Almost over a year ago, I had a long overdue dinner with two of my closest friends, aka “brothers for life,” and the topic of our 30th birthdays reared its foreboding head up for discussion like an unwanted, single gray hair. Our 30th year on Planet Earth also marked the ten year anniversary of when I met these knuckleheads as the new loner in a popular University of Tennessee, Knoxville dorm, but I digress. At the time of the dinner, both E and Murphy had already cashed in their 20s for a newly minted Big 3-0 membership card. They didn’t look any different than when I first met them ten years prior, except for the expected changes nature and life in general bestows so generally upon us. Throwback sport jerseys, ball caps, and jeans two times wider than our actual waists sizes were replaced with starched dressed shirts, polished shoes, and clean shaven faces. Frank might’ve put on a few pounds, while Eric had become a gym owner’s walking promotional ad for what a dedicated daily workout will do for you and the gym’s business. We’re still young adults, except the emphasis is more placed on the “adult” portion nowadays.

So there we were, three ‘young adults’ conversing on the woeful fact of turning 30. With my own birthday just a little of a month away, listening to E and Murphy discuss the dread before and after their respective birthdays hit sent an Antarctica-sized chill down my spine. It was like listening to a cheesy, but utterly effective, campfire horror yarn, except this story’s psychotic maniac or three-headed monster in the woods was actually Father Time and his annoyingly intimidating attribute/companion called “aging.” Like one of those impressionable campers, I sat gobsmacked as my best friends recounted the countdowns to their respective birthdays with an air of yearning to turn back life’s biological time piece mixed with an uncanny sense of doom. But as always, we tend to

“You can basically kiss your 20s goodbye forever,” Murphy jokingly summed up. “That’s what I can say about turning 30.”

We all laughed at that particular signature blunt response from Murphy, but I noticed that our hearty laughter was tainted with a level of awkward sadness. Our 20s were most definitely over, and soon the remnants of our youth would join them. But was turning 30 really going to be that bad? At first, it actually was. At first.

Initially, there were the standard “woe is me!” thoughts of not being content with my current situation; as well as the constant reminders of what was expected and not accepted of a man in his 30s. These nagging thoughts were followed by sleepless nights due to a restless brain with a tendency to conjure up incidents and events long forgotten, trying to decipher the many crossroads I met and why I decided to take the path that led me to that particular regretful moment in time. A case of the ‘blues’ also settled in, but they were nowhere near the hell I suffered during the bleak period between the end of my high school career and the beginning of my collegiate years. Every random memory and unquiet moment infiltrated my “daily happiness,” showing me my dated years with the bratty cackles of the most nefarious school children. It was as if a ominous switch was suddenly activated and all doors you used to have exclusive access to were placed on permanent lockdown at the stroke of midnight on May 23rd, 2013. Access denied, old man. Access denied.

But then I woke up one blurry morning and asked myself, “Do you want to live? Or do you want to ‘be 30?'”

As soon as the revelatory words left the peripheral of my mind’s eye, I knew then that this was my latest crossroads. It was a simple question, which only required an even simpler answer, one that didn’t need to be mulled over for a day or two. Not even for a second.

The arduous road I chose on that day led me to take formidable risks; fall hard on my ass; get bruised emotionally; and just live for once, which was something I wasn’t really doing before. Yes, I achieved countless victories over the years, but they were to be expected. I never really lived for myself, never followed the path laid out for me. And looking back at my 30th year on Earth… I believed I achieved a lot more than I had done in my previous 29 years.

Since May 23rd of last year I’ve fallen in love (twice); I finally went to New Orleans, on my own accord, and will be in New York City for my birthday; I rediscovered my love for writing fiction and actually loving what I’ve written so far; I came out to my family and friends, and realized that they still loved me no matter what (at least most of them); I came into my own sexually and intellectually, and in the process falling in love with myself for once. It’s that latter monumental event which is the most profound self-discovery that happened within a year’s time. It was where I came to a conclusion that life, no matter what trap or expiration date this fucked up society might have in store for you, doesn’t end at 30. Unless you perceive it to be.

A few weeks ago, E and Murphy met with me again for a movie and, curious, I asked them to summarize their 30th year, the question coming full circle from the previous inquiry I asked almost a year prior. Despite still missing his roaring 20s, Murphy nonchalantly responded, “Eh, it’s not so bad as I thought it was going to be.”

E’s response was similar, “Shit, we’re here. We’re breathing. I’m with my boys. What else could you ask for? I mean, it’s just another year. Same shit, different date.”

As you can see, their answers were a severe drastic change from the belly-aching, depressive dinner we had the previous year, and I would have to agree with them 100%. Life is what you, not some trendsetting hack behind a computer, make it out to be. There aren’t any ominous deadlines you must meet in order to live, love, get married, travel the world, achieve your dream, etc, etc before your 30th birthday. There’s nothing wrong with having life goals, but if you haven’t achieved all of them by the time your 20s have expired, it’s not the end of the world. It will feel like it in some spurts, but trust me, you will snap out of it and will continue on your journey to greatness. That is if you really, really want to.

So to all those who will be turning 3o this year, are leaving their 30th year behind, or are still in that “Oh My God! I’m 30!!!” mind state, I repeat what my consciousness asked me that one grateful morning:

“You can either live, or you can ‘be 30.'” I chose the former, and I feel pretty damn good…