Turning 30

I started planning for my 30th birthday when I was 28. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a shitty day. As I wasn’t sure I’d ever have a wedding I sent a save the date to all my favourite people asking them to spend my 30th birthday with me in my favourite place in the world – home. I wanted to avoid my usual January birthday doldrums, trying to squeeze a celebration out of people who are pooped and broke from Christmas and New Year and clearly would rather stay home. I managed to lock a number of my besties into this birthday tour, including three Aussies (consistently voted most likely to travel) and one Frenchie (consistently voted most likely to travel with foie gras de canard and champagne) and we had a three week South African birthday extravaganza replete with…

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                                                                         Friends…

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                                                                   Family…

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                                          and Pool Parties

While I milked turning thirty for two weeks of celebrations when it finally came, the two years leading up to the Big Three-O were quite rough in patches and it felt subconsciously linked to the looming loss of my twenties and everything I thought I should’ve seen and done in them. Time was slipping away and at age 28, I felt quite panicked about it. It was easy to look around and see lots of things I didn’t have or hadn’t done that others had: no boyfriend, no property, no dazzling career, no extended travel adventures and most worryingly, no real plan.

It’s hard to share these kinds of internal fears and perceived failings with others, mostly because they refuse to agree and prefer to point out what they see as your talents and accomplishments – but you’ve lived in 3 countries, but you have a good job, but you can ride a bike. While it’s kind of them to point these things out, none of them feel exceptional.  I wonder if the pre 30-year-olds with dazzling boyfriends, properties and careers also feel some sort of apprehension towards their turn of the decade. Maybe. They will probably just be able to tick off more than I could when reading the never-ending ‘X things you should know/do/try/save for before turning 30’ articles. If I had my way, they would all be banned. The stress it induces to read about all the things you should’ve done but haven’t, doesn’t help the ageing gracefully process. I honestly wouldn’tve been shocked to read in one such listicle that as a woman you should have a baby before 30 or freeze your eggs. The unsolicited advice that threw me most was a Planet Money podcast that suggested by the age of 30 you should have saved the equivalent of your annual salary. For the first time in my life I wished I earned a lot less!

The panicked year that was 28 gradually subsided and by 29 I started to mentally accept where I was in life. I began looking forward to a calmer, wiser, wealthier decade once I’d turned 30, hoping it would bring more focus and answers where my silly, searching twenties had brought predominantly questions.

Making an occasion of turning 30 and the 18-month build up to my birthday trip certainly helped ease the pain. On the day of my birthday I asked everyone for some of their favorite words of wisdom. The most meaningful words were shared by my dad:

 

Strive for whatever peak you desire. But remember ’tis no sin to rest awhile, nor to change your mind. Eternally until thine own self be true.

I love the honesty of this advice. It’s saying we should work towards a goal but not persecute ourselves when our attention diverts for a minute or sacrifice our integrity at the expense of achieving it. This is advice I carry with me every day now.

Sometimes when people ask me how old I am I still want to say 29, but really I’m so pleased to have left my twenties behind me. I’m still not where I want to be in many aspects of my life, but I’m so much less stressed about it. There’s a kinship between us thirty something’s, the recognition that these next ten years are probably going to be the best years of our lives. The age bomb we were expecting to explode didn’t. Food still tastes good, sunshine still feels warm and we’re free to enjoy it all now that we’ve stopped obsessing over ourselves.

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Motivational Monday: Do Something Scary

Someone told me recently that you should do something you fear every day. The thought of that scared me. Or rather, recognizing how many days go by without me doing anything scary, scared me. I realized that while sometimes I take big leaps (like learning to ski) I seldom create daily opportunities to stretch myself.

I’m struggling to think of how I can stretch myself today actually. I have a normal work day and am seeing friends in the evening. Friends shouldn’t be scary, so that leaves work. I will tackle a difficult conversation I need to have. I will not leave it until Friday.

The logic behind this fear factor, I guess, is that you learn something and /or effect a positive change through doing something challenging. If you succeed in the task there’s a beneficial outcome and if you fail then you learn something about why you failed and how to cope.

Other things I have on my scary list:

  • Adult ballet classes (where dancer chicks eye you out while twisting their legs behind their necks)
  • Formal public speaking (judgement judgement judgement)
  • Swimming (every time I think about doing laps in a pool)
  • Skiing (still)
  • Networking (telling your story, selling your brand)

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I won’t be able to work on all of these fears every day but by writing them down I can sort between the ones that I want to work on and those that are so too torturous I should just let them go (maybe skiing).

Similarly, by looking out for a daily challenge I’m more likely to find things at work or home that I can volunteer for or tackle as they arise.

What can you do today that will give your adrenaline a buzz?

Motivational Monday: House Bound

I was feeling particularly unmotivated this Monday but as the day wore on I started to look forward to the order that Monday night brings after the general business of a w end. I’m not set on a strict Monday night routine of chores – I think it helps to schedule something exciting to look forward to every few Mondays – but sometimes its also good to just stay home and get your affairs in order. My 3 standard Monday night activities include: gym, laundry and cooking. And let’s face it, sometimes its hard to fit even as few as three chores into a night. Tonight I managed to complete only phase 2 of the butternut squash soup making process (scooping out the flesh from the skin roasted the day before in phase 1). Liquidizing remains for another day. Nonetheless, I made incremental progress towards living a tidy, well nourished life. I love cooking but it often gets sacrificed for activities that lure me out of the home. If I can do things like grocery shop and/or cook on a Monday, my entire week is set up on a healthy note. The same goes for the gym – if I manage to exercise on a Monday I’m much more likely to keep up the trend for the remainder of the week. If I don’t go on the other hand, I’m even less likely to want to go on Tuesday.

As for laundry, it’s by far the most boring task of any day of the week so you may as well just get it over with. Or, if you are as un-into laundry and house work in general as I am, here’s and idea on how to make it a bit more palatable…whether you have to hire in a houseboy or can find a willing candidate at home…

Happy homely Monday!

 

Seasonal Change

This w end I spent some time preparing a boat for the Winter or in boat language ‘winterizing’ it. Boats are not used to being off the water and need some extra love to prepare them for the long lonely stretch ahead, without their beloved wind, ocean or sails. This is a time for them to repair and rest for the next season.

On the drive home from the boat the leaves were showing off their red, goldy, russet colored magnificence and the deer were scampering around, doing whatever it is they do before Winter sets in. It made me think about how best to winterize myself – what to take a rest from and how to reflect, reinvigorate and prepare for new things.

Whatever your situation, Winter brings opportunities. Some of us are like the boat and will spend Winter alone. Others are scampering around in a frenzy trying to find a filler boyfriend, while others still are already smuggly coupled up. Whichever category you fit into, we can all take a lesson from nature and make the most of this chane of season.

3 good reasons to motivate this season:

  1. Re-calibration: This is the perfect time to check back on your long forgotten New Year’s resolutions and your dormant to-do lists and ask yourself what it is that really matters to you right now. We are easily distracted from personal priorities in the warmer months, choosing friends and fun over the solo time required to dedicate to important goals. Figure out what your priorities are and start investing time in them.
  2. Productive hibernation: Once you have re-set your priorities, it’s a race against the New Year to make as much progress as possible, and what better way to do this than by staying home where it’s warm and buckling down to do some work. I’m really looking forward to less social and outdoor obligations and more time dedicated to the projects that are important to me. For those of you that are smuggly coupled up, you are still at risk of distraction. Make home time your time to be productive and try to schedule relationship time outside of the time required to reach your goals. For single people, be selfish while you can and put your personal goals first, sheduling time for seasonal fun around them.
  3. Seasonal festivities: I tend to have fantasies about all the books I’ll read and TV series I’ll plough through in Winter but this rarely happens because I’m soon distracted by this special season’s unique suite of attractions. In no particular order some of my favourite things to do over Fall and Winter include: Halloween dress up, Apple Cider, Christmas markets, Christmas present selection and giving, ice skating, wearing fluffy coats to the Theatre, sparkly shoes at holiday parties, New Years with friends, fireworks, walking/playing in snow, skiing. Plus, my personal favourite, because I’m a Southern Hempisphere person at heart, the Winter break to an exotic beach location.

I leave you with some seasonal wisdom from the poetry section of the Bible,  Ecclesiastes, (or if you’re a Beatles Fan you may recognize it as Turn Turn Turn…and can hum along as you read): Turn Turn Turn

Happy sewing to all this Winter!

Motivational Monday: Do something you love

It’s Monday again. Back to work. Not everyone loves their work, but I’ve discovered a useful secret that will help you get through the week. If you do things you love outside of work, Monday to Friday becomes a lot more bearable. An alternate focus can give you perspective and something to be excited about on a daily basis, even if you’re only dedicating an hour a day or less to it.

I love lots of things outside of work but a list that has long made up some of my favourite ways to spend my non working hours includes: friends, food, traveling, reading, writing, flowers, gardening, tennis, dance.

This year, I’ve been good about deciding which of these to prioritize and it has brought me a huge amount of joy. Take flowers and gardening. A month ago I did the flowers for a friend’s wedding. I loved the creative process of working with the bride to understand what kind of experience she wanted her wedding to be and how the flowers could help create it. Then I had to conceptualize what flowers would be needed, plan where I would get them from and how to keep them alive, and finally how to put them together in a way that wouldn’t ruin THE MOST IMPORTANT day in my friend’s life to date.

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                                        Keeping alive and assembling the flowers

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                      Finished product – a very heavy basket for a very tiny flower girl.

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        Relaxed and beautiful flowers, just like the bride.

This kind of activity is what Kevan Lee describes as a ‘side project’ as opposed to a ‘hobby’, in the Fast Company article How Creative Hobbies Make Us Better At Basically Everything. It has a defined product and outcome, whereas hobbies are more of an ongoing interest – repeatable enjoyable activities with no time pressure.

Dedicating time to a side project can be really rewarding. With the wedding flowers, the bride and groom were extremely grateful, but I really felt like the experience had done more for my happiness than for theirs.

Being able to differentiate between projects and hobbies has been really useful for me. While I loved doing the flowers, I couldn’t do something like that every week as it would be a second full time job. Before this revelation, I had a tendency to want to treat all the interests I had outside of work as side projects, instead of casual hobbies. This is way too overwhelming and you’ll end up feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing. Now, I’m happy doing larger projects, like wedding flowers, from time to time and tending to my tomatoes (my less intensive gardening hobby) on a regular basis.

What do you love outside of work? Can you make it into a side project with a mini goal? Or is it better off as a hobby? Either way, identify your list of creative loves and plan to dedicate time to them. It will be your sideline of joy during the work week, I promise!

Smug ‘Together’

Are you two, um, friends? Together? Married? Asks the yoga instructor at 6:15am. She’s seen us arrive together. I can barely open my eyes but I’m thrilled by this question. Yip, we’re together, that hottie’s with me! We love each other soooo much we do couples yoga together. The next 90 minutes dripping in 100 degree heat should be hell but I get to look in the mirror and think, ‘oh yes ladies, step aside that body’s with me!’.

I’ve had the feeling for the past few months that I’m too happy. Too happy in love. Like if I’m not careful I’ll appear smug. Or more concerning, I am actually already smug but too smug to even realize it.

Why am I so happy and in danger of smugness? Well, because I’m with the most incredible man on the planet, obvi! I’m dumbfounded that he has managed to remain single for uncharacteristically long and has now attached himself to me. I’m sure everyone in love feels like they’ve met the best person in the world or the best person for them. But I actually believe that the American is vastly superior to any other man, in an absolute sense.

Supporting facts:

He’s handsome – people sometimes think he is Bradley Cooper

He’s sensitive – he gets an anguished look on his face in movies when there’s a scene depicting emotional hardship

He’s generous – he puts energy into creating surprise experiences for me and the ones I love. He also knows when to pay for things.

He’s competent – he can fix boat engines

He’s funny – he makes me laugh unexpectedly in a raucous unflattering way

So, yes, I get that my list isn’t unique – we are all looking for a handsome sensitive man with a sense of humour. But I think what makes me feel so lucky and borderline smug is that I can see that he really thinks he’s won the lottery. Not just thinks, he acts like it. He really behaves like he respects me and wants the best for me, instead of his first thought being ‘is this going to inconvenience my life?’ or ‘how can I prove that I’m superior to her?’. I think the best illustration of love is in the ways we don’t behave. He is NOT trying to compete with me, NOT overreacting about little things, NOT acting jealous, NOT holding me back, NOT judging. And it’s this behaviour that really stands out as exceptionally rare to me.

So why do I feel intermittently panicked?

Stop being so self-congratulatory, a little voice whispers inside, or you’re going to have that smile wiped off your face.

It feels too good to be true. But there are only two ways to respond to that – freak out and self sabotage or stay calm and be thankful. I’ve decided to let myself get swept away by it all. If it hurts later it will be worth it.

Motivational Monday: It could be worse

Every so often on a Monday, I get the blues. I guess they are called Monday blues for a reason. Today I’m ok actually, even though work is kicking my ass. Last Monday I was blue, even though my life was great. You can’t predict it. So, for those of you who find yourself in a little slump this Monday, or may do in Mondays to come, I’m committed to sharing some coping strategies with you.

A good friend recently pointed out an obvious and miserable fact: we are born and die ALONE.  This is a great example of a depressing Monday thought but one that would be encouraged by Stoic philosophers, who believe that worst case scenarios can be extremely helpful and that we should invest time actively preparing for the inevitable miseries of life.

The two videos shared here should 1. help you better understand the stoics and 2. help you apply their wisdom.

Enjoy! Remember, tomorrow you could be dead…

The School of Life giving us a fresh perspective on how to man up!

Wise words from Tim Ferris on how to practically convert pessimism into motivation:

 

 

Three things I learnt in my 3 single years

In my post about what I learnt from a 4 year break up I mentioned that I also learnt ‘lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with.’ This is true and here’s a breakdown of that journey.

Single Year 1: Learning about myself

In my first year of being single, amidst the initial trauma of a break up, the first thing I learnt is that I knew my own mind enough to have made the right decision. While I was stuck with some feelings of guilt, the focus shifted to what I really wanted in life. Where did I want to live? What kind of career did I want? I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be and anywhere in the world. I only had myself to consult. This was liberating but also overwhelming. Should I quit my job and work on yachts in the South of France? Or should I get a job in a cinema on a ski slope and learn to ski? I seriously investigated any kind of life that was nothing like my current.

I concluded that I didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was stagnating there and I wanted an adventure. And that’s how I got plotting to move to New York. I had a goal with a unique focus and it made me feel like my own person again.

What I also noticed about that year, on reflection, was that I sought male attention. I wasn’t used to being alone and made a string of bad dating decisions. I dated more than one person at a time, I hooked up with a friend, I had my first one night stand. All a disaster. I slowly realized that I was affected by the behavior of these men I supposedly didn’t care about. The common advice for singles is ‘make the most of it’ but I would be more selective if I had to do it over again.

Single Year 2: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be

Freshly arrived in New York for my adventurous new life, I adopted the ‘yes man’ approach. I said yes to everything. I didn’t necessarily stay friends with all those people I met in the early days but sometimes I met other people through them. I also did a lot of solo travel to locations I’d always wanted to go to, like Mexico and girls trips to party places like Ibiza. I even went on a mom daughter cruise around the Caribbean and discovered that my mom was a very cool person and travel buddy.

Girl Time in Ibiza

                                                               Girl Time in Ibiza

Party Boat with Mom

                                                             Party Boat with Mom

While on this busy exploratory streak, I also learnt that I had some work to do on myself. There were things I was fearful of, things I was angry about and things I didn’t know what to feel about. I decided to self examine more. The easiest way to do this (if you live in the US and have health insurance) is to go to a therapist. I don’t say the best way, just the easiest. If you can’t afford a therapist, I would suggest setting a timer at home and talking to yourself as if there is a therapist listening on a chair opposite you. One hour of uninterrupted time with yourself will tell you everything you need to know.

With a little bit of probing I learnt that I could let go of certain emotions and stop fearing certain others. I felt much calmer about life in general, less like I was racing against a clock or competing against a sea of un-named faces. I spent more than a year away from my family that year, fighting against the balance of what was expected of me and what I wanted to give. By the end of that year, there was still lots to learn but I felt like I knew what I was striving for. I’d made enough mistakes to see what needed more work but I stopped self-flagellating.

Single Year 3: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be with

In my third year, I decided to reset. I was looking for discipline and rigour. I was tired of saying yes to everything, tired of eating out and staying out late. I moved into an apartment by myself, stopped drinking for a month and signed up for a cycling training program with New York Cycling Club, doing long distance rides in a group every Saturday for 10 weeks. I felt fit and strong and focused. I stopped dating (for a bit) and I don’t recall but I apparently told a friend at the time that I wanted to be in a real relationship. So I know that I knew what I wanted.

I spent the Summer with friends going to the beach, sailing, cooking at home. I didn’t realize that in amongst this group of friends was the person I would end up being with. We would talk about everything, including what we were looking for in a person. I recall citing a list of ’10 things I was looking for in a man’ to him on a car journey home.  Things like ‘quietly confident, ambitious, must think he’s won the lottery, good face’. I remember it fleetingly crossing my mind that the American fit the description of most things on my list other than thinking he’d won the lottery (he showed no interest at the time). I think it was this exercise of actively naming what I wanted and recognizing that there was someone in front of me who represented the majority of the criteria that prompted me to explore the option when it became available.

7-10 of The 10 things I look for in a man: Feed me, take me to the beach, take me on a boat (please):

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Don’t get me wrong, three single years is a long time to learn all these lessons and if I were to find myself single again, I hope I wouldn’t have to re-learn all of them. I was also 3 years away from 30, trying to make a life in a new country, hating my job and at one point adjusting to the idea of having a very sick father. But we all have things going on all the time and break-ups and being single probably won’t come at a good time. Whatever your circumstances, I guarantee it will be a great time to learn about yourself.

How to be sad

I am happy right now but sometimes I get sad. This is something you don’t often hear people talk about, which seems silly, because everyone gets sad sometimes, right?

I like hearing people acknowledge that sadness or that special brand of sadness, melancholy, is a normal part of life and should be expected.


Melancholy is a species of sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that life is inherently difficult and that suffering and disappointment are core parts of universal experience. It’s not a disorder that needs to be cured.


This quote is from In Praise of Melancholy, an article in The Philosopher’s Mail. Read the full article for a satisfyingly depressing reality check.

I tend to think of melancholy as a glamorous downer, the kind you choose to wallow in for a while. It’s a transient sadness that should be indulged for short periods of time but not be allowed to overtake you.

How much melancholy is too much?

Melancholy, like any emotion you nurture will want to stay and basque in the warmth you provide, so you need to be clear with yourself about how long it will be a welcome guest in your house. Five days is my personal limit. Longer than that and Melancholy loses its sexy edge and starts to resemble depression. To make sure it doesn’t overstay, I note its arrival date and then make the most of it. This usually involves playing lots of songs from my favourite band, the National, who are appropriately happy sad.  As the departure date looms I try to force myself to do something that will jolt my endorphins back into gear, like a dance class or some other high energy sport. I say force, because I would most likely have stopped exercising during my melancholy period and will not be bouncing out the door for a top up. Some days I’ll want to let my friend stay a bit longer and wont make it out the door at all, which is why the other thing you should always do when Melancholy arrives is tell someone that you have a visitor. When you are asked how you are feeling you should say ‘Melancholy right now, but ask me again in five days.’

How do you best be sad?