I turn 30 next month and, at the risk of annoying everyone older than me, it's made me think 'damn, I've done nothing with my life.' In fairness, I have lost several years to mental illness and I've achieved more than I thought I would when I was in the depths of depression — actually being 30 will be an achievement, since for so long I never thought I'd get here. However, I'm still sitting here thinking that a couple of degrees and a driving licence aren't a lot to show for 3 decades.
CAUTION: why comparing yourself to others is stupid
The trouble is, I tend to compare myself to other people too much. My mum had 2 kids, a husband, a house and a dog when she turned 30. I still live with my parents, though I am on my second dog! Even among people my own age, it seems like everyone else is either married or doing exceptionally well in their careers. I feel left behind.
The crazy thing is, I don't want to be married! I may never want to get married. Ditto for having children. I'm just frustrated because I wanted to have my own place and to be earning a good wage by now. Instead, I'm in the same house I've lived in all my life and rely on benefits because my anxiety is too bad at the moment for me to get a 'normal' job.
I'm trying to work around that, of course, by strengthening skills that will (hopefully) help me to have a successful freelance career and by writing. Oh, and getting around to submitting my writing, which is something I've struggled with, but is kind of vital if you want to stand a chance of making a living through writing. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to submit at least 12 pieces of writing to journals or competitions and... *drumroll*... I've done it!
It just feels like such a paltry achievement. I look at the writers who were literary superstars by the time they reached 30 — and those who died before 30 but are still legendary — and I feel pathetic in comparison. I haven't even completed a novel I like enough to submit to agents.
You can't change the past
How obvious is that statement? Very. But how much time do I waste wishing it was otherwise? Lots. I'm trying to change my focus: I want to make my 30s the best decade of my life.
I'm much happier than I was at 20, but by the time I'm 40, I want to be living the life I want. It won't be perfect, of course, but I don't want to be sitting here in 10 years thinking 'I wish I did this or that.' I believe you're never too old for anything, but that doesn't mean you should put off your goals until 'sometime in the future.'
Too often, 'sometime' becomes never. The achievements I'm most proud of (my degrees, learning to drive and going to Paris and Rome) are the ones that scared me most. It was so hard to gather the courage to fill in university applications and agree to let my friend book the trips, let alone to go through with each step along the way. There were many times when I wanted to run away and not bother trying to achieve my goals.
But you can't run away from yourself
I recently posted about Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project books. Her main happiness commandment is 'Be Gretchen.' How fabulous is that?
I've spent a lot of my life apologising for being me. I was constantly criticised by members of my own family for being 'too thin' as a child, then insulted by the same people and bullied at school for being too fat when I gained weight in my mid-teens! I apologised for my mental health problems, because seeing the symptoms of my anxiety made some people feel uncomfortable. They didn't seem to consider how uncomfortable I felt at the time, or how their behaviour increased my discomfort.
I've apologised for everything from being disorganised, to being clever and back around to being too organised! I've apologised for the few things I've always liked about myself; my generosity, my sense of humour and my creativity. I'm fed up with apologising for being me.
Embracing the commandment to be yourself also means following your own interests and setting your own goals. Do you want to run a marathon because you like running and relish the challenge, or because lots of other people do it? Do you want to see the Egyptian pyramids because the ancient Egyptian culture has fascinated you for years, or because you think you should?
I've been working on this for the past few years, yet I see some goals in my list of New Year's Resolutions that I'm not 100% sure I want. Do I really want to join a running club? I'm not sure. There's a strong chance I might want to in a few months or a year, but it's not something I'm desperate to do. It's something I put on my list because I think of it as something 'proper runners' do.
Make your own rules
Which brings me full circle: why does turning 30 make me feel the pressure to do things I'm not bothered about doing? Why does it make me compare myself to other people? Why does it persuade me to measure my success according to criteria I don't care about?
My main goal from now on — my megagoal, if you will — is to Be Hayley. All of my other goals should help me to fulfil the megagoal. If they are antithetical to the megagoal, I will strike them off. If I'm ambivalent about whether they contribute to the megagoal, I will put a question mark next to them and not worry about them until I'm sure one way or the other.
Landmark birthdays tend to make you think about your life and try to throw everything into perspective (often while achieving the opposite!). They encourage you to create goals or to obsess about goals you haven't yet achieved. All of this isn't necessarily bad, but I think landmark birthdays should have one primary effect: to remind you to Be Yourself.