So on Sunday April 15 I turned 30 years old. I spent the Saturday evening with my parents, cousins, aunt, uncle and boyfriend in one of Auckland’s best restaurants The French Cafe, where I was treated to a delicious meal and even better banter.
I had jokingly insisted that for the day before my birthday, I wanted hourly updates of what my Mum had been doing thirty years before. While it was a request made in jovial faux-self obsession, I was actually very curious about what she had been thinking and feeling in the lead up to my birth. Now that so many of my close friends and my sister have had their own children, I have an almost morbid fascination as to what it means to them, how it feels and (I always try to make sure this last question comes across with awe rather than fear, or worse, repulsion) why? My mum told me that it was reasonably uneventful day before my birth. They had booked her in for a C-Section, because - in her words - I was too precious to risk coming out the ‘normal’ way. I had been conceived by IVF, something I always knew but only came to feel actively proud of about 5 years ago after watching a documentary film on the struggles of the pioneers of the technology. It felt important to me to have my parents around me for my 30th - I really appreciated having that connection to my parents and my birth on the big day.
I feel reasonably calm about turning 30, theoretically. The main worry people seem to have about the major age milestone is that they haven’t achieved what they expected they would have by the time the date rolls around. I distinctly remember being in high school and thinking that I definitely would be married by 25, and ideally having kids by the time I was 27, so I could have all the kids I wanted born before I was 30. While this would have been a perfectly respectable path, looking back at the life I’ve lead so far, nothing could have been further from the choices I actually ended up making. And I’m happy for that, as I’ve had so much fun and so many incredible experiences I wouldn’t exchange for anything. In high school the path that I was supposed to take seemed so obvious, but that was because I was yet to know myself well, yet to understand what was important to me, rather than what seemed like it should be important to me. Having said that though, I still don’t necessarily feel like I understand myself fully, or that I am some kind of fully realised, finished product.
It might have been slightly torturous of me, but the day before my birthday I looked up the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, as some kind of penance for not having achieved something noteworthy enough to land myself on it in time. I was met with an array of fancy people who had won Olympic gold, started successful businesses, amassed millions of online followers and trodden down avant-garde runways, all of whom were rudely born after 1988. This gave me an uneasy feeling of “I could have done those things if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to.” But that’s not really the point. The point is that if you want to do things like start businesses, write a web series, or get the body of a Hadid, is that you actually have to try. You might not ever get there, but without starting you certainly won’t accidentally stumble on to your first award winning role or a hefty advance on a screenplay you haven’t even thought of yet. But beyond that, it made me think that we can get fixated on awards and public recognition, which are nice, of course, but no one is giving out awards for being the best at keeping in touch, or the bravest at trying foods you definitely have never liked but as a grown up should try again, or for perfecting the telling of an old story to a new friend at the pub. And I’m fucking excellent at those things. And I don’t think they don’t matter just because I’m never going to get a small statue recognising my talent for them.
I also tried looking up a few of my favourite writers to see if they had anything to say about turning 30, and reliably, Ann Friedman (host of one of my favourite podcasts Call Your Girlfriend) delivered the goods. She writes that for a lot women, our twenties are our ‘warm-up decade’. Success for many women requires a lot of confidence, which takes a whole decade or more to build up. Friedman quotes Helen Mirren’s autobiography that once you turn 30, you no longer have the excuse of youth to blame for your faltering on your path to becoming who you intend to be.
Other than the milestones that we’re supposed to hit in the "culturally defined timetable" of a woman’s life, it strikes me that I’ll no longer be considered ‘so young’ for anything ever again. I noticed that axioms that I was so used to hearing when I was in my early twenties (“You seem so mature!” “You’ve done so many exciting things for someone your age!”) started to drop off rapidly in my late twenties. Presumably this was because I now seemed at least as mature as I should have been, albeit someone who still had an amusing, if not slightly concerning, tendency to take all her clothes off at parties after one too many bottles of wine. I do recognise that I am now likelier to hear something like “Jen was so young to get dementia” or “You don’t often hear of someone so young hitting menopause” than “So great that someone so young is our CEO” or “She’s so young to be buying such a stunning mansion”.
Ann Friedman’s article did leave me with a resolution for my thirties, however. “As I age, I fully intend to give fewer and fewer fucks about how I’m supposed to be, or when I’m supposed to accomplish certain things. It frees up head space for the sort of creative thinking I’d rather be doing.” So here’s to a year of practicing giving fewer fucks, and a lifetime of perfecting it.