I turned 31 last Monday, and the next day it was the tenth anniversary of my moving to London, which I didn’t realise until that night, when I was at the pub, and immediately announced it loudly and demanded everyone buy me drinks for the next four hours. This did not end well (see end of post).
When I was 14 or 15, some school friends and I were talking about what age was “the best” to be. We agreed 18 and 21 were up there, because they were adulthood but not too adult: you weren’t supposed to have things figured out yet, i.e. you would have all of the freedom of being a grown-up but not too much responsibility. And of course, although I don’t think this was explicitly acknowledged, you would still be young enough to be “cute” and therefore lovable. (We understood and agreed with feminism in theory, even if we may not have called it that, but 14-15 is a hard age to live it fully!)
I can’t remember if I voiced this at the time, but I very specifically remember thinking that 35 was the best possible age to be. At 35 (I thought) you would be experienced enough that people would listen to you, and you could make decisions about not just your own life but Projects and Things That Mattered. But also, at 35 you wouldn’t be at the “top” yet – there would still be so many more exciting things to discover and learn and work towards.
Well I am now one year and five days into my thirties, and am pleased to report they are EXACTLY AS GREAT as I thought they would be.
Of course part of this is luck: as well as being white/a native English speaker/middle class, I graduated in June 2008, just before the great financial crash really kicked in, meaning I could take a running jump and cling to the last rung of the ladder trailing from the jobs helicopter as it pulled away from young people. I also moved to London when rent for a studio flat in Zone 2 was £420/month – sure it was an extremely tiny flat (you could touch the opposite walls at the same time in all but one direction), and it was in a very ungentrified Kilburn, but it had its own shower and washing machine, and it was a relatively central studio flat in London for less than £500 a month ffs try finding one of those for even double that these days.
But my excellent-so-far 30s are also I think, or hope, because I’ve tried very hard to keep doing more difficult and interesting things: figuring out what kind of job I’d like to do, and how to get there; taking on harder and more ambitious work each time; trying out creative and different things that I don’t think I can do. This has often been uncomfortable and stressful, but in a good way, like a training montage. Learning to be bad at something is important, and I’ve worked hard at it [yes yes, JOKES HERE]. And to be honest, it’s got me to a pretty great place personally – I desperately love my job and want to do it forever, I’m about to start a part-time graduate degree in a subject I also love, and my agent hasn’t sacked me yet for pootling around (hurrah!). And I’m also about to start doing even harder things (see: part time degree, still writing THE BOOK). I don’t mean to minimise the help from circumstances, but I’ve also worked very hard for the past ten years and feel like I’ve done a lot to be proud of.
Here are some other unexpectedly great things about 30-31 so far:
- caring so little about whether my hair is perfectly brushed, tucked, waved, petted down, etc.: I expected this, but the speed of the drop was pretty shocking and is still excellent
- knowing enough to say smart things in meetings and have people listen to you: this is exactly as great as I hoped it would be when I was 15, which is to say VERY. That little “hmm!” sound people make when you say something and it’s new to them but they totally agree with you: SO GOOD
- having a dishwasher: so few things are both labour/time-saving and also better for the environment. well done dishwashers!!
- rediscovering things like library cards and zoos, which were great when you were a kid: these are still great. Yesterday I walked into Archway library and got four books to take home and read. FOR FREE
- being smug marrieds at friends’ weddings as they become also smug marrieds: the smuggest
- going out drinking on a Tuesday with work friends (see top of post) and rolling home very trashed, enthusing about hash browns to your spouse before mumbling “potato” and passing out fully clothed on the bed, waking up and somehow persuading him to get dressed early to go to Sainsbury’s and buy you Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream for hangover breakfast: still not sure how I pulled this one off tbh but it was pretty fantastic
Something sad about this birthday is that it was my first one without my dad. My parents always send me a long rambly handwritten card signed by everyone in the household (including the dog), and my mom’s this year was perfect, but it was the first time it didn’t have his signature. His love for me was so supportive and big and unconditional, and every day I deeply miss having it in my life.
roll on the rest of my 30s, they are going to be BANGIN