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Turning Thirty

I turned thirty this month and, not surprisingly, it's given me pause. Last month I picked up a book on the importance of your twenties, and for the most part it was reassuring because I never approached my twenties with the mindset that they weren't important. In fact, I spent most of my twenties worrying that I had taken them too seriously. I married my college sweetheart and went straight to library school and found jobs in libraries or related fields to pay the bills until I landed my first professional librarian gig. I was conventional, responsible, and hard-working.

But then what started as a few bumps in the road quickly became something much more serious. My husband started having health problems, which we finally realized were due to a toxic work environment. We decided not only on a job change, but a move to the city we'd been visiting nearly every month anyway. In the process of moving he managed to injure himself so badly that he was unable to work for months, losing the job we had moved for. Meanwhile I'd discovered that it was true that I'd moved into one of the toughest librarian job markets in the country and some health problems that I thought I'd left behind made a reoccurrence just as our nest egg disappeared, leaving us in a new state with no money and both of us unemployed.

I wish I could say things magically got better overnight, but that's not the case. For over 2 years at least one of us has been un- or under- employed. In order to pay the bills I've worked retail and data entry jobs when nothing better paying was forthcoming. This is not what I envisioned thirty would look like. And this is what Jay warns twentysomethings their lives could be if they don't get serious about finding a real job.

But here's the thing, I can't think of a single one of my friends who worked at Starbucks (or the equivalent) and wasn't actively wrestling with what was next for them. In her book, Jay focuses on the people who are underemployed and under the delusion that something better "will just come along". But there are also plenty of people who have bills to pay, and Starbucks allows them to do that (sort of) while getting their stuff together for something more secure. I know that working in retail and food service gives me an opportunity to focus on my customer service skills, which I've always thought were crucial to being a good reference librarian.

I guess I'm just really torn about how I feel about Meg Jay's book. On the one hand it's great that she's giving folks a reality check about whether they're just using their twenties to kill time or actually figure out the direction they want their life to go. I know I definitely underestimated the risk in relocating to a new city without a new job already lined up.

On the other hand, despite the rough road, I really don't think I would have done anything differently over the last few years. Also, I can't really think of any of my friends approaching thirty who have treated their twenties like they weren't important, who want to get married someday but think they can get away with random hook ups until they turn thirty and magically end up married, or work a job they don't care about because some day their dream job will magically fall into their lap. So I appreciate Jay's advice, but she sounds a lot like me when I try to talk about my friends' and my own siblings who are about five years younger, that is to say, parental.
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