morning singing our lungs out. We were singing the lyrics:

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

And I remember leaning over to David, back when we were just friends, sort of screaming over the crowd as I clutched my drink, “You know what? THESE are the days.” And David yelled, “WHAT?” and I yelled louder, “THESE are the days! Right now!” And his eyes sort of widened and he yelled back, “I guess you’re right.” And they totally were. And I’m still sort of in shock that life isn’t exactly the same.

The realization I’ve come to over the last few weeks, is that I really, truly, lived the f*ck out of my 20’s. I may not have emerged with a totally cohesive career (though I’m getting there)… but I did emerge with almost no regrets. Other than a handful of months when I was still almost 19, I dated only pretty nice people. I did almost everything that I wanted to do,** no matter how scary or unsuccessful it was. I did not consume large amounts of toxic anything. I did the starving artist gig. I spent a lot of time discovering what I actually wanted out of life. I moved across country. I got married.

So now I’m trying to wrap my head around 30 – about being married and in my thirties. I know being 30 does not mean what it means in the movies – an enormous apartment, a career making ludicrous amounts of money in an exciting-but-not-usually-lucrative field like architecture or writing, an enormous amount of free time, and a family. Very few people have all of that. And honestly, I wouldn’t have that if I could get it. It’s too soon.

I’m happy with where I am at 30. I know I’m probably not going to have mid-life regrets about not trying enough things before I settled down (achem, perhaps trying fewer than I did might be wise). I have some serious projects to work on. I have a fantastic husband (also he’s hilarious, so I’m lucky like that.) I have places go, mountains to climb. I’m in a good place.

But I’m trying to figure out what it looks like to live the f*ck out of my 30s. Living the f*ck out of my 20’s was easy – poor, New York, amazing friends, many late nights, rambling old house in Brooklyn, plenty to drink. And my 20’s were a break from societal pressures. I had my prestigious degree, I’d earned my scholarships, I’d made the grades, and everyone left me alone to figure the rest of it out. But living the f*ck out of my 30s is different. It doesn’t involve, say, a string of endless late nights at a bar, and trying a million new things. Living the f*ck out of my 30’s looks calmer, but maybe just as gutsy. It means standing up to the new and huge social pressures – time to grow up, give up what you built, move out of the city, get it together (exactly like everyone else). So part of claiming my 30’s, will, I think, be continuing to claim my 20’s. I figured myself out pretty well in my 20’s. I figured out what made me happy, and that I was brave enough and focused enough to shoot for it. So there is no way I’m giving that up now.

When I was younger and broker, and had a very long ride home on the Subway, I remember watching people who got off at the earlier and trendier stops in Brooklyn. They were all in their 30’s, and looked like they had it together. And I used to think, God, I can’t wait till my 30’s. In my 30’s I might have a clue about what I’m doing, or at least have the skills to make things happen. And I do. I’m more established, thank God, and am spending less of my energy rushing around, trying to figure out who I am and what I want and how I’m going to pay the bills this month. I know what I want, more or less, which is huge. I spend less of my energy stressing out about basic survival and money. I’m fairly financially secure, I’ve got a pretty serious and wide ranging skill set. And while I don’t have exactly what I want, I’m willing to fight hard for it.

And I think, really, that’s what living the f*ck out of my 30’s is going to look like. Fighting for it.

We’ll see.

Pictures: A handful of quintessential Meg pictures from my 20’s. The first and last are from our theatre company gala. There is me, and David (not at all my boyfriend), and the third member of our triumvirate, our friend Jonny. The middle is me working said 350 person dinner gala. And um, that last picture? That’s probably the quintessential picture of my LIFE.

* No longer my drink of choice. I’ve upgraded to (nice) single malt scotch, with a splash of water, god help my wallet.
** Except travel lots, which I couldn’t afford. And go to an art opening, which I never got invited to. So I’m going to make up for all that in this decade.

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  • Mayweed

    Woah, wait. He’s Gilbert and you’re Anne? Awesome.

  • dev

    I too have been trying to figure out how to live the f*ck out of my 30s. I turned 31 in April, and I’m actually just starting to think about it. In the last year I bought a house and got married (which were both great decisions, btw). And went to work everyday at my very stable and reliable office job. And it’s all seemed very stable and reliable. And not at all like my college, grad school, sh*%#y retail job, big circle of friends, staying up drinking until dawn some days 20s. Which is good in some ways, I suppose…

    Anyway, thanks for this post, which I can totally relate to. I am going to try not to feel bad about the fact that you seem to have a much better idea of what you want (at least professionally) than I do. I’m assuming I’ll get there. :)

    • karen

      The stable and reliable resonates for me as well. I turned 30 this year, and in the past year I’ve settled into the admin job that is close but not the job of my dreams (yay for the oversupply of humanities phds), bought a house, got engaged, got pregnant and as much as that counds like the checklist of things to do in your 30s I sometimes wonder how long I can keep being an adult most of the time. Stuffing things up occasionally is what my 20s was about, but now it feels like there’s so much more at stake.

      I give it a couple more years before we both snap and go ahead with the kombi van around Europe plan of adult-level delinquency.

    • “I am going to try not to feel bad about the fact that you seem to have a much better idea of what you want (at least professionally) than I do. I’m assuming I’ll get there. :)”

      Yeah, this is my hope, too. Because right now, all I’ve is got a long list of what i don’t want to do.

  • dev

    Also, that fuschia dress you’re wearing in the 2nd picture is Fabulous!

    • I really dig the halo you have in that last photo. Seems very appropriate. :)

      • meg

        VERY inappropriate, actually ;) But the fact that I’m bossing my poor business partners around is about right. To be fair I was the managing director and they were artistic directors… and I was managing that night.

  • Erin

    God help your wallet indeed, but you have excellent taste in drinks :)

  • liz

    mmm. yes. all very present in my mind, though i’m only turning 25. because life skipped a few steps that i had planned. and i’m wondering if i’m aging too fast- and what i want out of these last few years of carefree youth. because eventually, it’s going to actually matter when i get eviction notices or the electric shut off- i won’t be able to just laugh about it with josh over a glass of something strong.

  • Laura

    Ignore the societal pressures and expectations (which really only exist if you choose to listen to them). Do what’s right for YOU (and your marriage) and it will all fall in line. That is how I have lived the first 6 years of my 30’s and it’s worked out beautifully, if I do say so myself. I’m still evolving as a person, still creative, still striving for the next thing, and hope I never stop. I wish that for everyone.

  • For me, the last part of my teens and the first half of my twenties was about cramming in as much chaos and stupidity that I could. Very little worry. During my early-twenties I picked a serious career path that required dedication and less late nights drinking PBR in dive bars. I became established. I bought a house while single at 25 (not as scary as I would have thought). I met my husband a few months before my 30th birthday. So, a big part of my thirties was learning about sharing (I should have learned in Kindergarten apparently) the life that I had started to build with him. As my twenties were about rapid growth my thirties (at least the first three years) are about settling in to that growth, exploring the corners of it and making it mine.

  • Maureen

    Meg, you always give me hope. No matter the topic.

  • Stof (my hus-band) and I have just bought a boat (in Mexico!!! – we’re from South Africa, so that is a really really big deal) and we’re sailing across the Pacific in 2011. When I’ll be 31. And then we’re going to explore China before driving from Alaska to Punta Arenas in Chile. When I’ll be 32. Basically, we’re hoping that embarking on a crazy wonderful dream adventure together will help us get really really skilled up in living the f*ck out of the rest of our lives together. I am so excited that I spend every waking moment with a silly secret grin on my lips.

    I reckon living a life of over-flowing must be an exercise in practice. Surely, the more we *live*, the easier it gets? Meggles, it sounds like you’ve given yourself the best possible base for a lifetime of f*ck-tastic-ness!

    • Holy sh*t. I am LAME.

      • haha, that was my first thought.

        Sometimes I worry (key word?) that I’ve become TOO practical in my late twenties. Maybe a reaction to being so “go with the flow” in my teens/early twenties… But I find myself worrying way too often about retirement savings, children, and health issues—and I don’t have any of the above, LOL!

        I’m eating bran for breakfast, for the love of pete. How lame (and, yeah yeah, healthy) is that?

        • For the record, my ‘exactly’ was that I probably overly practical too — I wasn’t calling you lame for eating bran!

    • So, this is really possible? I have to figure out how in the world to do something like that!

    • A-L

      Your plans are freaking awesome.

      And I think that the Alaska to Chile drive might soon be added to my travel wishlist (my fiance and I don’t seem to do so well with boats). But it’s probably going to be put off until our mid to late 50s. Because we’re in the semi-practical mode. We’ve got the house and are saving for renovations to be completed before children arrive. But we’ve still got some fun travel plans (honeymoon in Australia/New Zealand, followed by trips to Morocco, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and India) before the intended kids come. But I think we’ve gone too far into practicality to quit our jobs (or take extended leaves of absence) to do some of the major trips you’ve got planned.

      But I totally want to hear all about them. And live vicariously through you!

    • Rose

      re: driving from Alaska to Chile

      Read “Lois on the Loose” – super fun and inspiring – might even make you consider doing the trip on motorcycles!

      • Thanks! Rose – I love an inspiring read. Initially Stof wanted us to motorcycle it all, but just about every woman in his family (me included) balked at the idea… but after a year at sea, who knows?

    • meg

      I’m so glad you’re blogging all this (at least when you’re not at sea).

    • Perhaps a tiny bit more by way of explanation? We’re both really lucky. We have seperately earned a (mainly) stable income working for ourselves for the past 4 years (or so). We’re also lucky cos we (erm, mainly Stof) used to own a house… we sold the house to buy the boat. We’re making some investments with the rest of the money which we’re hoping like hell will be clever ones so we can afford to pick up the pieces of our lives (well, the pieces we want to pick up) when we return… I’m even staying on my medical insurance while we travel so I can join the “breeding programme” as soon as we get back.

      We basically figured that the best time to start living the kind of lives we want to live always (i.e. as a grown-up family) is NOW. So we kind of *force* ourselves to live that life. Taking a crazy trip around the Pacific is one (prettyridiculouslyfabulous) way of doing it, but so is making sure we go for loads of walks on the mountain, or cheering our lungs out for the whole World Cup (erm, even when not actually at a stadium) or cooking new recipes, or or or (etcetera etcetera). Just keep practicing so when an opportunity arises it’s not impossible to make the decision to take it. That’s what i think…

      • Amandover

        I love it! Thanks for the inspiration!

      • Ky

        Ahh, yes. This. I just told my husband we could chuck it and go to Portugal for a month and not worry. It’s been on my mind, this significant, lengthy type of travel. That itch that comes over you, you know?

  • Michele

    This post put the biggest smile on my face, as I recalled my own wild (and wildly broke) 20s in the big city (DC, not NYC). The thrill of landing my first job out of college (before I realized just how little $24k/year was), learning more about public policy in my first 5 weeks there than I did in my entire 5 years of college, running around Adams Morgan, dancing my ass off and making out with boys I knew I’d never see again, learning a friend of mine was killed in the Pentagon on September 11th, and then watching his father help rebuild it, meeting some of my very best friends in the world, chucking it all in and hitting the road for a year spent living in the Czech Republic, starting over in a new state, falling in love, and running around a NEW new city with my hand in his.

    We got engaged shortly after my 30th birthday, and got married shortly before my 31st, which means I spent that year in sort of a double-limbo. Being engaged is quite obviously somewhere between being married and not being married – that I expected. But what I didn’t expect was the fact that being exactly 30 feels very different from being in your twenties, and also very different from being in your thirties. It is – as you say – Betwixt and Between.

    At 32, I find myself with a lot of things that I never envisioned for myself, and in some cases, thought I’d never want. Namely – a husband, a house in a location other than center-city, and a curiosity about kids that is really taking me off guard. And sometimes I wonder if I’m selling out my 22 year old self – or, more to the point, if others think I am. But then I look around and and I know that I CHOSE this life, I built it – not because I needed it, or felt like I should have it – but because I WANT it. Ten years ago, I didn’t – but today I do. So I’ve claimed it.

  • Erin

    “…spending less of my energy rushing around, trying to figure out who I am and what I want and how I’m going to pay the bills this month…”

    I’m still pre-30 (not by much), and didn’t do QUITE as much as Meg did in her 20s (seriously, some of you ladies blow my mind!!!), but this is where I am right now, too. And it’s such a sweet place to be.

  • This is such an inspiring post. I think it is so important for us to re-evaluate our lives sometimes and to really set goals for ourselves – such as you’ve described!

  • joannezipan

    Argh Meg, you are me, but on the other side of the world (well that and I’m a creative engineer not an artist – nobody ever gets that science and tech are creative too!) I love the fact that there are other people who think about this too.

    I decide the other day that living the f*ck out of your 30’s means taking what you learned in your 20’s and going for what you really want…except making big changes now is much more scary than it was when I was younger and now has to involve the hubby too. Life never gets less complex does it?

    • meg


  • Alyssa

    I feel like I lived the f*ck out of my 20’s, but I have moments where I’m not so sure that I did. Especially when reading posts like this and their subsequent fabulous comments. (Seriously, people, I don’t know if I’m cool enough to hang out with you….)

    But I’m going with the 80-20 rule. I think I lived about 80% awesome in my 20’s. Probably not in the eyes of others, but it felt like 80% awesome and that’s what I’m going with. They may have not been the most productive or happy years but I lived the hell out of them when I could and I’ll take that. I lived and breathed theatre because that’s what we convinced ourselves in college that we had to do in order to truly be an Artist. But I’ve luckily realized that that’s crap and it’s okay to not have the same career goals as you did at 14. Or 19. Or even 25. As long as you’re happy and living life to the fullest. Or as full as you can without being a selfish bastard.

    I’m gonna treat living the f*ck out of my 30’s as not living more, but living better and smarter. And with less cheap booze. And without the pretentious vanilla cigarettes. And comfier shoes. DEFINITELY comfier shoes.

    • “I lived and breathed theatre”

      Same here. And I feel like a sell-out sometimes because I… don’t find living and breathing theatre satisfying any more, but so many of my friends still do (some who are even older than I am).

      I wonder if I’ve become too cynical or if I lacked “true passion” (whatever that is) in the first place? Now, I would like to be home by a decent hour. I’m not willing to pour my heart, soul, and savings into a production for no pay, no matter how exciting the script is. I’m not willing to live on candy bars and diet cokes, because it’s “hell week” and I have no time to cook and no money.

      I once thought that ticket sales didn’t matter and catering to audiences was base. Now, I’m skeptical of why we do shows that no one comes to see… :-P

      I don’t want to feel disillusioned, but I do. I don’t want to live a non-artistic lifestyle, but I’ve learned that when art = your job, it’s just as frustrating as any desk job. I don’t want to be “all grown up,” but I like being in bed by midnight now, and I like waking up without a hangover.

      • Michele

        I’ve been feeling much the same way about my once-upon-a-time passion and intended career path: non-profit program work.

        In my younger, more idealistic years, I accepted my paltry (and often insulting) salary as the price I paid for passion – for loving what I did. I even wore it as a badge of honor at times (so very misguided), as if there aren’t people in the world who both LOVE what they do AND make money doing it.

        And then one day it hit me: I can not pay my mortgage with warm-fuzzies. Direct Loans don’t care if I love what I do – they want their monies and they want them now. And even more importantly, I realized that toiling away for years on end, earning far, far less than you’re worth monetarily fucks up your sense of worth emotionally. Or, it did me, anyway.

        I found myself thinking that being happy with my paycheck is every bit as important as being happy with my work, and wondering if maybe it’s even MORE important? So for the past 9 months, I’ve been doing work that is mind-numbingly boring and fulfilling in the same way that getting punched in the face is. The pay is great, but the price I’m paying as far as my sense of self is concerned is sky-high and unsustainable.

        So that leaves me here: I HAVE to do work that I enjoy, that feels important (to me AND to others), and that challenges me almost always. But I also have to be paid fairly to do it.

        • Marina

          Yes and yes. My current career path is volunteer management. Which is kind of a bummer, because for-profit companies generally don’t have volunteers to manage. So… yes. I’m trying to think about how I can rethink all my oh-so-employable skills (event management? reconciling goals between a variety of stakeholders? life coaching?) so that people will pay me enough to actually support a family…

          • liz

            hm. in my experience, non-profits always pay way more. (which, yes, i found to be ironic. but still.)

            i guess it depends.

        • liz

          this month, i just traded a mind-numbing, paper-shuffling desk job (“administrative assistant”) that i could do with my eyes closed, for one that utilizes my master’s degree, will be a lot of hard work, and won’t pay nearly as much as this one.

          it’s an odd world we live in.

      • meg

        Well you know, both David and I chucked our theatre jobs, and are pretty happy about it I think. It’s still all working out, but it looks like it’s working out nicely.

  • I was thinking about my 20s vs 30s just the other night. In the last month, I got engaged (yay!!), turned 31 and found a new 2-bedroom apartment with a dining room, washer-dryer and dishwasher that totally feels like a home rather than a city apartment. At a birthday party for a friend this weekend, we all sat around talking about weddings, my new apartment and my friend’s new car, which prompted Rob (my fiance) to say, “Huh. I guess we’re in our 30s now.” But this isn’t a bad thing. Rob himself just started a new job as a staff writer on an TV show, the reward for nearly 10 years of acting and writing and heartbreaking meetings that led to nothing tangible. He’s finally being rewarded for the thankless work of his 20s. And I’m about to start grad school in a field that I love (and that has actual career prospects). And we’re getting married. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our wild, whiskey-fueled 20s, but I wouldn’t go back to that time for anything. Being here in the 30s feels too awesome.

  • ashley

    My thirties look different. I’m in my late twenties now, and I’ve done a great amount of things. I fell in love, traveled, graduated a couple times, moved across the country twice, landed an amazing job, laughed A LOT, acquired an eclectic group of dear friends, celebrated milestones with family members, and after much practice learned how to party like an adult (which is harder than it looks). I also spent much of my twenties worried about what I had accomplished each year, and having a hard time enjoying the present because I was always so focused on the future. My smallish hometown in the south really put a constant panic in me, I think. Usually there, you graduate, get married, and have babies by a certain age or you start getting the pity looks. I left when I graduated because that wasn’t really my plan, but the mindset of “You must have done _____ by ____ age” unfortunately stuck. That really changed when I moved to Chicago. I have a range of good friends that span 15 years in age difference. They are from different backgrounds, hold different jobs, and have different goals. They are struggling, accomplished, talented, and lost. The diversity is what opened my eyes. There isn’t a set age or a timeline that works for everyone. I’ve found that I really don’t enjoy my amazing office job, even though these are the nicest and most talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’ve found that I’m ready for a new adventure.

    I’m getting married to my favorite person in six weeks. We’re lucky to have been together for about six years now, so he was pretty much there for all of this. He’s ready for a big adventure as well. I think my thirties will look a little less responsible and a little more haphazard. We are planning a big continent jumping move in the next year. We’re excited and terrified. We probably won’t settle down and be responsible any time soon, but at least I feel that we will be tuning out the “must accomplish by” voice in our heads and get really good at enjoying life in the moment.

    • I also spent much of my twenties worried about what I had accomplished each year, and having a hard time enjoying the present because I was always so focused on the future.

      Yes, yes, yes. My big novel of a comment at the bottom talks about how true this was for me. My 20s have been the time most full of societal pressure for me; I’ve felt like I always have to be “on track” in my career, in my finances. I’ve been terrified of doing anything “irresponsible.” Partly this is family pressure to be accomplished and always have something to show; partly it’s that I graduated into a recession and saw a lot of my friends really struggling, and I was afraid that stepping off track for a moment would totally ruin me financially and totally ruin my chances for a career later. I didn’t want to end up living at home and delivering pizza when I was 35.

      I envied my friends who did things like live in big rambling houses in Brooklyn — but that just didn’t seem possible. I hadn’t gone to the right school, I didn’t move in the right circles, my parents couldn’t afford to subsidize me (I don’t know whether Meg had parental subsidy or not, but a lot of my friends who did those things did have parents subsidizing them). Friends from situations closer to my own were literally delivering pizza and living at home, working utterly horrible data-entry jobs and living in sketchy semi-rural apartment complexes, teaching part-time for low wages and living at home — with no clear way out. My choices seemed to be staying on track, or ending up in soul-killing, minimum-wage hell.

      I hope my 30s look “a little less responsible and a little more haphazard” too. I hope I can turn off that “must accomplish by” voice.

      • meg

        Hell no. I paid my own way. My house in Brooklyn was big, but I saw a gun fired in front of it (not to mention lots of drug deals).

      • Lethe

        I think for many of us, we are so hard on ourselves in this way – if you stay “on track” you feel guilty that you might be missing out on the footloose adventures you’re supposed to have in your twenties, and if you jump off the track to take some time for yourself, you worry that you are going to suffer consequences down the line. So like you say, lesson #1 is probably to give ourselves some slack – we’re making the best decisions we know how to at the time. But I think we should also remember that we are not crazy and not making all this up in our heads – the economy right now is really bad, and the reality is it’s hard to get by, and even harder to find a job that is both fulfilling and pays enough to survive on. So I don’t think we have to beat ourselves up for feeling a little risk-averse. Things weren’t always this unstable for people who figured they’d get through life more or less safely in the “middle class.”

  • Rachel

    I’m turning 25 this month, so while I’m not near 30, I am trying to live the F out of marriage. My definition of living up till now has been flying by the seat of my pants passionately in whatever direction (and, okay, into whatever state) I damn well pleased. I got married 5 weeks ago, which means, to me, settling down. No more moving to Wyoming because I want to live in a national park or buying copious amounts of lingerie knowing that doing so will mean I can’t eat dinner.

    How are you supposed to make this transition from transient, broke, and alive to settled? Does anybody else wonder if some part of their soul might get choked out?

    • Michele

      Not that you insinuated as much, but I do want to be clear that being “transient, broke and alive”, and being settled are not mutually exclusive. You can be all of these things at once, none of these things at once, or any combination thereof.

    • Alyssa

      Here’s my thoughts on being “settled”. I think it’s crap. (I think a lot of things are crap and I apologize, it’s totally not aimed at you. I’m honing my crazy bossy cranky old lady schitck for when I’m older.)

      People who think that being married is being settled and not an adventure, probably aren’t married. Yes, there’s plenty of routine, normal things about being married but it is damn harder and more challenging and fun than anything else I’ve done thus far. In a different way, but harder.

      My experience as a swinging single, and as the friend of swinging singles, is that half the stuff we did or said was because we didn’t think we could have the alternative so we rejected it. I scoffed at settling because even though I really didn’t mind the idea of being with one person for the rest of my life, I didn’t think it was going to happen. So I embraced my “free to do whatever the f*ck I want” nature and damned the man, even though what the f*ck I wanted was a family and a home and landscaping. (Artsy, funky landscaping, but landscaping nonetheless.)
      But because I married the right person for me, marriage isn’t what I thought Marriage would be. I can still do what I want, but I check in with my husband not because I have to, but because I WANT to. Being married didn’t mean I had to stay in a job that made me cry; it just meant that I didn’t up and quit, I did it sensibly and had someone to support me when it got hard. And being married didn’t mean I couldn’t go to work, go to class AND do a show; it just meant that we had to sacrifice some time together for a little while and to make the little time we did have count when we could.

      You know that joke about good friends bail you out of jail, best friends are there sitting next to you going, “Damn that was fun.”? Marriage is kinda like that for me. Boyfriends fed my ego and encouraged me to do crazy flighty things that seemed fabulous. My husband reminds me that I probably shouldn’t do that because of X,Y and Z, but either helps me do it anyway or is there for me when I come back going, “Ooo, that wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

      And if you truly wanted to pick up and move to Wyoming or buy panties instead of pizza (and I mean REALLY AND TRULY) and being married means you can’t, then you probably wouldn’t be married. There are so many choices that you don’t have now because you’re married, but there are so many MORE that you’ve got too! And who says you can’t move to Wyoming or buy lots and lots of lacy drawers? Your hubby might be all for it…

      Okay, this is way more than you wanted, sorry for the rant. But no, I don’t think any part of my soul is choking or being stifled. I feel like I’m being more true to my soul and it’s growing bigger every day. (Lord, that’s awful woo-woo, touchy-feely; but it’s true.)

      • Michele

        There aren’t enough ‘exactly’ buttons in the world for this.

      • liz

        my husband is often in full support of buying panties over pizza.

        depends on the panties.

        i found wifedom didn’t equal the settling down i thought it would. we’re still transient and broke and life is an adventure. one day, we’re told i’m losing my job, and we subsequently decide we’ll live in spain for a year- since neither of us are tethered to “careers.” another day, we’ll opt to go out to a lavishly expensive dinner at midnight instead of being responsible adults and paying the car insurance early. we cater to whims, luxuriously live from paycheck to paycheck, and haven’t experienced anything that involves “settling” or “down” or other depressing words. we’re responsible only to one another, and that glimmer in his eye clues me in that “responsible” isn’t exactly the right word.

        yes, we have adult goals, too. but there’s always time for furthering your career and buying a house and whatever else. and while we’re both searching for actual jobs that use our actual degrees, we’re free to go where the wind carries us.

        my personal questions about “settling down” have arisen with news of a coming baby. i wonder how practical it is to wisk a baby around on these adventures- and i’m beginning to sort out how i can be a good parent and not allow my “soul to be choked out.” i’ll let you know how that works out.

        • Michele

          I like to think of it as “settling in” rather than “settling down.” :)

        • I am thinking that I need some fancy panties now.

        • Thank you Liz!!! This made me feel much better about my husband and I also randomly deciding to go out for dinner and drinks because we’re sick of being responsible and saving money and eating in constantly (which actually isn’t all that ‘constant’ because we tend to go out at least once a week because we don’t always feel like cooking…). It is incredibly hard to be super responsible & budget-conscious when you live in Chicago and the food smells waft in your windows at all hours of they day…. especially with a ton of BYOB restaurants (Thai, Italian and 3 sushi places) all within a block of us! (Oh and did I mention an old school ice cream parlor & another gelato shop down the street? Ugh!)

          And keep me posted on the baby not forcing you to ‘settle down’ thing.. I’m curious to hear how that goes. But I would think you can still do those things with a kidlet! … It’d be great exposure to life, cultures, and experiences of all kinds for the little one! :) Right?!

      • sarah

        I’ve got another two and a half years until thirty, but me and my wife just bought a house and I feel very much like this year I’m transitioning out of my baby-adulthood and into the first years of my actual-adulthood. My wife and I have been together since I was nineteen and in those years we’ve lived in six states together, traveled to ten countries together, gotten three degrees (combined), got married, bought a house, held down countless jobs, and flown by the seat of our pants. I’m really proud of how we lived the first three quarters of our twenties and I am SO READY to stay put for a while. Even as a child, my life was never settled. My mother was in graduate school during my early years and then struggled to start her career as an academic moving from job to job. Because of this, I have actually never, in my whole life, lived anywhere for more than three years at a time. I went to three elementary schools and two high schools. I had to make new friends every couple of years. I can’t tell you how excited I am to move into our new home in three weeks and just STAY THERE. I have NO desire to up and move to god-knows-where on a whim because, for me, the new, crazy adventure I’m embarking on is to become a part of a stable community and family. That is what I want my thirties to be about because, for me… that’s a crazy adventure I’ve never been on before and I can’t tell you how excited I am to take it by the horns and live the f*ck out of it.

      • Definitely agree! In my short (eight months) experience of being married, I see it as exponentially increasing the amount of possibilities and opportunities in life: my (opp1 + opp2 + opp3….) raised to the power of his (opp 1 + opp2 + opp3…)

        Yes, there are the trade offs to consider – (opp1)opp3 may mean less time together in the short term – but in the long term there are ever proliferating possibilities.

    • meg

      Can I suggest a little APW homework? (Am I allowed? I never have before!)

      First, I think you need to go buy a bunch of panties and then eat Top Ramin and then go use those panties (isn’t THAT what marriage is about? ;) But second, I think you should sit down with your husband have each of you make a list of the CRAZIEST dreams you have. And then compare lists. Because part of marriage is the two of you figuring how to accomplish that stuff. Like living in a national park (eff yeah).

      As for making the transition from broke to not broke, don’t rush it. It will happen naturally. I woke up and realized I couldn’t stand being this broke anymore, and I was over it. And then I changed things. It would have been a total mess for me if I’d tried to change things before I was good and ready.

  • The thing is, I didn’t really live the f*ck out of my 20s. I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis about this when I turned 25. I worked hard in college, got a scholarship to a state school (even though I’d really wanted to go to a crazy private hippie liberal arts college), and graduated with two degrees by the time I was 22. I didn’t do crazy things in college — I did the right thing and studied and went to class. I didn’t study abroad because it would have added a year onto college, and my scholarship only went 4 years.

    When I graduated I tried to move to the big city (Boston), but couldn’t get a job there. Then I was offered a stable, good-paying job back home, and took it because it was prudent. I went to grad school, again back home, because it was a good school and it was prudent. I feel like I spent my 20s doing the smart thing and the prudent thing rather than following my crazy dreams, and as I face down 30, I worry that I lost my chance.

    But — as I finally near the end of my graduate degree program — I’m starting to feel a little more of that cockiness that I felt when I graduated college. Back then I thought “I can do it. I can move where I want to live, I can make a living there.” But back then I lost my nerve. I just hope I don’t lose it again, but I’m afraid I will. The economy is bad and if I’m offered a job here, it would be stupid to turn it down to chase a dream of moving to a big, expensive city.

    I just keep thinking of the movie “Up.” Maybe my great adventure is just living my life. But I’d still like to see Paradise Falls.

    But — on the other hand — getting married has given me more confidence. I have a partner in crime. He wants the same things I do. We can work together now. We can make things happen. If I can’t get a job somewhere right away, maybe he can.

    I want to live my 30s better than I lived my 20s. Part of that is the adventure of being married, (probably) becoming parents — but those adventures combine well with other ones. Sure, if we have kids, it means we can’t just quit everything and climb Everest — but that’s not really what we want to do. We want to live in a city, in a walkable neighborhood with good public transit. We want to travel, but we’ve always been budget travelers, and it’s very possible to travel with kids. Mostly, we want to do creative, exciting work. I think together, we can make those things happen.

    • Amandover

      Carrie, I think you have a great outlook (developing towards the end of this post). I don’t think being crazy and sleep-deprived is the only way to actively live your 20s. You chose to lay a good foundation, and I think that even if you put-off dreams then, that can give you more financial freedom now. One of my mottos when I make life-choices is: “It’s all living.” Don’t judge your previous choices; you never know what connection they may give you to something even better down the line.
      I think it’s never too late to take leaps of faith. If you know that moving to a city will make you feel more alive and in tune with your dreams/soul/universe, there’s no reason that your 30s won’t be a great time to do that.

  • Living the F*ck our of my 30s is exactly what led me and my bestie to starting a website all about it. I didn’t really live my 20s to the fullest. I look back now and realize that I was too hung up on bs and too full of fear to really do some of the things I wanted. The one thing I can say about my 20s is that I definitely emerged knowing exactly who I am.

    I don’t want my 30s to feel like a waste. So my pal and I started this blog called Talk Thirty To Me where we hope to build a community and open a dialog about what it means to be in your 30s. For everyone. So far we’ve learned so much about our peers and their thoughts on everything from finance to sex to friendships. What’s more is that I feel like we’re actually giving people a place to go to talk. And that already feels like I’m living the f*ck out of 30- one month in.

    I look back and what I’ve done and where I’ve been and at this point it simply excites me for where I can go. Most of all, I hope to look back at my 30s and say “f*ck yeah, I owned that b*tch”

    PS. this is not a plug for our blog. Do not visit it. We’re talking about boring stuff today anyways.

  • Suzanna

    As a ripe old 35, I can definitely confirm that the 30’s are AWESOME. Just like you said, Meg–most of us spend our 20’s running around worrying about sh*t (and having loads of fun, too). Something magical happens when you turn 30, that you really don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore. You know what you love and want, and all that extra bullsh*t just happily and easily falls away. So, I’m still having loads of fun, minus the worrying about what other people are doing.

    Plus I love getting old and crotchety. I am not one of those people who pretends that 40 is the new 30. I’m joyfully yelling at kids to wear longer skirts and quit whining, fer crying out loud.

    • Aine

      ha.I’ve been in “Dang kids, get off my lawn!” mode since I was about 5. I figure I’ll be really really good at it by the time I’m 80.

  • Margaret

    So much to respond to… so many thoughts swirling ’round; I need to think a bit more to get it to gel into a cohesive comment. But I have been thinking about exactly, exactly this over the past few days.

    And I love how you’ve articulated what I’ve been musing over. Including the all-theatre-all-the-time lifestyle/passion, which is how I spent most of my twenties.

    “I’m still sort of in shock that life isn’t exactly the same.”

    Yes. So many changes happened in this decade, so swiftly, that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around a lot of it. So much of my twenties was about discovery–of the world, of self. And I’m wondering if/how that will differ in my thirties.

    more later…….

  • Jessica

    If I hadn’t been living the hell out of my 20’s* I wouldn’t be marrying the man I will be marrying 8 years to the day we met. (*Actually my eighteens, when I went out clubbing with the guy who would be my fiance 5 years later…all halfway across the country from where I was born and raised…all before I even set foot in my first college classroom. Glad he didn’t turn out to be an ax murderer. I have a heart attack at just the thought of my future daughter doing something like that!)

  • Marina

    I was hanging out the other day with some friends of mine who are in grad school, and feeling a little out of place, because I feel like they are living the f*ck out of their 20s. They are doing what they love and damn the consequences. They are focusing their whole being on this one thing that engages them completely. And I… applied to grad school but probably won’t go, because my new baby family is now my priority, and while grad school might be the right thing for single me to live life to the fullest, it would not be the right option for my new-baby-family living life to the fullest. I KNOW this is the right choice for me right now, and I feel fully satisfied and at peace with it, but… I wonder, you know? What am I giving up by not saying “F*ck it, I want an MFA, I don’t care whether I’ll ever use it or how I’ll pay off the debt”?

    And at the same time, hoo boy I can’t wait til I’m 30 and hopefully a little less stressed about career/finances/will I ever live somewhere without baseboard heating. Ugh, I hate baseboard heating.

  • Allison

    I guess I’m at a little bit of a different place than most of the commenters here, but I loved this. I’m about to turn 22, and while I hope I’m really living my twenties, I feel the constant weight of not having everything together, of not being stable, of not knowing really where I’m going. It was great for me to read about the trajectory of your 20’s–what mattered and what you remembered. It’s comforting to know that being broke and spontaneous does, contrary to popular belief, does really take you where you want to be going.

    Great post.

  • Mayweed

    Huh, I got so excited about Meg and David being Gilbert and Anne that I forgot to actually post a sensible comment.

    In my twenties I was broke, living and breathing a job I loved (actaully usually I had three jobs – my career job and the side jobs that paid for me to go out and have a good time) and spending a lot of time drinking and dancing.
    I was consistently single, and I definitely made the most of it. My twenties were definitely lived in.
    But looking back, I’m so much happier post-30 – I figured out the things that were making me fall for unsuitable men, I got promoted, I got financially secure, I met my soon-to-be-husband and we bought a house. We’ve travelled a lot, eaten a lot, laughed a lot, spent a lot of time with family and tried to “just do” as many things as we can. As it turns out, I’ve sacrificed the job I love for one, in the same field, that frustrates me (i’ll be honest, actually I hate it) but lets me live the life I want to outside of work.

    And I’m fine with that, because we have plans for the future that mean that it’s not forever, and because I know if I wanted to quit tommorow he’d support me, and because what I’ve learned is that while I need to love what I do, there’s no point if it means you can’t also have a life. So for me, living the f*ck out of my thirties is as much about building a home and family as it is about planning the day I can hand in my notice and work for myself instead.

    • meg

      Amen. And isn’t being able to eat out NICE?

      • Mayweed

        Hell yes! But then I think about what I’m having for tea before I’ve even had breakfast, so…

  • Carbon Girl

    This post made me feel insecure, though I know it shouldn’t. By the time I am 30 (I am 28 now), I will have spent 7 years in graduate school–dear god! Hopefully, I will be about to finish my PhD (part of that 7 includes a masters degree). But then, I need to get a post doc or two, before I even look for a real job. I won’t feel settled for an awful long time, which is fine but I wonder how much being a responsible graduate student is costing me in terms of fun, sanity, savings. Oh well. My husband and I are making a real concerted effort to travel when we can and so far it’s been awesome. We have a list of places we want to go (some local, some driving, and some a flight away) and we have been able to check some off and are making plans to do more. I did live a pretty crazy 18-23 period, but I feel very responsible now.

    Funny though, how being a graduate student, is kind of a purgatory. You are an adult but you just don’t feel like one when you are still a student.

    • “Funny though, how being a graduate student, is kind of a purgatory. You are an adult but you just don’t feel like one when you are still a student.”

      This was very much my experience… but oddly, I include going to grad school in “living the f*ck out of my twenties.” Mostly because it still required me to live a student’s life (or rather, grad school was my whole life). Yeah, I guess it was a responsible/studious thing to do and I had to work my @ss off for grades and $$, but because I got an MFA (which, let’s face it, is only as helpful as you want it to be), it felt much less of an adult thing to be doing vs. my friends who immediately got “real jobs” after undergrad or went into med/law/business school.

  • Meredith

    Great post, Meg!! I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but on the “How do I live the f*ck out of my 20s?” side.

    I feel like for most people in their 20s they are having lots of fun, enjoying themselves, living it up, in general, living very much in the present… except me. At 23, I feel like I should be having fun, spontaneous, a little crazy etc etc. But I’m not any of those things; I’m not crazy or spontaneous or outgoing. When I see/ hear about all the fun stuff that others in their 20s are doing (not things that I particularly want to do), I think “why can’t I have fun like that? why am I so boring? I wish I could enjoy myself more”

    The weird thing is, I’m actually fairly happy with my life, right now. I have an awesome job that I love, a great boyfriend who supports and loves me, a circle of friends whom I consider family. But I feel like something is missing; I feel unfulfilled in a way. And it’s isolating because everyone else around me seems to be having so much fun and enjoying themselves.

    Right now I’m trying to think about what would really excite me/ things I truly want to do/ accomplish.. I have the travel bug so I’m thinking about a 1-2 week trip. I’d probably have to go alone (most of my friends do not have the $$ or vacation tiime to join me) but I think I’m okay with that. I really want to travel and if I have the $$ and time, I might as well go, even if it’s alone.

    I know most of the people here are in their 30s (or at least it seems that way). Did you ever have these toughts in your 20s? What was it that made your 20s so different from your life now? What defined your 20s for you?

    • Marina

      Traveling alone is AWESOME. I mean, you have to do it right, for sure, but you meet so many more people, and are able to take advantage of any spur-of-the-moment things that pop up without needing to consult with someone else. It’s a lot easier to do something like… well, get on a train from Hungary to Croatia without knowing where you’re sleeping that night, and also easier to find a room to stay in once you’re there. To pull from my own solo travel experiences. :) You learn to trust your instincts so much better. Just keep one hand on your bag at all times.

      • Meredith

        I traveled for 2.5 months in SE Asia with 1 friend and we had a great time. I think that’s part of the reason why I have the confidence that I could easily travel alone. I feel like it’ll challenge me, especially since I’m really shy and reserved, to talk to and meet new people.

        • La

          Meredith – DO IT!! I am also shy and reserved and did 2 trips abroad that were 3 months each. The great thing about being a female alone is that you are very approachable and people will talk to you unprovoked. That can be a negative thing too, but as long as you have at least some common sense and a touch of street smarts you will be ok. Sure I got scammed once, caught pickpockets redhanded twice, and cried a bunch when I was frustrated by missing a train and had nobody to keep me company in the train station over night, but the lessons I learned on those trips were invaluable. And I am still pretty damn proud of myself for being able to deal with any of the shitty stuff that came my way – hello self confidence for life. That is something I will try to remember when I have a daughter one day and she tries to do these kinds of stupid/smart things that will make me worry about her!

    • meg

      “What was it that made your 20s so different from your life now? What defined your 20s for you?”

      Hum. Well, first of all, and I mean this seriously: you will NEVER be able to drink like you can drink in your 20’s. Don’t waste that. I mean, I’m a person of moderation. I’ve never made myself ill drinking. BUT! In my 20’s I could stay out till 3am drinking and having fun. You start to loose that at 25, when the hangovers begin. Now? We’re out of the bar before midnight, and I’ve had two-ish drinks over several hours. I have to, because I don’t want to feel like hell for the next two days. So enjoy that. No joke.

      Second, you have a fair amount of freedom in your 20’s. Use it. Figure out what you want to do (or don’t want to do). Quit jobs you hate. Make mistakes. Stay out late. Travel if you can (you’re on that). Try to live in that freedom a bit. It comes with a lot of tears, but it’s so worth it.

      • peanut

        DUDE, you hit the nail on the head with the drinking thing! It’s like the day I turned 25 my body discovered hangovers. We used to go out til 4am on weeknights and pretty much all weekend … and now at 28 I can’t even drink two nights in a row! Seriously, I told my friends that I can’t drink more than wine at dinner the night before my bachelorette party.

      • Meredith

        GAH!! I totally wish I could drink and enjoy it. But I swear I must be allergic to alcohol or something (is that possible?). Anytime I drink more than a glass of wine or so, I get sick. Really sick. Sick enough that I basically don’t drink at all anymore. In college I tried to figure out what exactly it was that made me sick. I tried mixing up what I drank, how much, how much I ate, ingesting water etc anything I could think of and nothing seemed to work. Kind of a bummer, but whatever, I deal.

        • Morgan

          My mom’s kind of allergic to alcohol. It’s actually that she’s allergic to metal, and that allergy manifests itself as being unable to drink. She stopped wearing jewelry in her late 50s, and now can drink without turning bright red and feeling awful. (It’s kind of funny to watch your mother start her drinking years 30 years behind her peers…) Bodies are very, very weird, and all sorts of things are possible.

        • K

          Yes, it is possible. Or it’s possible that your body can’t metabolize the alcohol. I had a friend in high school who would turn bright red and swell up when he drank any kind of alcoholic beverage, yet that never stopped him. I was always waiting for him to stop breathing from a blocked esophagus.

      • Carbon Girl

        When I started reading your reply, I was like “She could drink like that through her whole twenties?!” then I read that it ends at 25. Definitely my experience. It is amazing how bad the hangovers can get and what a deterrent they become.

    • K

      Meredith – I’m in my late twenties now and am having a similar experience to you. I like structure and am introverted, so I’m just not naturally wild and crazy and neither are my twenties. I moved to a big city for college and chose to make it my home after. I closed on a house with my now fiance the same weekend I graduated with my BA. I’ve always had a stable office job, even throughout college. My wild and crazy move of my twenties was leaving the career I went to college for and worked at for years for an admin assistant position so I could have enough emotional and physical energy to explore and find what I really want to do. Now that I think I’ve landed on something I’d like to get into deeper, I’ll be working on it quietly on the side while I keep at my office job exactly so I can pay the bills and live comfortably.

      Honestly, I think that having the kind of twenties that Meg explains wouldn’t have worked for me. The partying and late nights that I had throughout college was enough without continuing that for another eight years. I also think that the most vocal people about topics like this are more extroverted and thus tend to have more wild and crazy stories. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

      That said, I’ve had moments of feeling the way you feel. I’ve found that journaling can get me to the bottom of an icky feeling and see it’s a lot deeper than just wishing I partied more or had stories of living in NYC. I also remind myself that if I really, truly wanted to do those things, I would and could. I also highly recommend taking a solo trip somewhere, even just for a long weekend. Those trips really wake me up and give me so much perspective on life and I go back to my daily life feeling courageous and inspired and so free.

      • meg

        Look, to be clear, I am super responsable (super), and I’m not a huge partier. BUT. I will take on any challenge, and yes, I lived in New York and went out to bars sometimes. And yessss I think your 20’s is a time to find out who you are, and take risks while you don’t have kids.

  • This post and all the comments really give me hope. As the wedding day approaches, I’ve been having so many awful thoughts that getting married and straightaway moving across the country for a grad program that is going to take up the rest of my twenties is not the responsible, adult, *married* thing to do. Married people invest in their retirement savings and don’t live paycheck to paycheck and eat meals that don’t consist of PB&J sandwiches for weeks at a time, right?

    But you know what? I’m going to be living the f*ck out of the rest of my twenties. And I get to do it with the person I love. That’s pretty rad. (Also, it’s really encouraging to know that being relatively broke for most of one’s twenties doesn’t doom you to a lifetime of poverty….)

    • liz

      josh and i were laughing over the fact that we haven’t bought groceries in almost 3 months with two friends- they’re in their late-30’s and have a giant house, stocked wine cellar, and a lexus and beemer in the driveway. i was so relieved when they laughed along with us and said, they “remember those days.”

      i’m pretty sure that my career goals aren’t going to end in luxury cars, but good grief it was nice to hear that this stage is kind of normal and only temporary.

      • Heh, I don’t think either of us are entering careers that terminate in luxury cars and wine cellars either, but yes, it’s nice to know that “being poor foreveeeeeeer” isn’t the only other option, as I often worry myself into believing. :)

  • Agreed. Being brave in your 20’s looks and feels much different than being brave in your 30’s.

    Being brave in your 20’s shows on the outside – your jobs, your crazy and slightly dangerous international vacations, the perfectly legal parties that you could finally afford (for the most part), taking leadership positions when you’re practically a wee babe.

    But now I’m about a month away from turning 30 and I’m finding that being brave is all about internal stuff – awareness of my flaws and fears, experimenting with that which does not come naturally to my personality, sailing into the unknown with faith that it will work out because it *has* for many generations before me.

    Very cool, very scary, very worth it.

  • Michele

    To Carbon Girl, Meredith, and anyone else who might be feeling as though they’re not exactly living the f*ck out of their 20s, or worse – that they missed the opportunity to do so, I offer this: Many, many years ago, there was a (now-defunct) blogger I quite liked – ‘The Company Bitch’ and she once said something that has stuck with me ever since: “My twenties are one big comparathon.” Six words that so accurately sum up the twenty-something experience of so many. Genius! Sadly, that seems to be the case regardless of whether you’re currently IN your twenties or not.

    But take heart. For every 30-year old who has chosen a path that necessitated a certain degree of responsibility, caution, prudence, practicality, frugality or poverty and can’t shake the feeling that she squandered an opportunity to live with abandon and without consequence, there is a 30-year old who chose a path that precipitated recklessness, strife, heartbreak, and debt that she’s still recovering from today.

    Some might decide to “make up” for their 20s by doing everything they “should” have done then now, whether that be getting a tattoo at 32 or starting a 401(k) at forty, but to that I say forget feeling as though you have to “make up” for something that you “should” have done in the past, and get busy living a life that is authentic, joyful and honest in the present, with a keen eye toward the fact that there IS going to be a future, so you damn well better be ready for it.

    And PS: You don’t need to earn minor duckets in a thankless job, live in a roach-infested apartment, eat ramen for a month straight, sleep with questionable men, or otherwise put your personal, emotional or financial safety at risk to live the f*ck out of your 20s. You’ve just got to open your heart and mind to every challenge possible, work hard, have fun, and most importantly GET TO KNOW YOURSELF as intimately as possible. That’s all. :)

    • Meredith

      Thank you, Michelle.

      I know that I should do what is best for me, feels right to me, makes me happy, makes me comfortable. I know that in my head. I know it, I know it (repitition = me trying to convince my heart of this).

      But it feels so good to have someone say it directly to me. It’s reassuring for someone to say “if this is what you choose, you’re happy and it feels right, then you are doing the right thing” (essentially, the whole message of APW).

      And the P.S. Thank you, again. That whole comment was exactly what I needed to hear.

    • meg

      “You don’t need to earn minor duckets in a thankless job, live in a roach-infested apartment, eat ramen for a month straight, sleep with questionable men, or otherwise put your personal, emotional or financial safety at risk to live the f*ck out of your 20s. You’ve just got to open your heart and mind to every challenge possible, work hard, have fun, and most importantly GET TO KNOW YOURSELF as intimately as possible. That’s all.”

      And for the record, I did the latter, not the former.

      Well, I suppose you could argue that I put my financial safety at risk, but as a word of assurance to all of the still-broke out there – we now have probably the best financial situation of of our friends (minus the few that have sort of unusual situations). And, um, I did that particular magic, though now it belongs to both of us. So. Being brave even in the face of being broke does NOT doom you to a life of poverty.

      “Get busy living a life that is authentic, joyful and honest in the present, with a keen eye toward the fact that there IS going to be a future, so you damn well better be ready for it.”

      Yes. This is very true. The point is to get to know yourself, be present, be brave. You can start that any time. Though I would add, part of it is knowing there is going to be a future, and part of it is knowing that we don’t have all the time in the world, so we better get busy being who we want to be. Today.

    • brilliant

  • Thank you for getting all personal today. I just yesterday realised that I am going to turn 27 next birthday (reaction: wtf? The birthdays keep on coming?!) and my head has been spinning somewhat with these very questions, on and off, since I had Talia really, and truly understood how it was a beginning for me, not an end. (Well, an end too but… y’know.)

    Happy birthday again, now you’ve had the time to process it.

  • As always, fabulous post. I lived & enjoyed my 20s without one single regret. My 30s though . . . I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I can’t complain because I’m so lucky & blessed but I certainly wish things were more stable like I imagined. Like Meg, I used to look at people in their 30s & admire how they had everything together. Me at 33, not so much. On the bright side, I am marrying my best friend in six months & we have a wonderful life together. But professionally, I struggle every day to live my dream. Am I the only 30-something in this position? I love my work yet I don’t have the financial freedom or stability that my other 30-something friends enjoy. I’ve worked & dreamed & struggled so much. What am I doing wrong??!! Now my day-to-day mantra is when life tells you to quit, hope tells you to try one more time. Hope floats!

    • meg

      No. You’re not. And you care about it, so you’ll figure it out. My on-the-surface professional life is eye-rollingly un-cool. I just kept trying till I stumbled on writing and working for myself, and well, a creative job was always my goal, so I grabbed it. But a year ago? I felt totally lost. And people kept telling me “you will work it out, because you won’t stop till you do.”

      And I’m still SUCH a work in progress.

  • MegsDad

    ‘I wonder, you know? What am I giving up by not saying “F*ck it, I want an MFA, I don’t care whether I’ll ever use it or how I’ll pay off the debt”?’

    Marina, you got it exactly right. If you can’t say, “F*ck it, I want an MFA, I don’t care whether I’ll ever use it.” then you should not get one. You will not make more money, and you will never recover the money you could have been earning while getting the degree — and this goes for all “higher” degrees.

    But if the thought of getting it makes your skin itch (my reaction), and the thought of not getting it makes your whole body ache (again, my reaction — yours will be different but just as intense), then go for it..Otherwise, you will always regret it — and wonder if you would have succeeded.

    MegsMom just looked over my shoulder and said, “Yes.”

    The only reason for getting a higher degree is because you want it.

    • meg

      Yes. I haven’t gone to grad school because when it came down to it, I could never find something that felt worth the debt to me. Not even close.

      I couldn’t have not majored in Theatre though. I really tried HARD not to – I didn’t even enroll in the conservatory program my first year, so I had to fight my way in as a transfer. But not majoring in theatre made me feel like I couldn’t BREATHE. So, there it was. The choice was made for me.

      I’m not working in theatre, but I’m working creatively, after a long winding road (see: APW). And I’ll pay off the debt next month. Sometimes I HATED my theatre program. But was it worth it? Yes. Plus, I didn’t have a choice.

  • All I can do is read this, cry a little, and envy you just a smidge for the life I said I was going to live and never did because I chose not to get on that bus to New York. And because I didn’t get on that bus I’m happy, and I’m important enough in my small theatre community, and I’m about to be married, and I’ve had good times….but oh, there are times like right now when I can’t help mourning the risk I didn’t take.

  • I’m halfway through 22 and I really appreciate this post. I’m really trying to focus on living it up in my twenties. Doing my share of growing up and making irresponsible/responsible decisions in doses. Getting in the car to take impromptu road trips and enjoying these broke/trying to get by/making the start of your adult life one with no regrets.

  • Jenn

    Man, your life is the life I want to live! When I’m 30, that’s what I want. To be able to look back at the past decade and go “Damn, I did that right.”

    I’m not terribly gutsy, so up until now I feel like I’ve played things unintentionally safe and tame. I worry about not living the fuck out of my 20’s by being too cautious about a lot of things. I’m 22, getting married in 20 days to my boy and best friend of 5 years (I’m a lurker but your blog has helped me keep my sanity patchworked together), I have a full time job as an education specialist at an aviary and I have my bachelors degree. Two dogs, an apartment, small circle of friends. But what I’ve always imagined myself doing at this point is backpacking Europe, living fully, cheaply, inexpensively, moving around, doing all sorts of stupid shit and making all sorts of memorable mistakes that I can laugh at in later years. I find I struggle with balancing adequate planning and the comfort hat comes with it with the spontaneity and risk-taking that allows for those sorts of experiences.

    Thank you for this post :) It puts things in perspective for me, and it’s a picture of a life that I don’t often get to see in practice.

    • meg

      If you want to do it right, you will. Trust me, during my 20’s, things sometimes seemed like a total mess. But as long as you are always TRYING always CARING always saying, “Hum, should I take that risk/ chance/ choice?” When you look back, you’ll start to see some real beauty.

      And I didn’t get to backpack around anywhere (I was paying my own way, and never could make that happen) but I still have time.

      • If you want to do it right, you will. Trust me, during my 20’s, things sometimes seemed like a total mess. But as long as you are always TRYING always CARING always saying, “Hum, should I take that risk/ chance/ choice?” When you look back, you’ll start to see some real beauty.

        This rings so true for me. Looking back at my twenties I remember feeling scared and blind most of the time but always trying to go big, take risks, take chances, grab life as much as I could.

    • Jenn, I just wanted to encourage you to go backpack in Europe, if that is your dream. I did that in my single days during university, but I have some friends (a married couple) who just did that last summer when they were about 30. So….it’s entirely possible, if you can get the vacation time and piece together enough money. I did it on a super super cheap budget ($21 a day in 1997) and it was worth it. But we did stay in some gross places, ate groceries instead of dining in restaurants, and couldn’t afford some museums that were not high on the list. But even so, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that had a huge impact on me as a person. And in my world view. I think it would be FABULOUS to take a journey like this with your husband. My married friends who that did it were in Europe 4-6 weeks and had a blast. And they went a little in debt, but they loved it and it was the right time for them. Good luck in realizing your dreams! :)

  • peanut

    My goal for my 30s is to be aware that I am living the f*ck out of it in the moment, rather than looking back and realizing it later. I remember during my early 20s (post-undergrad, pre-grad) I was single and living in a tiny studio in SF, entry-level job, with TONS of friends and adventures, but I didn’t realize how awesome that time was until I got to grad school at 25 and was like “damn girl!” Although many things about grad school (and a double grad student household at that) have me wishing that we could just grow up already and get real jobs, being broke and studying with my future husband is a wonderful experience. It’s important to look forward in life – and weddings are one of those times where the future just seems so amazing – but I also don’t want to get so caught up in what I am aspiring to do that I forget to enjoy the road that leads there. Meg, I love your “THESE are the days”; I hope that all our days will be the days!

  • Morgan

    It’s interesting – my younger sister and I have been talking about this kind of thing. She’s 23, just graduated university, about to go travel Asia for a few months. At that age, I bought my first house, have the same job I have now, and was in a very serious relationship. I wanted to travel and couldn’t, because of that boy. She wants some amount of the stability I had/have. We’re living the lives we expect the other person to have. I totally planned to go through my 20s living it up, sleeping with inappropriate boys and having lots of adventures. I am jealous of her doing so. Instead, I have a pension, a good job, a new house, a husband. I have also travelled to Central America, the Middle East and bits of Europe, so it’s hardly been all staid. :)

    There’s no right answers, here. I don’t feel that I have done my twenties “wrong” most of the time, even though it’s not been as wild as I might have planned. I think you have to take personality in to account – some of us just aren’t wired for wildness and tolerating poverty as a tradeoff for doing what you love and dancing all night. Some of us started investing at 10 and are homebodies. It’s okay.

    I think that’s what I’m learning in my 20s – who I am, and what actually makes me happy. Not what I think will make me happy, not what I’m told will make me happy. But what actually makes life good for ME.

    • Morgan

      I think you can also frame your life to sound different – even to yourself. Have my 20s been about work and responsibility and a good job? Having a pension and a house and an investment guy? Weekly grocery runs and canning farmer’s marker fruit? About making good choices? Yes.

      But spin it the other way: my 20s have been full of international travel to countries most people have never heard of, too much rum, eating chips and salsa for dinner. Of using purity tests as a challenge. Of blowing too much money on stupid things that make me happy, and spending whole weekends watching tv and playing video games while drinking. This is all true too.

      Life is what you make of it, yes? Well, the way you choose to tell your stories changes how you remember your life. I’m choosing to think of my 20s as a time where I made a lot of good choices and some bad ones, and got to do some awesome stuff along the way. So perhaps I’ll need to live the f*ck out of my 30s, before too long.

  • Katelyn

    Meg, have you seen the site Hyperbole and a Half? A recent post of hers, “Why I’ll Never Be An Adult,” has had me and every single one of my mid-20s and early-30s friends cracking up. It’s here:

    I’m smack dab in the middle of my 20s. Almost precisely in the middle. I go through the “must get responsible” cycle every now and then, but so far have always come out the other side only to find myself holding, say, a plane ticket to Istanbul. Or quitting my glamorous magazine job and announcing to my definitely-not-boyfriend in Seattle that I’m single and broke and might as well be those things in Los Angeles, where it’s warmer. (Fast-forward through three months of unemployment on my friend’s couch in Venice, and I flew home into the arms of said not-boyfriend.)

    I don’t want to stop traveling or having adventures, but I’m tired of all of the uncertainty. Can a girl get some medical/dental?!

    • sarah

      that link is hilarious!

    • I love that post. I reposted it on my blog too.

    • meg

      Yeah. You will. I got some medical and dental at 25. And now at 30, I’m ready to give it up again. The trick is, now I’m MARRIED, so now someone else can help with that bit.

      Oh, and I lied. I didn’t get dental or vision till I was 27.

    • K

      Holy cow, that’s so my pattern at times… yikes. Currently I’m at the burned out Internet addicted phase, only I’m getting burned out on that too since it makes me feel like a useless lump.

      Isn’t it the idea to find a balance since too much action AND too little action both cause energy to be drained?

  • Meg, I was immediately sucked into reading this when it landed in my email at work (so I shouldn’t have been reading it). First thought is that this explains so much about you that I never really quite figured out. I never really thought I was the same kind of person as you, meaning all of those things about you that shine through like strong, overtly passionate, decisive and completely dedicated.
    When I finished reading this point, I thought, what the fuck is my problem? I fell on my face plenty of times in my 20s, but I never felt like I was allowed to. And I certainly don’t feel adventurous. Drunk maybe but not adventurous.
    The things I’ve done? worked the same shitty job for ten years, nearly married my high school sweetheart, then had a nervous breakdown when I left him because I felt so guilty and wrong. The good things: I wasn’t wrong when I left that asshole, I met my husband, I went back to school, I got a scholarship and graduated with honors from Mills but I was already 30 when I graduated.
    In the last 3 years though, I’ve fallen on my face again. I’m stuck. I really wish I had clicked back over and continued reading the comments because I started to feel like shit because I haven’t done anything and I don’t feel like I even know how to start living. while I feel a tinge of jealousy for buying a boat and sailing the world, I think I would hate that. I guess that’s who I am. I’m 34, and I’m lost. It’s exhausting.
    If someone out there could just hold my hand a little before I jump off the high dive.

    • meg

      Oh honey, we all fall on our face half the damn time (you should see my day job right now). The thing is, if you don’t fall on your face, you’re probably not being brave enough. It’s like ice skating, I always tell David when we get in the rink, “If I don’t fall on my ass HARD a few times, then I’m not really having very much fun, now am I?” He, for the record, never falls when ice skating… but then he never tries to do spins that he has no idea how to do right in the center of the rink. So you’re doing spins at the center of the rink and falling, you’re just letting the falling make you feel like shit.

      So, I think the trick is to just start seeing all those falls as little victories. My grandmother has said that looking back over 80 years, everything she thought was the very worst thing that could have happened (at the time), ended up leading to the very best things that ever happened. Like, if you hadn’t left that asshole, you wouldn’t have married your husband, right? So you’re stuck. You know you’re stuck. That’s great. That probably means that something wonderful is trying to get itself born. In my experience, that’s how it works.

      You don’t always have to do the paddling. Sometimes you can just let the rest of us/ the universe paddle for you, and trust that you’ll get there.

  • Meaghan

    This is inspiring. My 20’s are not like yours were in the details (I haven’t been able to stay up till 3am since I was 20), but I think the key parts are there – they’ve so far (I’m 24) been full of various degrees of broke-ness, taking some pretty hefty risks, and being surrounded with awesome people.

    Even though, or perhaps because, my partner and I have been able to get into our careers (for now) relatively young and thus have more stability than many of our peers, we’re constantly considering how we can continue to live fully, boldly, and deliberately, instead of following the “next steps” script and shipping off to the suburbs to die a slow death (disclaimer: my personal view of suburbs! I’m sure yours is lovely!). Luckily, my career is quite unusual, so we’ll be living overseas in a year or so instead of on a cul-de-sac!

    Anyways, even though I’m less than halfway through my 20s, I’m feeling really good about them so far. They’re weird, and exciting, and challenging, but I’m not in any rush to be out of them!

  • this was very timely post for me since I’ve been thinking about the direction of my life as well. I am still in the process of trying to live the f*ck out of my 20’s and am doing the shift from early 20’s to late 20’s now. Sometimes I worry that I’m not living the f*ck out of things but really my priorities have shifted and while I feel much more settled now, all these steps do bring me closer to the things that are really important to me. I am building my life now, block by block and it’s great and exciting. And while i am doing all this building I still feel I have the freedom and time to make mistakes.

    Thank you for the post. You are wise and thought provoking as always.

  • Class of 1980

    Oh honeys,

    The question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” never ends.

    Because whatever situation you aspire to becomes routine once you achieve it and live with it for a few years. I thought working at home and answering to no one was the ultimate reach-for-the-sky thing that would make my life Heaven.

    Well, I have it, and now after doing the same thing for years, I am bored. I realize many people would give their eye teeth to be in my position, but the business fills my bank account; not my soul.

    The lesson is that you can derail yourself a little bit at any age. I’m still figuring it out.

    One thing I have learned is that the destination will always feel different than you thought, which leads to more branching off from the path. That is where the growth and progress really are.

  • Late to the party, but I am so thankful that in 1996, at age 21, I looked around at my life and was like “HOLY SHIT I LOVE IT ALL. THESE ARE THE DAYS.” My THE DAYS looked very different than yours, but I lived the flying fuck out of my 20s in ways that still make my head spin.

    And I am so, SO thankful for it. Because while I am so happy with my life now, there’s no denying that it’s not wild partytimes … and I understand now why people have midlife crises. If I was in this hard working/hard mama-ing mode without the explosive, bombastic joy of my fully realized 20s tucked in my back pocket, I might start wondering what I’d missed.

    Instead, I lived it. And I’m glad to be done with it. BUT I LIVED IT.

    As for me, I’d say living the fuck out of my 30s means doing it on my own terms. I spent much of my 20s making ends meet working for other people, and my early-30s working to get to a place where I wouldn’t have to any more. And it feels SOOOOO GOOOOOOOD. And then there’s the whole family thing, which also feels SOOOOOO GOOOOOOOD, but in part because I can do it on my own terms.

    Now I must go think some more. Great post!

    • meg

      Your Offbeat Mama post about dancing your ass off in your 20’s is what started clarifying all this for me.

      And I agree. I’m so sick of working my ass off and using all my talents for other people, or for stuff I don’t really believe in. A few months into my 30’s, living on my own terms is turning out to be the theme.

      But god, for all that I cried my way through so many rough patches in my 20’s, I’m so glad I have that. I quit theatre, I left New York (we’ll see if that bit sticks…), but I never have to wonder “what if” and it turns out that is the most important thing for me.

  • Fitz

    Wait, Meg, David was your high school rival? Can you please tell us that story?

    • meg

      Oh. Maybe one day. As of next month we will have known each other half our lives. Though we’ve been within 500 feet of each other most of the time since we were about 3.

    • meg

      Maybe one day. As of next month we will have known each other half our lives. Though we’ve been within 500 feet of each other most of the time since we were about 3.

  • Reading about your adventures makes me smile. While you were doing all that in NY, I was doing similar things in TX. I earned a B.F.A. in Theatre, co-founded an experimental theatre company with my best friend and put together fundraisers, albeit less fancy ones. ;)

    I also managed to scrounge money together for traveling throughout my college experience and immediately afterwards.

    I think it is important to remember and celebrate all the ways we have taken chances, risked big, whatever that looks like for each of us. I am in awe of the sheer variety of experiences represented by everyone who has commented. I find it absolutely inspiring.

    • meg

      Totally. To take risks is what’s worth celebrating, and I encourage people to do it when they have a little less tying them down.

  • amy

    Also late to the party, but this post reminded me of Michelle’s One-Year-Later Wedding Graduate post yesterday, which I also really connected with:

    “When we were dating and engaged, we lived 600 miles apart. I had a large group of friends, my own apartment, and a job that I loved. I paid my bills and went to class every day and just all-around felt like a grownup. I was in charge of my life! I did what I wanted! But… now as I look back at that time in my life, it strikes me that I don’t feel like that person anymore. I loved watching movies with friends and being incredibly busy, but the overwhelming feeling as I look back is loneliness.”

    I’m not in my 30s, but the crazy part of my 20s ended almost a year ago, when I quit my job, moved out of a city I loved full of amazing people that I had a really great time with every weekend, and shacked up with my now-fiance. When I quit, my boss said to me in a terrible tone, “I hope you realize your life will never be as fun as it is now EVER AGAIN.” She told me I wouldn’t have as many friends, would never be so independent, would never live a life that seemed so wild and free, EVER!!!!! It terrified me. She was, of course, sort of wrong. I can’t go back to my old life, but good God, why would I want to? It really sucked, even though it was also the best. My car kept getting towed because I couldn’t pay my parking tickets and I dated a lot of sleaze-os. And I could not admit to myself that I hated my crazy bad job and, though I also sort of loved her, my crazy mean boss. And I was lonelier than I even really knew.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that it feels like this post is really about GROWING UP, and not necessarily about one’s 20s, 30s, or 40s. Just like weddings are about proving to the world that you are a grown up. I feel especially strongly about this when I reflect on the one or two 35-year-old dudes I dated who lived in slimy apartments, slept with questionable girls and never had any money.

    And I have a really kick-ass time with my fiance, even though my idea of a kick ass time (drinking lots of wine and watching documentaries about Alexander Hamilton? OK!) has changed somewhat. And when we do hit the town, it’s nice because we don’t have to spend the whole time we’re at the party worrying about who we’re taking home.

  • Liz

    I love this post. But it seems to beg a follow on question:

    What do you do when you turn 30 and realize that you didn’t live the sh*t out of your 20’s? How do you deal with a decade’s worth of regret?

    This is the point I’m at now. I turned 30 in May, and am filled with regret that I didn’t spend more time during my 20s doing the things *I* wanted to do — as opposed to doing what I thought I was expected to do. And unfortunately my current situation won’t allow me to take charge and go start living my life the way I want. So the outlook for living the sh*t out of my 30s is pretty bleak.

    I hate being whiny, but really…What do you do when you didn’t spend your 20s rushing around, trying to figure out who you are, and then suddenly find yourself in your 30s, with a (wonderful)huband and a job and an apartment and all the things a 30-something *should* have, except a clue as to what you really want out of life?

    It depresses me to think that I might be having a mid-life crisis at 30….

    • Liz, I think it is great you are asking these challenging, scary, honest questions. My guess is that you’ll discover the answers after a lot of reflection and soul-searching. And talking with your husband. But I also would venture that perhaps a good (and realistic/achievable) place to start is in the small things. Like taking a short course in something you have always wanted to do (cooking? art? metal working? whatever floats your boat…?), or working towards some goal you have always had a secret desire to do (half marathon? sky diving? hiking a peak somewhere? practicing an instrument?). Anyhow, I wish you LOADS of joy and discovery as you navigate these questions.

      • Liz


        Thanks for the support. The frustrating thing is that I’m totally ready to take action. But I’m currently living in Afghanistan, having accompanied my husband as he serves a 2-year tour with the US government in Afghanistan. In order to come with him I had to take a job with the Embassy. It pays well, but it’s sucking my soul dry. I am so not cut out to be a bureaucrat!

        If I was living anywhere else I’d be able to compensate by taking classes, going out with friends, etc. But we’re living on lockdown. We live and work on the Embassy compound, and we can’t leave. So no classes, no hiking, no distractions other than work. My life and the things that I want to acheive are on hold while I support my husband.

        I wish I wasn’t asking these questions. I wish I could be confident in how I’ve lived and where life has led me. But I’m not, and there’s nothing I can do about it for the next 11 months.

        BTW: it’s funny that you mentioned the half marathon. I actually did that to celebrate my 30th birthday in May. (The Embassy hosts an annual marathon)

  • meg! great post. i love you being a tad older than me. ;) it is just perfect.

    1) that is what i get for almost skimming, when i thought (for a moment) that you said “career making ludicrous amounts of money in an exciting … field like architecture” bwahaha i was going to tell you a thing or two, but you know better

    2) that last picture i thought, “that is SO meg”

    3)before i got to the asterisk i thought “hmmmph, i can’t say i did *everything* i wanted in my 20’s, not enough travel!” ;)

  • Hahaha I thought I was so special when I had one of those “these are the days” moments, but I guess not! (Although mine was to Bruce’s “Glory Days” and I was, funnily enough, down at the shore.) What a lovely way to sum up your 20s – I hope everyone can be so lucky!

  • I’m not going to lie, these personal posts are my FAVOURITE.

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  • Meg, I clicked through some old links and ended up at this post and read it from my bed (sick as a dog with a new iteration of the dreaded Delhi-belly) and just want to hug you. Happy birthday to you *this* year (Aries, unite!), and thank you for your marvelous assessment of the decade I’m soon to leave behind. Would love to buy you a Maker’s mark and soda when I’m out in SF next to see my beloved sister. And you can show me pictures of how the new painting looks on your wall. Deal?


  • Edit: scratch the Maker’s. Just read the fine print. How bout Dalwhinnie? Soooo classy;)

  • All of my friends are rushing around trying to get married in their early twenties. I keep telling them that isn’t what we are supposed to do in this decade! We are supposed to drink and dance and explore the world. I might use this post to convince them. :)

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  • I stumbled upon your lovely site on a road trip back to NYC, where I currently live, and your words spoke to me. I relate to so much of what you say, including a arts background, years in NYC, a BFA degree and more, and it is nice to know that not everyone has everything by their 30’s, but it is still so important to live the heck out of them, as you did in your 20’s! Continued success and here’s to making the most of each year! :)

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