Why TikTokers are telling people to normalize starting over in your 30s: 'Don't let society try to trick you into thinking that it's too late'

Thumbnail credit: @bananabonani via TikTok, @val_demort via TikTok, @cbquality via TikTok

On Jan. 15, Emily Bonani (@bananabonani), 30, asked that her TikTok algorithm show her more videos of people who are “just starting over” at 30. While she says her life isn’t “astronomically far off” from where she wants it to be, Bonani also wonders if she’s “too old” to accomplish certain goals she thought she would have achieved at a younger age. Now, TikTok creators in their 30s are taking Bonani up on her request and are sharing their own “starting over” stories.

“I’d just been feeling really paralyzed [and] overwhelmed by my own expectations of what 30 should be and thought it’d be comforting to hear other stories of people starting over at 30,” Bonani told Yahoo News of why she posted her original video. “I think it really helps [to] see a new perspective, especially in a world like TikTok where it can seem like everyone is 25 with everything figured out.”

‘It took another few years and false starts’

Val Valcourt (@val_demort), now a pastry chef in training who lives in France, came into her dream life after quitting her job as an executive assistant at 33. This decision, she told Yahoo News, occurred following her diagnosis of work-induced posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

“I knew something had to change for my own sake,” Valcourt said. “It took another few years and false starts, but the ultimate catalyst to take the leap was when [I got] reprimanded at work and I thought, ‘Well, screw this.’ Why am I killing myself for a job I hate, and what if I trusted myself instead? A week later, I put the deposit down for a pastry school I found in the south of France.”

It’s been a year since Valcourt moved to France. In addition to furthering her fluency in French and knowledge in pastry, she says she’s made friends from around the world and gained a sense of confidence that didn’t exist before — all because she made the “seemingly tiny choice” of trusting herself and her instincts.

“Don’t let society try to trick you into thinking that it’s too late,” Valcourt said in her post.

For Claire Fountain (@cbquality), 38, her adult life didn’t actually “start” until her late 30s. While the licensed psychotherapist and yoga instructor admits to “stumbling” through her 20s, her 30s have been filled with accomplishments, she says, like attending grad school and moving to a new city.

“It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that things started to come together. It was a combination of life experience, healing past traumas and an increased sense of self that helped,” Fountain told Yahoo News.

She added, “Time is going to pass either way, so you might as well go after the things you want to try or experience or that you truly love.”

Why do we think 30 is ‘old’?

According to Tiffany McGee, a social psychologist in Atlanta who is also in her 30s, this decade is a phase in life during which “societal expectations” and “self-imposed pressures” collide. The belief that being 30 is “old,” McGee told Yahoo News, is limiting and dated.

“We grow up with the idea that by 30, life should be ‘settled’ — a stable career, a lasting relationship and a clear direction. Cultural narratives and social media promote this belief so much that it can lead to a sense of urgency to conform to these milestones,” McGee said. “In reality, our 30s can be a time of profound growth and exploration. It’s a decade where many of us have garnered enough life experience to make informed decisions about what truly matters to us.”

How 30 looks for different generations

Jordan Gruenhage, a clinical counselor in Vancouver, British Columbia, who works primarily with LGBTQ clients, also noted that people in their 30s often feel the “sunk-cost fallacy,” which is “the feeling that because you’ve invested time into something already, you can’t do something different, even if you know intellectually that making a change would be beneficial.” This, coupled with a preexisting belief and supposed model of success perpetuated by the previous generation, he says, can contribute to the anxiety of being in one’s 30s.

Data obtained by the BBC further supports Gruenhage’s theory. While “Homeowning Boomers” were in early adulthood at a time of “widespread economic prosperity,” for instance, younger people, including those in their 20s and 30s, are being confronted with a completely different reality that includes soaring housing prices and considerable job instability.

“Many people in their 30s now will have been born in a period where the economic conditions allowed more adults to afford having children in their early 20s. This means that for many people in their 30s now, they will have very clear memories of adults in their late 20s and 30s who owned a home and had established careers,” Gruenhage continued. “The previous generation taught us that we would benefit from continuing on the same path because for them it often was a way to establish further security.”

Bonani now considers the comment section of her video her “favorite comment section ever,” and is grateful that her video, as well as the videos of other creators, are reinforcing the fact that feeling overwhelmed by expectations is a “universal experience.” Ultimately, Bonani added, the best way to combat feeling stuck is to keep moving forward.

“I’ve found that feeling like you’re too old to start over is one of the No. 1 ways this happens. I felt too old at 22. I felt too old at 25. You’re not too old, stop judging yourself, and act on whatever it is you want to do,” she said.