I’m 39 weeks pregnant and we’re a month into living in a new house. I’m huge, exhausted, excited, distracted, anxious… so it’s fair to say my thoughts have been a bit of a jumble of late.
I turn 36 today and it was only when I acknowledged the mental chaos I’m currently experiencing that I realised what I want to say to mark yet another birthday.
And it’s this: The older I get, the better I get at figuring out WHY I feel the way I do. With each year that passes, I gain a little more self-awareness. And that’s more useful than any birthday gift you can wrap.
Becoming a mum has helped a lot. I can’t expect my daughter (or her imminent sibling) to undersand their feelings if I can’t comprehend my own.
I try hard to make time to work out what’s behind my response to situations. Am I tired? Hungry? Feeling inadequate? Intimidated? Distracted by a timetable my daughter has no idea I’m trying to keep us to? So enormously pregnant I fear my stomach may BURST any minute?
Because nobody’s response to anything is just about what’s happening in that moment. There’s always more to it. Our history, our physical and mental wellbeing, our worries, our hopes, our fears… they all play a part. It’s a wonder we get through the day we’re carrying so much invisible weight around.
When I consider where my reaction is coming from, I handle things so much better than when I don’t. And I feel happier with who I am too.
But of course I’ve only learnt this by reflecting on all the times I haven’t managed things so well. I’m a fallible human being so I’ve let my insecurities, bad habits, and misunderstandings get the better of me LOADS of times. And I’ll 100% do it again. Age can’t magically protects us from that. But the better we know ourselves, the better we get at slowing down and seeing things for what they are.
So at least I know why I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. And I try to bear that in mind when I feel like overreacting to the smallest thing. (What do you MEAN the bakery has run out of jam doughnuts?! I NEED ONE.)
I’m about to have a baby and become a mum of two. It’s no surprise that I’m feeling 400 emotions at once.
What I like about being older is my understanding that there’s no point wasting energy fighting tricky feelings. It’s better for all of us if I acknowledge and lean into what’s driving them instead.
Whether it’s the nervousness I feel about the physical turmoil involved with birth and its aftermath, or the desperation I feel to bring our baby into the world safely and do a good job for them and their sister, it’s all OK. I can’t have all these wonderfully grown up experiences without them.
The only promise I can make is that I’ll do my best and keep learning from every high and low that comes our way. I’m confident my 37th year will be filled with plenty of both…
I’m old enough to know that most people don’t give a damn that it’s your birthday. But, seeing as you’re here, I’ll tell you that I just turned 35. *releases single party popper into the ether*
This is the first time in a while that my age has felt significant. I see it written next to other people’s names and think ‘Woah, they must be a REAL grown up.’ And then I see it next to mine – a woman who still can’t let her feet out from under the duvet at night in case a scarecrow bites them – and I realise that’s not necessarily the case.
But that’s fine, I like getting older and being reminded that the idea we’ll have it all sorted out by a particular age is a joke. One thing that is guaranteed though is that the more years you live, you more you learn.
And that’s why for the last six years, the birthday gift I’ve given myself is time to type out the lessons I want to note at this particular point in time. It’s great to have it to look back on. (This was last year’s series of hot takes).
So here’s this year’s big five.
1. Accept your decisions – good and bad – because without them you wouldn’t be where you are
By 35 you’ll have racked up a good few decisions that you look back on and think “What on earth was going through my head when I did that?“ I’ve certainly got a strong number, and while it’s super fun to wake in the night and dwell on my own idiocy, I’ve come to realise that they all form a crucial part of our stories.
If I hadn’t taken that terrible job, or experienced that heartbreak, or had that regrettable hair cut for so many years, life wouldn’t look the way it does now. And I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience I need to keep making better choices.
I think the same rules that apply to your CV apply to life in general – if you can explain what everything you’ve done has taught you, it doesn’t matter if you made a few ill-advised moves along the way.
2. Those moments when you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing often mark the start of something exciting
Just when we thought we knew what we were doing as parents of a toddler, we decided to start potty training.
We kicked off and within minutes I went straight back to feeling like I did when I first became a mum – totally unprepared, out of my depth, and terrified things would never get easier.
But of course they have. I realised as the week went on that I wasn’t just afraid of the messy reality of teaching a little one how to go to the loo, but also of what teaching her this meant. Independence. The more she learns, the less she’ll need me, and that’s a scary prospect for a parent to face. But it’s also essential and, when I remove my hormones from the situation, incredibly exciting.
All of the best decisions I’ve made in my life – going to university, making new friends, starting a relationship with my husband, having our daughter, pursuing the career I want – frightened the life out of me.
But it’s often that fear that proves this is something you really want to do. Because if it was out of the question, you wouldn’t entertain it. But if you’ve gone so far as to let yourself imagine the possibilities, it might just mean you should go for it.
When we go on holiday (remember holidays?) my husband and I have a rule that if we’re umming and ahing about whether to go on a day trip/do an activity, we always do it, because then we can’t regret not trying. And applying that to daily life has helped me a lot. I don’t want to regret not doing things, however scary they may seem.
The ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ feeling doesn’t become any less daunting just because you’re a grown up. But you do at least have enough experience to know that you’ll figure it out before long.
3. The pursuit of perfection will destroy you, so let it go
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that everybody makes mistakes. What matters is that we pick ourselves up, understand what went wrong and what we learnt, move on and do better next time.
It’s a perfectly simple concept for even a two year old to understand, and yet, at 35, I still struggle to remember it.
I’ve been particularly hard on myself recently when I’ve made a mistake or a bad decision. Whether it’s something I’ve done whilst driving, something I’ve said, or a parenting choice that’s backfired, I’ve been giving myself a really hard time about it.
I wonder if the current environment has something to do with it. Life feels more fragile, precious and scary than ever right now, so any false move feels significant while our stress levels are heightened.
I’ve always struggled to forgive myself when my interactions with people haven’t gone exactly as I’d like. Despite numerous attempts to stop caring what other people think, the truth is that the older I get, the more I care. I get so few chances (particularly at the moment) to see or speak to the people I love, it feels like it really matters that it goes perfectly when I do.
But of course we can’t control how things go. The only things we can control – in any situation – are our words and our actions. And there’s a world of other factors that also play a part, so we can only ever do our best.
When it comes to parenting, trying to do a perfect job will not only destroy you, it’ll destroy you before 7.30am. There’s no way anybody doing such an emotional, unpredictable, and exhausting job could get every single element right all the time.
Despite my best efforts I make wrong calls numerous times a day. I also make the right call a fair amount too, but if you think they’re the moments my brain likes to put into a montage to show me when I’m lying awake at 3am then you’ve very much misunderstood the tone of this blog.
But the longer I’m a mum the clearer it becomes that perfection isn’t the goal here. Happiness, safety and good health is. There’s nothing like living through a global pandemic to make you realise that’s more than enough to ask for.
4. Whether you like a feeling or not, at least accept that you’re feeling it
Allow me to share my incredible time saving method.
Instead of beating ourselves up for feeling nervous ahead of a social event, stressed out by a heavy workload, or still scared of the dark at the age of 35, how about we just… accept it’s how we feel. All of a sudden our problems are cut in half as we no longer have self loathing to deal with too. We can focus instead on exploring why we feel this way, and what could help us feel better.
I spend so much time trying to mentally push away feelings that I don’t think I should have. I lose hours feeling ashamed of my fear, frustration, or upset and guess what? It just makes matters worse.
We can’t help the way we feel. The way we respond to each situation is entirely personal. So our time is better spent listening to what that feeling’s trying to tell us, rather than hoping that if we berate it enough for existing it’ll just disappear.
5. I do my best work as a human being when I slow down and think about what I’m doing (don’t we all?)
It’s when I trick myself into believing that everything has to be done in a rush that I make decisions I’ll later regret.
And it’s when I react NOW rather than waiting a few seconds to think, empathise, breathe and then speak that I’ll end up saying something I’ll wish I hadn’t.
Since the world plunged into lockdown, there have been few reasons to rush at all. And though I wish I’d learnt it in different circumstances, the lessons this has taught me about the importance of slowing down are invaluable.
I’m a better mum when I take a moment to consider the world from my daughter’s point of view before responding to her 55th request for a snack before 10am. And I’m a better wife when I stop and think about whether I’m really angry because my husband has forgotten to change a toilet roll, or because I’m tired from living through a global crisis and need to go to bed.
We’re all better people when we try and see the world from other people’s perspectives and consider how our actions could affect others. Right now we’re being shown in the bleakest way possible just how crucial it is that we do.
As I head into my 36th year, I want to keep all of this in mind. To be more empathetic. To make good, thoughtful decisions. And to be kind to myself when I inevitably slip up and learn more lessons along the way.
I’ll look forward to telling you all about them when my birthday comes around again next year. Thanks for reading.
Every year to mark my birthday, I write a list of lessons I’ve learnt or things I want to say at this point in time. It’s a therapeutic ritual and I recommend it.
So here are 34 things I know about myself and the world now I’m 34 – yet another age that doesn’t feel anywhere near as old as I thought it would…
1. I know that when I sit on the sofa with a drink at my feet and think “I’ll definitely remember that’s there, there’s no way I’ll spill it,” what I’m really saying is: “I look forward to kicking that all over everything in a few minutes.”
2. I know that cheesecake is the world’s most overrated food and I do not apologise for this opinion.
3. I know that there is one person in every group of friends who is in charge of organising get-togethers and who LOVES to complain about how nobody else ever does it and then FREAKS OUT if anybody else ever tries. And hello, yes, that’s me.
4. I know that a solo trip to the cinema is one of the greatest gifts a person can give themselves and I’m just sorry I didn’t realise it sooner.
5. I know that the more energy I put into trying to make somebody like me, the less I will end up liking myself.
6. I know that periods can be a painful, inconvenient nightmare, but there is something undeniably joyful about selecting your biggest, most comfortable knickers to get you through those first, bloated hours.
7. I know that one of the things I find scariest about being a parent is the amount for which your children will forgive you.
8. I know that there’s a huge difference between someone who wants you, and someone who wants you to want them, and that unfortunately it’s not always until you’ve experienced the former that you can recognise the latter.
9. I know that splitting the backside of my favourite pair of jeans open taught me this about clothing: Just because you can do something up, it doesn’t mean it fits.
10. I know that realising I’d done the above just seconds before I left the house to go to brunch taught me you should ALWAYS CHECK YOUR REAR VIEW BEFORE STEPPING OUTSIDE.
11. I know that I sometimes absentmindedly rest my hand on my stomach, trying to protect a baby who now lives out in the world.
12. I know that there will come a point when I have to stop calling my daughter a ‘baby’ and I will get there in my own time. Do not rush me.
13. I know that the way you feel when you see your partner unexpectedly tells you everything you need to know about whether you’re spending your life with the right person.
14. I know that each of us has to take responsibility for our relationship with the internet and to choose to live a life where we feel in control of it, and not the other way around.
15. I know that it’s hypocritical of me to talk to my daughter about the importance of sharing when I find it so very difficult to share her.
16. I know that carrying a yogurt in your handbag is the riskiest game a human being can play.
17. I know that just because you’ve walked into a room and feel like you’re wearing the wrong thing, it doesn’t mean that you are. It’s always OK to dress like you.
18. I know that of all my life goals ‘That I will one day get on top of the washing’ is by far the most ambitious.
19. I know that the more evenly spread the balance of power is between two people, the better their friendship will be.
20. I know that every friend you make isn’t necessarily meant to be in your life forever. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t still worth knowing each other.
21. I know that if you value your time and your energy you shouldn’t even think about chopping a butternut squash. Just roast the bastard for an hour and a half and then do what you need to do with it. Save your blood, sweat and tears for a more worthwhile activity.
22. I know that just because somebody’s on their own it doesn’t mean they’re lonely, and that just because somebody’s in company, it doesn’t mean they’re not.
23. I know that if you want to make a dream a reality, you have to start being able to talk about it whilst looking people in the eye.
24. I know that though migraines are the bane of my life, they have taught me a lot about how much activity, stress, and socialising I can handle. Your body knows what you can take, so listen to it.
25. I know that I’ve never been to an actual swamp, but I have been in the bathroom after my husband has been in the shower, so I’m pretty confident I know what one looks like.
26. I know that it’s always a good time to remind the person you’re spending your life with that you love them just as they are, mess or no mess.
27. I know that you have two choices: spend your time doubting whether there’s space for you and your creative work, or spend your time creating that space by doing it.
28. I know that the gap between what you imagine putting your child to bed will look like (reading them a bedtime story, rocking them to sleep, singing them lullabies) and what it actually looks like (being repeatedly kicked in the face/poked in the eye whilst you lie down with them to help them ‘settle’, saying ‘Yes, that’s a lovely tongue’ when they choose this moment to show you their entire mouth, getting so good at pretending to be asleep yourself that sometimes you do drift off) is VAST.
29. I know that there will come a time when I don’t sit with my daughter in my lap every night, reading her the exact same books before she goes to bed, and I miss it already.
30. I know that we trick ourselves into thinking that we’re working towards an end point in our lives where our achievements will be added up and evaluated. And I know that the older you get and the more milestones you tick off, the more apparent it becomes that that end point doesn’t exist.
31. I know that one of the greatest gifts my daughter has given me is total abandonment of my sense of self-consciousness. I will sing in the street, I will moo, baa and neigh on the train, and I will dance like she’s the only person watching. In so many ways, she has set me free.
32. I know that the moment things go wrong, you realise just how happy your life made you as it was, but that we don’t have to wait till then to notice.
33. I know that at 34 there’s still so much that I want to do, but that for the life we’ve built so far I am grateful.
34. I know that it never ceases to amaze me since we started our family how quickly our time together passes by. And that all I really want for my birthday this year is more, so much more of it.
So now here comes 32. And whilst all the other ages came as something of a shock, this one feels just right. So this time I’m sharing why getting older isn’t so bad after all. It’s gonna happen anyway so you may as well smile about it.
1. Nobody cares that your main aim in life is to go home at a reasonable hour and get into bed. Most people feel exactly the same way.
2. The older you get the clearer it becomes that – with just a few exceptions – you simply don’t have to do things you don’t want to do. (This TED Talk on how to stop giving a f*** offers very helpful advice on this subject).
3. It finally dawns on you that the idea that if you’re not wearing heels you’re not properly dressed up is BULLSHIT. You can, of course, wear whatever the hell you want.
4. People don’t just compliment your nail varnish, they applaud you for finding time to apply it.
5. You get to regale younger folks with crazy stories about all the things you got up to when you were young. About the time you failed an exam because you stayed up till 5am the night before. Or when you drank triple vodka and lemonades and begged your body to let you throw up. They don’t believe you were ever that fun, of course, but you get to tell the story nonetheless.
6. You realise that the fact that women go to the toilet too isn’t taboo after all. In fact, within minutes of meeting a fellow female thirty something, it’s not unusual to have compared notes regarding the weakness of your respective bladders.
7. The ever growing list of glorious new roles you get to take on. Auntie, sister-in-law, friend-always-happy-to-discuss-the-complexities-of-Coronation-Street-storylines. With great age comes great responsibility, and I am here for all of it.
8. Female friendships at this point in our lives are better than they’ve ever been. Much like wine, cheese and Colin Firth, they really do get better with age.
9. The sweet joy of regressing. Yes maturity is important, but hanging out with school friends and howling about the time Tina hid around a corner waiting to scare me and instead jumped onto a perfect stranger’s back, will never get old, even if we do.
10. Relationships with your siblings. My brothers are two of the best men I know. This is not a sentence I thought I’d write when we were living at home and SCREAMING at each other about who got to sit in the armchair closest to the telly. (I mean, it doesn’t matter but it was always them and it was so unfair). And I have it on good authority that they thought I was pretty ghastly too. Nice job growing up, everyone.
11. You realise that dropping a swear word into conversation with your parents won’t bring the world to an end. It’s been 32 years and we’re finally in agreement that ‘arse’ is an incredibly useful term.
12. We get to look around at a world growing up on social media secure in the knowledge that, unless time machines become a thing – and they SHOULDN’T – the minutiae of our teenage years will never be documented on the Internet.
13. The oddly grounding effect of spotting a grey hair in your fringe. Here I am, it says, the passing of time, happening right here above your eyebrows. Stop dicking about on Twitter and LIVE, for goodness sake.
14. You learn that a successful marriage depends on a strong commitment to little white lies. (My husband refuses to admit that he can see the aforementioned grey hairs and for that I will love him forever).
15. For the most part, the people in your life now are in your life because you want them in your life. Because who’s got time to have things any other way?
16. The freedom to write a birthday list requesting what you really want. You can keep your gadgets, give me comfortable pants and a high quality shower gel and I’ll be happy for the rest of the year.
17. Not being embarrassed to admit that when everybody started going on about Drake, it took you a week to figure out that people weren’t talking about Nick Drake.
18. …Or that “Sifting through a rack of reduced greetings cards” is your idea of a perfect weekend activity.
19. …Or to say that a stool is not a chair (with my back?!) so you will need to find somewhere else to sit.
20. Or that, as far as you’re concerned, anything happening outside of your house on a Monday night is going to need to happen without you.
21. Having the confidence, when a waiter or waitress asks if you have any questions about the menu, to ask them so many that they may as well take a seat whilst you work through your list.
22. The constant novelty of marriage. Yes arguments happen, and no, some people don’t seem to understand that “Unless you’re planning to build some kind of fort, please can you put used toilet rolls in the recycling bin” isn’t a joke. But waking up next to a person about whom you believe all love songs were written never stops being exciting.
23. Knowing that with every day that passes, fewer and fewer people in the world expect you to look or be cool.
24. Realising it really is OK when somebody pays you a compliment to just say “Thank you”. You don’t have to panic and list every single one of your faults in response.
25. The understanding that nobody in your life ever thought you were being ironic when you listened to Steps, Boyzone and Westlife anyway, so you might as well just enjoy them with your head held high.
26. You discover the world of books designed to help make your life easier. I wrote a few months ago about Derren Brown’s ‘Happy’ and learning to focus on the things in life we can control. For this book and the many others about how to keep your sh*t together, I am very grateful.
27. The pressure of time continuing to pass forces you to finally find the courage to SAY what you want to do with your life. Which is excellent because now you can put all the energy you’d usually reserve for feeling embarrassed by your ambitions into realising them.
28. Permission to participate in borderline fanaticism regarding high quality air freshening products. TALK TO ME ABOUT MY DIFFUSERS. I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY.
29. The knowledge that, at any point, should you need or want to, you can go home. Because you are an adult, and you get to decide what you do.
30. Finally feeling like you know yourself well enough. How much sun you can take. How much water you need to feel normal. How many giant chocolate buttons is too many giant chocolate buttons. Sometimes you have to get it wrong before you can know how to get it right.
31. Realising that most of the very best moments of your life don’t make it into the photo album. They’re too good to stop to look through a lens.
32. Sh*t suddenly gets real. I’m sitting here with a small human being kicking, punching and spinning his or her way around my womb, quietly waiting to turn our lives upside down. It’s as bizarre and beautiful as everybody says.
You see, age has its downsides – its aches and pains, its effect on your capacity to party – but without it I wouldn’t be here, somewhere close to ready for motherhood. So I really can’t fault it.
I can only imagine what I’ll have to say about the world by the time 33 comes around.
I don’t always love musicals. I tend to want everyone in them to calm down. But not this time. I loved everything about La La Land: the singing, the dancing, the romance, and ohmyword the soundtrack. (For those in pursuit of joy: it’s on Spotify).
I also loved that this is a film about following your dreams, the ridiculousness involved with putting yourself out there, and the compromises you have to make to get what you want (granted with more dancing than I’d considered incorporating before, but maybe it’d help?).
It’s funny, one moment you’re laughing in the face of inspirational quotes, clicking away from articles offering career advice, and declaring war on anybody who talks about being ‘meant’ to do a particular job, and then all of a sudden you’re every single one of those guys rolled into one. I blame age – it makes the need to enjoy your life feel so much more pressing.
Whatever your aim – mine is writing for a living – you learn a lot whilst trying to make it happen. So for anyone considering chasing a dream, here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt so far, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come…
1.You have to learn to SAYit.
What do you say when somebody asks what you do? Or when they ask how the writing/comedy/acting/photography is going? Perhaps you’re more naturally confident than I am, in which case GOOD KEEP THAT UP, but if not, you have to find the courage to answer this question properly.
On the inside I’m absolutely obsessed with writing, with being published, with coming up with new ideas, and with getting better at it. But because there are so many people doing it, and so many versions of what ‘good’ looks like, I’m afraid of looking like a fraud or somebody pursuing a pipe dream. BUT what I’ve learnt is this: a) I’m not either of those things and b) Even if you feel that way, you have to learn to act like you don’t. People won’t give you work or recommend you if you’re too afraid to even say what you want, and you won’t feel confident enough to try if you don’t hear it from your own mouth. And anyway, the more you speak to people, the more ideas you’ll get, so you need to do it. People are asking how it’s going because they’re interested, so take a deep breath and have the chat.
2. A ‘Yes’ strategy is a good place to start
You never know where opportunities are going to lead you, so when you’re starting out and you don’t have any or much work, saying yes to what comes your way isn’t a bad strategy. Of course, there are caveats here – make sure it’s something you want to do, that you’re happy with the money, and that you have the space and time to do it. I just mean that it doesn’t have to be precisely what you want to do in the long term from the start, as the experience will still come in handy. At worst, it’ll teach you what you don’t want which is also a useful lesson.
3. Someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know
Yep, I’ve had that song in my head for days and now you will too. Meeting people, speaking to strangers on the phone, and generally going out into the world and saying “You don’t know me but here’s my heart and soul, want to buy it?” is a necessary part of trying to build a business or a career for yourself. Do not be afraid of this. It is 100% worth it and often fun. And anyway, there is simply no way around it; the odds of somebody coming round to your house out of nowhere and offering to pay you to write/act/tell jokes/sing songs for them is very low, and to be honest I’d be very wary of anybody who does.
4. Compromise is very much part of the deal
Films don’t document people working on Sundays when everyone else is out eating roast dinners or walking dogs; nor do they show people hunched over their laptops, typing away into the night because they have a deadline that they couldn’t hit during the day because they have another job. But this can be the reality of dream chasing. It certainly is for the writers among us. I would describe myself as ‘In a serious relationship’ with my desk, my laptop, and about 45 different Moleskine notebooks. It’s OK, they’re all fine with it.
There’s glamour and joy to be had, for sure – a byline, a pay cheque, your face on TV – but most of the time it’s just me, a blanket, my computer and all the empty packets from snacks I’ve inhaled. I’m happy with that, but I appreciate it wouldn’t be for everyone.
5. Patient friends and family are everything
There’s a bit in La La Land where Sebastian drives to Mia’s house and insists on taking her to an audition because he believes in her. These are the kinds of people we need in our lives. People who won’t get cross when we have to opt out of going to a party because we have a deadline, but who will instead make us a drink before they go – because not only do they understand our life goals, but they also take hydration seriously.
6. You have to learn when to rest
Why didn’t you go on holiday last year, Charlotte?
Oh because I was too busy chasing my dreams.
And what are your dreams exactly?
To write for a living so that I can travel and enjoy my free time on my terms.
Breaks matter. They matter to your health because life is tiring, they matter to your relationships because to have them you need to actually spend time with people, and they matter to your work because you can only create great things if you look after yourself. So you need to get good at figuring out when to work and when to rest. As I discovered early on, if you just wait until you fall over to realise you need to stop, you’re leaving it too late.
7. Comparing yourself to others is NOT helpful
I’ve written about this lots of times before (and most recently in this post), but it needs reiterating to remind myself and anybody else who spends too much time online. It is healthy to look at somebody who has done something you would also like to do and think “How can I learn from them?”, it is not healthy to think “I am a failure because this has happened to them and not to me.” Do you see the distinction? Good, now paint it on your bedroom wall or your phone screen. None of us has enough time to waste worrying about why we’re not somebody else. We’ve got much more important sh*t to do than that.
It’s birthday time for me 🎂 and this year I’m turning 31. It’s not Big News like turning 30 was – there’s no ’31 things to do before you turn 31′ lists to read. (I assume because people think the only thing you really need to do by this point is recover from turning 30).
Nope, it’s just a middle of the road, hardly worth mentioning sort of age, and I’m fine with that. It’s nice to go under the radar for a little while.
But just because 31 isn’t considered to be a particularly remarkable milestone, it doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. Regular readers will know that it’s become something of a tradition for me to write a list as long as my age to mark my birthday – a decision I imagine I will regret enormously by the time I turn 75.
When I turned 29 and 30 I jotted down a series of things I had learnt. So this year – in the interests of keeping things fresh – I’ve opted for a list of things that continue to surprise me about living in the world. Because the older you get, the longer that list becomes.
1. That there are people who do not like Jaffa Cakes.
2.That after almost 11 years together, the text message I’ve sent my husband which has provoked the most positive response to date said: I’ve managed to fix our WiFi.
3. That the lyric ‘My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone’ was all it would take for me to like Justin Bieber.
4. That, rather than a hilarious joke, ‘This train is delayed due to a lack of driver to drive it’ is a commonly used excuse for transport disruption.
5. That the amount of money you spend on a pair of shoes has absolutely nothing to do with how much they are likely to hurt your feet.
6. That the glare I gave the man on the train who said “I’m on my way to London Houston” didn’t turn him to stone.
7. That I once offered a friend one of my pick n mix sweets and they took the single, giant fondant filled liquorice lace I was clearly going to save till last. WHO DOES THAT
8. That it’s possible to select an outfit to wear at at 8am, and then realise you hate it more than anything you’ve ever seen in your life by 10.
9. That after two years as a glasses-wearer, I still fail to anticipate what will happen when I open the oven or dishwasher door whilst wearing them.
10. That eventually my life would be divided into two halves: Before I started enjoying gin, and after.
11. That there is nothing quite like the incredible sense of achievement one feels following the successful usage of drain unblocker.
12.That intense feeling of loss a woman feels when she looks in her make-up bag and discovers that her blusher has shattered into a million pink, dusty pieces.
13. That there is nothing more frightening than the prospect of hearing a recording of your own voice.
14.That there is so much happening in the world, and yet I still feel the need to correct people when they say ‘I’ when they should be saying ‘me’.
15. That I still get invited to parties.
16.That I ever thought simply wearing my sunglasses over the top of my glasses would fill the gap that only prescription sunglasses can. (And how unbelievably heavy that felt on my face).
17. That I get worryingly close at least once a week to sending an email that features the word ‘afterboob’ instead of ‘afternoon’.
18.That there would come a time when somebody saying they spent an afternoon reading a book – rather than looking at any kind of screen – would seem like the greatest demonstration of willpower the world has ever seen.
19. That my husband expects to receive the kind of praise one might reserve for a person who has just run the marathon for simply putting a wash on.
20.That nothing on this earth – not purchasing an appropriately ripe avocado, or figuring out what level of postage to put on a package, or attempting to cook one of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals in less than an hour – is more difficult than finding a Friday night on which all members of a female friendship group are free to have dinner together.
21. That the simple act of removing the Facebook app from my phone has done more for my mental health than any holiday ever could.
22.That one minute you swear you will never let a single crumb come near your precious new phone or laptop, and the next you’re tapping at the keys with peanut butter-covered fingers like there’s no tomorrow.
23. That expression friends make when they discover that you’re left-handed. Like they don’t really know you at all.
24.That however hard you think it is to make a human being love you, it’s a walk in the park compared to trying to befriend a cat.
25. That just because a hangover isn’t there when you wake up, it doesn’t mean it’s not coming for you in a few hours’ time.
26.That admitting that you suffer from anxiety is like mentioning that you own Adele’s album ’25’ – dude, everybody’s got that.
27. That I remain incapable of having a conversation with someone who is crying without also crying myself.
28.That some gluten free brands have the audacity to call the crumbly slices of disappointment they produce ‘bread’.
29. That I now live in a world where recognising people because you’ve seen photographs of them on the Internet is considered evidence that you have strong social awareness, and not that maybe a restraining order should be issued.
30.That for so many of us it’s not until we reach our fourth decade on earth that we start to realise what it is that we want to do with our lives.
31. And that if the speed of the last 31 years has taught me anything, it’s that we don’t have time to spend a single second doing anything else.
I turn 30 next Saturday (feel free to DM me for my address so that you can send me cards/jewellery/hard cash) and, inevitably, I’ve spent a good amount of the last six months wondering why I have failed to achieve EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE WORLD before reaching this allegedly significant age.
I understand this is normal. Friends in the same position have said the same thing. Turning 30 seems to have a strange effect on us. We all seem to feel that by this time we should know exactly what we’re doing with our lives, that we should be excellent at doing it, and that now we should be free to sit back and chew on one of the vine ripened tomatoes we’ve casually grown in our back gardens whilst simultaneously nailing our careers, marriages and extensive voluntary work.
But I’m just not sure that’s true.
First of all, we need to give ourselves a break. We’re so quick to focus on what we haven’t done that we don’t acknowledge what we have. And in 30 years that will be a lot of things. All the lessons we’ve learnt, the friends we’ve made, the relationships we’ve had, the jobs we’ve done, the haircuts we’ve been through before realising that actually, yes, that forehead is best kept behind a fringe… So many things. So before we write the last three decades off, we’d do well to remember that they most definitely haven’t been wasted. I’ve watched Mrs Doubtfire 25 times, I’m currently on my seventh viewing of the full Cold Feet box set, and I’ve spent a good week of the last 30 years eating cheese puffs – so don’t try and tell me I haven’t used my time wisely.
Secondly, where did we get this idea that this was some kind of deadline? Alright, maybe you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, but that’s OK – working that out is, in itself, progress. And you’ve (all being well) got loads of time to ask yourself the right questions so that you can figure it out. People love talking to you about that sh*t because most are in the same position. Or if you’re one of those rare beasts that does know what you want to do but you’re just not there yet then WELL DONE, DO YOU KNOW HOW RIDICULOUSLY RARE IT IS TO EVEN KNOW THAT, and how marvellously exciting that you can now get on with doing it. Treat 30 like a wonderful new beginning, the decade in which you will get that job / write that book / FINALLY finish painting the bathroom. Carpe diem, hakuna matata and YOLO, dear friend. It’s all to play for.
Thirdly, it’s important to remember that success is subjective. I find it so interesting speaking to people I consider to be absurdly successful and sorted who think quite the opposite about themselves. Your idea of a day spent failing at everything might be another person’s idea of a really successful one because you had the balls to TRY whilst they were too afraid to even give their goals a go. We are all our own harshest judges which is why it helps to have a few chums nearby to remind us that we’re much better at life than we realise. And to occasionally just tell us to stop being a baby and GET ON WITH IT. That can be quite useful too.
And lastly, 30 is a good age. (I know I haven’t technically hit it yet but I imagine that the way you feel at 29 years and 359 days old is pretty similar). You know so much about yourself, what you like, what you don’t like, where you stand on important issues like whether cheese should go on top of the beans on a jacket potato or beneath (on top, obviously). You know what your values are, what kind of wife/husband/friend/sister/brother/shopping companion you want to be, and just how short your temper is when somebody pushes in front of you in a queue. This is all extremely useful information. And with it you can enter a new decade filled with good friendships, nice times and orderly queues, without ever being disappointed that all the cheese on your jacket potato has disappeared into a sea of beans.
Having thought it through, I think that turning 30 is going to be just fine. A time for new beginnings, bold choices and confidence in our selection of hairstyles. And who knows, maybe I will invest in that tomato plant after all.