I think Olivia Wilde is terrific. She’s a wonderful actress, donates her time to worthy humanitarian causes, and possesses not just golden age Hollywood beauty, but the class to go with it. And after reading her Do’s and Don’ts of Turning 30 in Glamour this week, where she describes how much she’s looking forward to the big 3-0, I’ll add witty and honest writer to the list of her attributes.
That being said, I cannot think of anybody on the planet who understands what it is like to turn 30 less than Olivia Wilde.
For starters, she’s still 29. I’m hardly a wise old sage at the age of 33, but one thing I do know is that turning 30 is not something you really understand until it has actually happened. The reality of turning 30 doesn’t set in until your 31st birthday. That’s the first day you realize you have failed to accomplish all of the things you said you would accomplish by age 30. When we’re kids, and envision ourselves as adults with perfect families, exciting jobs, and the recognition of our peers, we subconsciously assign a number to that ‘adult’ age, and that number tends to be 30. So no matter what you have or haven’t accomplished in your twenties, and even the 30th year itself, there’s still time left on the clock to achieve it. Until you turn 31. Then, officially, you are behind. That’s when the real anxiety sets in.
But of course we all know that, even in her thirties, Olivia Wilde is just not going to have the same problems that average people have. She advises us: “DON’T freak out about all the brilliant people who have accomplished more than you by 30.” Easy for her to say! She’s already accomplished the universal dream of becoming a movie star.
And while I applaud Ms. Wilde for insisting “DON’T cut your face,” I can’t help but wonder how many middle-aged actors and actresses rolled their eyes while reading it and thought: Let’s see how you feel about plastic surgery when you’re 50 and haven’t been offered a role in ten years. Not worrying about your looks is a nice luxury when you’re oh, say, one of the ten most beautiful people in the universe. Her alternative to surgery is to drink water, get eight hours of sleep, and never go to tanning booths. Simple as that, eh? Olivia Wilde giving those beauty tips to the average woman is like David Beckham giving kicking tips to a quadriplegic. It’s more condescending than helpful.
She also cautions women: “DON’T propose to the next guy you meet just because you worry he’ll be your last chance at lifelong companionship.” Good tip, I guess women should just be patient and wait for handsome, funny movie star Jason Sudeikis to propose to them. Oh wait he won’t, because he’s already engaged to Olivia Wilde, because she’s stunningly gorgeous and most women aren’t. Has Olivia Wilde ever wanted for a date in her life? Dating for most of her single readers probably involves some combination of logging onto Match.com in their underwear and drinking enough vodka to suppress their aching loneliness. At least that’s what my Tuesday was like.
In short, Olivia Wilde’s advice on turning 30 is to just travel a lot, drink plenty of water, marry a movie star, get voted PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity, and you will be quite happy at 29, and we can only assume, seamlessly continue that level of happiness into your thirties despite the physical and emotional realities of aging.
Olivia Wilde’s “do’s and don’ts” aren’t wrong. They’re just misleading. The reason so many people struggle with turning 30 is because of missed expectations. When we’re young, we all hope that when we grow up we’ll be famous and awesome and engaged to a celebrity and doing what we love. For 99% of us, the disappointment of turning 30 is that this dream did not come true. How can Olivia Wilde understand that? She’s in the 1% it came true for!
The problem is the collision of primitive brains with our modern world. Throughout most of our 200,000 year history, Homo sapiens lived in tribes no larger than 150 people, and usually closer to 70 or 80. And back then, just like today, people were competitive with each other, struggling to get the most food, live the longest, get the hottest mates and have the most kids. The difference is that in a group of 80 people, everyone has a realistic shot at working hard and reaching the top of the social ladder. But in our modern world of seven billion people? Good luck even getting close to the top.
That’s why so many people are miserable. Despite the fact that everyone reading this is ten times healthier, safer, and smarter than even the luckiest stone age human, you can’t appreciate it because your tribe got too big and you’ve become lost in it. Our brains, which evolved to handle the social dynamics of 150 people, are being exposed to thousands of uber-successful actors, musicians, models, and athletes every single week. Our brains weren’t built for this.
But there’s hope. The key is to constantly remind yourself that your real tribe–the 100 or so friends, coworkers, and family members who actually know who you are–probably love you and respect you and think you’re doing fine. And for them, just like for you, turning 30 does suck if you don’t have the job or spouse or kids you’ve always wanted. To be honest, turning 30 sometimes sucks even if you do have those things. But feeling that way doesn’t mean you’re weird. It means you’re normal. And once you realize that struggling at 30 is normal, you can relax and go about achieving your goals without the pressure of feeling like you’re behind everyone else.
So if Olivia Wilde wants to actually contribute to the well being of Glamour readers about to turn 30, she might instead tell them: DON’T aspire to be like me. I’m a freakishly lucky human. DO give yourself permission to get a few wrinkles, to have a boring job, to date a bald guy, to worry that you’ll never reproduce, to make mistakes and question your choices and, hopefully, take it all in stride. That’s an honest portrait of our thirties. And by being honest, we actually have a shot at happiness when we do beat our expectations.
Like Ms. Wilde, I want you to “go–be awesome.” But you’ve got a better chance at awesomeness if you know that most people don’t turn 30 with the same carefree, naive bliss as Olivia Wilde.
Now go–be realistic.