I was nestled in the top bunk of a Moscow hostel when a feeling of anxiety pulsed through me with the intensity of a mosquito hitting a bug zapper.
A hint of sunlight was just beginning to peak through the window as I sat up in my tangle of blankets and tried to figure out why my brain had decided to wake me up with its nervous twitching.
Bits and pieces of a night spent enjoying the beautiful Russian city were all I could remember.
Endless bottles of wine consumed with dinner; then spying a light on at Putin’s house and deciding to serenade him with Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport were the only memories that came back to me.
As far as I could tell, I was still in possession of my teeth, limbs and passport so why the hell was I awake and trembling before 5am?
And that’s when it hit me.
I had turned 29 the night before and now that the Sauv Blanc had started to vacate my system I was vibrating with anxiety because suddenly I had a sprawling ‘to do’ list and a tight, all-encompassing deadline laid out before me.
Our glorious internet is brimming with helpful articles such as You’ll Regret It If You Haven’t Done These 30 Things Before 30 or 30 things to do before you’re 30 or 15 Things You Can’t Do In Your 30s That You Could Do In Your 20s and Hey, you’re 30! Just stay where you are, cats and death will come to you.
Maybe not that last one.
But in all seriousness, it seems that once the clock strikes midnight on your 30th birthday you’d best have all your ducks in a row because life as you know it has come to an end. Say goodbye to fun and frivolity, hopes and dreams and hello to a staid existence of disappointment and despair.
Like sands through the hour-glass, over are the days of our lives.
I’m not sure who decided that turning 30 is the milestone by which all success and happiness should be measured.
Why it’s a date we race towards, frantically ticking off boxes like we’re competing in a Hunger Games style bingo tournament. However, as most of these lists are aimed at women, it’s not hard to take a shot in the dark and conclude they’re linked to the idea that by age 30 you should be set up in your own home with a spouse, two kids and a Thermomix.
Scroll through to see some of the things women under 30 are all meant to have done. (Post continues after gallery.)
Of course some people are blissfully coupled up with children by age 30, while others have travelled the world, bought their first home or landed their dream job.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, others have yet to venture from the city they’ve always called home, have switched degrees or careers multiple times or are still incapable of keeping a cactus alive, let alone a human child.
If you’re just looking at a checklist it can be easy to filter people into neatly stacked ‘success’ and ‘non-success’ piles. But checklists, just like an out-of-date GPS, can be extremely misleading.
They don’t take into account small victories, personal circumstances and the little successes that don’t necessarily fit under ‘family’, ‘house’ or ‘job’. They only show what was waiting for you at your finish line, not how you ran the race.
In fact, if these lists are to be believed, by the age of 30 we should all have snagged a soulmate, furthered the human race, completed tertiary education, experienced a series of crazy overseas adventures, purchased our own homes, have read a library’s worth of books, survived death-defying sports, become bakers, be up on current events and have perfected a series of impressive-yet-useless hobbies.
Well, show me a person who’s successfully done all that and I’ll show you Martha Stewart and Beyonce’s love child, post radioactive spider bite. Because that’s the level of organisation and drive you’d need to successfully check off that list.
Another upsetting element of the ’30 before 30′ phenomenon, besides the fact you’re supposed to go skinny dipping and learn how to make gumbo (hopefully not at the same time), is that your success is dependent on another person.
One of the biggest finish lines you’re supposed to successfully soar across before 30 is the marriage one. After which you’re meant to gather up your things and make your way to the baby train, ladies with aging ovaries to be seated first thanks, and ride it until your ticket is no longer valid.
Of course it’s 2016 and this baby pressure is meant to have been sent packing, along with shoulder pads and intense eyebrow plucking, but any woman who’s circling the big 3-0 will tell you that it’s still there, lurking in the well-meaning questions of family and friends and, of course, on top of the dreaded ’30 before 30′ lists.
So, if you don’t manage to meet/swipe right on another human being who’s happy to share an electricity bill with you, are you just supposed to accept that you’ll receive an incomplete? It’s fair to say the average ’30 before 30’ list is more stacked against you than the deck in a rigged poker game.
Watch MM Confessions: ‘Cliches single women are tired of hearing.’
As I lay in that bunk and contemplated my new deadline, one element in particular had my heart constricting with sadness.
A sadness that had nothing to do with the fact the German guy in the bunk next to me was snoring like a malfunctioning spaceship.
It’s that I hadn’t had enough time.
The past decade had been a blur of completing university, trying desperately to get a job, moving cities and just attempting to get some kind of foothold in the land of adults. It still feels like it should all just be beginning, like I’ve only just become confident and comfortable enough to start exploring, reaching, traveling, dreaming and figuring out who I am.
I’m still mushy biscuit dough, even though the timer is about to go off.
There I was, on an the other side of the world, travelling through places I’d only ever dreamed of and all I could think about were all the things I wasn’t doing because I was there. The career goals I wasn’t kicking, the cash I wasn’t saving, the house I wasn’t buying and the babies I was nowhere near close to having.
And that’s when I decided to rip up the list – to shred it, burn it, place the ashes in boxes and shoot them into space. Because that list, and everything it stands for, is something the nuns at school would have chastised me for saying out loud.
I don’t want to spend my life worrying about checking off a list of goals, by any age, and not have the chance to enjoy it. Because even if you manage to tick every box and complete that list, the only thing it’ll be good for is wiping away your stress-induced tears.
So I decided to pen my own list. Something that would remind me of all the things I needed to do as I made my way through the last year of my 20s, the things that would keep me sane, keep me on track and keep me motivated.
Stop reading ’30 things to do before you turn 30′ lists… x 30.