I just turned 30, and the rumours are true: life just became a whole lot clearer.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I’d often hear my mother say “life begins at 30”. Not once did I believe her…
Turns out you were right (again), mom!
Last year was undoubtedly one of the worst years of my life – 29 was one hell of an emotional ride. Why? I think it was because I spent so much time fixated on what I hadn’t achieved. With the dreaded 30 looming around the corner, I began critically analysing every single, tiny little detail of my life.
I agonised over the things I hadn’t achieved (and other negatives):
- I didn’t have a university degree yet
- I didn’t have children
- I didn’t look 20 anymore
- I wasn’t excelling in my career
- I wasn’t excelling in my marriage
- I had no time for my hobbies
- I spent anywhere from two to four hours stuck in traffic
- I was drowning in debt to pay for a house which turned out to be a terrible investment
Those all seemed like very real problems.
Accepting your reality is extremely liberating
The day I turned 30, a funny thing happened: I still felt exactly the same as I did the day before. Nothing had changed. There was no one pointing fingers and laughing at me for all the things I hadn’t done. I didn’t wake up with any more wrinkles and grey hair. I got up, showered and brushed my teeth, got dressed, went to work, and life continued as normal. What witchery was this?
The following day, the same thing happened. However, I was starting to feel relief – it was over, my 30th birthday had come and gone.
What I thought life would look like at 30
I was an exceptionally ambitious child. At four or five years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
I was going to be a vet. I was going to save animals’ lives every single day. I was going to live on a game farm and, just like Doctor Dolittle, I would be able to speak to wildlife. My game farm would have a resident leopard who, although naturally a predator, would be my best friend. I would have a husband and family just like my own family, and we’d like happily ever after.
Disappointingly, my supernatural ability to converse with animals never developed. I know, right? How miserably unfair, damn you Doctor Dolittle!
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal. My childhood was one of the happiest, most normal childhoods one could imagine. I lived in a cul-de-sac which backed on to a huge, open plot of land. The properties, although humble in size, had very generous gardens – filled with trees, flowers and the makings of a fantasy world. We had two dogs and a cat, that I loved with all my heart. Almost every house in the cul-de-sac had children my age – which made up for being an only child. We spent our lives playing in the road, riding our bicycles or invading different parents’ homes. I went to a local, co-ed primary school with amazing teachers and lots of friends, and all in all, I was perfectly content.
I thrived in Maritzburg. Those were the happiest years of my life.
When I was ten, my father was transferred to another city. We sold the house and off we went to start our new life in Durban. This was the beginning of a very long, traumatic period of my life (a chapter I would only close nearly two decades later).
I arrived at my new school (an all girls, private Catholic school) in the middle of the school year. Never a good time to start. My teacher was an older woman, in her mid to late sixties, who should probably already have retired. She was impatient and unkind. The girls were cliquey and I didn’t really fit in. I was a tomboy that grew up climbing trees in a small town where everybody knew everybody. Although Durban wasn’t exactly a big city either, it wasn’t home. I resented the move and struggled to adjust. I acted out in every way, shape and form, and ultimately didn’t do as well as I should have during high school.
This set me back in my early twenties, as I wasn’t able to get in to the universities I would have loved to attend. As it turns out, I’m also highly squeamish and get sick to my stomach at the sight of blood. Needless to say, that was pretty much it for being a vet. Instead, I enrolled to do a BA in fashion design (only to drop out a year later) but that’s a tale for another time. This is not supposed to be a long, drawn out sob story of my less than ideal transition into adulthood.
To keep this brief, I messed around in my teens and early twenties, and spent years playing catch-up to my peers.
I only caught a wake up at 24, when I realised that I wanted to build a life with Steve (my now husband). I was always very creative. I paint, I write and I enjoy photography. I listen to A LOT of music (very loudly) and play multiple instruments. So, it seemed almost natural that I fell into a creative field (even if that field wasn’t fashion design as I’d originally planned).
I ended up pursuing journalism, as writing is my second love (painting being my first – but not a very stable career choice). At 24, I got my first job as a journo, and never looked back. At 25, I enrolled to do my BA in Communication Science part-time (which I completed in June this year – about two weeks after my 30th birthday).
I guess I had a late start and I always felt a bit sensitive about it.
Studying and working full-time was brutal. I lost a lot of friends (as I had no time to socialise), I had many-a-nervous-breakdown and it put tremendous strain on my relationship.
In April 2015, Steve got a job in Johannesburg and we moved city – adding even more stress to the mix. We pretty much lost touch with everyone that was left in our lives, but for my mom and dad, and Steve’s grandmother who all keep in touch regularly.
I guess that happens in life – out of sight, out of mind. We travelled down to Durban several times in our first year here, but that soon put massive strain on our budget. It also meant we couldn’t use our annual leave to do any other holidays or travelling. As a result, it’s been two years since we last visited “home”.
In July 2016, we bought our first home – an apartment in a secure estate. It seemed like a good investment at the time but, six months in, we soon realised we’d made a terrible mistake. It’s been 14 months of endless problems with the developer, causing a massive financial (and emotional) drain. Steve and I can attribute many a grey hair to this little venture of ours.
All of these events led to 2017 (my 29th year) being a very lonely, very hard year.
I found myself in a very negative space, despite having found a wonderful job filled with wonderful people. The beginning of 2018 began with much of the same. I was beginning to lose hope that I’d ever make it through.
I turned 30 on the 23 May 2018
I should have celebrated this milestone, but I didn’t feel much like celebrating anything – especially not getting old. About a week later, once the panic of aging had subsided, it hit me. I had become a pretty miserable human.
I had to do something about it, fast.
So, I took a long hard look at my priorities. Let’s look at that list again:
- I didn’t have a university degree yet – but my last exam would be on the 12th June 2018 (which I passed by the way). I missed my goal of having a degree before 30, so what? Better late than never!
- I don’t have children – I have two cats that depend on me, love me and fill my home with laughter. I may not have “children” in the traditional, socially accepted sense of the term, but that doesn’t mean my home is empty.
- I don’t look 20 anymore – and never will I again, I’ll just have to accept that one.
- I wasn’t excelling in my career – by whose standards? I had been so wrapped up in what other people thought that I forgot what really matters… I’m not a senior, manager or CEO, but I love my job. I don’t wake up dreading Mondays – and that, dear readers, I will count as an achievement.
- I wasn’t excelling in my marriage – I’m never going to be a stay-at-home mom and Stepford wife, that cooks and cleans and looks good 24/7. But Steve never expected that, again, I’m only failing to meet my own, perceived standards.
- I had no time for my hobbies – my mentor taught me time is relative. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make time for it. I’ve now started blocking out “scheduled” down time on my calendar. For the first time in the last seven years, I am actively putting aside time to nurture my soul. Once I finally quit using the “I don’t have time” excuse – I magically found many more hours in a day.
- I spend anywhere from two to four hours stuck in traffic – with a little bit of re-framing (thanks Jenny), I’ve started using this time constructively. That’s two to four hours of time that I get to spend blasting my music, enjoying the scenery and practicing mindfulness. Traffic (in Johannesburg at least) is an unavoidable part of life. We may as well make the most of it.
- I am drowning in debt to pay for a house which turned out to be a terrible investment – but I own a house, I sleep in a comfortable bed, I have sufficient food and water and, so far, we’re able to make ends meet. That’s good enough for me.
I’ve spent so much time chasing extraordinary, that I didn’t sit back and enjoy what I already have.
I have a marriage – it’s not perfect, but we love each other fiercely. I have a home and two furbabies. I love being a writer. I’ll never be a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but I manage to pay the bills doing something I am passionate about. That’s more than enough. I’ve made friends with some amazing souls here in Johannesburg – people that I know care as much about me as I care about them. For the first time since my early childhood, I feel like I fit in somewhere. They’re my weird and wonderful tribe, and Johannesburg has rapidly become home.
I guess one could say I’m living a very ordinary and average life. But, what’s so wrong with average? It may not be the charmed life my four-year-old self planned, or the glamorous life I dreamt of at 18 – I definitely won’t go down in any history books. But I’m finally comfortable with the person I’m becoming.
For the first time in my life, I’m not worried about what other people think of my so-called “achievements” (or lack thereof). All that I’m worried about is living authentically, being happy and sharing that happiness with the people I love.
So, here’s to being thirty. The wisdom is worth the wrinkles and grey hairs!