Thirties Questions: Just a Few

(From my old website: relevant now as I am reposting on my 33rd birthday)

Have you ever heard someone profess that their thirties was the best decade of their lives? I know I haven’t.  People regularly tell stories about their childhood, high school and college years, and then something strange happens – people all of sudden turn forty.  Why? Are the thirties just crap years with no real significance in the grand story of one’s life?  Just those few nonsense chapters in the middle of a book that have readers yelling in their mind’s GET BACK TO THE GOOD STUFF ALREADY!

As a 31 year old, I sure as hell hope not. And, let’s be honest, they have to mean something.  Most of my friends have college degrees at this point, many of those graduate or professional.  They have managed to stay out of trouble, have landed decent jobs, and have started families. These are all great things, right? This is what they worked so hard for, isn’t it? They’re happy, aren’t they?

And the answer is…maybe? What I am learning about being thirty is that there are a lot of tough questions that we must answer, and the way this generation of thirty-somethings answers these questions could have a profound impact on the nation’s economic and political future.

Take Philadelphia for example. It is no secret the Philadelphia public school system is in shambles, but there is also an influx of young professionals heading into the city causing noticeable transformations in its neighborhoods.  So what does the 30 year old couple do when it comes time to deciding where to send their first child to school?

They could stay in the city and send her to public school. Sure the neighborhood is great and there are cool restaurants and cafes everywhere, but graduation rates at the closest public school are crap and bullying is rampant.  Nearby there are good private schools, but are they affordable given both parents have student loan debts that exceed their annual salaries? Salaries, which aren’t as high as they were hoping, because they lacked the ‘experience’ that they couldn’t gain while they were going to college to get the degree they were told they needed for the same job.

This couple could move out to the suburbs. Of course, that means commuting to work which has its costs, and most likely more money spent on child care, but at least the schools are better. Or maybe one of the parents quits their job and tries home schooling or one of the new online programs for k-12 education.

The point here is not to judge what is right or wrong, but that this one decision, to be made by many, will have a real impact on the future of education, the housing market, the health of public transportation and even the environment.  One thing that is clear about being thirty is the honeymoon is over, so to speak. We can no longer believe in fairy tale love stories and the perfect job. Our guidance counselors, pastors, recruiters and even parents have lied to us and we have to find our own way. It’s time to determine what our values are and start creating the world in which we want to live.

We, this current generation of thirty plus year olds, have to acknowledge our unique place in history. We really teeter on that line between old and new.  We were not raised with cell phones and iPads, but we are young enough to be tech savvy.  We can appreciate the convenience and benefits of the latest ways of communicating technologically, but still enjoy the excitement of good old fashioned human interaction. Everyone I talk to my age has the fondest memories of playing outside and remembering the days when the street lights coming on was the cue to head home, or their mother just yelled their name from the front porch. We really have a great responsibility to decide what values and traditions need to come with us into the future and which ones get left behind. Quite frankly, there are just too many questions we do not have the luxury to ignore.

How important is it that the companies we work for are held accountable for their environmental impacts or can what’s good for the environment ever be what’s good for business? How important is wealth distribution and to what extent are we willing to sacrifice our own gains to support this cause? Do we limit the amount our kids play video games and use their cell phones? Are GMOs bad? Do we invest in fossil fuels or renewable energy sources?

Those are just a few of many questions that we are faced with, and even though these decisions may not be sexy, they are important. And hey, I realize it’s much more likely that you will tell that spring break story than the one about that time you thought really hard about who you voted for in the midterm elections, but at least you can tell someone someday, you will be thirty and it will matter.

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