My book was supposed to come out in 2012. I figured in late 2009 or early 2010 that that’s how long it would take me to write enough essays, get an agent, go through rounds of edits and wait for publication. I made this decision not too long before Mindy Kaling got her first book deal, and when I emailed a friend that I had competition, she suggested that maybe the “Office” writer and I could team up. “You could totally have the best girlie book tour ever, complete with shopping breaks and cocktails!”
Fast-forward to today. Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” landed on the New York Times bestseller list, and she has another one in the works. Meanwhile, I published a few pieces that got some attention, but not nearly enough to secure a book deal. I solicited feedback from one agent and was told that the writing, while strong, didn’t quite reach the level that would justify a collection. I was discouraged, and though I continued writing, I also worked a full-time job and made plans with friends and never even attempted the wake-up-at-5 a.m.-and-write-for-two-hours routine.
When I first imagined my pub date, I was trying to be realistic about the time it would take to pull everything together. But I was also aware of something else: In releasing my book in 2012, I would be accomplishing a major life goal before my 30th birthday, that unspoken deadline so many women have for our personal and professional accomplishments. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that if we haven’t achieved certain objectives by 30, we must have failed. Might as well stop trying, right?
Today is my 30th birthday, and, yes, I would like to have done more before this point, but I want to approach this occasion without regret or disappointment. I feel more stable, more confident, more self-aware than ever before, and I’ve done a lot in my life that I’m proud of. As much as I enjoyed comparing myself to the famous “30 Things Every Woman Must Have and Know Before 30” list, reaching this age has made me realize we need a follow-up, a reminder that it’s okay if we still have goals to fulfill. Wouldn’t it be depressing if we didn’t?
The following is not a bucket list, a catalog of wild adventures I’m determined to have before I die. Rather, it’s an attempt to focus on how much more I have to look forward to and to acknowledge that I still have plenty of time to check items off my list.
30 Things I Hope To Do After 30
1. Write a book. I don’t know if it will be the collection of essays I envisioned or a different type of book entirely. What I do know is that Helen Gurley Brown published “Sex and the Single Girl” at 40.
2. Travel to Australia and New Zealand. This one is less about the destination than the distance. You don’t hop on a flight to Sydney, sightsee for three days and return. In my 20s, though, not only did weddings claim my vacation days, I was also concerned about being away from the office, certain I needed to prove myself before I could take time off. Now I know that vacation is essential to avoid burnout and actually good for productivity.
4. Do a headstand. I tend to view yoga the way my mom views Tylenol — as a cure-all for any problem or ailment. And yet I’ve attended only occasional classes over the years, always positioning myself in the back of the room and never truly committing to a routine. Katie Couric was 55 when she shared this photo, so there’s still hope for me.
5. Throw a party for my parents. They’ve been toasting me for years. Someday soon I want to have enough money to throw them the celebration they deserve.
6. Get married. This one is happening in January, and I am continually amazed that I met someone who cares about me and understands me like my fiancé does. (Hat tip, JDate.) But had I met my fiancé in my early 20s, I’m not sure I would have recognized our compatibility or felt as certain as I do about my decision. I had to understand myself better and define my own priorities in order to know what I was looking for in someone else.
7. Learn to cook. I can make omelets. Not omelets I would serve to another human being, mind you, but they do contain eggs and cheese and have a fold down the middle. Now that I’m living with someone, I want to expand my repertoire. I don’t aspire to be Julia Child, but I can take a lesson from her: “I was 32 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate.”
8. Read Dorothy Parker and Flannery O’Connor. I read “The Bell Jar” for the first time last year. [Pauses for gasps.] It was one of those books I knew I should have read before, and I would grow silent when my peers discussed it. Now that I’ve crossed Plath off my list, I’m ready to tackle the other iconic female writers I somehow missed.
9. Get invited to a Big Event. The White House Correspondents’ dinner or the TIME 100 gala seem most likely, given that they bring together people from multiple industries, including my own, but just putting it out there that I would be absolutely fine with the Oscars.
10. Learn to put on makeup properly. Oh, sure, I do something to my eyes in the morning and there’s a loose powder that gets all over the bathroom sink, but really, I have no idea what I’m doing. I look at myself in the mirror later in the day, and all my work seems to have disappeared. I need to learn some actual techniques.
11. Drink more water. Why is it so hard to drink the recommended eight glasses a day? In 30 years I’ve never managed to get into this habit. I’m trying to be more aware of this in order to reap the wide variety of benefits, from better skin to more energy. Water, after all, is the yoga of beverages.
12. Become more financially independent. This is hard to admit, but here goes: I’m not there yet. I pay my rent and my bills, but look in my closet and you’ll see abundant evidence of the help I still get from my family. While I wouldn’t exactly go naked without their support, the specific items in my wardrobe would be different. (Well, not this one.) My parents and grandparents say they would take me shopping regardless of my salary, insisting they get joy out of the experience. But it still bothers me that I am not at a point where I could use my own credit card to buy the things I love.
13. Have and raise children. Throughout my 20s, I struggled with the idea of having kids, often telling other people (and myself) that I didn’t want them. I came up with “what if” after “what if” about motherhood, scenarios that made me wonder why I would disrupt a life I was happy with to introduce something so unknown. Then I realized something important about myself: I shy away from things that scare me, and there’s little that scares me more than not being able to control or predict the outcome of a situation. I’m not sure if my biological clock has simply started to tick ever-so-softly, or if being in the right relationship has influenced my thinking, but lately I’ve been feeling small pangs when I see pictures of friends’ kids or when I spy tiny dresses in the window of Baby Gap. I still have lots of anxiety about the whole thing, but I’ve decided not to let my fear be a roadblock to this experience. I’m still asking “what if,” but I’m learning to reframe the question. What if the children are adorable? What if my husband and I grow even closer? What if I have the same wonderful relationship with my kids that I have with my own parents? What if I were to miss all that because I was too scared?
14. Take a cross-country road trip. Though road trips are usually associated with college, there’s really no age limit. My fiancé has driven across the country twice and has been talking about doing it a third time. Whenever that happens, I plan to join him. I’d like to see the places I’ve only flown over in the past.
15. Take notes. Even the moments and details we swear we’ll never forget often fade in our memories. By typing things up as they happen, I’ll ensure that I have a record later on, both for myself and for my kids and grandkids.
16. Give advice to my younger cousins. My uncle got married at 43, so I have first cousins who are 2 and 6. Right now, they’re kids, not really in a position to need much guidance, but as these little girls get older, I hope they will feel comfortable coming to me to discuss friends, boys, school, jobs and more. It’s strange to realize that you have actual life experience, that you’ve already been through many of the things your younger friends and family members are going through, but it’s also really nice because you know it’s going to be okay. I hope I’m able to convey this to my cousins.
17. Purchase nicer furniture. The items in my apartment aren’t junk, but I knew when I bought them that I wouldn’t have them forever. One day, I hope to choose furniture that’s not just “fine for now,” pieces that indicate a sense of permanence and stability.
18. Run a half-marathon in a foreign country. While I will continue to do laps in Central Park, it would be thrilling to take in, say, London or Paris in this way. And I won’t pretend I’m not thinking of victory scones and chocolate croissants.
19. Learn to edit video. If my 75-year-old great-aunt can join Facebook and get an email account to keep in touch with her grandkids, I don’t think it’s too late for me to learn to make a mash-up or cut a clip. Video is the future. Time to step it up.
20. Ask my older relatives more questions. I’m fortunate that three of my grandparents are still alive, active and extremely interested in my life. Going forward, I plan to take an even greater interest in theirs.
21. Take a trip with my sister. She lives in Los Angeles and I’m in New York, and though our family is close as a whole, she and I get most of our updates about each other from our parents. I’d like to think that we might communicate more directly as we get older (and not just through Facebook and Instagram). Even a short vacation could be a good first step.
22. Learn how to wrap a present. TGFGB. That would be Thank God For Gift Bags. I’ve relied on them a lot over the years, trying to avoid the messy, uneven corners that inevitably occur when I try to use wrapping paper. I have no desire to be the next Martha Stewart — that shell sconce is just not going to happen — but I will note that she didn’t release her first book, “Entertaining,” until she was 41.
23. Make new friends. When I was dating and would go out with someone who was nice but not quite right for me, my mom would say, “Maybe you can be friends,” to which I would respond, “I don’t need more friends.” I didn’t get to see the friends I had nearly enough. Now I realize that it’s silly to cut off the possibility of connecting with someone new just because I already have a large group of friends. I suspect there are many women out there with whom I have more in common than I do with some of my best friends from growing up. This is not to say these long-term friendships aren’t important — the history matters. But as I enter new phases of my life, I also want to get to know more people who can relate to who I am now. In her New Yorker piece after Nora Ephron’s death, Lena Dunham wrote: “The opportunity to be friends with Nora in the last year of her life informs the entirety of mine.” Can you imagine if Lena had decided she was set with the friends she had?
24. Establish a skin-care regimen. My grandmother and I were at Bloomingdale’s last year when a saleswoman referred to her as my mother. I wasn’t surprised: She’s been telling me since I was little how important it is to take care of your skin, advice she got from her mother and follows dutifully. I, on the other hand, don’t really go beyond washing and moisturizing, despite the fact that I should apparently already have a system in place. Oops.
25. Bake a cake. Not from a mix. My cousin has been working her way through the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and I am in awe of her patience. If I could follow even one of these recipes and have the result look and taste as it should, I would be pretty damn impressed with myself. Especially if it was for one of the awesome-looking layer cakes.
26. Own a home. When we can afford it, a house (or apartment) will be a long-term investment. Plus, I don’t want to play the “Will my landlord raise my rent?” guessing game forever.
27. Visit the South of France, the Greek isles and the Amalfi Coast. Do I really need to explain? Have you not seen photos?
28. Take classes just for fun. Fran Lebowitz’s quote that “in real life … there is no such thing as algebra” is true for so many of us. Now is the time to focus on chocolate and cheese, film and foreign languages.
29. Work for myself. I enjoy the social aspect of the office and worry I would feel out of the loop without daily interactions with colleagues. But every once in a while, I think about what it would be like if I had even more control of my schedule and if I could work on a product of my own creation. I want to find out what it’s like to be my own boss.
30. Finally feel like a grown-up. In “Wendy and the Lost Boys,” author Julie Salamon describes playwright Wendy Wasserstein at 26 as being “in the odd position of being a grown-up in some ways but still a child, dependent on [her father] Morris for money, unattached, uncertain about her career.” I dog-eared that page. Throughout my 20s, I bounced back and forth between feeling like Mommy and Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl and an adult who was out there in the world on her own. Though I never moved back home, I never felt entirely independent either — a prime example of what Jeffrey Arnett calls “emerging adulthood.” Despite knowing that this was not unique, I still wondered if that in-between feeling would ever go away.
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