At 30, I Do Not Have 30 Life-Lessons to Offer

But I am still here, alive and well

Debdutta Pal
Oct 19, 2020 · 15 min read
Photo by Ali Karimi on Unsplash

hirty. 30. The big three-oh. Thiiiirrrttyyyyy.

Sounds and looks scary, doesn’t it?

Have you ever wondered why?

When I was a child, I used to see thirty-year-olds as mega grown-ups. I would respectfully call them an uncle or an aunt, as is a common custom in the country I grew up in.

I would be asked to be on my best behavior in front of them, not babble and keenly listen to what they had to say, especially in the form of life advice.

Today, when I am about to turn thirty in less than thirty days, I wouldn’t dare advise anyone, even a child.

What if someone blindly follows my word and then goes on to screw up their life? — I can’t take responsibility for that. I would frantically search for a blanket to hide under, just like I did as a child, to escape from the world.

The only thing I can offer you is an insight into my life. I can share my experiences, learnings, and hard-earned realizations from the toughest of times.

When I have these discussions either through my writing or face to face, I always sandwich my content between disclaimers.

This worked for me, but I have no idea if it will work for you. I am sharing my journey with you to inspire you to take one of your own when you are ready for it. Maybe reading through my realizations will make something click in your head, help you connect the dots, and find your way to an answer you have been searching for.

What I’ve discussed in terms of problems, pain, and challenges may mirror issues that you have faced in your life. It may help you gain some perspective and comfort from learning that you are not the only one — And that’s it.

I am not qualified to give you an answer, because I don’t have them myself.

Until now, I have led an eventful life with numerous ups and downs and thought-provoking experiences, but everything I’ve learned is subjective. It’s deeply personal. It’s so contextual that if I had to go through it all over again, I might do things differently or not.

And if I don’t know something for sure, I won’t pretend to know it perfectly to sound confident and mature.

I can share every uncomfortable detail of my journeys with you, but I can’t tell you exactly what to do. I don’t think anyone can, except yourself.

Life, at this point, reminds me of my study of Psychology.

When I chose Psychology as my major for my undergrad degree, I was met with countless eyes filled with surprise.

People asked me all sorts of questions, such as whether studying it has helped me solve my own mental health issues. Or if I had learned enough to understand what they were thinking by reading their mind.

Then, when I studied it in grad school, I was met with even more interest. Indeed, by now, I must have learned something tangible. Information that I could pass on to benefit them and their lives.

I hadn’t. The more I learned, the more I realized the vastness of what I was studying and how little of it I had just covered. A particle of sand on the beach comes to mind.

I wondered then and still do about how little we actually know about the human mind, how theories get proved and disproved all the time. How contradictory information exists together.

And how half-knowledge or thinking that I know enough to start being entirely sure of things can be the greatest fallacy of all.

And such is the nature of life as well, in the way I have experienced it.

The more I live life, the more I understand its limitlessness, beauty, mysticism, intensity, and volatility. I also learn, first hand, about its cruelty, indifference for the person living it, and unpredictably.

Life is an indomitable force I cannot control, and thinking that I could, was a monumental mistake.

Most of the time, I take control of myself, and there are also times when I sit back and watch the show. There is no instance or circumstance when I will dare to say that I know something for sure and do not require to revisit.

“The only constant in life is change” — Heraclitus.

Sixteen-year-old me would readily give advice to people. She was very sure of her thoughts, beliefs, opinions and would often share them without thinking things through, such as how others would receive them.

Twenty-four year old me was relatively unsure. I had a stringent five-year plan for my career and had unconsciously given up thinking about my personal life. I had established a circle of control.

I wouldn’t have given unsolicited advice at this point, but if anyone asked me if I knew what I was doing, if I had my answers, I would have replied with a yes.

Now, at thirty, I can safely say that I do not have definite answers to the broader questions in life.

Who am I?

What is my purpose in life?

Where am I going? Is there a defined destination?

What do I want, or where do I want to be a few years from now?

I am still figuring stuff out, and that’s okay.

It is better to accept yourself and your reality as it is and remain in the present. To have a realistic opinion of your life than pretending to be sure only to fall flat on your face. Because picking myself up is no cakewalk.

It is the hardest thing that I have ever had to do.

Instead, what I do know is who I think I am. I don’t know the larger purpose of my life, but I do know my current goals. I don’t know where I am going, but I do know where I am. More importantly, I know that this is where I want to be.

Instead of obsessively predicting my future, which my past self frequently indulged in, I am learning to live in the present.

Is this enough to create a list of 30 lessons at 30? — No.

Am I okay, though? — Yes.

A couple of years ago, I did have a few answers, but I couldn’t answer this question. Even to myself, I couldn’t have confidently, loudly, and succinctly replied yes.

That’s what I have been doing for the last three years. Finding my okay.

But, before I go into more detail about those journeys, let me discuss the life that was laid out for me.

By twenty-five, I was supposed to be married to a man with my parents’ approval. I should have had one to two children by now, preferably a male one. I would be managing my home and family, which would be my exclusive job description for the rest of my time.

I was never supposed to think for myself, but now is definitely not the time to be selfish when my eggs are about to expire.

The deeply regressive and patriarchal society I grew up in was ever ready to slap a pair of golden handcuffs on me. If I wore them, I would not find myself confused at this point in my life.

Who am I? — A wife and mother.

What is my sole purpose? — Serving my husband, his family, and my children.

It was supposed to be this simple. Any of the other questions need not be answered.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a wife and a mother. Both of these experiences can be incredibly beautiful, more so if undertaken for the right reasons. These choices are deeply personal, and we should not have to justify them to one another.

And that’s the thing, it’s a choice. When something of this stature is dumped on you as the only way to live, there lies the problem. We deserve the freedom and the right to make this choice for ourselves.

Confident, sassy, and headstrong sixteen-year-old me knew that this was not the life she wanted to have. Actually, I knew it even earlier, but by this time, my ideas and beliefs had completely solidified. There was no turning back.

When I announced it then, rather vocally, that I will be rejecting this life, no one took me seriously. I was met with judgment and remarks ranging from “I am speaking out of turn” to “I am too young to have such strong opinions.”

The common consensus was when the right time comes, I will change my mind. Maybe the subtext was that when the right time comes, the commentators will have successfully changed my mind.

Well, here I am, thirty, unmarried, and childless, and my world has not ended.

I have a partner with whom I share my life. I have a fulfilling career that demands creative excellence. I dance to my own tune, literally and metaphorically. I am the only person whose advice I take. I make mistakes from time to time, but I also pick myself up when I fall.

I am happier than I ever was.

If I could travel back in time and meet my sixteen-year-old self, I would give her a hug. I would thank her generously for making this life-altering decision. I would spend some time with her and assure her that life is going to be better.

One day, you would have successfully gotten out of here. Life will still be challenging, but you will be in its driver’s seat. Try to be a little kinder to yourself because you are all you have.

Suppose I compare my current somewhat confused existence to the life that could have been, the one that was laid out for me. In that case, I don’t know how to process the strong gust of exhilarated feelings that come up.

I made the same decision again at twenty-four and have been re-making it every year since then.

I may not have all the answers, but I have the opportunity to go looking for them. I have the freedom to make my own choices in life, to think for myself, to make as many mistakes as I want, and learn from them at my convenience.

In the community that I grew up in, parents and other elders like to control every single thing in their children’s lives by making their decisions for them. Big decisions like career choices, whom to marry, where to live, and smaller decisions like what to wear, how much to eat, and how to sit are pre-decided.

The mold is set, and all one needs to do is cut off the gnarly and undesirable bits to fit into it.

Structure, safety, and guaranteed approval are offered by society, which claims to have vaster knowledge that I could ever attain. Its collective wisdom is based on religious tenets, and lessons passed down across thousands of generations.

I am too small to challenge it, and I would not get anywhere in life if I do so, was the clear message I received while attempting to figure stuff out when I was younger.

But no one talked about what I would lose if I give in. It’s this little, tiny thing, optional even, called freedom.

And that is what I found when I ventured out, into the woods, on my own. This road taken was the strongest, most pivotal, and an unparalleled step that I’ve ever taken. Not only do I not regret it, I simply cannot imagine my life otherwise, and I don’t say this lightly.

And I feel its spectacular effects today, more than ever.

The last three years of my life have been quite eventful.

In October of 2017, I was applying for Human Resource jobs, only to be told that I am not good enough, over and over again. The positions that I wanted were elusive to me, and the ones that I could get weren’t suitable for my needs.

My savings and self-esteem were fast depleting, and I had zero clues about what would come next.

I held on to that dream and my five-year career plan for as long as I could. Eventually, I had to come face to face with the fact that my then aspirations did not align with my passion.

Yes, I was deeply interested in the field I was working in, but it wasn’t the passion. It wasn’t something I was willing to bleed for, suffer for, and give up everything for, even if I receive nothing in return.

It took me a really long time, but I did it. At twenty-eight, I discarded my degrees, experiences, and employable skills to start a new career in writing. And that step transformed the way I look at my life.

In writing, my goal is simple — I want to share my story.

As of now, there are no lofty aspirations, no detailed plans, no ambition to become a bestselling author. To me, writing is art. Art that is created from the deepest depths of my mind painted on a blank canvas with my blood and tears, representing a piece of myself that I want to share with you.

I want to tell stories of sadness, pain, hope, darkness, and light. I want to retell the saga of my arduous inward journeys. I want to talk about what an incredible time it has been so far and how every hard step has been worth it. And I have more stories to tell than I can ever finish writing.

This intimate relationship, attachment, and connection I feel with my work have immensely helped me understand what all this is really about. You don’t go looking for a career; instead, a career finds you.

They say when you do something you love, it doesn’t seem like work. I would like to paraphrase that. It still definitely feels like work, but you want to do it. In fact, you couldn’t live without doing it.

There are days when I can’t take it anymore. When feelings of loss, pain, and rejection drown me, and I am compelled to take a break to collect myself. But even then, in the worst of my moments, in the deepest depths of doubt and turbulent waves of pain, I know in my heart that I want to come back.

This feeling can be best described by me as true love.

Pursuing my true passion has defined my recent past in more ways than one. Not only has it filled the crater shaped hole in my professional life, but it has also helped me heal in my personal life.

Writing helps me say things to myself in detail, which I otherwise don’t get time for. It helps me process complex emotions and work through several mental health issues. It helps me realize when I am too hard on myself. And it enables me to be there for myself in a way no else can.

Whether it’s journaling or publishing a piece, putting my written word out there in the universe has been nothing short of magical.

And I did not see this coming.

My personal life has also had its own upheavals, a renaissance if you will.

What started as a failed attempt of self-love resulted in paving the path for multiple journeys of self-discovery and self-acceptance, which peeled back layers of my personality, I didn’t need.

The contents of these voyages also resulted in the first article I published, marking the birth of my new career.

I spent large amounts of time listening to myself, asking myself tough questions, figuring things out as they came up, and not letting go. I came to know so much more about myself than I knew before — Things that have helped me immensely in untying the knots in my mind.

As it turns out, when you don’t have to spend all your time and energy in pretending to be someone else, you gain the ability to work on yourself constructively.

I also realized that life, in its essence, is the result of choices that we make. Making one choice is easy, but not choosing the rest is incredibly hard.

While stuck in duality, a conundrum, or an impossible decision, the answer often lies in this question:

What can you live with, and what can you live without?

And that is what I have been trying to find out in every single avenue of life.

By being uncomfortably and brutally honest with myself, I have surprisingly found out that I am an introvert. It is in my nature to go against the tide, and that my person is me.

I need to pick myself, choose myself, love myself, and put myself first.

I should be kind to myself and, at times, extremely hard with myself to coach me through this journey called life.

Spending large amounts of time with and by myself has also tremendously helped me understand the source of my mental health issues, primarily my Anxiety. My need to worry comes from wanting to control things, and my problem was that I was trying to control everything.

Focussing on just myself has helped me significantly downsize my circle of control and break faulty thought patterns that were not actually helping me.

I have understood the fallacy of my hedonistic behavior, swum in the murky waters of my sadness, and decided to set my anchor in the land of contentment.

Instead of choosing between great or horrible, I have settled for being okay.

The source of most of my pain arose from the roads not taken, from the way that my life isn’t. And removing these bits was surprisingly easy, although the journey to reach here was another story altogether.

I have finally found the courage to be the real me, the raw, unbridled version, minus the fluff. I can be candid with myself and allow myself to complete even my most complicated and darkest thoughts.

It turns out that they are not so dark, after all. It’s relatively simple, actually.

Every individual is unique and different, and we can’t all be into the same things. Maybe I like to stay in on Friday nights. Perhaps I am something in between a minimalist and a materialist. Perhaps I am cynical and yet hopeful. And it’s all okay, for I am myself.

The most important learning of my personal journeys has been that being myself and believing in myself is never optional. Once I stride past these two milestones, life will not seem so complicated anymore.

It might still be challenging, but it will also be easy because I would know whom to listen to — myself.

Whenever I don’t have an answer, I do look outside, to people, books, and the internet, but everything passes through a filter. Think of it this way, Information — Receive — Process — Accept or Customize or Reject.

I no longer try to apply anything, advice, or experience to my life directly. Or wonder why is it that only I cannot enjoy something that everyone does, such as traveling. In every space, activity, and situation, the only constant is me, I will see things through my lens, and I need to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

For every new thing I come across, I ask myself:

Is this for you?

If you aren’t sure, experiment and then process your findings.

Does this align with your needs, goals, and aspirations?

Is this a piece of the puzzle that is missing?

Or is it glittery and not gold?

Maybe it is great for someone else, but not at all for you.

No one else can have a solution for me. No one else can tell me how to live. And I need to answer some questions.

And that’s where I am, with some answers but not all. I can never be entirely sure of anything because life isn’t finite. It is supposed to be challenging, mysterious, and hard to figure out, and that’s what makes it worth living.

As I am set to celebrate my thirtieth birthday in quarantine, I ask myself:

Is there anywhere else I would rather be?

Should I be doing anything else?

Am I missing something?

Am I out of the woods yet?

No

But, who decided that I was supposed to be by the time I hit thirty?

I am still exploring and am perfectly happy to do so.

At thirty, I don’t have a list of thirty lessons to offer you. Trust me, I’ve tried.

But, I can tell you this, dare to listen to yourself, dare to be yourself, and dare to be different. Think of where you are, how far you’ve come, and take a moment to celebrate that. Learn from your mistakes. Allow yourself to grieve over your losses. And take out your metaphorical map.

Ask yourself where to?

Several people who I’ve met in my life had determined thirty to be a sort of endpoint, where they consider the majority of their lives to be behind them.

They should check all the popular goals, such as a house, car, secure job, marriage, children, and stability, as soon as possible and settle down. Make peace with where they are and just start being or start focusing on the next generation.

At twenty-four, I, too, believed that I would be a lot more sure of things right now and that I would have at least achieved some of my goals. I would no longer have any trouble managing myself, having worked through all my doubts and pain or tossed them aside.

Now, I would like to strongly disagree.

My twenties were spent finding myself, making mistakes, and working through a shit ton of stuff. My thirties are going to be about settling into myself and finding contentment.

This is not the end of anything.

You are where you are in the journey of life, and you need to determine your next step. If this is where you want to be, no one should be able to tell you to think differently.

And this is just the beginning.

The Personal Essayist

Because we all know you love a great personal essay!

Debdutta Pal

Written by

Taking a voyage into the depths of my mind, Navigating through waves, currents, and icebergs. Sharing some of my journeys with you.

The Personal Essayist

We want your personal stories. Essays that enlighten, amuse, inspire, captivate. The human experience is complex, but rife with identity, commonality. Share your words with us so that we may embrace the world we live in and fully cherish our eclectic humanity.

Debdutta Pal

Written by

Taking a voyage into the depths of my mind, Navigating through waves, currents, and icebergs. Sharing some of my journeys with you.

The Personal Essayist

We want your personal stories. Essays that enlighten, amuse, inspire, captivate. The human experience is complex, but rife with identity, commonality. Share your words with us so that we may embrace the world we live in and fully cherish our eclectic humanity.

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