I woke up on my 30th trip around the sun feeling very much 25, and 21, and basically all the ages when I didn’t have it all together. A small part of my twenties was messy. By no means was this mess unique. I was going through the same things most Black women my age were going through, however, I was handling it poorly and subsequently beating myself up for it. In an effort to make me feel better about my “shortcomings,” a friend told me I didn’t have to get my life together until 30 and I held on to that allowance of grace tighter than Rose held on to that door in Titanic.
I’ve always wanted to write about what it would be like to spend time in Jamaica as an adult. I thought I would explore the connection I still had with the place I used to call home. A recent trip for my birthday presented the perfect opportunity; however, I didn’t anticipate being so in my head. Truthfully, milestone birthdays scare me, and turning 30 is the biggest milestone I’ve hit to date. In my mind the expectations for that birthday were, and perhaps still are, wildly different from 25 and 21— unless you’re one of those extremely high achievers who have goals for every year.
A few hours into my birthday, though grateful for the strides I’d made, and goals I’d already accomplished, I was still feeling unsteady, wondering if the grace I was encouraged to give myself in my younger years would no longer be allowed. Would it be acceptable if the old Ashley reared her insecure head once in a while? Would it be okay if I was still nowhere close to achieving some of the goals I thought I would have already accomplished? Some goals were so outrageous I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided it was something I wanted for myself, like a $2 million townhouse on Orange street in Brooklyn Heights.
For some context, in my junior year of high school, I did an assignment that required me to pick my dream home. The actual point of the assignment isn’t something that comes to mind easily but, the house I stumbled upon, I could never forget. I still remember the address, the floor plan, and the feeling I got when looking at it. There was a sense of wonder and excitement and I just knew when I became an adult the house would be mine. I even continued to check in on my future home to see if it had been sold— it has, but I had imagined that I would one day, before 30 of course, have so much money in the bank that I would walk up to the door, knock with a checkbook in my hands and make the owners an offer they couldn’t refuse (like in Enough, before everything turned to shit).
The house on Orange street is just one of the dreams, though lofty, that I thought would be a reality by the time I hit this big age. There were also dreams of a marriage, a family, and a career that the younger version of myself had, that haven’t materialized and, shockingly, on most days I am okay with that. Most days, I am proud of what I have accomplished and grateful for my life as is, but there are days when I am asked about the things that society has made qualifiers for being not only a real adult but a successful one. When I am asked about moving into a new apartment or buying a home or having children, I regress. I am not sure why this happens but maybe on some level, the thought of being unqualified or not measuring up to everyone’s standards is something I still haven’t worked through.
I went to Jamaica with this confidence that now seems so surface-level. My bikini didn’t fit right because of an unfulfilled goal; I couldn’t easily “ball out” because of another unfulfilled goal. As a result, internally I was so unkind to myself. I was unkind, yet trying to exude some kind of happy, carefree, baddie, soft girl energy and failing terribly. I was beating myself up like I did in my twenties because how could a 30-year-old not be this confident person with her shit together. Funny enough, sitting down to write this entirely different version of the 30th birthday piece, has made me realize the one thing or goal I wanted most by 30 wasn’t the material or tangible things. The thing I wanted was a shift in mindset that was so solid, no question or comment could shake how I felt about myself.
I’ve been 30 for almost two months. But, in these short couple of months, I’ve definitely given myself the space to experience highs and lows. I’ve been hard on myself, but I’ve also been gracious. Most importantly, I’ve come to realize that this notion of getting my life together or getting anything together is a continuous act. We are never not actively working through our stuff and as we get older the stuff may become even more complex.
I think that there is this pressure that comes with aging that as a whole we haven’t let go of. Even though the internet and social media are currently pushing for self-love, rest, and healing, there is still this push to be an extremely goal-oriented and productive hustler, because how else do we afford soft living and what has become self-care. I don’t really know if the outside pressure will ever go away, but I know it doesn’t also have to be self-inflicted.
Birthdays are great. I don’t hate them. I think they can serve as a reminder of our experiences and where we’ve been. They are also a chance to continue getting it together because fortunately for us, hitting the milestone doesn’t mean the growth has come to an end.
Ashley Fern is a Brooklyn based writer. She is a health copywriter by day and holds an M.S in Publishing. Her interests include exploring health, wellness and beauty through the lens of Black women.