Turning 30 was a terrifying reality for me.
I’d always been one of those ambitious Type A planners who had countless checklists of career goals and clear milestones of where I had to be by 30 — only to find when I got there that all that was, well, words on paper. At 30, I was working in Los Angeles in the entertainment industry in business operations — and at 30, I’d also realized that my career was heading down a road I had no desire to travel.
So I started applying and interviewing for companies. Some interviews didn’t pan out. Others, I intentionally bombed because I could tell they weren’t going to be a good fit. In one particularly awful one, I got checked up and down by the first male employee I encountered followed by the interviewer staring at my chest the entire time.
Frustrated and exhausted, I found myself missing home. I was born and raised in Humboldt County, a rural community known for its highly lucrative cash crop and redwood forests (Lonely Planet’s 2018 #1 US Destination). I missed my family, my friends, my family dog, nature and a slower pace of life. I decided that I’d apply for jobs at home and in LA, and I would take whatever came.
In the end, I was able to go home sooner than I had imagined. The company I had been working for began to lay off employees due to restructuring—and I ended up being one of those laid off.
I was in shock as I began to think about how much my rent and living expenses cost versus the check I’d receive on unemployment along with my small severance package. I knew I would have to leave my studio apartment because there would be no way for me to afford it—let alone the utility bills—but here’s the thing: in realizing that, I felt content. It was time to go home.
There was just one last tie to break. I had to end it with the guy I’d been seeing on and off for four years of my life, and inevitably, we had one of those necessary blowout fights to end it all. I wasn’t that sad — I was more relieved it was finally done.
I moved back in with my parents three weeks later.
I felt like a hot mess, like the mid-2000s Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton days.
Back to my roots
As good as it was to be home, sitting in my childhood room, looking at my letterman jacket still hanging in the closet and boxes of my adult life stacked in the corner, I started doubting myself and every decision I had made for the past 12 years. I found myself trying to mute the bellowing voice of self-loathing and hatred that now took up any quiet mind time.
Shortly after arriving home, I hit the pavement running. I applied for jobs, got a gym membership (since I had put on 30 pounds of stress weight), went to the doctor and got in as many doctor appointments as I could before I canceled my COBRA, started going to therapy and taking anti-depressants, deactivated my Facebook, hung out with my friends and even tried to date to forget about He Who Shall Not Be Named.
At that time, my thought process went something like this: I wasn’t quite failing at life, just stripping away all the things that weren’t working for me that, until then, I’d been too obstinate to let go of. Maybe my yellow brick road had just gotten clogged up with LA smog and this was the opportunity to take a scrubbing to it.
After a few months, though, the job offers weren’t coming. Those COBRA doctor appointments meant skin cancer biopsies were taken (benign, thank goodness). My family dog, who never left my side when I could barely get out of bed, had to be put down and my love life was stagnant. I felt like a hot mess, like the mid-2000s Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton days.
Five months into moving home, some new opportunities appeared and I jumped at them — finally, there was a part-time temporary job, and I started playing softball in a city recreational league. I had things to look forward to, and I got to start a new routine.
The beast of comparison and self-loathing will always be there — be prepared to have a muzzle for it.
The comparison bug
But almost immediately, the reality of my situation smashed my small wins: my college roommate got married. At her wedding, I was surrounded by people talking about their accomplishments—buying a house, getting married, getting the promotion to Vice President of whatever, pregnancy talk, etc.
High fives all around for them.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t stoked for their successes and what they were proud of, but I found myself trying to avoid discussing what I was up to because, well, what was there to say?
I’d lost my job, apartment, and the guy I thought I would eventually marry, and I was working a part-time temp job for $11.50/hour with no job prospects in sight while living with my parents. Oh, and I was still carrying that extra 25 pounds of stress weight.
Ultimately, I opened up — and for the rest of the night, I got looks of sympathy and handed copious glasses of wine. The hangover and hazy images of pity-filled eyes were not the best parting gifts, but the wedding itself was incredible.
As much as I would like to say “You shouldn’t compare yourself to others,” doing so would make me a hypocrite. Whether it’s in Buti Yoga class when the woman next to me doing amazing bendy moves, or thinking about how lucky my best friend is because she doesn’t have crazy baby hairs like I do that cramp any hairstyle I attempt, I’m always comparing on some level.
For me, that night meant realizing I needed to turn down the volume on my comparison voice in my head. That’s something I have to be present for — it’s always going to be there, but recognizing it’s there, especially when it’s the loudest, is a skill that I’m continuing to hone.
Not being able to control my exact outcome and surrendering to the unknown was frustrating — like trying to apply liquid eyeliner after coffee or dealing with my student loan company level frustrating.
The turning point
By mid-November, the temporary job was coming to an end, my unemployment was gone. While I had just picked up another temporary job working at a law firm, the interviews for full-time work weren’t going anywhere — there were more rejection letters or just no follow-up from them at all. It became something of a joke — repeatedly, it would get down to me and another candidate, and the hiring manager would pick the other person.
Then, it happened. The case I was helping get ready for court ended abruptly a few days before Christmas, which meant no more work for me. Surrendering to the possibility that no one would be hiring until mid-January, I decided to focus on my time off with family and friends and puppy cuddles (care of a new dog named Duncan Macleod) before I revved up the job search engine again in January.
A few days after Christmas, I received a job offer working with our local government. I jumped at the chance. I wouldn’t start the job for three weeks but hey, I had a job. I would have a consistent income and health insurance (you know you’re adulting when … ).
I started my position right after my birthday — at the ripe age of 31. Things started to (finally) fall into place. Once I got into a routine at work, I next focused on my health, both physically and mentally. After I felt I was in healthy space, I decided to dip my toes in the dating pool and started doing things outside my comfort zone — like going to a rodeo, checking out local street fairs, or taking spur of the moment weekend getaways.
Patience, resilience, surrender, and asking for help are good things to have in my toolkit.
What year 30 taught me
For most of my 30th year, I felt like Tom Hanks at the beginning of Castaway, stuck in a storm and washed up, disheveled and haggard on the beach. Not being able to control my exact outcome and surrendering to the unknown was frustrating — like trying to apply liquid eyeliner after coffee or dealing with my student loan company level frustrating.
But focusing on the immediate things that I could make a difference in providing some semblance that I was the still the “Queen Bee” of my life story. By the end of the year, I was less Castaway more Sasha Fierce—confident, grounded, and looking to the future with a smile instead of anxiety and dread.
So what were my biggest takeaways? I will bullet point it out because, frankly, I love bullet points:
- The beast of comparison and self-loathing will always be there — be prepared to have a muzzle for it.
- Patience, resilience, surrender, and asking for help are good things to have in my toolkit.
- I’m lucky to have the family and friend support I do, and a roof over my head, because I know not everyone is as fortunate.
- My dad was my biggest cheerleader. He was always encouraging me even when I felt helpless and worthless and telling me something good was on the way. He was right. It just took a lot of patience and blind faith on my end.
- My dog is the best furchild and four-legged therapist on the planet. (I’m biased, I’m aware.)
- Focusing on improving one aspect of my life at a time provided me with the best result.
- Self-care is key to maintaining mental, psychological, physical and spiritual focus.
Am I where I want to be career and lifestyle wise? Not quite, but I’m heading in that direction — and I’m a lot closer than where I was three years ago. It’s all a process, and I’m still learning the ebb and flow.