I can’t stand “milestone timeline” articles that advise women that by the time they are 30 they should know how to prepare at least one flaming dessert, or that by the time they are 40 they should have done their first poetry reading. They are gimmicky, arbitrary, and seemingly designed to make readers feel inadequate. IMHO, the ones for women who have reached their 40s are the worst because so many of them involve emotional achievements: letting go of anger, forgiving oneself. However, a case can be made that the ones for women reaching 30 have their own particular cruelty, since they seem to assume that 30-year-olds have an enormous amount of extra cabbage for spontaneous trips to Paris. (Oh, yeah, and a lot of extra time, because they need to have a cross-USA road trip on the books by the time they hit the three decade mark.)
As I remind myself, life is not a race, and your achievements and experiences will occur at times that aren’t on the calendar. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you should aspire to, but they certainly aren’t things like learning how to do a competent tango. So, that said, here are a few competencies that you might find helpful to shoot for, or you might not.
- Know the difference between sex and love, and respect both. The bottom line is that there are going to be times in life when you are wildly attracted to people who are simply no good for you. If that attraction is really strong, there can be a tendency to interpret sexual intoxication as love. Learn to accept that sometimes, it’s just about chemistry, and that’s fine. Enjoy it for what it is. Likewise, there are going to be times when you know you love someone profoundly in a way that you can’t quite interpret, and in such cases, it is human nature to try to make those sentiments fall neatly into a category of some sort. Sometimes they just don’t. Trust me when I say that this kind of indefinable sentiment — that is unique to your relationship with a particular person — is a gorgeous emotion, and one that you should just savor for what it is.
- Accept that some things are just tragic and awful and random and nobody’s fault. You simply don’t know the story behind other people’s decisions, no matter how many times you think you’ve seen the same thing before. This is especially true if someone has had a tragedy in their life. I’m always amazed at how many people lash out viciously at mothers who have lost their children in “preventable” accidents. And, of course, this year has been a banner one for slut-shaming victims of sexual assault. It’s human nature to want to distance yourself from tragedy by identifying ways it wouldn’t happen to you, but human nature is wrong this time.
- Assume nothing about other people’s experiences. Even people who are standing right next to you when something happens experience the event differently than you. When someone tells you how things felt for them, or how things were, shut your yap and listen. Don’t tell them why they are wrong, just listen. Not only will it help you to be a better friend, it will make you a wiser person, and a smarter one, because you’ll be reminded of all of the different directions life can take. A side benefit of this particular competency is that once you have mastered this skill, you’ll also become more willing to accept the nuances of your own experiences, and maybe be kinder to yourself.
- Know how to accept help. The big thing about needing help is that it normally makes you feel like you have somehow failed at managing your own life. You’re wrong, kiddos. Everyone needs help at some point or the other. Ask for it. You’ll be amazed at how many people will step up.
- Welcome the sting of wounded vanity. This sting doesn’t come with things you are really proud of doing or being, it comes from the superficial things that you have somehow convinced yourself make you superior to other people. For example, maybe you don’t like being called “Ma’am” by a young store employee. It might make you wince. If so, ask yourself why — it will help you dismantle some of the illusions about yourself that you hold on to without realizing why.
- Know why you are beautiful. Know why you are awesome. If you can’t think of anything, poll your friends — the ones who really love you. They’ll tell you. Then believe them. Repeat these things to yourself, over and over again. You’ll be surprised at the things that you hear. I know that my mom encouraged me for years to get a nose job, but now I like my distinctive pointy nose a great deal. Likewise my square toddler feet. I am also immensely proud of how silly I am. You should find your special traits, too. (Side note: If you are my friend and you need to know why you are awesome and beautiful, ask me. I guarantee I can tell you.)
Wow, that’s six things, which might seem like a lot, but you don’t have to do any of them.