On the eve of my 30th birthday, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
I should have been at home, putting together the final plans for my birthday celebration. Instead, I was hundreds of miles away dreading a funeral.
It turned out to be a sign of things to come: my 30’s would be defined as the decade where nothing went to plan.
In my 30s….
I got engaged.
I got married.
Both times to the same man.
Once in a Chateau in France. Once in a chapel in Las Vegas, officiated by Darth Vader (life advice: everyone should get married in Vegas at least once).
I practised law for a corporate beast. And then I didn’t: I quit the career I’d spent all of my 20’s toiling to achieve.
I planned a one-year career break that has yet to come to an end (nearly six years later).
I bought a round the world ticket. Then another. And another.
I started a blog. I set up a freelance writing business. I gained a bunch of clients and readers.
I rested on my laurels. I frittered my time fooling around. I lost my clients. But I gained more readers.
I watched my savings dwindle. I missed my lawyer income. I restarted my freelance writing business. I revamped my blog.
Every day I learned new ways to work…and new ways to fail.
I jumped out of a plane.
I ate deadly puffer fish in Japan…and lived to tell the tale.
I swam up a waterfall.
I took hikes that lasted days and didn’t involve a drop of shower water.
I was bitten by more bed bugs than I could count…and more mosquitoes than I killed.
I endured 100 hours of silent meditation in India and lived without meat for a month…which was slightly easier than my month without booze.
I lived in a troglodyte cave in France. I spend three months island-hopping in Hawaii and I found out that Mexico and California are places I could comfortably call home.
I escaped from a burning bus in Brazil and felt scared enough to wield my knife in India.
I had the best massage of my life in a women’s prison in Thailand (I was not the inmate) and the worst in Shanghai (being offered a happy ending as a female is, apparently, a thing. For the record: I declined).
I lost a tooth. I had surgery on my nose and I annihilated the inside of my knee – more scalpels await.
I got divorced from the man I spent my 20’s with and who I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with.
I was so high on life I thought I’d never come down.
I scraped myself up out of depression time and time again, yet I rarely felt able to talk about it.
I said goodbye to one of the closest people in my life – my nan, and my heart still aches every day that she’s gone. More recently I lost my aunty and there’s a slow movement of fear in my gut that more of this will inevitably come.
I studied Spanish, philosophy, finance, religion and science, and I made a pledge to never quit my quest to learn.
I travelled to nearly 60 countries via planes, trains, cars, buses, bikes, helicopter, tuk-tuks, ferries, canoes and camels (though never at the same time).
I sold a large modern house I once called home and bought a small Victorian flat.
Despite the time and the distance, I miraculously kept in contact with my friends from England, and I made hundreds more new friends on the road.
I won awards for writing short stories but allowed fear to cripple me from publishing anything longer than 5,000 words.
And then came my 40s…
On the eve of my 40th birthday, I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
I should be in Hawaii, the location I long imagined I’d be when I turned 40. Instead, I’m on an NHS waiting list, readying myself for ACL reconstructive surgery.
I’m trying to settle into a flat when every adventurous bone in my body (around 85% of them) wants to go off and travel.
I write. I laugh. I occasionally cry.
I’m not married. I don’t have kids. And I no longer have the status (or salary) that came with a career in law.
And, yes, every now and then I have doubts and even a few regrets (that bad oyster I ate in Scotland, for one).
But the one thing I don’t have, is the realisation of my biggest fear – that I’d wake up on my 40th birthday and wonder where did the time go? How did I become this woman? How did I end up with this life?
These are not questions that worry me – because I know the answers.
The answers are etched in every sun-baked wrinkle I can find on my skin. The wrinkles that have captured a decade and more of laughter and surprise and exhilaration and adventure.
The answers are found in the grey hairs that have grown from fretting about choices and decisions that have taken me down paths I barely dared to go. Paths I took anyway through fear of what would be if I left them untravelled.
I know where the time went. I know how I became this woman. I know how I ended up with this life.
I know because I turned up every day and I’ve tried to live my life consciously. I turned up and made decisions when they were easy and I turned up and battled through when the decisions were hard.
On the eve of my 40th birthday, I’m not where I thought I would be.
But I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.
And so, with a pit of panic in my stomach and a flutter of excitement in my heart, I take a deep breath (and a good glug of Champagne for courage) and plunge head first into the unknown wild and wonderfulness that will be my 40’s.
Want to join me for the ride?
Turning 40 makes me more conscious than ever that ageing is not a luxury everyone gets to experience. I know too many people who have been affected by or taken by Cancer. If you’d like to say “happy birthday” or show a bit of appreciation for this blog, I’ve set up a donation page with Cancer Research UK. Even the smallest donation will help.
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