3 Milestones From My Early Thirties
Like many people, my 30s have been a time of huge growth and change. In my 20s, I changed a lot, but it’s been in my 30s that I’ve really leaned into some important things like emotional intelligence. By doing so, I’ve made some big changes that have had a huge impact on my life for the better.
- Learning how to truly lead in my family
As the second oldest of 8 kids growing up, I was expected to be a leader in the family. Not only did I have to help raise my younger siblings, but my parents expected me to set a good example for them to follow. Whether it was in school, on the sports field, or at church, I was supposed to be a model for my younger siblings to emulate.
As a leader in the family, I grew up thinking it meant I had to be perfect. I expected it of myself, and I felt the way to best lead my siblings was to craft an image of someone who didn’t have flaws.
But creating this fake flawed image didn’t allow me to be my true authentic self and didn’t allow me to be the leader I was meant to be in my family. In the last few years, I’ve found that by speaking the truth, by showing vulnerability, and by showing my human side, that I’ve been able to be a better leader in my family.
It’s meant opening up to my family about my depression. It’s meant telling my family when my girlfriend and I had an unplanned pregnancy, it’s meant telling my dad his kids need to hear him say, “I love you.”
Leading in my family doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. For me to be the best leader, it means showing my human side, having empathy, being a good listener, and working every day to help others in my family do the same.
2. Learning that crying is a strength, not a weakness
Growing up, I heard from a lot of men in my life — relatives, coaches, teammates, classmates — that, “Boys don’t cry.”
As I got older, this turned into, “Real men don’t cry.”
When I went to West Point and got commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, this turned into, “Officers don’t cry.”
I was led to believe that crying was a weakness — I can count on one hand the number of times I remember crying as a young man. I heard people say things like, “Save your tears for things that matter.” Although no one ever bothered to tell me what those things were exactly.
Boys turn into teens, who then turn into young men. And society has historically had a very narrow definition of what is acceptable for a man — and what makes a “real man”. And historically, that definition does not include crying.
We have a range of emotions for a reason. Crying isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength — so don’t be afraid to cry when you need to.
3. Sticking with therapy for 18 months
Like many of my previous visits to therapy, it started after a breakup. In the past, I’d gone to a few sessions, or at most, I’d go weekly for a few months.
The start of 2018 was different though. My therapist encouraged me to stick with it for more than a few weeks or months. Like almost all of my previous romantic relationships, she noticed that my therapy sessions had never made it past the 3-month mark.
What would it look like, she wondered, if I committed to therapy long term?
That was 18 months ago, and I’ve gone consistently every week for that entire period. Going to therapy has made me a better leader, it’s made me a better manager, and friend, and brother, and boyfriend.
In therapy I’ve learned how to open up about my feelings. I’ve learned how to put words to what I’m feeling, and then to share those words later on in conversations with others. It’s allowed me to be vulnerable. It’s given me more empathy. It’s provided a safe place for me to cry.
Mental health is a critical part of overall health, and for me, consistent therapy is a huge part of that. I work on my physical health consistently and don’t even think twice about it. And now I’m getting to the place where I treat my mental health the same way.
We’re always changing and learning more about ourselves, hopefully for the better. For me, my 30s have been a time of growth in some important areas, especially emotional intelligence. As you look at your own life, what are some things you can change?