Turning 30: the 4 things society expects everyone to have done - and why it’s absurd

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Rochelle Barrand reflects on the expectations placed upon people at the age of 30 - as her big birthday approaches

As soon as Big Ben chimed to bring in 2023, my boyfriend turned to me and said “you turn 30 this year”. As if I needed a reminder. Like millions of others, later this year I hit the big 3-0 - and I’m not sure how to feel about it. I know I’m not alone. Friends who have hit this milestone in years before me have reacted in panic, usually bemoaning the things they haven’t achieved by the beginning of this new decade.

It seems society is obsessed with people hitting certain goals by this point in life. It’s an unspoken rule that people are supposed to have their life “sorted” by the age of 30.

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At 20 you’re allowed to still be figuring things out  - but ten years is supposed to be enough time to excel in your career, find the person you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, get married and have a baby - or at the very least be engaged and/or expecting - plus have keys to a house of your own, of course. I feel exhausted just writing all that down, let alone trying to achieve it - and yet I admit I have tried to achieve it.

But, as I enter into the last few months of my twenties, I’m determined to give myself a break. There isn’t a time limit on achievements or personal growth, and therefore there isn’t a time limit on love, happiness, change or new experiences. I’d love to be a wife and mother, but it’s okay that I don’t have it by this age. In fact, a recent ONS study showed that more women than ever before are now childfree at 30, so I keep reminding myself that I am far from alone in not having a family by the time I reach my 30th birthday.

NationalWorld reporter Rochelle Barrand reflects on the 4 things society expects everyone to have done by the age of 30 - and why it’s absurd.NationalWorld reporter Rochelle Barrand reflects on the 4 things society expects everyone to have done by the age of 30 - and why it’s absurd.
NationalWorld reporter Rochelle Barrand reflects on the 4 things society expects everyone to have done by the age of 30 - and why it’s absurd. | NationalWorld/ Kim Mogg

Some of my friends who are also celebrating the milestone with me this year are married and do have children, and that’s great - but our timelines are different because we’re different people. I do, however, own my own home and have a job which I love. Yet traditional society would decree that my friends who have a job, a house, a spouse and a baby have “succeeded” at life, whereas I, who only have two out of four, have “failed”. It’s this thinking that’s long been ingrained in us; by popular culture, by the older generation perhaps, or even our peers - and it’s time it stopped.

We are all unique in our own ways, so why does society seem determined to shoehorn us all into one timeline? Besides, if we did all run on the same timeline, then what would come after 30?

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Nobody ever really focuses on what you do after you get the supposedly perfect job, partner, child and house - everything is just seemingly focused on getting those four things and then we’re led to believe you’ll live happily ever after. And what about people who just don’t want these things, by 30 or otherwise? I also have friends whose ideal life includes travel and pets, not babies - and that’s great too.

Changing unrealistic expectations set by society isn’t going to be easy, as they’ve been around for decades, but I hope by writing this column I can give reassurance to at least one other person in a similar position to me that it’s okay to still be figuring things out by the time your 30th birthday dawns.

After all, according to Theodore Roosevelt “the only time you really live fully is from 30 to 60”, so some of the best years are still to come.

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