I turned 35 last week, and I didn’t even freak out about it.
This is huge for me, because I’ve been known to freak out about almost every birthday.
I freaked out when I was 19, because I realised it was my last year of being a teenager. I freaked out at 20, because I was now in my 20’s (the horror). I freaked out at 25, because I was a “quarter-of-a-century-old”. I freaked out at 27, because I was now in my late 20’s. And I definitely had a major freak-out at 29, when I realised I was going to be 30 the following year.
But there’s something surprisingly calming about getting older and accepting the fact you can’t change it.
Nor would I want to change it. I’ve seen enough young people die or get seriously ill to now know getting older is a gift, and we should celebrate every single year we get.
The day after my 35th birthday, I was talking with my 18-year-old cousin, who was telling me about some dramas she’s currently going through.
“Don’t worry, it gets better,” I reassured her.
And it does. It really, really does.
As much as I freaked out about getting older pretty much throughout my entire 20s, the reality is, I wouldn’t even want to go back to that period of my life. Things are so much better now.
This is what I know now that I wish I’d known back then…
1. Life is not a race.
When I was younger, I had this idea that by the time I was 30, I would be married with a couple of kids.
Needless to say, this did not happen, and as my 30th birthday approached, I felt like I was working towards some sort of invisible deadline.
I hit full-on freak-out mode at 29, when my younger sister got engaged, while I was still single.
This prompted me to give my entire 30th birthday a miss, and instead, I jumped on a plane to Hawaii with one of my best friends, Sarah.
I don't know if it was just too much sun exposure, but Hawaii was a huge turning point for me. I finally realised that everyone is on their own timeline, and it's not really something we have any control over. Things happen when they happen.
In hindsight, I'm really glad that I never had the husband and kids at 30. It's great for some people, but I know I would have missed out on a lot of the things I wanted to do, and I would have had a lot of regrets about that.
2. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in.
If I'm being blunt, I spent a lot of my 20s being a doormat.
I'd never want to say or do anything that would upset or anger anyone else - even when they didn't show me the same courtesy.
As a result, I took a lot of sh*t from other people. People who were definitely not worth taking sh*t from.
Now I'm at a stage in my life where I'm fully prepared to fight for myself and others if I have to, and there's something so freeing and empowering about that.
If someone has done something wrong, I'll call them out on it.
3. Stop worrying what other people think.
I come from a long line of chronic people pleasers.
I love my parents, but I was raised to always worry about what other people were going to think of me, whether it was something I said or did, or even the clothes I wore.
I call it "Greek guilt". "Tropy" was a word I used to hear a lot growing up, which in English translates to "shame", and it was often preceded by an exaggerated, "Uh-ma!"
Well, no more. I refuse to be shamed about anything anymore.
If other people have a problem with me, that's their problem - it's got absolutely nothing to do with me. I can't control or change what anyone else thinks. That's on them.
The only person I'm worried about pleasing now is myself.
4. There's a lot of power in the word "no".
I used to say "yes" to everything and everyone, and do you know what I got at the end of it? Exhausted. I got exhausted.
I'm much more aware of my limitations and I have more boundaries now. If there's something I don't want to do, I'll just say "no". One little word that completely changed my life.
And if people start pressuring me, then it becomes a "hell no".
There's something Helen Mirren said that really resonated with me: "If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words 'f*** off' much more frequently."
Amen to that.
5. Don't listen to your friends and family when they tell you your skincare regimen is excessive.
A lot of people when they first meet me automatically think I'm in my mid to late 20's. I even got asked for ID in a liquor shop only a couple of years ago.
Part of it comes down to genes - both of my parents look years younger than they actually are - but the truth is, I've been committed to a rigorous skincare routine ever since I was a teenager.
While most of my friends were off sunbaking, I used to slather myself in sunscreen, and throw on a kaftan and a big, floppy hat for a day at the beach. My embarrassed-to-be-seen-with-me-looking-like-that sister used to tell me I looked like a "geisha" because I was so white with all of the sunscreen.
I'm also adamant about drinking lots of water, getting plenty of sleep, and will usually spend up to an hour washing my face at night and applying a whole concoction of serums, lotions and oils.
I actually find it a relaxing way to unwind right before jumping into bed. I'll light a candle, play some music, and get busy prepping my skin.
The amount of time I spend on my skincare regimen is something my friends and family have always loved to tease me about endlessly.
"Just wait until I'm older and I have amazing skin. You won't be laughing then!" I'd tell them.
Well, look at me now, b*tches.
6. You will never be thinner.
I've never been the skinny girl, and my weight has always caused me a lot of pain and anguish, even when I was just a kid.
I often used to come home and have a big cry after some kid at school had made fun of my size.
"It's just puppy fat. You'll lose it," my mum used to tell me.
And while I definitely did slim down as I grew up, I was never skinny. Except for that time I was hospitalised with food poisoning.
Even in my early 20s, I spent a lot of time stressing out about my weight, and comparing myself to my friends and my sister.
I wish I could go back and tell my 20-something-year-old self: "This is as good as it's going to get, so just embrace it."
Because, let's face it, you don't get any thinner in your 30s.
As I've gotten older, I've accepted the fact that I'm never going to be the skinny girl. It's just not the way I'm built. And I'm okay with that. I'm healthy, and that's what matters the most.
I've tried to be kinder to myself, and more accepting and appreciative of my body.
Are there things I'd still like to change? Of course! But you have to work with what you've got. There's absolutely no point in stressing about the things you have no control over.
7. There's nothing wrong with doing nothing.
When I was in my 20s, I had to be out every single Saturday night, and if I wasn't, I'd feel like a complete and utter lonely loser.
There was always so much pressure to lock something in so you wouldn't be stuck at home alone on the weekend.
I had a very busy social life, and while I had some fun times, there's nothing I love more now than just going home.
Seriously, there is something so luxurious and blissful about being able to kick off your shoes, lie on the couch and just watch Netflix or read a good book.
Learn to be by yourself, and appreciate the quiet, because the older you get, the more you'll crave it.
8. Less drama.
Your 20s are filled with a ridiculous amount of completely unnecessary drama.
Friend drama, boy drama... Chances are it's all been manufactured by you or someone near you.
And let me tell you now, it's a complete waste of your time and energy, and you will not miss it one bit once it's gone.
As you get older, you'll be able to pinpoint the people who bring the most drama into your life, and you'll start to eliminate them. You'll do this not to be mean, but because you've finally chosen yourself.
When you stop and really think about these people, you'll realise the bad outweighs the good, and you probably should have cut them off a long time ago. They're not actually adding anything beneficial to your life. If anything, they're just a drain on your resources, and you'll be happy to see them go.
And then there will be other people who you may just need a break from. You'll need some time apart to grow - it may be a few months or a few years - but eventually they'll make their way back into your life, and you'll both be better off for the momentary distance you had.
LISTEN: Is Helen Mirren’s wisdom worth listening to? Post continues below.
9. Always say yes to adventure, even if things don't turn out like you'd hoped.
When I was 22, I wanted to move to London, but all throughout my 20s, I was too afraid to do it.
Finally, at the ripe old age of 33, I packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
It only took me 11 years to build up the courage, but I did it.
Was it everything I'd hoped for and more? Maybe not. But I have zero regrets, and I'd do it all over again.
I learnt a lot about myself and I grew a lot as a person, and it honestly changed my life. That whole experience is now woven into the fibre of my being.
10. Just be YOU.
There was a quote I read somewhere that said: "Your 20s are for defining, your 30s are for refining."
I spent so much of my 20s trying to blend in and working to hide what makes me quintessentially me. Basically, I toned down my whole personality.
Now that I'm in my 30s, this is what I know: I'm smart, confident, strong, funny, kind, quirky, bold and unique. And not only do I refuse to change for anyone, I can't change.
You are who you are - embrace it, and when you do, you'll feel so much lighter and happier.