A little patter of feet scurried across the hall, a sweet and small voice alerting me to the news: ‘It’s your birthday, mama’. Her lips curled at the sides as she touched my face, a little from the knowledge that there would – at some point – be cake, but also because she’s come to learn that every now and again there are days which are extra special.
I turned 31 yesterday, taking me from the cusp of my thirties and embedding me firmly into them. If popular opinion is anything to go by, this is the decade we finally settle into ourselves – whose skin we are finally comfortable in, whose space we fully occupy, whose occupation with what people think drops away. Our twenties are for SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS and PEOPLE-PLEASING and UNCERTAINTY but our thirties? Our thirties are for SELF-ACTUALISATION and PURPOSE and BEING COMFORTABLE WITH WHO WE ARE. In our twenties, we hustle for our worthiness. In our thirties, we own it.
Didn’t you hear?
To borrow from Brene’ Brown, if living wholeheartedly is fully engaging in the world from a place of worthiness, the status quo, then, says that your thirties is where it’s at. We get over our hang-ups and bust-ups and we say THIS IS ME! HEAR ME ROAR!
It’s very exciting, obviously.
No more masking ourselves with perfectionism or people-pleasing to believe we are loveable. No more needing to control situations, our fear of uncertainty and vulnerability a thing of the past. No more “I could never do that” or “I’m not good enough for that”.
We are free! We are FREEEEEE!
Now that I am one whole year into this new phase of being, I am obviously an expert on these matters.
And as it turns out, age – like laugh lines and pairs of shoes – ain’t nothin’ but a number. To evolve personally, you need to do the work.
SUCH a disappointing revelation.
So I’m using this point in my life to plop myself on the spectrum that is wholehearted living and finding out just how far I have to crawl to the top.
Let us be clear that changing on the inside is not about becoming perfect. It’s not about saying “when I finally become A and B and C, I will be acceptable, loveable, worthy of good things.” Self development, after all, can often just be another closet we hide ourselves in. It’s simply about getting the most out of our lives for OURSELVES. Like Brene’ says, “As I look back on my own life, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
We are hard-wired for connection and belonging – it is such a fundamental, driving factor that without it, we suffer greatly.
But we won’t ever feel connected or belonged until we expose all of ourselves. We won’t accept the love people say they have for us because we’ll feel like they don’t really love us – they can’t. They only love the ‘us’ we choose to show.
The truth is that the clingy, grabby, greedy, jealous, awkward, angry, protective, insecure parts of us is not the problem. The problem is our choice to hide them. As we bury and cover and mask, all we are doing is reinforcing our separation.
Here are our 10 guide-posts of great, big living, friends, courtesy of our one and only Queen B.*
*My brother thinks this is all a load of rubbish and “I could have written these” and “Isn’t this just common sense?” but I refuse to believe he is more spiritually evolved as me.
My honest answers, aged thirty-one-and-a-day:
1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
I’d like to say a great big yes to this one, but the truth is that my default behaviour is people-pleasing. I seek the approval of others to determine how okay I am in the world. Joel tells me he read somewhere that if you are a people-pleaser, you’ll never be happy. Point taken. Working on that one.
2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
It’s getting easier for me to say to people: I am a mess! You too? I offer my imperfections up very easily to people I trust, but I know why I’m doing it — I’m seeking their approval for my flaws so that I can accept them in myself. I’m gauging if it’s a universal problem, this flaw of mine – so I can lessen the negative self-talk I give myself for it. Self-compassion – treating myself as I would a close friend – is still a work in progress. It’s a cyclical thing, too – negative self-talk is particularly bad that time of month. The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.
3. Cultivating Resilience: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
As someone with a history of child sexual abuse, this is an area of myself I’ve worked most on. I have felt a lot of painful and uncomfortable feelings, previously dealt with by numbing myself with drugs and alcohol, and eventually dealt with by allowing myself to feel them fully and work through them with professional help. Powerlessness will always be a recurring default mechanism of mine, so much so that the Pema Chondron quote: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us”, will always be stuck deep within my heart. Pain is bloody painful. It is. We run like hell from it because it causes us to reach the edge of ourselves and we can’t stand it there. But used correctly, it can be a great gift. I certainly still try to control situations and powerlessness is my greatest fear, but my resilience is something I’m most proud of.
4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
I fall into the scarcity and fear trap very easily – hence my commitment to focusing on finding my small happies through the blog, my writing, my photography. I am getting quite good at finding things to be grateful for and this definitely amplifies my overall level of life joy, but I certainly could practice letting go of scarcity and fear a million times over.
5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need For Certainty
Look, the unknown worries me as much as the next person, but perhaps not for the same reasons. I don’t like travelling alone for example – in places I am uncertain of – mainly because I panic for my safety, having the deep-seated feelings of safety-violation of my past etched too far inside for me to escape this default mechanism of my mine. That’s ok. So I don’t travel alone much. But as for trusting my intuition and faith? That’s generally how I make all decisions. Trusting my intuition is not my problem. It’s trusting my own strength that needs work.
6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
A work in progress. Quite a long way to go with that one.
7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
Happy to say I’m there with this one. Let go of these a while ago.
8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
Also let this go a while ago. I cultivate calm wherever possible and to me this translates into slow-paced days, a clean and cosy home, avoiding people and places which make me anxious and cultivating routine more often than not. I know myself. I develop anxiety very easily – I know what causes it and I work hard to minimize it as much as possible. I can’t even watch action movies any more because my heart rate so easily spikes and I so dislike that stressed feeling. Joel knows to let me pick the movies. We watch nice things like Elf.
9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
I have always chosen work that has had meaning to me instead of chasing money or prestige, like I’ve seen many others do. I rarely follow a “supposed to” life path so…yay me.
10. Cultivating Laughter, Song & Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool & “Always In Control”
10 out of 10 for this one, too. There’s not much ‘cool’ about me. Happy to break out into interpretive dance with my daughter in the middle of the pasta aisle at Woolies.
So that’s where I am on the scale. Five out of ten in thirty-one years. At this rate, by sixty-two I’ll be as spiritually evolved as my brother. (!!)
And to elaborate point four: my small birthday happies, documented by Joel. Because gratitude is a spiritual practice y’all!
“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”