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Vol. 25 - Thoughts On 30

an honest reflection on my life

As this newsletter goes out, I will be waking up on the first day of a new decade of my life (which I can only assume will be accompanied by a mild to major hangover if I celebrated properly). It’s been interesting discussing this latest milestone with the people in my life who are either approaching 30 or in the midst of it. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been spending a lot of time in the run-up reflecting. Would younger me be happy with where I am? Would she be sad? Surprised? Disappointed? What have I learned in the last ten years that I can carry into the next? What have those closest to me told me about what’s to come? What the fuck is this ‘Saturn Returns’ that everybody keeps referencing?? Today’s newsletter will read more as an inner monologue than the usual style you are all used to because, in my mind, genuine reflection and feeling shouldn’t be heavily edited. Let’s start by taking it back nearly 20 years.


should you want a playlist for the rest of this newsletter, please enjoy the one I made for last night’s birthday dinner, simply called ‘tamsin turns 30’



 


I navigated my pre-teen and early teen years during the mid-2000s. An era of early reality tv stars, super skinny celebs, boho chic curated by Rachel Zoe, weekly tabloids, emo angst, the launch of Twitter, Mean Girls, Irreplaceable by Beyonce, palm pilots, my Gossip Girl novel obsession, the peak of rom-coms and my first real introduction to social media (in the form of F*cebook and Mysp*ce). It was a time that felt significant in the pop culture sphere, and I would argue that it had the biggest impact on me and who I am today. I still revert to the music I listened to and the media I watched during this time when I need instant comfort. Fall Out Boys ‘Infinity on High’, Desperate Housewives, ‘Work’ By Jimmy Eat World, and The Simple Life, to name a few. I was a strange combination of an aspiring boho LA girl and a half-hearted emo. I’d blindly imitate Nicole Richie’s style and look (I even cut my hair off during her bob era) whilst listening to Panic! At The Disco with dyed black hair and heavy eyeliner. I was a walking contradiction—conflict in small, half-Asian human form.


At 11, I wanted to be an actress. I’d discussed with my parents the possibility of joining Sylvia Young, which was greeted with mixed reactions. By 13, I had decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, which looking back, probably wasn’t a decision that I came to by myself, but it was a decision I was set on nonetheless. I worked hard, kept my head down, and was what would be considered ‘academically gifted’ on paper. I’d also come from several years of intense training as a gymnast, which meant I was a combination of extremely disciplined and blindly obedient. There was once a time where the thought of being told off would instantly make my blood run cold. I slowly transitioned from an academic, straight-A student prepped for Oxbridge to someone teachers began to tersely describe as ‘not living up to her full potential’ at various parents’ evenings and during one to one discussions. Whilst I don’t want to fully blame it on the dissolution of my parent’s relationship, the correlation was too timely to ignore. I became a very angry, insular and selfish person. I had zero control over my home life, and so I looked to control other areas of my life, including how I could make people other people feel (the worse I could make them feel, the better) and how I could stunt my own feelings and emotions.


 

As I became a late teen, the modern Sloane Ranger era took over, and we were all clad in Jack Wills, Abercombie, Hollister, Barbour and Uggs, with combover hairstyles and skin-coloured lipstick to complete the look. BBM was all the rage (I still miss my Blackberry); social media was also now officially a ‘thing’ and we could keep tabs on who was invited to what house party and what everyone thought at any given moment. I was surrounded by very English (read, white), wealthy, middle-class peers during an era where posh, blonde, English roses were à la mode. Not looking like the ideal beauty standard pre or post-puberty was certainly something that had a negative impact on my sense of worth. I was trying to both fit in and stand out. I was blindly confident and arrogant but also very confused and lost in regard to who I was and what I really wanted. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the teenage version of me would think about current me. It makes me laugh a bit, knowing that she would probably think I was ridiculous. ‘You do what for a living? You actually have to care about what people think about you for your work? Why do you put up with weirdos online? What happened to climbing the corporate ladder so that we could make everyone below us miserable’. I know if given a chance to go back in time and talk to her like I was in some kind of underrated Lindsay Lohan film where she had the ability to time travel, the advice I would give her would never land. She was pigheaded and stubborn and right about everything.


 

These years were strange, and I now realise that I experienced a lot of things that weren’t normal for most 13-17 years old. My friends and I had to grow up very quickly, and it’s no surprise that we had convinced ourselves that we were untouchable. At this point, I had lost a few people who meant a lot to me. A godfather and one of my dad’s closest friends who was affectionately known as ‘big bear’ by myself and my sister. He was a big, Sri Lankan man with a wide smile and a big, booming laugh that filled the room. To this day, his death is one of the closest things I’ve felt to a supernatural experience. I remember waking suddenly in the early hours of the morning and just knowing that he had passed away. When I came home from school hours late, my father told me that ‘big bear’ had passed in the night, but I had already made my peace with this. A few years later, both of my dad’s parents passed within six months of one another. My amah (grandmother) first, shortly followed by my yeh yeh (grandfather), who I suspect couldn’t bear to live without her around. For the first time in my life, I saw my father as a fallible human being. I witnessed both grandparents asking my father who he and the rest of us were - a result of the rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s. I saw my father cry for the first and last time at his mother’s funeral. I remember him getting a call from the care home that suggested we should come by and visit my yeh yeh, and it felt like a delicate way of suggesting that our time left with him was limited. We spent time by his bed, not entirely sure whether he even knew who we were. As we took turns kissing him goodbye, we left in a cloud of silence that carried us on the drive home, sharing the same unspoken feeling that we knew that was the last time. He died peacefully in his sleep that night. I like to think that a part of him knew who we all were that day and that he was given the closure he needed to let go. A year or so later, one of my childhood best friends (whom I’d been estranged from for a few years since she moved to Wales) died suddenly from meningitis at 18. I didn’t think this would have a huge impact on me, as it had been a while since I’d seen her, but it shut me down in an unexpected way. I couldn’t bear to go to the memorial that was being held for her by old school friends because knowing that I’d have to speak about her and my memories of her in the past tense was too hard for me. During this period, I also lost others close to me to a mixture of addiction, illness and old age. I’ve learned that my knee-jerk reaction to loss is to pretend it never happened. It appears that my brain seems to gloss over these dark periods as a coping mechanism as I hadn’t actually realised how many people I’d lost in those formative teenage years until right now. I hadn’t really thought of the impact that losing all of those people would have on me until writing this newsletter. I was so used to suppressing so many parts of me back then that I’d never allowed myself the time to grieve properly, but, looking back, I now see how the above carried its way into the next portion of my life.


 

I got into my first serious relationship at 18. I withheld myself emotionally and physically from so many people for so long, which I now put down to my fear of loss and lack of control after seeing my parents separate and the deaths of people who had previously been a big part of my life. After letting my then-boyfriend in more than I had with anyone previously, I decided that my life plan would play out as follows;


  • House bought by 24

  • Married by 25

  • High-flying corporate job that would fund a ridiculous lifestyle (that actually required far more money than initially anticipated) by 26

  • Kids to follow at some point, but maybe not, but also maybe because I was 18 and thought sacrificing my bodily autonomy for a man made complete sense

I was (reluctantly) ready to head off to university and reinvent myself. I could course correct the last five years of teenage rebellion, loss, and confusion by doing everything in my power to make my new life plan play out as intended. If I could control the future, then how could anything go wrong? Interestingly, at the start of this new phase of ‘future me’, this period of my life also saw the nail in the coffin of my already strained and tumultuous relationship with my now estranged mother. This is a topic I don’t normally discuss, and despite making peace with this after many years, I know it will be a continuous journey. The irony of all this is that at 30, I still haven’t done any of the things I had set out for myself at 18. I had put such an immense pressure on myself to achieve the things that I thought would make me happy and that would be socially acceptable, only to, once again, suppress a lot of myself. I wish I knew then what I know now; that things can only stay buried for so long before they rear their ugly heads. That you can’t control everything. That sometimes, you just have to trust the timing of your life. My first relationship ended after nearly five years because I finally woke up. The parts of me I’d buried began to surface, and I realised that this life wasn’t what I actually wanted. The person I was with wasn’t actually the person I wanted or needed. I had nothing but love and respect for him, but we weren’t right for each other. I knew I was never going to be what he needed, and it was unfair of me to keep him from finding the right person for him because I knew we could very easily have coasted comfortably together for a little while longer. After the breakup, I had to reassess a lot of areas of my life at this point. I was still unsure who I was and where I was going. What I really wanted in five years rather than what I thought everyone else wanted for me in five years. I had to move back in permanently with my dad and sister. During this period, it felt like my life was unravelling faster than I could sew it back together, but I am so grateful for that. The pain is never as permanent as you think it will be, which was a valuable lesson I needed to learn.


 


So, here I was, in my early 20’s, newly single, in a job I wasn’t sure about, living with my father and sister (again), thinking, what the fuck just happened? As women, there’s an added layer of pressure in your 20s. You have peers who are doing everything from getting married and having children to travelling the world or being sent to prison (true story, a girl I knew from school who was the sweetest, most softly spoken girl ended up on trial for perverting the courts of justice, trying to protect her boyfriend who had committed a crime). Whilst people of certain generations still like to focus on young women as a by-product of the men in their life - ‘Are you dating? Engaged? What does he do? Do you think he’ll propose? How about kids? You know your body will bounce back quicker if you have them when you’re younger’. I think in today’s world, the pressures for 20-something-year-old women stretch wider than ever before. We are expected to be educated, self-sufficient, well informed and successful. We can’t be too career focussed and too independent, though, because we don’t want to scare off any potential suitors. But wait, we also need to be feminine and attractive and possess the same youthful glow and figure we had as teenagers, even though it is physically impossible to do so. The older we get, the more dispensable we are when it comes to dating because there will always be someone younger, fresher, and more willing. Social media and dating apps mean your Mr Perfect has 100 Mrs Perfects at his fingertips. Oh, and if you’re lucky enough to find your Mr Perfect, you need to subject your body to immense trauma in order to raise a family whilst still maintaining the same exceptional standard of looks, career, and education that you had prior to Perfect Jnr. This level of impossible keeps us in a constant state of comparison and striving for the unobtainable. I wish I’d realised this when I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out how I could have it all without imploding.


 

As the years ticked by in my twenties, I became increasingly more insecure because I had told myself that time was running out. Running out of what exactly, I’ll never know. I kept thinking there was this hard cut-off (that was only every imaginary and existed inside the anxious part of my brain). I oscillated between not caring at all to being consumed by the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t enough. I have already written a newsletter dedicated to ‘Lessons Learned in my 20s’, so to avoid repeating myself, I’m going to skip straight to my thoughts on 30. Friends I’ve spoken to have told me that their 30s have been (or currently are) the best decade of their life. They’ve assured me that they genuinely do give less of a fuck about what those around them think. At this point in their life, they’ve ‘mostly’ done enough work on themselves to understand who they really are, and they’ve also actually processed the shit they’ve been through. They tell me they’re more financially stable than ever after spending their 20s slogging and grafting in jobs that made them miserable or were poorly paid. They have meaningful friendships and relationships after cutting out those who weren’t worth their time. It sounds as if they’re finally comfortable with their own timelines and not the ones imposed on them by others. Kids at 38? Starting a PhD at 34? Moving halfway across the world at 37? Divorcing the ass who made their life miserable after a decade of marriage? Coming out at 35? Adopting at 39? It’s all fucking possible, and there has never been a cut-off to these things that haven’t been self-imposed.


 

Again, after some much-needed reflection, I’ve realised that some of my anxieties around turning 30 have been pretty baseless. I’ve worked on myself enough to understand why I am who I am, and I’ve processed the things that have happened to me instead of burying them. I’ve left a ‘lucrative’ career for one that brings me joy and actually aligns with the real me rather than the suppressed me. I feel confident in my choices because I know I’m doing them for me more than anything or anyone else. Yes, I might see teenagers and 20-somethings out there absolutely killing it and think to myself, ‘fuck, why isn’t that me?’, but there are also people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond in the same position who may have only reached that point later into adulthood. Everyone’s timeline looks different, and because a complete stranger (or even a peer) has one that looks different to yours, it does not mean you are failing. There is a very cheesy quote that I occasionally see floating around that says something along the lines of ‘past you would have wished for what current you has’, which is annoyingly rooted in truth. Teenage me wanted to be in control. She wanted to have nice things and experience the best of what money could offer. I would argue that in some weird roundabout way, I managed to get the things she wanted. Thinking about it, the most significant period of transformation happened to me in my late twenties, and it feels like it hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s to come. Honestly, when I think about 30 now, the possibilities outweigh the concerns. I can now also say that I’m in the market for a good plastic surgeon, so if you have one, please let me know.

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