Turning 30


Today is my 30th birthday.


Ten years ago–with college to finish, legal drinking still in my future, and no idea what I was going to do with my life–30 seemed like a remote, hazy, unfathomably distant milestone. The whole world of possibilities was still ahead of me. If you had asked me on the eve of my twentieth birthday, I probably would have said that I planned to continue on to a music conservatory like Juilliard or Eastman to further my training in music composition. And then onward to become a professional composer, underpaid and unappreciated, but immersed in my art.


Or maybe I’d become a film maker. Or a professional trombonist. Or an historian. Or a novelist and writer of short stories.


(Hey, in a way, I guess I sort of have become a short story author…)


A part of feels incredibly nostalgic (and a little sad) remembering this time in my life when anything was possible and my whole future was ahead of me.


It’s a clichΓ© often cited that “I don’t know where the time has gone.” Or “It feels like just yesterday that I was 20.” And part of me feels like that’s true, but at the same time I wonder if it’s just the novelty every human feels in realizing that a decade has passed by. Most of the memories of ten years ago are cloudy and distant, save the handful of now-romanticized stories and relationships which become the oral history of one’s life.


At the same time, I feel incredibly lucky to have had the past decade. I graduated college, despite my terrible grasp of the German language nearly causing me to flunk the foreign language fluency requirement. I’ve experienced the grown-up pride of having my own apartment and then, later, of buying my first house. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to interesting places around the world, both as part of my job and outside of work. I bought a car, and then eight years later, another one! Yet, surprisingly, I’ve survived my first thirty years without getting a speeding ticket, moving violation, or being summoned for jury duty. (Crossing my fingers for another thirty years of that!)



Nothing says celebration like a well-crafted piece of Clip Art


I’m fortunate to have ended up working at Microsoft doing a job that I love. I have been accused of being a workaholic, but it’s not because I love working in general–it’s because I love the work that I do. It’s surreal to me now that I’m here helping to reinvent the user interface of programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook of which I myself was a user early in my life. The most fun part of working on Office is that you impact so many people; while it does mean that because of my blog I’ve been called “stupid” and “an idiot” on the Internet in a number of languages, it also has meant opportunities to meet and correspond with fascinating people around the world who use our software to do amazing things. That reach is immensely satisfying to me.


I spent my sophomore year in college working in the Yale Law Library for $6.15/hour. I reported at 7:30am each morning and drove a manually-operated elevator down six stories into the below-ground subbasement. It was about 120 degrees down there, and my job was to open cardboard boxes of dirty, dusty, parched legal briefs and to shelve them somewhere in the dark, hot, grimy underground stacks. If I finished early, my reward was to come upstairs to photocopy books a page at a time for law professors who wanted to read them without buying them.


Despite the meager income from this terrible job, I remember being ticked off at the Shawmut Bank ATM because the minimum you could withdraw was $10 and I had a total balance of like $5.83. Needless to say, I understand the value of having a job worth getting up and doing.


The best part of my 20’s: I was so fortunate to find a beautiful, caring, amazing woman who became my wife. She also happens to be the smartest person I know (and one of the best trombonists as well!) As important to me as the great companionship and the love that we have for one another is that she inspires me to be a better person in every facet of my life and work. I am so lucky to have found her.


So, while I’ve done many things and had many experiences I’m proud of in my 20’s, I’m feeling melancholy thinking about everything I didn’t do and won’t have a chance to do again. I think I’ve started to internalize only recently how finite our time on Earth is, even if you’re lucky enough to live a long life. There’s so much more I want to accomplish in my life and in my career, and it feels like I’m already behind.


I remember a decade ago thinking 30 was old. Now I’m 30. Am I now on the inevitable downslope towards oblivion?


My grandma, in her beautiful, eternal optimism used to say “you’re only as old as you think.” I didn’t understand what she was saying when I was a kid but the words are finally starting to have meaning for me. Back in elementary school, when I complained about homework and having to mow the lawn, my dad used to say “I wish I could be your age again.” That didn’t make any sense to me at the time–he had the freedom to do what he wanted with no one to tell him what to do. But while I truly don’t think I would want to be 13 again, I do for the first time understand and feel the impulse of wishing I could turn back the clock.


Still, life stands still for no one, and trillions of people have successfully and gracefully turned 30 before me. So “ever forward,” as they say. No regrets about my 20’s, but I’m ready to hit my 30’s full-throttle.

Comments (58)

  1. [ICR] says:

    Happy Birthday. I hope I am as happy as you on my 30th. My most congratulations on having found a wonderful partner to share your life with, that’s the most important part in my eyes.

  2. Old Geezer says:

    Gee — Already nostalgic at the age of 30. What will happen at 40?

    Happy Birthday, and continue the great work you’re doing.

  3. Dominic Self says:

    Happy Birthday πŸ˜€ Remember to take a well deserved break from work to celebrate it!

    (Oh, and legal drinking at 21? That’s crazy…)

  4. Daren Thomas says:

    Happy Birthday. I guess "You’re only as old as you feel" is implicitly true, since as life goes on, you feal older and older πŸ™‚

    My wife hit 30 a few years ago and said it was a rather hard transistion! A lot harder than she expected, 31 was easy in comparison…

    Ah well, in 2010 I’ll be there too…

  5. Chris Letts says:

    30 ? 40? It all turns a bit sour at around 45, when you realise that it’s just about impossible to get another job if you get fed up with your current one, or (as in my case) your software company closes down.

  6. jhowey says:

    Happy same birthday.. today is my 22nd bday as well.

  7. Dave says:

    Happy birthday Jensen. This is the first blog I read each day.

    Now turned 57.

  8. Francis says:

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch aus Deutschland!

    (If it’s any consolation, I had estimated your age, based on your writing, at 29. πŸ™‚

  9. Tim says:

    Were you a Yalie, or just living in New Haven? I’m ES ’06…

  10. Patrick Schmid says:

    Happy Birthday Jensen!

  11. Nate says:

    Heh; I’m turning 30 today as well… good day isn’t it!

  12. Don Mills says:

    I turned 51 this past December. :=| It seems like only yesterday that I was a student in the School of Architecture at Univ. of TN (class o’ 1978). I’ve said the same thing to my kids, about advising them to enjoy the time now (Christopher’s 20 and Sarah’s 17). There’s a lifetime to be an adult. I know about 30 seeming really old. Then came 40, no 50. Still young!!! I enjoy architecture, working with computers and software and database design, helping others understand what they’re doing or trying to do with their applications, etc. There’s always new ‘stuff’ to learn, teach, to realize I don’t know it all. And that’s good. What a bore life would be if you DID know it all.

    What I’m saying is, remember where you’ve been, enjoy where you are, and look forward to new and exciting possibilities to come. Your wife’s a lucky person, as you are for her!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

    ps Thanks for this RSS and all. It’s really fun to have a peep hole into what’s happening.

  13. A User says:

    I am laughing over here. Youth is wasted on the young. Enjoy it Jensen. May you have a long way yet to go.

  14. Happy birthday!

    30 is a great milestone year:  old enough to avoid repeating the mistakes of one’s 20s, yet young enough to still take some risks with the confidence that you have plenty of time to bounce back if it all falls apart. πŸ™‚

    For myself and most people I know, the 30s are the most liberating and exciting decade — I hope they are for you as well.

  15. Mike Shaffer says:

    Happy Birthday Jensen! – your RSS ping is the first I read everyday.  Just remember to do all the stuff you can now, because when you’re 40 (I just turned 44, yikes!) you’ll really regret it…maybe your kids will be in high school (like mine) and your flexibility will be more limited now (house, job, kids in college, retirement)…suddenly bagging it all and traveling sounds like a blast but we can’t.  Wish we had when we were 20ish, which you still are!  Best of luck!

  16. jensenh says:

    Thanks for the kind words everyone.  I think writing the post was good therapy.

    And happy birthday to Nate and everyone who shares today as well.

  17. Happy Birthday! For myself and most people I know, 30 was better than 29 … 31 better than thirty, and so on. At 38, I can confidently say that the 30s are so much better than the 20s. And, my friends who are a bit further than me tell me that the 40s are even better … I believe them.  You’re nowhere near the top of the slope just yet! Keep enjoying the trip πŸ™‚

  18. jensenh says:

    Tim:

    Yep, PC ’98.  It’s funny how even 30 years later, people still identify first with their residential college.  I guess that makes it a "sticky" system. πŸ™‚

  19. Joe Infinity says:

    Jensen,

    I’m 24, I’ve been a developer for 3 years, and among other things, I’m in charge of designing, building and maintaining the user interface for my company’s software (it’s a cheifly independent program, but with a Word add-in component). Your blogs are interesting, informative, and inspiring. Without wanting to gush TOO much, you inspire me. Just wanted you to know that. Thanks.

    Happy birthday,

    Joe

    PS, What happen to Savraj? It’s been a while since we had a developer blog.

  20. Chris Graham says:

    Happy Birthday Jensen.

    You will probably kill me for thinking this, but I thought you were 30 a long time ago. (maybe even before I started at MS)  You are a smart guy and things are obviously going well for you, I just thought you were a little older.  Great blog.

    Take care.  Say hi to ClaySatt and HankLe for me.

    I still have another year or so before I turn 30.  

    BTW: Where did Information Rights Management fit into the ribbon?

  21. I think the nice thing about being in your 30s is that all of your really, really dumb mistakes are behind you, and the "really great" moments are ahead of you. Have a "really great" birthday!

  22. Abigail says:

    "I think the nice thing about being in your 30s is that all of your really, really dumb mistakes are behind you."

    So true, Rafael! I have a few more years to go before I hit 30, but I’m already glad to have made it through college!

    Jensen, that was a lovely post! Very introspective. But remember, it really is never too late. My mom is just going back to school for her Ph.D. and she just turned…umm… <math is not my strong suit> 53. πŸ™‚

  23. Jonatan says:

    Happy birthday!

  24. Happy Birthday Jensen!

  25. LGFN says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

    Stay happy and healthy till the end!!! (not in the near future πŸ™‚ )

    and BTW Happy Birthday for jhavey and Nate!!!

    6:18 PM 6/29/2006

  26. From where I am at 46, 30 seems very young.  I had a wild ride in my 30’s, and my 40’s are turning out the best of all the years so far.  I’m hoping to stay creative for at least another 40 years.  You’ve got a lot still ahead of you, even though it will seem to go faster every year.

    Happy Birthday!

  27. Happy birthday! I hadn’t really given a thought to your age but wouldn’t have guessed you were so young. I grew up in the era when we were told never to trust anyone over 30, but I’ve been untrustworthy for over 30 years now, so I guess that’s old-hat. I can tell you that 60 is the new 50, and 50 is the new 40, so it follows that 40 is the new 30; I don’t know what that makes 30, though. My life really began at 50, so definitely don’t think you’ve hit a downhill slope!

    Wrt colleges, my brother also graduated from Yale (Ezra Stiles ’77, and his campus job was also in a library), and, even though he got his master’s at Harvard, he was disappointed when my daughter (whose birth coincided with his graduation) chose Harvard over Yale. I must say, though, that as a freshman in 1995, she was making $8 an hour as a barista at the Seattle’s Best Coffee bar in the Science Center there, so there must have been some advantages. <g>

    Wrt blogs, this is the *only* one I read, and I’m disappointed every day there’s not a new installment.

  28. Ben R. says:

    Happy birthday! I’m 26, and it’s inspiring to think that someone only four years older than me is playing such a major role in radically changing something millions of people spend hours staring at every day.

  29. Wes Haggard says:

    Happy 30th! How many people share my birthdate??? I turned 28 today, yep 2 more years until I hit the big 30… just think in 2 more years you will be 20 again (0x20 at least).

    Take care,

    Wes (Outlook Dev, yep I hear I just missed your move from Outlook but your legacy still stays)

  30. Philip J. Rayment says:

    Happy birthday.  It’s an anniversary of sorts for me to–I got my first computer the day you turned four!

  31. Ben C. Kirk says:

    Happy Birthday Jensen!

    Don’t worry, I think 30 is simply the beginning of true adulthood. And whilst in adulthood one has many responsibilities that doesn’t mean that one can’t have fun.

    At 20 I didn’t have MY beautiful wife, my beautiful daughter, and a house I could call my own, but at 30 I did. And now, at 36, I have more fun than I ever did at 20.

    I, like you, have also found a job that I love (which, incidentally, is directly impacted by you and the rest of the Microsoft Office team – I’m an IT trainer).

    Unfortunately, things aren’t always rosy as one gets older. For example, there is now another MS in my life: my wife was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. But – despite that, we make the most of our lives, especially our daughter who truly makes life worth living.

    Hmmm… by the time she starts her working career, the Ribbon will probably be old hat!

  32. jensenh says:

    Thanks for the great birthday wishes everyone.

    It’s reassuring to hear all of the perspectives, and amazing that people of ages from 17 to 70 read the blog!  Technology is definitely an equalizer.

  33. Jan Kucera says:

    Let me join other’s wishes and happy birthday to Jensen from Prague as well! πŸ˜‰

    I was 20 last year and as I read through all the comments (btw. this is the first blog I read, and the only I read every day) it seems to me that not everything is lost yet! πŸ™‚

    Jensen – if you love your work as I think I would love at Microsoft, just do it. You’re doing great work for everybody out there.

    PS: I didn’t think you were much older. πŸ˜‰

  34. Henrik Bakken says:

    Congratulations from Oslo, Norway πŸ™‚

    Enjoy reading your blog, keep on the good work after a long birthday party!

  35. Massif says:

    Ah, you Americans and your crazy drink laws. When I hit 20 I’d been legally drinking in pubs for two years, and illegally drinking for a fair few more.

    Congratulations on your birthday.

    PS: – don’t let your employers know you enjoy your work too much, they might try to get away with paying you less πŸ™‚

  36. Andrej says:

    Happy birthay! Good blog, I enjoy reading it. πŸ™‚

  37. geoff says:

    happy birthday mate. Glad to hear you are appreciative of the time you’ve had, and the time you’ll receive to come.

  38. juergen says:

    ideas for a special person.

    ever tried their method of idea generation?

    http://www.brainstore.com

    possible questions:

    – how could you celebrate an unusual birthday

    – how does the Office UI 2015 look like?

    juergen

  39. Happy Birthday!

    I turn 30 this year… kind of looking forward to it.

  40. Donald Mills says:

    I agree with one of your readers about reading your blog almost daily. Thanks for letting us be a part of this ‘thing’ called Microsoft. Pretty cool really. And folks from around the world chatting like old friends. VERY cool.

    Jensen, sorry in advance for wordiness. If you will allow me a moment to ‘speak’ to one of the writers above…

    To Ben Kirk, I couldn’t help but notice that your wife was recently diagnosed with MS. I was in Sep 04. If it’s been very recently for you wife, I imagine you both are scared. I started treatment (Avonex) immediately upon diagnosis and practically all symptoms are ‘gone’ (I guess remitted). Still have a little mobility issue (right foot points down relentlessly, built-in tripping hazard), but apart from that, doing extremely well. I don’t hurt at all, so I am very thakjful. Don’t know what your wife’s situation is, but just know that starting treatment immediately, and your support and both of you having a positive attitude are crucial. As you can see, I could wax on and on. My wife’s and my prayers are with you both! Literally, keep on keeping on…

  41. Chrix says:

    Happy Birthday Jensen!

  42. Nidonocu says:

    W00ts! Happy Birthday! πŸ™‚ Hope your cake comes with a Ribbon around it, Colour themable candles and a QAT (Quick Access TotheBar). πŸ˜‰

  43. yalie says:

    Somewhere Armin Westerhof is smiling in his green jeans…

  44. jensenh says:

    Armin Westerhoff is spelled with two F’s…

    …one for the midterm and one for the final grade.

  45. dad says:

    mom,maddie,carr,and I hope you and lynne are safe and that you had fun on your birthday.you’ll always be in our thoughts.  

    dad

  46. Bill Smith says:

    Trillions?

    I think not.

    Do the math.

    Happy Birthday.

  47. Stefan KZVB says:

    I’m sorry I’m late. But better late than never:

    * * * Happy Birthday, Jensen! * * *

  48. CuteDBM says:

    Happy Birthday JENSEN!

  49. Happy Birthday yougster!  πŸ˜‰

  50. sharon says:

    my boyfriend is turning 29 soon… and i am lost about what to do for him. every idea i can think of seems dumb…i was thinkin about doing a birthday at speedzone (miniature golf, go kart venue)… but it just seemed something a kid would do… he’s gettin older… i wanna do something with more taste.

    HELP!!

  51. Today is my 30th birthday. Ten years ago–with college to finish, legal drinking still in my future, and no idea what I was going to do with my life–30 seemed like a remote, hazy, unfathomably distant milestone. The whole world of possibilities was stil