At thirty you get grey hair. A certainty. At least so thought my fifteen-year-old self. You will have had a career, bought a home, turned prissy and were close to death.
Reality was different. I was 28 when I found my first white (!) hair, traded the wild climb up the career ladder for a frantic pursuit of travel, darted around the globe pursuing an incredibly beautiful long-distance relationship, and somewhere in between all this hectic activity, there also was a tiny house.
And that is exactly what I wanted to celebrate in a really big way. I wanted a garden party with 150 people! Oh wait. I cannot. It is February. And end time. Other people have midlife crises, I have a corona crisis. I will have to spend my 30th birthday in lockdown. Maybe I will just replay the British comedy “Dinner for One” about a woman celebrating her 90th birthday alone with imaginary guests, and then post the video on TikTok that evening with 700 filters and South Korean rap in the background.
Thirty is a great number and a lot of people do care a lot about it. It is like a yardstick: did I manage to grow up? Did I meet anyone’s expectations? I say: who cares! The only dream you should fulfill is your own. You should be brimming with joie de vivre, great memories, and courage. Here is what really matters when you turn thirty.
When I was fifteen and I imagined that at thirty, I would look old and wrinkled, and I had a wish. Please do not ever let me get bored. However, this wish did not really go into detail. I think I was worried that I would be unhappy with thirty.
You hear that frequently when you are a teenager. Life at thirty is full of the stress from the job, from marrying the wrong partner, from never having been to New York yet and so on.
I had an early idea of the amount of my remaining life. My family tends to live well into their eighties and beyond. That is a lot of years, but even I am not a deep-sea sponge who can live up to 11,000 years. You can figure how many years are left by counting backwards with your fingers, even if you frequently got less than a D in Math. Cough.
For much of my life, I did the normal things: school, university, full-time job, occasional ten-day vacations, relationship with a school sweetheart, city apartment...
Unfortunately, there was this little voice constantly whispering in my ear saying, “that is all very nice, Sarah. But it is not what you really want to be doing.” I began to realize I was not really the person I wanted to be and I was not the person that I knew I could be.
Because I had always been a bit of a little Pippi Longstocking. And I had a plan to throw everything away at some point and just roam through the USA for several months: canyons, Route 66, Golden Gate Bridge. My childhood dream.
In 2017 I finally met my savings goal for going to the US. I told to my boss when she offered me a permanent job in the civil service that while many would probably have fallen off the chair with such an offer, I would rather jump out of the window.
I grabbed my stuff, gathered what little courage I had, and got on the plane. To New York. Alone. For four months. This turned into a 7,500-mile trek through the USA. From the East Coast, to Chicago, then via Route 66 to the West Coast, and finally through the Rocky Mountains in the north back to Chicago.
That was when my trigger switch was hit. During the trip I had some of my biggest life crises, but also the craziest realizations of my dreams. First and foremost: I feel alive! I cried and laughed and danced in the rain.
When I returned to Germany, I tried to jump into a new full-time job. But I immediately realized I was not made to sit in at a desk all day, staring at a computer. I resigned after a week. My life in an office was over. That voice that had been whispering in my ear was now screaming loudly. And I realized it was coming from the middle of my heart.
I started my own media agency "frei getextet". I became a digital nomad. I was suddenly able to work from anywhere. My longstanding relationship with my boyfriend broke up. I moved from a city apartment to sharing a temporary flat, and then I bought a tiny house in the country. At the same time, I fell in love with my best friend from the USA, whom I met on my months-long trip in 2017.
All the pillars that I had so carefully constructed early in life that were supporting a highly successful normality collapsed within a few months. Boring was over. Here comes Pippi Longstocking!
Today I am still on the road with my company, traveling for about six months every year. I live on two continents (Germany/USA). I am engaged to an American. When I am in Germany, I live with my 97-year-old grandpa in a house that he had built himself. I only work as much as I need. and I do not give a shit about advancing in a career. Because I no longer live to work but work to live. I have reduced my possessions by half because consumption and objects do not mean much to me anymore. I do not make a lot of money, but I make enough to eat, live, and travel.
Another big dream of mine will also soon come true: a major publisher has accepted my book about my life-changing trip to the USA and will be printing it this fall. Unfortunately for my English-speaking readers, it will only be available in German.
Where I stand now is not where normal society thinks you should be at thirty. Or perhaps where you think you should be at thirty. But you must measure your life by your own standards. I no longer care what others say, or what they think, or what I have been taught to think about.
The only important thing in life is that you are happy. Happy with what you have and happy with who you are. It does not matter if you are thirty, fifty or a hundred. It does not matter if you conform to any convention. Simply love your life.
Nor does it matter what life model you choose: living in a van parked in the boonies, having a family with five children, real estate, a career, a Porsche, or living a life of minimalism. There is no wrong or right if you are happy. Point: Just consider that anyone who tries to tell you anything else has a screw loose somewhere and they can just butt out.
So, now I am thirty. And the first thing I did was to rob the piggy bank to put dreadlocks in my hair. Something I wanted to do for ten years, but never dared before. It always seemed so final to me. But life is final. And if not now, then when? No more lazy compromises. Live, let live, and do not regret.
By the way, the most wonderful byproduct of a fulfilled life is that I do not feel like thirty at all. On some days I feel like seventy because I have experienced so much (and my kneecap cracks because I banged into a cupboard again), on somedays I feel like fifteen, because there are so many things I do not yet know, and I am so curious.
In some job interviews, you are asked: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Honestly, if they would ask me that now, I would simply and honestly reply, “I don’t really give a shit.” The main thing is happiness. And that is what I wish for this year for each of you.