I am about to start the first day of my last year as a 30-something. So as well as starting a brand new decade, I am also feeling the significance of a huge personal decade coming to an end. Life has changed in those 9 years and that is the understatement of the decade.
I moved to Hong Kong the week of my 30th birthday which, as a pal observed at the time, was basically like going back to university with money. I had no kids and life was one big vodka jelly, infused with care-free travel (I used to run for planes like buses), boat parties, some of the best sports events on the planet which I was allowed to call work and an all-consuming, brilliant and often ridiculous career.
A divorce, two country moves, six house moves, two kids, one marriage, one death, no high flying career and no vodka jelly later here I am. In Switzerland. Not exactly known for its banging nightlife and tolerance of lateness (for planes or anything else).
Where my 30th felt like my 21st (I’m not sure we made it to bed that night) my 39th, feels like my 39th. I think for the first time ever I actually feel my age. And this feels like a good thing. I think I might be growing up.
Life has taught me some of my biggest lessons over the last nine years. I have made mistakes, some massive. Life hasn’t gone the way I thought it would. At all. I have failed. I’ve succeeded. I have redefined both of these words. I have lost, and I have gained more than I ever realised I would. So for the purposes of my future self (lest she forget) and for my kids, I am writing the biggest (and sometimes small but still important) things life has taught me in my 30s here. And if you can take something from them too, then that beats the icing on any birthday cake.
- Have a plan. Then don’t be scared to rip the plan up and do a new one. Life throws stuff at us – amazing stuff and tragic stuff – over which we have no control, other than how we choose to respond to it. Becoming better at change is one of the most important skills I have learned over this almost-decade.
- Don’t marry the boy unless you are 100% sure. Don’t do it because you’re scared of being alone or because it feels silly not to. My daughters are banned from getting married in their 20s (which means they probably will.)
- Say sorry. We are programmed to f&5k up. It is part of being human. But we have to own our mistakes, acknowledge them and try to make them right even if that isn’t always possible – and that doesn’t just mean saying the word.
- Accept that your kids will kick your ass at stuff. Whether that’s skiing, speaking French, asking questions you can’t even begin to answer despite your significantly greater number of years on the planet. In fact, accept that there are not always answers. It is not always your responsibility to solve, or to be wiser or to lead the way. They will lead the way sometimes and as long as that doesn’t involve eating lollipops for breakfast every day, that’s cool. As the toddler told me a few weeks ago – ‘Mummys are not magic. Children have more powers’. We learn as much from our kids as we teach them. Probably more.
- There will always be compromise. Having children and a career is one of them. I still haven’t cracked it. Being a mum is the most important and mundane job I’ve ever had. People’s lives and futures depend on you and at the same time, sometimes the most significant thing you’ll do in a day is wipe a butt. Starting my (paid) career again on top of the full-time jobs I already have in the shape of an almost 4 and almost 2 year old fills me with excitement and trepidation. Balls WILL be dropped. For me that hopefully means a dirty house (rather than dropping an actual child), a bit more Peppa Pig than is ideal and a lot more grey hairs. Success doesn’t always look like success. It can be messy and rough round the edges and very, very finely balanced. It can sometimes look like failure.
- Lack of time is our greatest enemy and greatest friend. I read a great article by Brigid Shulte last summer. It took me three attempts which goes some way towards proving her point that a woman’s greatest enemy is a lack of time to herself. The sentence that stayed with me the most was this one:
‘I feel such a sense of loss when I think of the great, unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors’.
Hence why I am hoping for a dirty house from hereon. But what I’ve also learnt is that accepting that our time will run out, that it’s up to us how we use this finite resource, is one of the most perspective-giving, life-saving realisations you’ll make. There ain’t nothing like a literal deadline to make you focus in on your priorities.
- Sometimes the most joyful things are the tiny things. They are easy to miss so listen. Squeals of delight as the toddler teaches the baby to say ‘poo poo’ through yogurt smeared faces. Little hands, feet and bodies sneaking into your bed at 3am because they have had a ‘naughty dream’ and are feeling scared. That time the toddler said out of nowhere: ‘We all have one home in the end mummy. The Die World. The one you can’t see but is all around. Where granny is.’
- Getting older is an honour. And the more I’ve lived and learned, the more I’ve realised how much more there is to learn. As Malcolm Gladwell said in my daily podcast fix today (the brilliant How to Fail with Elizabeth Day) getting older is a process of humbling. I feel smaller than I did when I was 30. If I am lucky enough to make it to a good old age, I’ll be a speck. And maybe that makes dying a bit easier.
- On the subject of death, I’ve written about this a lot and I’ll keep writing about it. Experiencing the death of my mum last year has been my biggest coming of age. It made me feel a decade older and wiser. It has taught me so much. It has irrevocably re-shaped me as a person. But if I had to say just one thing about it, it’s the importance of talking about it. Talk about it with your kids, with the people you love, with strangers. Because it’s the one thing that binds every single human on the planet and along the way we seem to have lost touch with it. To have (ironically) buried it. Acknowledging it brings meaning and purpose to life*. I hope that by the time my daughters are old enough to read this, death will be back on the table. No taboo. Part of what makes life better, not solely harder. As my hubby said when we were attempting to sum up last year ‘we did a lot of living’. On the surface, that feels like a strange thing to say in the year when I experienced such a profound death. But death is all part of living. A massive part. And it reminded us, at the same time as taking life away, that life is there for living. So we did.
- I haven’t decided yet. Just give me 365 days…
*Read Dr Kathryn Mannix’s With the End in Mind if you need convincing of this and an idea of where to start.