So here it is, my big day at last. I am now officially 30 years old, and am not at all surprised to discover that it feels exactly the same as 29, or 20, for that matter. Just another day, which is part of another year. Although this is a day on which I get to hear from all my loved ones, so in that sense it is a special one, especially when most of my loved ones feel very far away indeed.

A friend sent me a birthday wish last night that gave me pause for thought. She gave me some advice that a friend had given her when she was poised on the brink of 30 a few months ago, saying that by the time you’re 30, you’re mature enough to deal with negative or disappointing situations without freaking out over them. Excellent advice, and something I’m very glad to say was true in my case well before I turned 30. Certain life situations have a way of teaching you perspective pretty damn fast, no matter what your age.

What struck me most about her comment was this: at what point does getting older become a bad thing? I remember when I turned 20, I was SO excited that I wasn’t a teenager any more. Surely maturity, confidence, and poise were just around the corner! Any day now!

Of course I then spent another ten years flailing around trying to discover those elusive traits, but I think I’m much closer to them now at 30 than I was at 20. So why then is ten more years of growth and experience not a good thing? I would much rather be turning 30, with all the hard-won insights and experience of the past ten years, than 20. And yet somehow it was more socially acceptable to turn 20 than it is 30 — and I know it only gets more so as the decades go on from here.

Personally, like I said before, I could not be more glad to leave my 20s behind. I started them in a mess of confusion and pain, not knowing who I was or where I was going. What’s worse, I had no concept of my own value. All the traits I now consider to be my strengths — my empathy, my perception, my introversion, my intelligence — I saw as oddities, liabilities, things to be hidden away and whitewashed so I could better fit in with my peers. I tried to ease the dissonance this created by doing all kinds of things I thought the person I was trying to be should do. I was lonely, I was confused, and I really didn’t think very highly of myself at all.

Ten years later, I am living a life that I would never have dreamed of when I turned twenty. I have a wonderful husband, and I spend every day doing a job that I created, a job I love so much that I almost feel bad calling it “work” at all. I not only have one wonderful house in the town I grew up in, the town my heart calls Home, but I am also lucky enough to be living in Europe for a year, with said wonderful husband, doing said wonderful job.

What’s more, I am completely comfortable and confident in my own skin. I still have my demons, sure, but now I know most of them by name, and I know the songs to tame each one. All of the things I internalized and hid away when I was twenty are now what I rely on to get me through daily life — to write, to forge deep friendships with good people, to keep my relationship going strong. No longer do I hide my introversion and ultra-sensitivity, but have instead learned how to use them as tools to my advantage, and how to shield the weak spots they bring.

So in all honesty, I can’t say that I am sad in any way about entering the next decade of my life. I am sad to be doing so without my father, as I would very much have liked to share the rewards of this coming decade with him. But here on the precipice between my third decade and my fourth, I can truly say that I have no regrets, and am very excited to see what the next ten years bring. If my twenties were any indication, it will be a wild ride indeed!

But that decade starts first with a birthday. A day like any other day — with a little more love involved.