So, I am now 30.
It shouldn't mean anything. Yes, I've just entered my fourth decade, but only because I happen to belong to a ten-fingered species who therefore invented a base ten numbering system. If I was one of the twelve-fingered Ka'taan, I'd only be halfway through my third dodecade; whereas if I was one of the arachnoid Zool, my fourth octade would nearly be over by now. Like new year, in which we attach vast and profound significance to the resetting of a calendar we ourselves invented, milestone birthdays are completely arbitrary.
It shouldn't mean anything … and yet I find myself staring at my face in the mirror as if it's going to start decomposing rapidly like a scene from a horror film. Feeling a momentary twinge when I get up and instead of thinking I must have been sitting awkwardly, thinking That'll be my joints deteriorating. Most of all, as is customary in these situations, enumerating the long list of everything I haven't yet achieved in my life.
Age is just a number. But as a company announcing its annual profits or an author anxiously tracking book sales will tell you, numbers measure the difference between success and failure.
When I turned 20, the very existence of 30 was more of a legend than a reality. The fabled continent of Trois-Dix, shimmering in the mist like Atlantis, barely present at all. I had many miles to travel, and many quests to accomplish, before I would reach its shores. But now … now it turns out there was a motorway that would take me there, and I jumped straight on it. All those twisty paths and strange encounters passed me by, and all the things I'd hoped to achieve as a young adventurer were lost in the process of everyday life.
In short, arbitrary or not, reaching 30 without having achieved certain things makes me feel like I've failed. And arbitrary or not, the jump from 29 to 30 seems far, far greater than the one from 28 to 29.
I think, in part, this is down to the prevailing perception – perpetuated by a thousand movies – of what different times in a person's life are 'for'. Your twenties are when you get to be carefree, reckless, irresponsible. They're for pursuing your dreams and taking risks. Whereas your thirties are intended, according to Hollywood's Life Map, for settling down. Becoming a parent. Leaving behind the follies of your youth and accepting your status as an adult with obligations to others. As a newly made 30 year old with a job, a mortgage and a baby, I'm virtually the blueprint for that model. I have officially entered the Age of Responsibility. Which is unfortunate, given that I still feel like a 20 year old inside. I still want to achieve all the things I dreamed of. I still want to embark on something more interesting than a motorway journey. But I feel like I've missed my chance.
In reality, though, life is far more complex than society makes us feel. Life doesn't give you a cut-off point for reaching your goals, after which point it slams the door shut in your face. Life is about growing and learning and changing, redefining what's important to you and getting there when you're ready, not when a number suggests you ought to. And learning to stop being selfish isn't at all the same thing as giving up on your dreams. I may still feel like a 20 year old, but it comes with a hell of a lot more knowledge and experience than I had back then. I haven't missed my opportunity to succeed. Rather, I've gained the opportunity to do it in a different way.
So, screw 30. I'll have my adventures when the time is right – or, if I don't, I'll have different ones. (After all, even the motorway of everyday life is its own adventure.) In the meantime, I've decided that since I have ten fingers and ten toes, I will now be using a base twenty counting system. Which means I'm only halfway through my second icosade. Practically a teenager.