Yesterday, I turned 30. As a woman, I'm probably not meant to trumpet the fact in a national newspaper, but sod that. I've had friends who've lied about their age for years or simply refused to reveal any age at all, and it just seems exhausting. So I'm going to save myself the mental gymnastics of figuring how many 29th birthdays one can plausibly have, be 30 and be proud.
Over the past few months, I've felt excited about my upcoming birthday. I'm not (yet) particularly anxious about ageing. I'm no longer "young", but I'm endlessly grateful to Jacinda for coining the term "youth-adjacent" at age 37. I can now cling to the last vestiges of my youth for at least another seven years.
And what a youth it has been. Staring down the barrel of a brand new decade, I've found myself feeling somewhat contemplative. I tend to charge forward at full speed, so it's unusual for me to look back. Knocking on the door of proper adulthood, however, 30 seemed like an appropriate age to take stock. And so I've spent the week wandering through the meandering corridors of my memory, opening cupboards and rattling long-closed boxes. Among the dust, cobwebs and fragments of my younger self, I found the haphazard roadmap that guided me through my coming of age.
My 20s didn't get off to the best start. My 20th birthday took place at Avalon Studios in Wellington, where I was working on the one-season wonder One Night Only. We were at the end of a week-long shoot when I abruptly awoke on the morning of July 5 to projectile vomit the previous evening's midnight snack of green olives out of my nose. Nine hours later, I could hardly stand upright and was rushed from the studio to Hutt Hospital where it was revealed that I had the dreaded swine flu. Happy birthday to me. I haven't been able to eat olives since.
Things have improved since then, though the first few years of the decade were decidedly rough. I've written about my struggles with depression and anxiety previously, but there wouldn't be a bribe big enough to convince me to relive those early-20s years. A number of young women struggle with their mental health in their teens and early 20s. I'm not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the high levels of pressure heaped on young women in almost every area of their lives. Be thin, they're told. Be beautiful. Be smart, but not threatening. Have a boyfriend. Be a good girlfriend. Be fashionable. Be polite. Be empathetic.
And while they're busy trying to be all the things they're supposed to be, they also have to be mindful of all the things they're not supposed to be. Don't be brash. Don't be too thin. Don't wear too much makeup. Don't be emotional. Don't ask too many questions. Don't rock the boat. Young womanhood is a complicated dance of trying to be enough and not too much. It's no wonder many of us struggle to find our internal equilibrium.
I don't miss the furious figuring-it-out fumbles of early adulthood. I eventually realised that I'd probably never have it all figured out and that most adults likely muddle their way through adulthood constantly perturbed by the creeping feeling of, "Oh God, this is life. Am I doing it right?" By 24, I'd put the black dog and its attendant angst back in its cage and moved into my mid-20s with a feeling of relief and a renewed sense of purpose.
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At 25, I turned my back on the music industry. I am and always will be a musician, but I'd had enough of a sector that creates pretty young ingenues only to absorb the lion's share of their incomes, contort them into parodies of themselves and paw at them like erotic playthings until they can be exploited no more. "Exploit" is the legal term used in record contracts and it is endlessly apt. A record executive told me that I was too old for the biz at 25. I agreed with him. I was too old to put up with the industry's shit anymore.
As I set out to follow my other passions, I felt a sense of freedom I'd never experienced before. I let go of all of the things I was supposed to be and decided just to be myself. My mid-20s were filled with new challenges, discoveries and realisations, wonderful friends, rather less Jagermeister, and rather more wine.
Between then and now, there have been amazing and not so amazing moments. I've made web series, joined boards, founded a successful business, won awards, fallen in love, come out, penned countless columns, got engaged, made friends, raised funds for charity, started a festival, written a book, sustained a serious neck injury, escaped from an emotionally abusive relationship, lost friends, learned to deal with constant cyber abuse, and had a few projects fail.
I wouldn't change any of it. The good, the bad and the dreadful all helped to shape the person I am today. From the deep abyss of depression to the wonderful gift of finding my soulmate, my 20s have brought me both unimaginable pain and incomparable joy. I have enormous gratitude for both ends of the spectrum.
And now I eagerly await the next decade, with its challenges and blessings. The expectations I had at age 20 about where I'd be when I turned 30 differ wildly from my current reality, so I can only imagine what the next 10 years will be like. I can't wait to get stuck in.
I do feel somewhat wistful for my 20s, though. This decade, though difficult and bewildering at times, has given me the great gift of getting to know myself. To any young women entering this magical decade as I'm leaving it, good luck and hang in there. And avoid midnight snacks of green olives.