Gender & Identity, Life

When I stopped using thirty as a deadline for my life goals, everything changed

I was one of those people who needed my twenties to figure out what mattered to me before worrying about "feeling successful."

I had grand plans to celebrate turning thirty in style, doing the thing I loved most since my early twenties: travel. At the time, I also thought I had the big break in my career with an opportunity abroad. I prematurely idealized all of the great things to come after struggling from a lay-off and bouts of demoralizing job hunts.

 Until life slapped me in the face just a few weeks before turning thirty.

I had to move back home with my parents in Dallas when I found out that my dad was very sick. It was strangely perfect timing because I also resigned from that so-called big break right around then. Clearly, things did not work out, and I invested too much of my personal happiness in it. Within less than a month of being back home, I woke up on a Saturday morning to find my dad not able to move. We thought everything would be fine within two days as we rushed dad to the hospital. Those two days became a month.

[bctt tweet=”Until life slapped me in the face just a few weeks before turning thirty.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Eventually, dad’s kidney was leaning towards complete failure, and permanent dialysis was necessary. Within two hours of drawing the line into his veins for dialysis, he bled, profusely. It was from another unrelated area of his body — nothing to do with his original illness. After the nurse called us over, the alarm lights for the ICU began to flash. It was too quick to even process.

As the situation slightly stabilized, I looked through the window of my dad’s ICU room. I saw him open his eyes gently, raise his hand and wave at me to come inside.  After telling him where he was and what had happened, he began to cry.  As I wiped his tears away and told him he would be okay, I held my own back. I then read the news to him as I had been doing during his stay at the hospital every day that month.  I laughed with him as we realized that the news was even more depressing with Trump having just been elected. We watched cat videos instead.

That was the last time I saw any bit of energy left in him, and the last time I looked into his departing eyes. After about a day, the situation had escalated too much, and we decided to let him pass away in dignity.

A few months later, I finally had the chance to see everything in my own life that preceded my father’s death. I realized that I was unnecessarily upset throughout my twenties, despite what my social media profiles displayed: masters degrees, life in different cities, travel to many new places, and a promising career. This display was an attempt to appear “not behind” everyone else, but deep down I felt like I was.

[bctt tweet=”I realized that I was unnecessarily upset throughout my 20s, despite what my social media profiles displayed.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I wanted everything so quickly because I thought everyone else in my age group was succeeding so quickly. In that obsession, I refused to listen to my heart and body. I needed to slow the heck down. I was refusing to re-evaluate the career and personal-life path I was taking at that time because I did not want to look like I was giving up.

About a month before dad even knew that he was potentially staring death in the face, he said this to me: “Whatever has gone wrong — just pretend it never happened and move on. It is that bad paragraph you delete from your page. You rewrite it. These things are better when a partner stands beside you. It makes the blow less intense.”

My dad was the only one person who looked deeply into my soul and understood my inner struggles without me needing to utter a word. He did not place deadlines on me the way society and even some other people in my South Asian family tried to. He knew that everything happened when it needed to, which is why he never made me worry about what I did and did not accomplish by thirty.

For the record, I did find my life partner right around that time. Not because he or anyone pushed, but because he sent me nothing but positive vibes and believed it would happen. This happened after years of listening to family members tell me that I was getting too old. Years of constant nosiness into my personal life. Concern with why I was not married rather than how or what I was doing.

While losing my dad hurt profusely, I gave myself permission to reset my life as a way to move forward. With this reset, I realized what mattered to me. The changes in my life since I turned thirty have been surreal.

[bctt tweet=”Whatever has gone wrong — just pretend it never happened and move on. It is that bad paragraph you delete from your page. You rewrite it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

While society can make your thirties seem like the decade of everything going downhill, I have news:  it has not been either uphill or downhill because it was never linear in the first place. I do not see my life as “not having my sh**” together anymore.  It is a natural continuum with highs and lows that make life worth living. The  expectations we have of ourselves before thirty contribute to the pervasive ageism that gradually creeps into magazine covers, the dating world, workplaces – and, most importantly, us.