There was a certain scene I always associated with turning 30. It came from Friends—the episode where Rachel celebrated her birthday and the rest of the gang had to cheer her up; because turning 30 meant she was officially “old.”

Yes, I used to think that 30 was old. I also used to think that at around 16 years old, you graduate high school, go on to college, and enter the prime of your life by your 20s. And at 30? That's when your life starts to settle down. This just seemed like the cultural norm, the way things would usually go.

That wasn’t how my life progressed, however. My concept of age drastically changed when life started getting out of this “normal” order.

While my mom was out being the breadwinner, I realized that I had to be the one to take care of my younger siblings.

My parents separated when I was fresh into my teenage years. A year before graduating grade school, I had to stop schooling due to our family’s financial constraints; my mom was left to make money for our family. And while my mom was out being the breadwinner, I realized that I had to be the one to take care of my younger siblings—two sisters and a brother.

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During my would-have-been high school years, I was doubling as a mom and a teacher to the three of them. I took it upon myself to teach them how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I also starting learning by myself, by reading every book I could. 

Years later, when my grade school batchmates started entering college, I realized that I wanted to go back to school. Because of our financial situation, I needed to find a way to save my own money for my education. The day I decided this, I walked around our village looking for a job and applied for a small educational center that was looking for ESL teachers. From there, I got other jobs—assistant, teacher, writer, sales and marketing—and slowly started saving up. According to societal norms, these should have been my college years, but I was already working. 

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Entering college with more life experience meant that school wasn’t just about grades.

Other than entering the workforce early, I also surrounded myself with a diverse group of friends. These were people who came from all kinds of backgrounds. They were mostly older than I was, intellectuals, writers, and artists, all with liberal ways of thinking. Some had finished school, some hadn’t. Some were married and others were happily alone and single. They gave me the education and the life experience that high schools rarely offer, inspiring me to think critically, to learn, to speak out, and to listen.

I finally got back to school, on my own dime, when I was 23 years old. I was easily the oldest person in any classroom—sometimes that even included the teacher. But being older meant I knew the value of each day, each unit, each peso spent back in school. Entering college with more life experience meant that school wasn’t just about grades. I entered my undergrad already with a sense of the bigger picture. I had the maturity to seek the knowledge that I knew I needed in life and absorb it appropriately and efficiently.

I finally graduated with my first ever formal school degree just a year shy of 30. And in finally turning 30 this year, the irony is that it feels like I’ve been this age (or older) for a while already.

I also have the maturity to look back on all the years of my life and know that everything does indeed happen for a reason.

At this age, the same age I watched the characters in Friends cry over, I couldn’t be happier and prouder with where I am in life. I feel the high of experience, confidence, and opportunity rather than a downward slump of losing my younger years. It feels as if I'm done with a testing phase or internship in life, and now I know that you can perfectly command what comes your way.

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At 30, I also have the maturity to look back on all the years of my life and know that everything does indeed happen for a reason. From the times we had no money and just ate canned goods to the house parties with artists and the late nights at bars I was technically too young to go to... From the education I built on my own terms, to the first time I moved out.

At 30, I realize that every moment in my life, the good, the bad and the ugly, was necessary to bring me to where I am today. And I look forward even more for the better things to come.

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