By Julia Hall
My friends and I are all within a year or two of having turned 30. Three solid decades of living under our belts. While each person has his or her own reaction to turning 30 – first the prospect of it and finally the actual turning 30 – I think the consensus is that 30 is a big deal. The last big milestone birthday you probably had was turning 21, and you are not the same person at 30 as you were at 21. Thirties is officially grown up. Sure, you’re technically a grown-up in your twenties, but you still have so much to learn about yourself. At least that was my experience. When I turned 30, I shed my twenties like an itchy wool sweater on a hot day. A new number in the tens place? Phew! Let me start fresh with 30!
This year, at 32, a student in graduate school, I had an eye-opening experience. I had to enroll in an undergraduate course to fulfill a requirement that I evidently missed the first time around as an undergrad. As summer came to a close, I started to dread the idea of taking the course. It wasn’t so much the subject matter (math) or the class time (7:30 in the morning) that discouraged me. It was the fact that I’d be really old in comparison to my classmates. Consider: When I’d graduated from high school in 2000, the young bloods of this year’s freshman class hadn’t even entered kindergarten yet! The age gap had never bothered me before as I went about my business on campus, but now I’d be sitting alongside undergrads in a cramped classroom. Surely they’d realize I was the oldest student in the room! Surely I’d be shunned! Okay, maybe not shunned, but I was self-conscious about the idea of being there amongst them. Might their dewy glows of youth threaten my self-confidence?
On the first day of class, I was careful in selecting an outfit. I didn’t want to look old and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I sat in the front row as I usually do, a teacher pleaser, and hoped the professor wouldn’t single me out (You look a bit more mature than the rest…). To my surprise, nobody asked me my age; nobody treated me any differently. Actually, I noticed that my classmates were really friendly to each other and to me.
Now, in week 4 of the semester, I feel more relaxed. Being there and picking up their energy makes me feel young, but I no longer care if they “can tell” I’m older. My self-confidence has not been crushed; in fact, just the opposite has happened: The undergraduate women, with all due respect (and God bless ‘em), are still girls. I, on the other hand, am a woman over 30, and being in the room with them, I can feel the difference between woman and girl. It’s the most subtle thing and yet so empowering to be that woman. I don’t mean that my curves are more womanly or that my hairstyle is more “mature”. I was concerned with appearance initially, but now I realize it’s what lies beneath – the wisdom, self-confidence, and inner peace that we acquire over the years – that tells the story of who we are.
Julia recently changed careers to pursue a degree in teaching at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Besides discovering what she wants to do professionally, she has been on a journey of self-discovery through yoga, meditation, and adventures outdoors.