What not owning a sofa taught me about starting over at 30

The Filling

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I often think one of the real ironies of being a millennial is that we are faced with unprecedented levels of choice, yet still feel constrained by what seem to be increasingly narrow stereotypes.

Last week, I turned 30. In my twenties, to me the big 3-0 heralded the true arrival of adulthood. By 30, I would own a home, have a blossoming career, and likely be married with a baby on the way. I’d be rid of the angst and self-doubt which had accompanied me through adulthood thus far. I’d be sorted.

What that glorious vision of 30 didn’t actually account for was life, which tends to show very little regard for five year plans.

As I approached 30, my life could not have looked more different from the one I had imagined.

By the time I was 28, my marriage had ended, a mixture of choice and circumstance had led to me leaving the communications role I had worked towards for all of my twenties, and was battling chronic anxiety and insomnia.

As I reflected on the goals I had imagined I’d reach by 30, I felt like I had failed by every metric of success I had set for myself.

The final two years of my twenties was a tumultuous time. 30 was supposed to mean having my stuff together. It was supposed to mean success and security. It certainly wasn’t supposed to mean starting over in every respect.

In many ways, I was lucky. Circumstance forced me to take a long, honest look at my life, and decide what I wanted in a way which was unhindered by the forces which often prevent us from living the lives we want – money, relationships, fear. Losing everything gave me the opportunity to start afresh. I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to do so if fate hadn’t played its hand.

As a result of the huge changes the last few years have held, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how hard it seems to be for millennials to make big changes – whether personal or professional.  As a generation, we are terrified of failure, and fears about keeping up with our peers keep many of us tied to careers or relationships which we have outgrown.

I’ve often wished I would come across a secret guidebook which would help me navigate adult life. The hunt continues! So, in the meantime, here are a few lessons I’ve picked up from starting over as a millennial:

  1. Fear is not to be feared: One of the aspects of undergoing a major personal and professional change which intimidated me the most was that I felt a profound sense of failure. But failure is inevitable. It’s part of life. We learn through experience and trying to inoculate yourself from failure probably means you’re not letting yourself embrace life to the fullest.
  2. There is no rush. None (really!): Throughout my twenties, I felt a real sense of urgency to tick off an endless list of achievements by the time I was 30. Then I got to 30, and realised the pressure I’d put myself under was largely of my own doing. There is really no rush. Don’t be afraid to take risks – whether that means changing career path, starting a business, ending a relationship, going travelling – because you feel constrained by a demanding timeframe.
  3. Where does this 30 thing come from anyway? I was speaking to my mum recently about the concerns I had about turning 30, and said, half-seriously, half joking, that the fact that I didn’t own a sofa at 30 made me feel less of an adult. I mean, where did that come from?! There are no rules about what you do or don’t have to have done by the time you reach a certain age. Life is far more fluid than we make it out to be. I now judge my sense of success by asking myself questions like whether I feel proud of my life as it is, whether I feel a sense of ownership over it, rather than by how much I’m earning or how many pieces of bespoke furniture I own!
  4. No-one really knows how all this works: I have drawn huge comfort from the fact that, the more people I speak to about making big life changes as a millennial, the more I realise that no-one really knows what they are doing. We are all making this up as we go along, and should be a lot more forgiving of ourselves when things don’t work out entirely as we planned.
  5. Taking the leap is the hardest part: Trust that the rest will work itself out. Taking the decision to make a big decision is by far the most frightening step. Last year, my boyfriend and I decided we were going to embark on an expedition from Alaska to Argentina to explore something we are both passionate about – how business is being used as a force for good across the Americas. We spent months getting to the point where we actually committed to going, but once the decision was made, things in many ways were much easier. Once you’ve made that leap, making a big change is much easier than it seems.

The truth is, we all have a much better sense of what we want, and what will enable us to live lives we are proud of, than we give ourselves credit for. That gut instinct, the butterflies you feel when thinking about what life might look like once you’ve made that leap, listen to that. It’s telling you something. There will be fear, and uncertainty, and maybe a bit of short-term discomfort. But how wonderful to take the leap, and build a life which is entirely your own – with or without a sofa.

Jo Cruse is a writer and speaker, and co-founder of MacroAdventure. This summer, Jo and her boyfriend will be heading off on a nine-month expedition from Alaska to Argentina (yep, it’s far, especially for a girl who still finds navigating London tricky at times!). You can follow their adventures on Instagram and Twitter.

Catch up with Jo on Twitter and Instagram, and follow her blog here.