We’re back again with our second installment of What 30 Really Looks Like, just in time for the new year. My birthday is three weeks away, and with the big 2-9 on the horizon, it’s a topic I’m thinking about more and more lately. Where am I? What do I want more of? What do I want to do differently? This series is all about exploring an age that can feel so daunting and deadline-y, and realizing that it’s 100% okay to be in a different place than you expected you’d be at 30. We are talking to women from around the country about their real lives, and the advice they’d give to their (somewhat) younger selves.
If you missed our inaugural installment of the series, check it out here (we spoke to a writer and editor living in Brooklyn with her partner and her young son), and in the meantime, let’s dive into this week’s interview with Christine, a recently-married, high-level employee in the healthcare world.
1. Paint us a picture of your life right now, especially financially. Think things like: Where do you live? What do you do for work? Are you in a romantic relationship? Do you have kids? What is your salary or total income? What do you spend on rent? Do you have debt? Etc. Let us get to know you.
My life right now seems pretty great, although my husband and I are wary that that could change very easily (with the addition of a new car, or dog, let alone with having a kid). I live in Denver, Colorado, and I work at the director level at the American Diabetes Association. On the side, I write freelance, baby-sit, and have rented out my space on Airbnb to make extra income. I recently got married this past year, and it was one of the most financially stressful things I have ever done in my entire life. Feminism and the Wedding Industrial Complex do not mix well, and more light needs to be shed on this issue (!!).
I don’t have kids, and we’re wondering if a) we want them and b) even if we did want them, if we could afford them. It’s an ongoing conversation, and I personally think the struggles will only be solved at a policy level (paid maternal and paternal leave; affordable child care, etc.)
Total yearly income is around $180,000…. Our monthly mortgage is $2,500, which is pretty affordable for Denver. I was able to escape college and grad school without any debt (generous parents and a TA position) but my husband has a lot of debt from a private grad school. We save money each month, and have money for things like international travel and nice shoes, but not enough to have a kid right now or to live on one salary (if one of us lost our job, it would be devastating).
2. At 20, where did you think you would be at 30? How close or far are you from that person?
I thought I would be married with kids and have a dog. Not until recently (i.e. friends having kids) did I realize how expensive they are and how unfriendly our country is in regards to child /family friendly policies. I never thought that I would be living out west (I’m from Philadelphia), but I also didn’t think I would own a house (I guess I never really thought about real estate at that age). I think over the course of my twenties I prioritized experiences over material things, and for that I am thankful.
3. Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment where you felt “I am an adult now?” If so, what was it that made you feel that way?
I was packing for a work trip (when I was 22), and had gotten everything out the door and was rolling my huge suitcase to my car that was parked very far away on a VERY hot and humid day in Philadelphia (it was parked about 20 blocks from my apartment). When I got to my car I realized I forgot my phone charger in my apartment and cried because I was so tired and hot but realized that I really am an adult and there was no one to call or cry to, and if I wanted to use my phone during the extended work trip, I had to suck it up and walk the 20 blocks back and get it. I did.
4. Tell us about your educational background — do you have a degree? If so, to what extent do you feel like you use it? Do you regret any of your educational choices, or feel particularly glad you made any of them?
I have a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in public health. I use both every day and I know that’s rare. I don’t regret anything but was able to go to grad school for free by being a TA and living off a stipend, which is also rare! I took a few years off in-between undergraduate and grad school where I worked as a social worker in west Philadelphia, and it was a very intentional choice to go back to school and get my master’s. I had a vision, and I knew what I was going for. I think you need to have that vision if you’re going to return to school for a graduate degree (don’t just go to put off getting a job). I wasted a lot of time in undergrad, but I think that’s okay. I started out as biology major, then switched to English, and finally settled on political science. I spent a lot of time catching up on things that I didn’t learn in high school (like what hummus is and where Lebanon is on a map…I lived under a rock). I studied abroad twice, and drank a lot of wine. I think those experiences are important. I was much more serious when I returned for grad school several years later.
My husband went to a private university and has SO MUCH DEBT for a similar master’s degree. Education is something that once you have it, no one can take away from you, but I also advise people against going into extreme amounts of debt for an education. You can get a great education at a community college or state school, and don’t have to be drowning in debt for decades. Do what works for you, and don’t worry about what other people think. You’ll find your way.
5. Tell us about your relationships at 30, both romantic and platonic. What are your friendships like? Do you have more friends than at 20, or fewer? Is your romantic life what you thought it would be like? Socially, how active do you find yourself?
I am married and my friendships are with lots of couples and other married people. I have fewer friends than at 20, but my friendships are deeper now. I don’t have a ton of time, so I choose friends wisely. And I am tired at the end of the week, so I usually only see people on weekends. I also spend less time in bars and at restaurants, and prefer to spend time with friends doing something productive (getting exercise, being out in nature, attending a reading, etc.) My husband is five years older than me, and we met at work in the summer of 2014. We got married when I was 29, which I felt was later than I had ever planned (but was wise). I think it’s important to have finished all of your education before getting married… it’s important to make education/college choices when you don’t have a significant other to think about.
6. In terms of career, what has been the best move or decision you’ve made in your professional life? Which one sticks out as the worst?
Join professional councils or committees outside of work and attend conferences to meet higher ups and follow up with them after meeting them. Also, interning helps. Never go to a private university unless you get a scholarship. You can make state schools and/or community colleges work for you. Invite mentors out for coffee and learn from their stories and mistakes. Always offer to pay, even when you can’t afford the extra latte. Smile a lot. Create business cards on Vistaprint and sell yourself every chance you get.
Even if you’ve finished your work for the day at 3:30 p.m., don’t leave early. American culture is definitely still a “butt in seat” type work setting, and it looks bad if you’re late or leaving early.
7. What’s something you do now that you never would have seen yourself doing in your 20s? (Could be career-related, money, a hobby, personal care, etc.)
I make sure to drink 80 ounces of water a day, and take vitamins like a fiend. I also go to bed by 9 p.m.. I’ve learned to say no to things that I’m not excited about (parties, dinner invitations, conferences, etc.)
8. What do you want your life to look like at 40? Do you think you’re on track to get there?
Lots of travel and enjoying the money I make. I think I’m on track to get there, although anxiety around saving for retirement has already started, and I’m only 30!
9. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give anyone in their mid 20s who wants to feel more fulfilled and confident with themselves by 30?
Exercise every day. Don’t go on social media so much — open up a book. Go out in nature every chance you get. Don’t take your husband’s last name when you get married. Start an IRA AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.