This blog post has been in the works for quite a while (about 4 months). I’ve come close to posting it so many times and at the last moment, talked myself out of it again. Last week some friends on Twitter were talking about the 101 in 1001 lists thingy and I decided that it was time to post this. It’s still taken me another week to overcome inertia, so I’m posting it now before I give myself the opportunity to back out again. Apologies for any typos, I’m just sick of reading this over and over and then deciding not to post it. This is a long one btw, so grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair… Jo.
You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been a little internet-absent recently. Normally when this happens I come back with some blog post or other plagued with apologies and excuses. This time it’s different (and no, it’s not because I had to go to rehab following my Snickers addiction).
A few months ago I realised that I am now, officially, in my late twenties. I am 28 and a half (ish) years old. That means that in a year and half (ish) I’m going to be 30. I know that’s not an overly distressing thing in itself, but it prompted me to think about my twenties and wonder what, if anything, I have been doing with my life so far.
I started to think about the things I have done, but mostly, I thought about all the things I haven’t and I wondered why that might be.
Let’s go back to when I was about 6 or 7 years old. At this point in my life all of my friends had birthday parties at a place called The Big Buddy Bear Club which was a massive play area (ball pools, slides, tunnels, rope ladders etc.). The Big Buddy Bear Club was the place to have birthday parties. It was excessively good fun, for most kids.
I’m sure that given the amount of times I actually went to The Big Buddy Bear Club I probably had fun at least once, but all I remember is that I once got stuck in a tunnel and I found it very scary and upsetting.
I was crawling through a tunnel which had a gap in it. To cross the gap, I had to crawl across a rope bridge. As I approached the rope bridge I stopped. I wasn’t keen on crossing the rope bridge – it just didn’t feel safe. My gut instinct told me to go back the way I came, but there were kids behind me and I was too shy/scared/socially awkward to ask if I could crawl past them so I closed my eyes and hurriedly crawled across the bridge before pulling into a side tunnel and bursting into tears.
Even though I didn’t fall, and the rope bridge didn’t disappear beneath me, and nothing bad happened at all, I couldn’t bring myself to continue further down the tunnel. And I couldn’t bring myself to go back across the rope bridge, either. Supposedly, facing your fears means you overcome them. For me, it merely confirmed that I definitely found crawling across a rope bridge incredibly scary and that I didn’t want to do it again.
And so I sat there in the tunnel and cried. I cried about being too scared to go forwards and too scared to go backwards. All because of a totally non-threatening rope bridge especially designed for children of my age, height and weight to crawl across.
As I sat there sobbing loads of other kids crawled by. Some would give me a quizzical look before going on their way, others didn’t notice me. Once again, being incredibly shy, I was too scared to ask one of them to help me get out of the tunnel. So I just sat there and all I could think about was how everyone in The Big Buddy Bear Club was having masses of fun except me. And maybe some other kid who was throwing up in the ball pool or something.
Eventually, after I can’t even remember how long, some girl I didn’t know saw me crying and helped me back across the rope bridge and back to where lot’s of extremely bored-looking parents were sitting on a bench drinking coffee and waiting for the party to be over. I sat with the bored parents until the end of the party, watching all the other kids playing and having ridiculous amounts of fun. I wanted to go back, but I told myself not to. It just wasn’t worth it, what if I got stuck somewhere else? What if next time, no one found me and I’d just get left there?
This is pretty much the story of my life. I’m scared of everything. When I face something I find scary I don’t conquer my fear, I simply reinforce the fact that, yes, I really do find that thing scary.
This is, apparently, how I roll. I seem to fear things I’m perfectly capable of doing, just in case something terrible happens. And so I sit on the side, crying, too scared to go forwards and hoping that, eventually, someone much more confident than I am will find me and I can go home.
Whenever I have taken ‘risks’ (and I mean that in the broadest possible sense of the term) I feel like things work out badly, and I regret taking that risk… And then that puts me off ever taking any other sort of risk or impulsive action ever again… Ever.
So now I ring-fence myself into ‘playing it safe’ that is: avoiding all the things that scare me, not making any decisions, and hoping that maybe one day everything will just work out for the best and I’ll be happy. I stop myself from making any decisions just in case I make a bad one that might make me unhappy.
So here I am. Nearly 30 and well and truly fenced into my comfort zone. This doesn’t result in a particularly satisfying life.
When I started thinking about what I have done this past decade, I realised that I’ve moved house more times than I care to remember, eaten a lot of pizza and watched a lot of films. I also passed my driving test, but I’m too scared to actually drive a car. And I wrote a novel… with no story.
I’ve realised that a combination of life anxiety and an unrelenting fear of failure has left me in this situation. I can either shrug my shoulders to it all and say that this is just the way I am, or I could do something (even if it’s a fairly small thing) to change.
In the interests of turning 30 and knowing that I’m heading in the right direction (or at the very least, be safe in the knowledge that I did more than move house and eat pizza) I’ve decided to make a change.
I started making a list of things I wanted to do before I’m 30. It’s kind of like a bucket list – minus the swimming-with-dolphins cliché and having death as the deadline. There are only 30 things on my list, but some of them might take me a while to complete. Others are small things that I’ve wanted to do for while but never got around to doing them – or simply because it’s easier not to bother.
I’m sharing this with you, Internet, to force myself to actually do the things on this list instead of flaking out like I normally do.
And I figured that since I’m sharing my list with the internet, I may as well write about each of them here. I foresee most of these things going spectacularly wrong (all part of the fun/learning curve, right?), and I’m more than happy to share those experiences for your amusement (you’re welcome).
Still reading? Excellent. Without further ado, here’s the list:
30 before 30 – The List
1. Join the Anthony Nolan register.
2. Have something (anything) published and be paid for it.
3. Begin to pay off my student debt.
4. Do volunteer work.
5. Be a confident driver (i.e. not have a panic attack when facing the prospect of getting in the car).
6. Write a new novel and complete my MA.
7. Learn how to play chess.
8. Take a yoga or meditation class.
9. Eat lobster.
10. Go ice-skating/sledging.
11. Learn a bit of Spanish.
12. Host a dinner party.
13. Walk the Three Peaks.
14. Try out for a roller derby
15. Have a party with a bouncy castle.
16. Master using WordPress
17. Go to a music festival.
18. Watch the films I haven’t watched (list to follow).
19. Go out for brunch.
20. Go to a drive-in movie.
21. Visit Edinburgh.
22. Do all the touristy bits of London you’re supposed to do when you’re a tourist.
23. Do a pub crawl.
24. Knit a scarf.
25. Do all the things I was too scared to do as a child (list to follow).
26. Own a round wicker chair.
27. Be a vegetarian for a week (or maybe a month).
28. Go on a random trip without planning any of it.
29. Stay up for 24 hours.
30. Work in the field for which I received my degree.
There’s a reason for why each of these things went onto the list, but I’ll explain each when I blog about them (because otherwise, this is going to be the longest blog post ever).