A journalist interviewed hundreds of people to see what life after 30 looks like in the US. Meet the 30-year-old trying to figure out how far he is from his American Dream.

Courtesy of Robin MadellRobin Madell.
  • Robin Madell is an award-winning journalist who founded the Life After 30 Salon and facilitated it for a decade in New York and San Francisco to help 30-somethings nationwide explore the hopes and challenges of middle adulthood.
  • The following is an excerpt from her book, “Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30.”
  • In it, she interviews Joe Tocci, a 30-year-old living on the Upper West Side.
  • “Now I have to start taking care of myself. Anything that you did before 35, now it can kill you. That’s what it says on all the little warnings: ‘Women after 35.’ Now everything has to change because I need to get ready for my 40s,” Diaz said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Joe Tocci, 30, New York, NY

In his apartment in a high-rise doorman building, shared with a roommate and cat on the Upper West Side. A Batman rug is outside the door to his room; inside, large computers for graphic design dominate the space. The walls are covered in artwork – his own and his dad’s. He arrives late with a sandwich in a bag, explaining he was out last night until 5 a.m.

Remember that show, “Thirtysomething”? What a depressing show that was. Thank God life isn’t like that, right? I mean, they were all just so messed up! [Laughs.] My perception was, “Wow. Being 30’s gonna suck. You’re old.” I think girls in general are more worried about it than guys. Then again, I’ve talked to guys who are like: “Oh my God, I’m 30!” [Claps.] The reality is, I have no problem with it. I like being 30. Thirty was a f—kin’ good year.

I feel like my life is just beginning. A lot more to it. I’m in a better place, more secure in myself. When you get older, I think your eyes just open more. I know where I’m going in my career. I mean the partying in the 20s, that was fun. But kind of growing out of that, too. A lot of people are like, “Oh, I’m so scared of slowing down.” I don’t think I’m slowing down, but it’s a healthier pace now.

Nothing special happened on my 30th birthday. I woke up that day; I went to work; I went to the gym – as a 30-year-old. We went to a stupid bar; there’s like 22-year-olds running around. For 31 coming up, I’m going to make dinner reservations at a place that’s nice and do something I want to do. Take control.

My 20s were a rollercoaster: It was fun, it wasn’t fun, one test after another. I got involved in some situations that didn’t work out, but they did teach me the lessons I needed to learn. Thirty was realising that everything that I went through, and all that crap, got me here.

I didn’t think this was going to be where I was going to be

I didn’t know where I was going to be, but I’m glad this is where I am. Advertising’s a little too clean, but it’s going to give me the financial security I need to do other things when I’m 40. I’d like to make the money out of it.

Now that I’m 30, it’s important for me professionally to get to a pinnacle. It probably will take the rest of my 30s to get to that point. Thirty-five, I’ll be creative director. By 35, I want to master this industry. And then at 40 will come my next reevaluation: Do I stay in this industry or do I start something else?

Joe Tocci artCourtesy of Joe TocciArtwork by Joe Tocci.

My dream would be to open up my own gallery. If it was a perfect world, I would be able to just paint for the rest of my life. But that’s the starving artist lifestyle, and I ain’t dealin’ with that. So the more the money comes, the more I’ll be able to develop my own art to start becoming another source of financial security. And the money is finally coming. It was definitely a conscious decision that money is important. Money brings security, because without money, smaller things become bigger. Money can’t buy you everything, but sure as hell sucks when it’s not there.

I used to get mad at my friends for not wanting to go out every night

I’d be like, “What the f—‘s the matter with you?” [Laughs.] “There’s girls out!” I used to club, but that’s way back in the days. I’m not partying ’til five in the morning every night of my life. Once in a blue moon that happens now. I don’t like how it makes my body feel anymore, and I don’t see the need for it. I have no problem sitting at home weekends at a time now. It’s just knowing when to put things down.

I know tons of girls who say, “How are you single?” And I tell them, “Well, I should ask you that.” Get with it, girls! I’m a friggin’ normal person, you know? I have the good job, I have everything. There’s been a couple girls here and there, just hasn’t been that connection yet. Couple … almosts. Sometimes I get worried because after a date’s done I’m like [claps] I don’t need to see this person again.

Dating scene in general is annoying. I hate it. It seems like it’s more of a schedule instead of a “Wow! We’re really interested in each other.” It’s like, “Wow! Maybe two Tuesdays from now we can get together again.” Yeah well two Tuesdays from now, I’m not even gonna remember what the hell happened on the first date.

I’ll even admit I tried an online thing once. I don’t think I could do it again because talk about weird, it’s weird. I’ve met a couple people and it’s like, “Where’d you get that picture? Doesn’t look like you!” I mean I’m not shallow, but it is physical and stuff like that. I don’t know, it’s like it’s forcing something that shouldn’t be forced. I’ll leave it to the old-fashioned way.

It’d be nice to meet someone substantial

Not to sound cliché, but I don’t want to settle. The next serious relationship I’m in is probably going to be my wife. More marriages end up in misery than happiness, so maybe that’s why I’m fickle. There’s no sense of urgency. I don’t even know if I will, but I hope that it does happen. I’m one of those people who does want to start a family eventually.

I want kids – that I could see having a sense of urgency for. It’s part of life. When you’re gone, what do you have left? Your kids are more about what you’ve worked for than your paycheck or anything else. Two people in a marriage without a family? It seems like it’d be hard. Without kids, it will just be you in a rocking chair and me in my chair watching TV.

I think a lofty expectation we all had when we were younger was that 30 would be the culmination of the American Dream

But now that I’m 30, I don’t feel I’m by any means at the pinnacle of where everything is coming together like that. It’s getting there, but I think we’ve realised that 30 really isn’t 30 anymore. I feel like 30’s the new 20, so I’m willing to give it more time.

Joe TocciCourtesy of Robin MadellJoe Tocci.

I think I’ll feel like I’ve gotten there when I have a house, and a dog, and a yard. I know what it would take to get a down payment and I’m about … a third of the way there? I want the whole white picket fence thing. I want the kids, I want the wife, and I want them to be happy, so that’s where the financial security comes in. That to me, whatever age that is at? And I hope it’s within the next five years? I think that will be my American Dream.

Mentally, I feel 30; physically 20. I’ve always been active so I don’t believe being 30 should be a reason to stop. I’m in almost the best shape I’ve ever been in besides when I was playing football. Except for my knee – the knee’s like 80! [Laughs.] Once my health starts bothering me, I think my age is going to mean more. There’s little hints I am older, some physical baggage. Got a couple grays showing already, so it’s comin’. I hope when stuff starts sagging it doesn’t matter because I have a family. Hopefully by then I’m in a house with kids running around, and my love for my wife’s so established that it’s deeper than the physical connection we had in the beginning – loves me for who I am and all that other crap. I’ll do my best to stay presentable. That’s all you can do! But it’s gonna suck.

I’m lucky that I’m still able to be as active as I am for being 30. I started working out when I was 17 and I haven’t ever stopped. But on the ski mountain when I was 20 and reckless, there was no mental block, so I would go for it. Meaning anything. Jumping off cliffs, jumping out of –anything. [Claps.] Like I would do it. When you’re 30, you’re like, “Oh!” Takes me a while to recover from anything now. I don’t ski as hard as I used to. You think too much. If my knee gives out, it’s gonna be bad. It’s a lot more maintenance now, too. When I was 18? Eat McDonald’s for lunch – blurhahah! [Makes sound of food inhalation.] Go and play football. Eat McDonald’s for dinner – blhuraha! I was 165 pounds, everything was like set. Nothing ever changed, you know? And it’s just changed. I hate it. But I try and work within my constraints now. Don’t eat McDonald’s anymore. This is a battle. [Slaps stomach a few times.] I see it. It grows; it expands. I’ve got to stop eating so much pasta. [Laughs.]

My parents are starting to get old

That bugs me. It’s weird when your parents become grandparents, you see them doing things the right way the second time around. But then on the inverse, I see my sister turning into a mother and doing things reactionary. Kind of like a baton was like passed. My sister’s like, “Why’d mum do things this way?” And I say to her, “Well, now you’re doing things that way.” And you know who’s not doing things that way? My mum – she does things with ease now. It’s funny watching it. I believe in “generation evolution.” Our parents did things the best that they could, and if you went back to their parents, the dysfunction was greater. Improve upon what you think is wrong, but realise it’s easier when you’re talking about it as a plan. As soon as the “oh s—s” start happening and everything else? You’re gonna start really understanding what mum and dad were doing.

I think this generation of people in their 30s are a lot different than even our parents’ generation. An older generation’s 30 seemed to be like, “Alright, I have a family. I’m stagnant.” Whereas now, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think 30’s the new confident person. I think middle age is more where you are in your life than your actual age. Thirty being the new 20 means we’re taking more time in making sure that our life starts before we settle down.

People shouldn’t be getting married in their 20s. I think that was the downfall of the last generation. Our generation’s not going to die as young, so 30-year-olds who are still single and actually comfortable with themselves now? Two comfortable people can come together, and their life is probably going to be more comfortable. It makes a difference where you are in your life when you start somebody else’s life.

I think I’ve done a lot for only being 30

When you look at yourself and compare to where other people are, I’m alright. I’m doing more than most people my age. I’m ahead of the game for this stage in my life. I do believe I’m making a mark in my industry, and I think by the time I’m done, I’m going to make a pretty big impact in it. I’m only 30 now. Being a professor is probably the next step; try to start getting my Master’s degree mid-40s. Maybe get a little scruffier. Buy a loft somewhere with money that I’ve invested, and just get back in the dirty side of art.

I’m healthy. My family’s healthy. I’m happy. But while everything’s good, you’ve just got to remember there’s always shit that happens. We’re going to lose everything in the end, and that’s something that you recognise in your 30s.

When my grandmother was passing away, she’s like, “Be careful who you marry. Don’t be afraid to be single, because you’re happy. Don’t think you have to change things to find happiness if you’re already there.”

I’m just trying to live my life right. As long as I feel good about what I’m doing, I feel like I’m on the right road. Sometimes people don’t do small things because it doesn’t give them something in return right away. I believe if you keep giving good stuff out, the same thing will return, like 10 years from now probably.

If I thought I had everything figured out, that to me would mean I’m more stagnant than anything else

I’m searching for something but I don’t know what it is. There are still voids in my life where I feel like I’m missing things, which I believe is family – my own. I’m searching for an answer to what’s the key element that’s missing there. There’s something keeping me from it.

I always wanted to play the drums when I was a little kid, and I got handed a trumpet, you know? So now I’m like, f— that. I can still do the drums. I’d like to leave at least one piece of my artwork. Be nice to recognise – “Oh. Joe Tocci did that.” I want to travel the world, just see it. But I’m not going to get up, drop everything. It will be over the span of time. Slowly, it will happen.

You’re never free of your issues. You know how to handle them better, but they’re still there. I’ve found the same lessons in front of me until I learn not to do the same damn thing. I’ll be reminded, no matter how many years pass, if I start showing signs of the same weakness.

I have this to signify the changes. [Pulls his blue and white football jersey over his head to reveal a large dragon tattoo across his ribcage.] It marks the fact that I’ve gone from my 20s’ turmoil to putting demons to rest. It’s on the most vulnerable part of the body to remind me that although I’ve overcome that, it’s still part of me.

8x10JoeCourtesy of Joe TocciJoe Tocci’s tattoo.

I used to be the up-in-arms guy, but through time I’m a lot more mellow. With the curveballs that get thrown you handle them better relaxed. The more you fight it, the more it’s going to happen. Just learn to breathe, you know? Let it happen. It will pass. Once it does, you can look back and figure out why it happened, or learn to pull something positive out. It changes from “Why is this happening?” to “This obviously had to happen.”

The decade of my 20s was a lot of life lessons. Hard ones. Moving to New York in my late 20s was my metamorphosis stage. It made me get a lot of things straightened out in my head. I carried a lot of baggage with me. My 30s I’m kind of whew – leveled off. A lot of the baggage dissipates.

Postscript

Less than a month later, Joe left his job and recent promotion to join another advertising agency for a $US40,000 salary increase: “It was a tough decision, hope I made the right one. I know I won’t stay in this industry forever, so while I am here I will make as much money as possible.”

A year into the new position, he reported it was “still going well”: “Starting my own agency at some point is a realistic option. The other is walking away from it completely to pursue something else. Who knows what the future will hold? My plans are always fluid.”

A new romance started, and fizzled six months later: “I find myself back on the market. Nothing too much to elaborate, as some things should remain unpublished!”

And a “kick in the a– reminder” of mortality: His dad had triple bypass surgery. “Perhaps it is time for me to make healthier choices. But more important than that, it’s a reminder to enjoy family on every level, as we will one day be without the people we love the most.”

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