How do you approach milestone birthdays?
This is me ten years ago. I was in Thailand, and upon turning 20, I cut off all my hair and got a tattoo.
In the next couple of weeks I turn 30.
Big deal, I hear some of you say, try being [fill in the blank]...
However, no matter the number, milestone birthdays often bring some emotion with them - sometimes happiness and celebration, all the way through to the other end of the spectrum and mid-life crises. We question who we are, where we've come from, who we're with, and where we're going.
Back when that photograph was taken, I’d just come out of a stormy end to a relationship feeling fully battered. The only body part I liked about myself was my wrists (that's because they were small). Spending any time in my own thoughts left me thoroughly miserable. I didn’t think anyone could love me, and yet the thing I idealised most in the world was falling in love, getting married, buying a home and having children.
Fast forward just a few years and I’d already bought a house and met the man I would end up marrying. I got a permanent job in a fantastic school with great colleagues. I ran a marathon, lost weight for my wedding and was the smallest I’d ever been. In the space of a few years I had pretty much achieved all that I had thought were my life goals. Was I happier within myself then?
My biggest lesson since then has been that life began after I met those goals. Because, for me, those life goals had pretty much just been the norms and beliefs of my society and upbringing that I internalised. I didn’t really see that until I had the hindsight. I now started doing things I never would have guessed I enjoyed. It was like I’d climbed a fence and it allowed me to see the view from the top for the first time.
Under the tutelage of my former power-lifting husband, I took up weight training (I once berated it for being boring and repetitive!). That one act has shaped me mentally and physically ever since, because feeling good in my body has been the catalyst for change in so many other areas too. Whenever I had entered into a room of adults, I had always felt weak, small and insignificant. Now I felt strong, and that brought confidence. I started yoga and learnt how to breathe and connect with my body. The changes in my mind somersaulted over each other, picking up pace until I had gone from meek, performance-driven, and unhappy to feeling strong and flexible in mind and body, and equanimity and joy in my mind.
Sometimes I wonder at how my lifestyle has changed so much, and the discipline and habits that I have. I have to remind myself that it didn’t happen all at once. It took me weeks to get up that early to take the plunge to go to the first gym class before work. I bought the convenience food instead of food prepping and felt tired and sluggish (and poor!). I skipped countless runs. I failed countless reps. It took me months of thinking and talking and debating before I committed to taking my PT course. It took me years of research and reading to start to recognise and change some of the beliefs I held.
That’s not to say life is a field of daisies right now. No doubt in ten years time what I think and do will have changed unrecognizably again. And that’s ok. Life happens in seasons, some short and some much longer. I’m still a prat (sorry when that happens!), get confused, say stupid stuff, and do too much. Sleep, stress and overwhelm are often still big issues for me - but I do take responsibility for them now.
So turning 30? It’s overwhelming, yes, but overall, nowhere near as bad as I thought.
What’s your next big birthday? And is there any way you could start to frame your thoughts differently about it?
Two weeks to go… so just enough time to go and count all my grey hairs!