"I'm worried that you keep leaving your handbag there. Someone could nick it."
A female staff member in her late 50s barked this at me. We were at a work event at a local public park, supervising the play-doh tent for a community festival. I met this woman a few moments ago in the swap of staff members from the previous shift. While she sat on a chair in the far corner of the tent, not engaging with the children (which she was sort of supposed to be doing), I was bending over praising a small child about her little house, dog and tree creations which her 4-year-old fingers tirelessly kneaded together.
"Oh, I'm not too worried," I smiled regarding my handbag's distance from me, "I run pretty fast."
"It's because you're too young to understand," she shot back. "You're still at that age where you think you're invincible. You just think you can do anything, and it's because you haven't been through any hardship in your life."
My ears pricked up, side of mouth curved. Now I was offended. Never mind my Father's passing away at 19, my family's subsequent financial and emotional hardships, broken relationships and the like; to this woman, I had definitely not been through any suffering purely due to my age and stage of life.
"I'm flattered that you think I'm so young," I said, trying to diffuse the growing tension in the exchange, "but I'm really not that young."
"Oh really?" she said with a cock of her head, "how old are you then?"
"Take a guess," I tried to smile in a light hearted way, although incredibly uncomfortable at the unwarranted hostility coming from this worker I had met literally 30 minutes ago.
"Hmm well, girls of your cultural background tend to look much younger than they are, so I'd say you were about 30."
"I'd say you were correct," and I hoped now she would shut up.
Instead, as if she was a shot-and-fired bullet from a cosmological gun, she said "You know given everything I've been through in my life, 30 is still quite young, you know I'm 57, and you just realise when you become more mature that life isn't so easy, that you have to face reality. And girls of your age don't know that. You just think you're indispensable."
My heartbeat grew faster, even as I tried to sassily deter her with comments like "Oh yes, 57, that is quite old," and "Yes, maybe it's time for you to get life insurance," I could not believe this woman's level of venom-intensity. Something about my youth clearly triggered something deep inside her, enough to emotionally assassinate a complete stranger in a what-should-be professional context.
In that heated exchange I mired through the reasons why she felt it justified to speak to someone... anyone - let alone a random stranger - like that.
My colleague, who had heard most of this conversation take place and did not engage, was a Mother of four daughters, a year shy of her 39th birthday. We broke off from our shift together, a hurried farewell away from the tension.
"Wow," she said, no longer within earshot, "I couldn't believe the way she was speaking to you. That woman must be really insecure."
blink and then you're old.
What trophies shall line the wall-units of our souls in our old age? Will we "young girls" survive not being valued for our taut breasts, pert bums, limitless energy and the ability to lift three small children at once? It is easy for me to say now that my youthful looks aren't as valuable as my knowledge, career and skills, but I think the rubber will smack the road when I hit 50 and so do my eye-bags.
I hope that woman is surrounded by people who appreciate her. I hope her children love her, I hope her husband has stuck around. I hope her colleagues aren't targets for her mean monologues and I hope her financial assets column is longer than her liabilities column. (She said she didn't have life insurance after all, which concerns me for someone aged 57 who proudly asserted she had survived many hardships).
As I approach age 30 in less than 2 days, I've found the anxiety of growing older present in people who have unmet expectations for their lives. Ouch?
When my 26 year old friend complains that she is 4 years from 30, she looks at me and adds quickly "Sorry Jess, I know you're turning 30 soon."
But she has no reason to apologise. Her distaste for growing older is her own emotional reality. Turning 30 is exciting to me (and recently I wrote a letter to my 39-year-old, fabulous and unconditionally accepted self!). We are the ones who attach positive meanings to neutral events, and my optimism about the future prevails.
If you would indulge me, here's why I think growing older is awesome:
1. People will finally take you seriously.
In my 8 year Social Work career, I confidently walk into Principal’s offices of major high schools, demand blood results for clients in children’s hospitals, interrupt Doctors in consultations as I’m a fellow “allied health professional”, and supervise 21-year-old uni students.
Yes, I do love feeling important. And while I still look like a young Asian girl sometimes - my age, experience and air about me projects a 30-something year old who knows what the heck she’s talking about. And I feel the respect through the phone much more than I used to.
2. You have less time for stupidity.
As a Dating Coach, I love speaking to women in their 30s and 40s. Oftentimes they are career established, have written books, own houses and have their practical and emotional sh** together. A woman of such high calibre can date with clarity of focus - “Do I even like spending time with this guy?” - “Does he intellectually stimulate me?” - “Does he really cherish me?”
Yes, their problems are real too - a closing fertility window, perhaps. Or thinking men are intimidated by them (spoiler: they’re not! You just have to let them fix your computer, carry your groceries and cry on their shoulder from time to time.)
Alas women in these age brackets tend to be calmer, more self-assured, and pretty much self-actualised.
3. You mysteriously get a double portion of self-confidence.
My coaching clients often tell me that the older they get, the less insecure they become. They have “figured themselves out” and fallen in love with who they are; who God has created them to be.
I would say this is because life with God is a life of constant growth. And we can’t grow if we don’t self-reflect and change. If you simply want life to always be good, then stagnancy is not an option!
In my case (and excuse this blog’s very Jess-is-turning-30-and-doesn’t-give-a-crap-anymore tone), when we attach ourselves to a purpose that uses every gift in our God-gave-us-this Pack, we realise that life just gets better and better.
I know that with more knowledge, skill and experience, my practice as a Coach will become more established. People trust a 50 year old more than they trust a 29-year-old with the deep inner work of their romantic struggles. And I will endeavour to give my clients the best possible version of myself that I can realistically give.
Did you just have a milestone birthday? Share your musings about getting older in the comments.
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