The big 2*3*5

It’s my 30th birthday.

I have been dreading this day since I was 15 years old (at which point I was actually crying because I was “half way to 30”).

To combat what I knew would be unavoidable feelings of depression, back in my early 20s I decided I needed to be more positive. I made a list of 30-before-30 things to accomplish before July 21, 2017 (#25, by the way, was “start and maintain a blog”–that is indeed why I started TTENG all those years ago!)

What else did I accomplish?

  • At least 15 items total. Not too shabby. And we checked off some major ones, including:
    • #1: Finish grad school. I survived 11 years of college. Grad school had a steep learning curve academically and emotionally (I was very young, and celebrated the end of my first year in ways that were not-yet legal). There was a major setback with my adviser leaving academia right around the time I became ABD. And you want to know how much student loan debt I have? $0. I’m not sure what makes me prouder: finishing the damn PhD or doing it without borrowing a cent.
    • #2: pay back car loan. This was a personal loan through my folks (who were very generous–among other things–in not charging me interest). But I “bought” a car new, paid it back within three years, and until I had to sell the car to come to Chicago I owned it outright. It was a never-named 2009 Toyota Corolla, so it was recalled so many times that when I sold it it was still practically new. But it was mine.
    • All of the “traveling” related 30-before-30 items were completed. This includes:
      • #3: go to Europe. It was my last vacation, and it was back in 2010, but I did indeed go to Europe. My “second mother” had rented a villa on a semi-private, semi-nude beach on the Mediterranean and invited me to go along. My parents offered me the ticket as a combined birthday/Christmas gift. I’m not stupid–I said “yes” in a heartbeat. It was probably the most relaxed I have ever been in my life. I “only” went to Barcelona and the surrounding area (so I didn’t country hop or anything like that). But it was magical. I also got to knock off #8: go to a vineyard.
      • #18: visit the Smithsonian. This one was a 2015 accomplishment. I was at a conference and I knew I probably wouldn’t get a chance to get back to D.C.–at least before the big 3-0. So I did something I’d never done before: I played hookie. That’s right. I skipped talks and seminars to spend 5 hours in the natural history museum, the American history museum, the original Smithsonian building, and even threw in the National Gallery of Art for funsies. Totally worth it.
      • #23: go to a Broadway show on Broadway. My then-boyfriend was taking me to his best friend’s wedding in Connecticut, and he knew about the list. He gave me a budget, booked our flights to LGA, and told me we’d stay the night before the wedding in another friend’s apartment two blocks from Times Square. I could pick my Broadway show and we’d rent a car and drive to CT in the morning. It was certainly the most romantic thing he ever did, and it was one of the most romantic things that ever has happened to me. So, despite the fact that we are no more, I am grateful to him for that. My choice? First-row mezzanine at “La Cage Aux Folles”.
    • Quite a few other “adulting” things were accomplished:
      • #15: set up a healthy retirement/investment account. I started my Roth in 2010-11, around the time I decided to quit smoking (that was NOT on the 30-before-30 list, by the way). To keep myself motivated in quitting, I took a HUGE amount of money for me at the time–money that I argued was “cigarette money”–and bought stock in Philip Morris (PM, which I have since sold) and Altria (MO, PM’s former parent company). And I went big: I bought 40 shares of MO at $31/share–that’s a LOT of money for a 23/24 year-old. Yesterday MO closed at $73.59/share and I’ve been reinvesting my dividends along the way. I ❤ you, Philip Morris.
      • #13: make a complete Thanksgiving meal, solo. We know my mother’s insistence on meals. She “allowed” me to do the turkey and stuffing (which is really most of the meal) solo one year. I also did desserts (which she otherwise wouldn’t think of), and threw together a salad. Meal = done. As for the “solo” bit…she talked me through making her dressing–for which I am grateful because it is the best dressing I’ve ever had in my life and arguably the best thing that woman ever has made.
      • #22: teach a non-terminal college course. This may not be on everyone’s “adulting” list. But, let me explain: I have wanted to be a college professor since I was 17 years old. As a graduate student you NEVER teach a class for majors. You teach 100-levels. You maybe TA for something more but that’s it. Even in my Chicago tenure-track 7 of the 8 courses on my books were ones I taught as a grad student. But thanks to the BRCM I got to teach two 200-levels, two 300-levels, and a 400-level. I threw myself into work, I absolutely loved the students, and if I do say so myself I did a damn good job giving them their moneys’ worth. I miss those kids, and saying goodbye to them was unbelievably hard. I am so lucky to still hear from so many of them regularly and they are always without question the highlight of my day.
    • And then for some miscellanea:
      • #29: give blood. The Broadway ex was the one who got me into this–more props to him. We’d give together. He was A- and I was O+. But I would always get calls at the 8 week mark, and not him–despite his type being rarer. I found out why: my blood is actually rarer. I’m CMV-negative so it’s earmarked to go to neonatal and pediatric patients. During grad school, I grew to love my phlebotomists and I gave every eight weeks on the dot for about four years. I don’t have a place in Chi-town I like, but I do have some in both ATL and the BRCM. And every time I’m there, I give. I’ve heard due their size up to three patients can take from a single pint. And I’ve really paid it forward: I got my current guy to give for the first time.

        It’s not always that bad. This, by the way, was not at a favorite place.
      • #20: kiss someone at midnight on New Years. This, sadly, wasn’t accomplished until 2016/2017, and in typical “me” fashion my boyfriend had to wake me up for the “magical moment” [I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that I missed the Mariah Carey fiasco]. I actually was very reluctant to put this on the list because it depended on someone else. Why did this one take so long? I’m going to go with “academia”, and in particular basically exclusively dating academians since I was 19. The holidays are the few times you see your family, and right after January 1 you have national conferences, and qualifying exams, and job interviews, etc. This is assuming you don’t have a physical lab to check on.
      • #21: pull an all-nighter. That’s right. When I made this list in grad school I had not pulled an all-nighter. #humblebrag. And I still haven’t pulled one due to school (#humblebrag?). In 2012 I was a counselor at an academic summer program up in Boston, and we all had finals to grade and then a meeting about the kids’ finals; that all ended around 3am at which point the kids had been left to themselves for hours and were jacked up on sugar and totally not sleeping. And their parents started checking them out at 7am. It was a long night. Coincidentally, this was the last time I had an energy drink. Also, energy drinks should not be limited to three per day when they’re sold in four packs.

So since I’m now officially an “old fart”, would I say that I have lived a full life? In some ways, yes. I partied minimally, but enough for me. Late nights, and hangovers especially, are less and less appealing. I’ve had some unique experiences; I’ve been to nude beaches in two different countries. I’ve seen Dave Brubeck, Ralph Stanley, and Morrissey live (among others). I’ve driven cars worth more than a year’s salary. I’ve seen live bull-riding, been to a taping of a radio show, and even went to the Olympics. I’ve had “romances” of various intensities, lengths, and strengths–interpret at will. There’re some things I’m proud of but can’t exactly brag about and there’re some things I’d rather forget entirely. I’m the first in my family to have earned a Ph.D. I am a published author and have contributed new results to one of the oldest areas of human intellect. I’ve taught over 1100 students.

But in some ways, I still don’t feel like my life has started. If I were on my deathbed, I know my regret would be how much I’ve worked and how much I’ve sacrificed for work.  I regret not stripping at those nude beaches. I regret not going to more concerts. The things I couldn’t knock off my 30-before-30 list include “go to a karaoke bar and sing” and “learn to ride a bike”. You’d think these are pretty basic. My mother jokes that I wouldn’t know how to be romantic if I tried; hell, last year for Christmas my guy got me an electric toothbrush and I got him a paper shredder (neither item was on our wish lists). Don’t tell her, but my mother may be right.

I did a decent job of “living” before academia became my life. And this isn’t to diss on academia; it can be a very satisfying job–you get all the bragging points in the world, and the moments of success are hard to beat. Plus you meet some of the smartest, weirdest, most fascinating people. I love working with students–both in the classroom and in a research setting. On my good days, I feel truly invincible.

But the bad days? They’re bad. This is a lonely life. And despite being the closest thing to a meritocracy, it feels shockingly rigged. To be fancy I might use the words “diagnosis bias”. If I were being coy I’d compare it to the NBA draft. Do you know what determines the length of a player’s career more than rebounds/blocks per minute or assists/steals per minute? Their placement in the draft. A first-round draft pick stays in the NBA over 3 years (on average) longer than a second-round pick–even if the two players are otherwise equal in all of their stats. Academia is very similar. Maybe it’s the nerds doling out payback (on each other…) for all the times they were “last round draft picks” in P.E. class…

Beyond career, I’ve lived alone for so long, I fear that I’ll never be able to live with someone (none of my romances officially has led to this, let alone to anything more traditional like a ring. And I’m a serial monogamist–Broadway-ex got five years of my life. Why is this the case? Again, because I date academics. You want a list of 30-40+ year-old, never engaged men/women who have mastered the art of living alone? Just call me. I’ll whip out a rolodex like Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally.).

Guess I didn’t *quite* meet my goal of not getting depressed on my 30th. Oops.

I’ve had people ask me if I’m going to make a 40-before-40. I’m unsure, but I’ll let ya know. My one and only goal right now: have more fun. Try as much as possible to care less about work and more about life. Because if work continues to be my life…we won’t tick many more items off many more lists.


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