Turning 30 has far exceeded my expectations. As a teenager, 30 seemed to reek of stability, maturity and even boredom. Even at that age being settled and having a husband and children at age 30 was daunting – an idea that never sat comfortably in my being. I had the romantic notion that I wanted to live an unconventional life. I wanted to live in interesting times, not totally understanding the repercussions of having such wishes, which usually resulted in me running head first into situations without planning or much rational thought. Which ultimately led to a lot of lessons learnt the hard way. But that also meant following my heart, and my desires. And living by my heart is the only way I can live.
And just days earlier, no, probably weeks, the thought of turning 30 leered at me from its shadows, lurking quietly, but ensuring its presence was felt by the almost unnoticeable thoughts sneaking into my mind. Being 30 was becoming a threshold, an idea I had not planted but somehow the conditioning of where I ‘should’ be had taken hold. And I realised, I had been gently nurturing these thoughts for some time. Yes, even years. Regrettably, the snake that is self-pity had too crept in, allied with ‘should’, conspiring to lead me directly into unhappiness.
I felt full of panic and sick anticipation. This age was descending upon me and forcing me to view my life in a very serious way. Had I reached the goals I had wanted? Was life moving in the direction I had chosen? Why was I not at home with my friends and family, sharing this mile stone? Why was I not building a solid career or establishing a long-lasting relationship with someone of the opposite sex? Instead I am in South Korea, teaching English with no definite plan in sight.
Until finally, the week of my birthday arrived.
Two things happened.
First, I accidentally went to a photography exhibition. It was the 54th Annual World Press Photography Exhibition. The photographs were an eclectic mix of natural disaster survivors and victims, extreme cases of violence exchanged or initiated by men, worlds unexposed to advances of man in the most rudimental forms ranging from public transportation to basic medical necessities. This is a reality. This was someone’s reality. The photographs themselves were intensely personal – visions that entered my body, alarming my senses and marking my psyche. Photographs silently capturing such suffering and debasement whilst simultaneously deeply grounding my reality of what the world can be. Harsh and horrific, terrible and unforgiving.
I walked away knowing I am one of the luckiest woman alive.
Then, the first of September rolled in. This glorious day was finally here for me to get over. I didn’t want to deal with were I was or wasn’t. But the truth is, I actually learnt something.
Nothing changed. I was just a day older.
And something internal clicked.
The realisation allowed me to drop most of the preconceived ideas about what turning 30 meant. I could drop all expectations of where I should be or who I should be with. I was nothing but a day older! And instead, I chose to accept and embrace everything around me, especially the parts I am not necessarily fond of. And once I started looking at what I actually do have, instead of what I should have, I realised just how amazing my life is. Coupled with the exhibition and spending those few weeks taking stock of myself and my life, I decided the only option I had to happiness, was to transform my world into one of gratitude and agency – coming back to the place of being an active creator in my life and accepting it fully. Accepting the past and the decisions I have made that have led me to where I am. Accepting that life does not always agree to our plans. And finally, I am exactly where I should be.
If getting older brings more acceptance to my usually conflicted self, I am all for it.