Do you ever look at people when you find out their age and wonder, how can I possibly be the same age as you?
Most 30 year olds that I know are climbing that famous metaphorical ladder towards their chosen career, halfway to buying a house or creating their nuclear family and maybe halfway down the aisle. I look at these people and feel like a child. I often get told I look younger than 30 but I sometimes wonder if it’s just that I seem younger to people as I cower behind a wall of anxiety with new people; protected in my inner shell that I hide the real me behind. Or, the fact I chucked everything in to travel; a feat most people take on in their early 20s rather than their late 20s.
I am an under-prepared, over-thinking, self-conscious, dis-organised 29 years and 50 weeks year old. I turn 30 years old in two weeks but the truth is, I am still that same scared kid was at 14.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. At 14, I was obnoxious and I thought I knew everything. I had done all the growing up I was ever going to do and no-one could teach me anything.
Ten years ago this week, I had my first age crisis. I had grown up a little between the ages of 14 and 19 and realised that I was lost in the world. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life or where I belonged. I knew I wanted to travel but where and when? Where did I want to study and what? I relied on other people for confirmation, reassurance and decision making; something that I still have a habit of falling back into when in crisis. I remember approaching my 20th with something like fear and dread. 20 years old!? I was too young to not be a teenager anymore! Not ready for life and all it’s responsibilities that it would come to throw at me. How did this happen!? Where was the time going? Most people are more afraid of 30 but not me.
When I was a teenager, I had a life plan: travel at 19/20, meet someone and settle down by 25, married by 28 and kids at 30. Well, I’m 10/11 years late on the plan… kids at 40?! The point is, you can’t plan life. And even though nothing went according to this plan, I had the BEST time in my twenties.
On my 22nd birthday, I stood in my cold, seafront, university bedroom in Aberystwyth and took my first picture of my feet (a seemingly irrelevant act that would become a trend throughout my art and photography even up until the present day – symbolic of my journey that I am on, both in my travels and the wider sphere of life) titled ’22, How Did That Happen?’. For my 22nd I couldn’t celebrate. I spent the day studying for an Art History exam that was scheduled for the day after, which I would ace and would further my passion for the topic.
The years from 22 to the present day have, without a doubt, been my most formative. Friendships new and old, relationships good and bad, new cities, new countries, new music. Jobs, art, opportunities grasped and missed, businesses started and paused and lessons learned. Mental health problems simmering under the surface came to full boiling point after various trigger events and developing the skills to deal with this and manage is still something I am learning every day.
I met a large portion of my best friends in my twenties, and a few who stuck with me from back in the days of hatching this aforementioned life plan. I graduated from university, learnt to harness my creative prowess, lived in a city I am totally in love with, had amazing relationships even though they were not destined to last, was diagnosed with, suffered through and learnt to cope with anxiety and OCD, have partied HARD, started travelling and continued to do so. I have learnt who I am, what makes me, me, what I will put up with and what is not okay. I have learnt the people that are worth the effort and how to say goodbye to those who perhaps, are just meant to be in your life for a fleeting moment; to teach you something, or else just to share in the laughs.
If I could write a letter to my 14 year old self, I would tell myself:
Be more humble, don’t take people for granted, be a good friend. Always listen, don’t gossip but do remember to occasionally put yourself first. Drop everything for those who would do the same for you. Don’t always wear your heart on your sleeve but try your hardest to trust even when that has been broken in the past. Prepare yourself for one hell of a ride; sometimes terrifying and devastating, you’ll want nothing more than to get off, but stick with it, because in the end, you are always learning, always developing and have the best network of people around you that anyone could ever ask for. You will turn into someone you are proud of, even when you flush red in a boardroom meeting and can’t get a simple sentence out. You hate yourself at these times but you will start to learn to embrace this as part of the package that makes you, you. You will turn 30 still not sure of what you want to do with your life in the grand scheme of things but, for the moment, happy to sail along exactly where you are; exploring the world and yourself and eagerly awaiting whatever the next chapter may bring.
It is hard being away from friends and family on my 30th but I feel fortunate to be spending it with the friends I have made on my travels, some of the best. I enter my 30s as a more confident, independent and less anxiety consumed individual. Happy to be where I am today and so excited to see what the next ten years will bring. Who cares if that’s not marriage and kids, for now, I am firmly strapped in on this ride and excited to live every day. Last year I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at a yoga retreat on a silent morning, this year I am camping in the Grampians National Park in Australia. Next year, I will celebrate my 31st in New Zealand somewhere.
Happy Birthday to me! Here’s to the next 30 🙂