32 years exactly, and 32 lessons learnt

Me with my beautiful mama and grandma
Me with my beautiful mama and grandma

Today exactly I turn 32! When I was 15 I always thought that by 30 I’d have it all sorted. I’d be well-established in my dream career, holiday three times a year, the gorgeous house, the perfect husband and the one kid with the other on their way. Yeah… not so much.

But it’s funny I am so content with my life, I am really am. In reality my life is so much richer and surprising that I ever imagined. I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve come from and where I’d like to go and here are 32 hard-won lessons I learnt over the last 32 years I’d tell my younger self. My own personal ‘Everybodies free to wear sunscreen.’

1. It’s OK to change your mind. Many times. You will keep yourself stuck for months and years by insisting you ‘shouldn’t’ feel this way. You go travelling by yourself at 20 and hate it. You ‘should’ love your job in publishing but you don’t. You ‘should’ have it all together by now. Like clockwork every seven years you upheave your life. But out of the wreckage new things grow.

2. Be vulnerable, but only with people who deserve it. Those parts of yourself which you are most ashamed of are where you connect with others. And that ‘me too’ feeling is better than any drug. Remember what Lester Bangs said: ‘The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.’

3. No one person can be everything to you. Not your mum (even if she is wonderful), or your husband or your best friends. Much as you hate to admit it, no woman is an island and you need people – lots of people. A friend who you can dance with at 2am, and a friend who likes jogging bottoms and trashy TV about drag queens and vampires as much as you do. A friend whose known you for so long they remember when you got your first bra, and a new friend who sees you just as you are now.

4. Try new things, challenge yourself and expand your horizons. You contain multitudes.

5. You like what you like. And it’s OK to enjoy reading more than listening to music, to find shopping boring but to love going to museums.

6. Expectations will bite you in the arse. That big night out you planned for three months will end with you crying in the loos. That quick drink after work with friends will turn into an epic night out. Make plans, make many plans but remember life is what happens when you make other plans. (Thanks Dan Savage)

7. Observe the campsite rule in all things. Leave people’s hearts, nature and the world in a better state than when you arrived. (Thanks Dan Savage)

8. Therapy is like a long trudge down into a deep canyon. You are terrified, you have no idea how deep this goes. You don’t know if you will ever emerge. All you can see is two or three feet in front of you but in the end that is all you need. It is the best thing you have ever done.

9. If someone tells you who they are, believe them

10. If you are ever confused: look at what people do, not what they say. Words are fucking cheap, actions cost. When you’re 18 you will fall for your best male friend. He’ll tell you he loves you. Hours before kissing every other girl in the club. For a month the dissonance between these two thoughts will tear you apart. Until one day you ignore the words and look at his actions. The hardest lessons are often the most valuable.

11. At 20 you look back at photos of yourself at 15 and think my thighs look normal. At 25 you look back at photos of yourself at 20 and think how great your body looks. At 30 you look back at yourself at 25 and think how pretty you were with happiness shining through every pore. You are not as ugly or as fat as think you are. And the trick to muster is to be able to look into the mirror and realise how gorgeous you really are.

12. Remember the lesson of Florence Foster Jenkins – ‘People may say I can’t sing but no one can say I didn’t sing.’ Do things not because you are good at them but for the sheer pleasure of experiencing them.

13. You will spend your adolescent and twenties tormented by the opinions of near strangers. One day you will go to a friends wedding. You will see people you haven’t seen since you were at school. And you will realise with the sense of something lifting that their opinions of you don’t matter. And you will dance like nobody is watching because who cares if they are.

14. Be kind. The things you will regret most are failures of kindness. Be kind, be kind, be kind.

15. Know the difference between being kind vs being polite. Kindness is calling people on their bullshit. Politeness is saying nothing because it’s not done. Fuck being polite.

16. Listen to your feelings. That feeling of envy you get when a colleague mentions she is studying counselling will lead you down a new career path. That anger you feel with an old friend is a sign your boundaries are being violated. The bubbles of happiness you get when he takes your hand tells you he is the one. That fear you felt is a gift and you need to use it.

17. Listen to your body. Three Dr’s will tell you that stabbing pain in your kidney is a muscular ache and not the cyst a dark passenger growing inside you. 5 years later two Dr’s will tell you to relax ignoring the hormone fluctuations which make carrying to term almost impossible. You know your body inside out, so trust what you feel and don’t give up.

18. Find some way of moving your body that you love and do it regularly. Yes, I know exercise sucks but there will be one form of exercise out there which will make you feel gloriously fully alive. When you swim you feel like you are flying through the water.

19. Choose experiences over things every time.

20. Run your own race. You are running your own race and all those other people they are running different races with different goals. Keep your eyes on your own track. Remember ‘the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’

21. Treat the people you love better than strangers.

22. Let go of things. Forgive if you can not because they deserve it but because you don’t need to keep carrying this stuff around.

23. Embrace space. You enjoy being busy. You want to do all the things now. But allow yourself time to wander, to daydream, to relax. Magic happens if you give it space and time.

24. See as much of this world as you can and not just the furthest corners. Try to explore your home town as if you were a tourist.

25. Learn how to manage your anger. For years when people annoy you instead of a) saying something you will b) distance yourself until they stop. Learning how to be assertive and express your feelings is one of those skills to master sooner rather than later.

26. When you were in your teens, you will 80% responsible and 20% a hot mess. Looking back you will regret that the ratio wasn’t reversed. Be ridiculously irresponsible while you still can.

27. You don’t have to earn your place in this world. For years you will almost kill yourself trying to be enough. Then one day after a lot of effort you will realise you always where enough. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz the way home was inside you all along.

28. First impressions are often bullshit. The first time I met my husband I thought he was incredibly handsome in clean-cut old movie star kind of way. I was also certain he was gay. The first time I met my best friend I thought she was a bitch, sorry Ros. You will be wrong about lots of people so give people a chance.

29. Absinthe is always a bad idea.

30. You will make many mistakes. They are inevitable and unavoidable. Learn from them. Forgive yourself and move forward making newer mistakes.

31. Don’t settle.

32. This is your one true wild and wonderful life. This moment here: a woman on her birthday writing this blogpost is all there is. You only get one shot make it count my darling. Eat the peach that is life until the juices run down your chin.

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