It’s safe to say that the vast majority of us are definitely nowhere near able to save twice our yearly salary by age 35, despite the newest out-of-touch punchline from the financial sector.
As an American in my early 30s who, like most of “our” generation if you’re also American, has a negative net worth thanks to graduating post-financial crash, trying to build a career under the crappy economy, and accumulating vast student loan debt—I get it. You’re probably broke, or at least perpetually anxious and fearful, unless you were born into the top 9.9% of America.
Life for millennials in our 30s can be pretty bleak. Many of us grew up with ideas about what it would be like to be an adult, ideas that now are tragically laughable.
Have an amazing, successful career? Maybe for the techies.
Buy a home? That’s funny.
Afford to have kids if that’s your thing? Hahaha.
And who wants kids when we’re all thinking, what will kill us first: nuclear war or climate destruction?
But I’m here to tell you that our generation has some incredible things to offer the world. We’ve dreamed up so many new things… like driving people who can’t afford cars around for a living in order to barely scrape by ourselves. Or using the Internet to crowdfund our friends’ medical emergencies as the idea of the public good continues to degrade around us.
All nihilism aside, here are seven things that you can truly be proud of having accomplished by age 35—things that remind you you’re worth more than capitalism makes you think.
Valuing your body for all it does for you.
As a woman in this society, I’ve spent most of my life since fifth grade hating my body in some way. I’ve learned along the way, though, that as you encounter a greater range of body types, as you find different role models, and as you gain perspective on what this precious, fleeting life is about, you’ll be able to challenge yourself to think about your body differently. If at age 35 you can take a good look at your body, “take your hands over your bumpy love body naked,” as Mary Lambert suggests, and thank it for keeping your heart beating, for carrying you on all your adventures to waterfalls and midnight diners and tourist traps and important appointments and home to your lover(s), you are on the right track.
Pursuing an education, whether formal or informal, and putting that knowledge into action.
Millennials are the most educated generation in U.S. history judging by college degrees earned. That is a whole lot of knowledge, which also makes sense given how compassionate and forward-thinking our generation is as a whole. Even if you don’t have a formal education, you can be proud of yourself if by age 35 you have taken the time to learn about yourself, the people around you—especially if they’re different from you—and the rest of the world, and have taken steps to put that education into some meaningful action. Whether you work at a non-profit for global water access, march in the streets against anti-Black police violence, or challenge your bigoted relatives’ assumptions at holiday dinners, every action adds up to a sea change.
Honoring your sense of justice and growing into the type of person who stands on the right side of history.
Whether or not you have a car, a mortgage, or any other number of money-based markers of adulthood, what’s arguably most important is your legacy.
What do you stand for in your life, and are you living your life in accordance with those principles? In a world so riven by hatred, fear, and disinformation, now is the time to step up and live your truth. Take a bold stance for justice. As anti-ageism activist Maggie Kuhn once said:
“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”
While this quote has its limitations depending on your level of safety as a marginalized person to face those you fear, it nonetheless speaks to a goal I seek to embody: living my life in accordance with being someone that other people could count on in times of danger. Doing the most good possible. If you can say that by the time you’re 35 you’ve been living according to making life the best it can be for those treated the poorest, that will matter a lot more in the scope of the universe than how much someone pays you for your labor.
Cultivating emotionally open relationships.
People in their 30s are so much more present to the importance of concepts like emotional vulnerability and non-toxic masculinity than are many of the generations above us. As a culture, many of us are coming to the realization that human connection requires letting each other in and that genuine intimacy is a powerful antidote to the loneliness generated by late capitalism and the Western nuclear family structure.
Sure, we may have certain men who are threatened by this approach calling us “pussies” in response, but if you have begun to master the art of really letting other people in your life see you by the time you’re 35, your life will be a whole lot more meaningful.
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Developing boundaries and prioritizing self-care.
So many of us live in societies—and, again, the U.S. is a prime offender in this arena—in which sacrificing any sort of boundaries is turned into a virtue. We’re encouraged to constantly check our phones, post on social media, curate a happy and successful vision of our lives for public consumption, and always be available to work ever-increasing hours. If we’re even lucky enough to have sick days, actually using them might be interpreted by employers or fellow coworkers as “weak” or not committed enough.
In this type of environment, finding ways to center self-care is a way of centering yourself. Of course, our ability to participate in self-care activities can be extraordinarily difficult while being subjected to the exploitation of poverty or the constant stress state of racism. But self-care can look different for people grappling with different types of oppressive situations. It can meet you where you’re at. And if at age 35 you’ve gotten to the place where you’ve realized that your wellness has a higher spiritual value than does your utility in making a corporation more money, you’re already ahead of the life game.
Working on a healthier relationship to your sexuality.
Maybe you had a lot of unsatisfying sex in your 20s before you were really able to figure out what most turns you on. Or maybe you didn’t have much sex at all in your younger years but realized in your 30s that a bunch of the hang-ups you had have become less painful the more you’ve realized that everyone, regardless of their number of hookups, is just trying to find themselves.
Perhaps you’ve settled into your life after it took your family a while to fully embrace your queerness. Or you had the realization that you’re asexual living in a super sexualized society and it’s not you that is “the problem.”
And maybe it’s taken you until now to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse, or healing from being slut-shamed, or claiming your right to your sexuality as a person with a disability.
Whatever your story, by 35 you can be grateful that you’re probably living a more authentic version of your sexuality than the one you were told you had to embody growing up.
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Respecting the growth you’ve gone through that has provided you with your current wisdom, and knowing it will happen again and again.
By the time you’re 35, you will have gone through some stuff. Heartbreak, health issues, family conflict, political devastation, friendship disappointments, profound and transformative soul-seeking. You’ll realize you’re not who you were at 15, or 20, or 25, or 30, and that you will continue growing and evolving throughout your life. At 35 you will be able to be proud of how you handled the crises that came out of left field and the sudden twists and turns in the road that put you onto a completely different path from where you thought you were heading.
Astrologist Chani Nicholas recently wrote, “Your worth is not dependent on having achieved traditionally age-appropriate milestones.” Let this be your mantra as a 35 year-old, along with the knowledge that your worth is determined by being you, in service to your personal highest good and the highest good of humanity.
[Featured Image: A person is hiding behind large green leaves. They have dark hair and they are wearing a white t-shirt. Source: pexels.com]