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Fishing columnist Luke Ovgard confronts the existential dread of his 30th birthday

Dr. Professor (not his real name) sat down next to me and my friend Casey Torres. The class was essentially a field trip for credit, and given that it was before my policy to always pack a fishing rod when I traveled, I was forced to just look wistfully at the lake out the window of the cafe/bar/motel in the one-horse town.

Dr. Professor also looked wistful. That could've been his third beer, but it felt like something deeper.

"Boys," he said, "I've lived a rich life. Full of adventure."

COURTESY PHOTO - Luke OvgardHe wasn't wrong. The man was quirky but accomplished, having lived out an enviable life in education akin to Indiana Jones — albeit with less snakes and Nazis. Some snakes and Nazis, mind you, just less.

As he finished his next beer, he went on to tell us in uncharacteristically personal fashion how he'd never married or had children and though he "loved the life he'd lived," he wished he "could've found someone to share it with."

Now, I've stayed in touch with several of my professors, but Dr. Professor isn't one of them. In fact, this may have been our last conversation. Though we had this talk eight or nine years ago, I've never forgotten it, and it has become ever more real in the death throes of my 20s.


How do you prepare for an existential crisis?

One of the milestones of my life is just days away, and I'm not ready. I've known it was coming for years, so I have no excuse, but I'm dreading it nonetheless. As those around me fell prey to the inevitable, I lived in this fantasy world where I thought I could stay immune to the realities of human existence and never have to face this horrible day.

Unless the world ends before then, my world ends next week when I turn 30.


Some of you are laughing, thinking "I'd love to be 30 again," and given that my average reader is over 50, your irritation is justified.

The 29, 39, 49, 59 and 69 age milestones are triggers for many people, leading to marriage and divorce, parenthood, career changes, new vehicles, buying and selling real estate, business ventures, new hobbies, attempts to get healthy and last-ditch attempts at life goals.

It's why people are most likely to run a marathon at a "milestone age" according to — that inexplicable need to come to terms with aging.

Each new decade of existence brings with it a crate of expectations, comparisons and reflections. With social media serving as a mirror to show you what your life is in relation to all of your friends and family, 30 might be the most polarizing age milestone because it carries a relentless series of incredibly weighty yes or no questions.

Are you married? Engaged? In a relationship?

Do you have kids?

Do you still have your hair?

Have you gained weight?

Have you had friends from high school die yet?

Do you own a home? Have a career?

The list goes on and on.

By 30, you've accepted your mortality just enough that you realize time is your most valuable resource and desperately wish for more.

There are three common courses people have taken at this point, with a focus on either (1) family, (2) career or (3) fun. I used the term "fun" to encompass those things we'd perceive as positive pursuits such as travel, self-enrichment and hobbies, but it can just as easily include the self-destructive partiers who never outgrew their fraternity or sorority lifestyle.

Obviously, I chose (3), with no Greek letters.

I have a career and seven years towards a pension, but I'm not a careerist. I enjoy my work, but it has never defined me nor been my driving force. Most of my friends are successful — or at least gainfully employed — but none are among the self-made wealthy. I have no millionaire same-age peers (yet), so that makes this comparator unthreatening.

Though I'm close with my parents and siblings, we both know that's not what (1) refers to. This is the one that, on the cusp of 30, I fret about.

When the weather is poor or the fish aren't biting, I wonder if I should spend more time working towards (1). Admittedly, I'm not sure if I want kids, but I would like to find love someday.

My Tinder bio currently reads "Dating Season ended in March when Fishing Season began. Check back in November," but if I want to change the fact that I'm the only person in my graduating class who hasn't made any progress towards (1), well, maybe I should change that before I end up like Dr. Professor after another 30 years of incredibly fulfilling fishing experiences with no one to share them with...

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