Why Turning 31 Is More Meaningful Than I Thought

In my 30s, it's no longer a question of when my masterminded plans will pan out -- but whether I actually want the things I penned into my five-year plans, and if so, what I'm willing to give up to get them.
10/23/2014 06:07 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

I turn 31 in a few weeks, and at first, I felt that I was gearing up for my most uneventful birthday yet. Thirty -- plus one. Who cares? As I inch closer to the not-so-big day, however, I am starting to realize that 31 has its place. It's a year-long step into the 30s. 52 more weeks away from the 20s, one more step into the rest of forever.

My 20s were for picking things up ("Let's see if I like this..."), and putting things down ("No, I do not!"). It was a decade of city-skipping, risky behavior, confident assertions, and five-year plans. It was the decade of This. is. how. my. life. is. going. to. be.

Not so much with my 30s.

Being just one year in, I can already tell that the 30s will be the decade of negotiation, the decade of surrender.

In my 30s, it's no longer a question of when my masterminded plans will pan out -- but whether I actually want the things I penned into my five-year plans, and if so, what I'm willing to give up to get them.

As a partnered-but-unmarried, child-free 30-something woman, the 30s can be a treacherous and beautiful borderland of self. Who have I grown into -- and is this who I want to continue to be?

The 30s is the decade of negotiating my most precious resource, my attention. It is the age of deciding what to ignore and what to peer into.

Questions like these are no longer hypothetical, but are answered by the very minutes of how I spend my life.

Do I aim for a bigger career -- or just a bigger paycheck?

Do I choose to be a mom -- and if so, helicopter parenting or à la française?

Do I identify as a writer who also runs a business -- or just a business owner who also writes? Does it matter?

The way 30 delightfully whizzed past me, I can tell that my entire 30s could end up as a breathless blur -- like the gap of white space between a before and after photo between the 20s and 40s: grow my business, write-write-write, get married, buy a house, have kids (or not), shovel money into retirement, consider selling house, and it goes on and on.

I've fully claimed my space among the joys of adulthood, but I also realize that being a full-fledged grownup requires the high price of my attention. The danger of the 30s is that I doze off as I get lulled into a rhythm of earning, expanding and acquiring. Sleepwalking through my 30s will give me that same bitter cocktail of chagrin and remorse I once felt when I soundly slept through the entirety of a first class flight: How did I let this happen?

Still early in my 30s, I feel loyal to the 20something firebrand who commandeered my 20s while also acknowledging the deliciousness of slowing down and turning inward. This next decade will be about which parts of me get refined and which get sacrificed among the embers.

My most sincere wish for my 30s is that, however I choose to spend my attention, I stay conscious of my choices and that I live my days -- maybe not every day, but most days -- with my eyes wide open.