30

“Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You are deciding your life right now.”

– Megan Jay

“Tired. Depressed. Unemployed. Single. Nearly 30,” read the first line of my journal entry of three years ago. I was 27 and already fretting about the big 3-0. It’s interesting that even though turning 30 was three years away, the fear of that age had already formed part of the miserable state I was in.

Turning 30 is one of the big milestones of our lives. By 30, convention has it that we are supposed to have achieved many things,¬†mainly concentrated on the three Ps: prosperity, property and partner. If we haven’t done so (or are not well on our way to doing so) then we are made to feel bad about ourselves.

I am 30 years old. I rent a small one-bedroom flat. I have only started to save. I do not have a permanent job. I am single. I have never been more satisfied with my life as I am today.

I was delighted to say goodbye to my twenties. When I look back at them, I can recall many happy memories of travel, achievements and of time spent with loved ones. But they were always weighed down by a heavy heart: a love lost; suppressed passions; feelings of inadequacy.

Since turning 30, I have gained in confidence (and in grey hairs). I notice that I can exercise more authority as I have some experience and wisdom behind me. I am much more comfortable in my skin and much more open to change. I also value my time more: I don’t waste it on people or things that make me unhappy. Since I do view 30 as a milestone, it instils this sense of urgency that if there are changes I want to make in my life, I better start today. I believe that the choices I make today as a 30 year old have a larger ripple effect than compared to the choices I made at 20 or 25.

In her Ted Talk, Megan Jay drums it into the heads of twenty-somethings that their twenties are their defining decade, that they should not leave decisions concerning careers or love until their thirties. Those that tend to leave it till their thirties end up being under immense pressure to achieve in a shorter period of time, settling as a result, loaded with regret. She advises twenty-somethings to start taking steps towards the life they envisage now.

I understand the talk’s message but I felt ashamed that I only began making my changes at 29, not 20, possibly having wasted many years. But then again, why should we be constrained by age? We are entitled to go at our own pace and sometimes, it takes a long time to feel unstuck and change direction, or to feel like we are on the right track. When the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse how long it took to become real, he replied, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”

Hitting the big 3-0 can cause regret, anxiety or relief. But if things haven’t worked out as planned or hoped by the time you are 30, it’s not the end of the world and you can always start making changes today.

And look on the bright side, turning 30 means that we’ve seen through yet another year on this awesome planet of ours.

London on my terms

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

– Nelson Mandela

My brother once told me how much his home city Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, keeps changing. The roads are never the same: they re-name them, they demolish them and build new ones or they change their routes entirely. Colonial shop houses get knocked down and are replaced by skyscrapers; schools are bull-dozed and turned into shopping malls.

He remarks with great relief how London never changes. That no matter how long he has been away from her, he can always return and familiarise himself with her landmarks and streets very easily.

London had been my home for many years: I grew up around her outskirts, I studied and worked in her centre, and lived the majority of my twenties in her leafy suburbs. Making the transition from experiencing London as a tourist in my teens to becoming a fully-fledged London commuter in my twenties was difficult. London ate up my energy, my mental agility and my time. I wasn’t in love with her.

Having lived a couple of years now in Brussels, I realise that I was living in some sort of fog in London. Meeting up with friends was a hassle because at times I would spend two hours just to get to their side of town; making arrangements would always have to be done weeks in advance; and getting home from a night out on my own was a constant worry.  During my London years, I felt I was continuously missing out on the party. I was unhappy; lost; trapped; and clueless as to what to do about it.

London as a holiday destination makes me acknowledge that she can only be loved on my terms. I now have the time to enjoy her: riding at the front on top of the double-decker no. 87 bus to Aldwych, mesmerised by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and the glorious views of London’s exquisite skyline day or night; eating in my favourite Asian restaurants; going for cheeky cocktails with the girls; exploring the museums, the serene parks and commons, the gorgeous winding streets and cute cafes – all on my time. I love this London.

My brother is right: she’s still the same old London. Thankfully, I am the one who has changed.