Stop Stressing Over 30: Life Advice and Wisdom from Black Women Who've Been There

by Juhanna Rogers

There is something about turning 30 years old that thins the hair and increases stress levels. More and more women I know find themselves crying in the car after work, battling with their parents, struggling to find a mate that “gets it,” and frustrated about their slow economic progression as full-time employees as we approach ten years since the glorious days of undergrad ended.

I turned 30 and something changed. As a Black woman coming to terms with the fact that life happens differently for different people, I continue to ask myself as I approach 33, “Am I where I’m supposed to be?”

Since turning 30, I am constantly thinking about my security, marriage, kids, and the “right” career move. The stress and anxiety that come along with being 30 is a larger issue than I first imagined because even on days when I am not worried about where I am headed, a friend will call about one of these issues. We talk for hours about how we got here, the views we once had, and what it means to be a Black woman today. I realize they too are struggling with the reality of their limited incomes, love lives, and the uncertainty hanging over their futures.

It’s as if at 30, mythical notions that you heard women discuss for ages come into focus for you. Consequently, anxiety comes along too, because this is the first time you are considering these things in relation to your life: your ticking biological clock, the financial burdens of student loans, and the idea of being alone! My goodness, these topics are the focus of more conversations now than ever before because while I am still at the early stages of my career, I realize I still want the comfortable large home, a savings portfolio, and a vacation account—and that all seems so far away from today.

Can you relate?

After watching Cicely Tyson comb Viola Davis’ hair on How to Get Away With Murder a few weeks ago, conversations I have had over the last two years came to mind immediately. I decided a year ago, on my 32nd birthday, to have conversations with Black women who successfully navigated this path. I spoke with Black women in various professions—some of whom I’ve known for a long time, and others I had never met face-to-face but connected with virtually. The women were between the ages of 45 and 60. There was no script; I just sat down and told them I am trying to figure out my 30s by balancing the anxiety of that comes with work, family, relationships, and self-acceptance.

The conversations were fascinating. Some left me feeling like, “Whoa, I need to get my act together!” because I wasn’t working towards my full potential, while others left me feeling like, “Wherever I am, it will be OK as long as I keep searching.” These conversations explored the complexities of love, the desire to live life to the fullest , and most importantly, the significance in embracing who we really are.

These are the ten things I learned from the women I had conversations with:
  1. First and foremost, I was told by all the women how important it is to develop relationships with a group of women or men who (a) listen to you; (b) love and care about you; (c) and will challenge you to grow and reach for your dreams.
  2. “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Don’t spend so much time defining yourself.” —Tray, a schoolteacher
  3. “When you ask someone to reflect and give advice, take it seriously. Being reflective is not easy and requires a lot of energy. Respect that.” —Dr. Kay, a mentor after I did not initially take her advice
  4. “We all are winging it. Once you realize that no one has all the answers—I definitely didn’t have them at 30—you also realize that we simply make the best decisions we can with the information we have. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” —Nicki, a professional in her late 40s who I met a social gathering
  5. “Don’t settle for the ordinary. Remember who you are and make that your dream. Don’t settle yet; there is still time.” —Robin, a university faculty member
  6. “Being single is the best time and it’s nothing to hang your head about. When the time comes, just don’t be afraid to love. Have guidelines and be willing to walk away when you realize a person is not capable of meeting them. Then sometimes you have to walk away because they can meet them, but you’re not ready.” —J.C., a friend
  7. “Trust your intuition.” —Ms. Janie, a spiritual advisor
  8. “Don’t let temporary situations lead you to make permanent decisions.” —Vee, a youth counselor
  9. “If you are questioning yourself, your relationship, and your life, you are in the right place.” —Darlene, a life coach
  10. “Life is not about the destination, but the journey. Live your life like an overflowing coffee cup!” —Henrietta, my aunt
It seems with modern technology and the constant and immediate “access” it provides, the art of having a conversation around the kitchen table is far less common today. However, there is a magic present when Black women take the time to talk with and listen to each other, to share pieces of their journey. My conversations with these women decreased my stress and subdued my anxiety. Their encouraging words have inspired me to focus on the moment and embrace the present.

In two months, I turn 33 and I am embrace the fact that at 30, we begin to define who are. More importantly, we realize life is meant to be lived by our own terms, instead of worrying about what will be and who is expecting it. We must simply be present and recognize that life is unique for each of us. Just keep pouring into you. Fill your cups. Like Aunt Henrietta says, let it the “coffee” overflow!

Juhanna Rogers is a regular contributor to For Harriet. In addition to being a doctoral candidate in Higher Education, she is also a dancer and performer. She resides in upstate New York.

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