I still remember my 26th birthday as if it were yesterday.
I was standing on top of a wobbly table in Ghent’s famous winter pop-up bar, trying to balance myself and dancing to the hot-and-heavy Latin tunes, after one tequila shot too many. It was supposed to be an epic evening full of dancing, friends and laughter.
But no matter how much I tried to put up a good face or tried to dance the pain away or tried to drown my sorrows in a shameful amounts of tequila shots – who said anything about healthy coping mechanisms?! – there was this lingering feeling I couldn’t get rid of…
I’d finally reached an age when I was closer to 30 than 20.
And I was on the verge of crying.
But just like I was ignoring the instability of the wobbly table under my feet, I was also ignoring the wobbly feelings rising up in my head. So far, I had tried to dance my way through life. And I’d gotten drunk on the fantasy stories I’d kept telling myself.
When in truth…
I was unstable.
Out of sorts.
And ready to fall into pieces after one wrong move.
Something had to give.
And eventually it did.
One big truth I’ve had to accept in my late twenties is that life doesn’t always go the way you hope… Some weeks after that wobbly night out, my body stopped doing what I wanted it to do. I struggled to get out of bed, was unable to walk longer stretches, felt my knees failing on me, regularly woke up in a panic and had no energy to make it through the day.
But those were just the warning signs.
Because really there was something much deeper going on beneath the surface.
My late 20s were a rocky period for me. I was lonely, unfit, bored of what my life looked like, but more importantly, I lacked the self-esteem to make the necessary changes. When my over-critical boss shouted at me for buying the wrong tomatoes at the shop, I didn’t do anything and just let it happen. When guys I was talking to were feeding me breadcrumbs instead of actual connection, I didn’t do anything and just let it happen. When I felt my body failing on me & saw the numbers on the scale go up, I didn’t do anything and just let it happen. And when the entire world was telling me to get a good job and an apartment, even though I really wanted to travel, I – again – didn’t do anything and just let it happen.
Looking back on it, there was just so much insecurity. I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted out of life. And, yet, I felt like I was on a clock to achieve all the things I should achieve, even though I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to achieve.
And my story is not unique.
You hear so many similar stories all over the world: horrible bosses who shout and throw laptops at our heads, insecurities over body image when we gain a few pounds, jobs that push us to work ourselves to death for little money, sexual assault galore, women unable to get hysterectomies, situationships with dates who pretend they like us, aunts and uncles at family parties asking us why we don’t have a partner, kids or a house yet, …
As a twenty-something, you’re trying to navigate the first steps of adulthood. Yet the pressure that we haven’t achieved what we “should have” achieved by now is always there.
And society feeds into that.
The message is everywhere.
And it all starts with something as seemingly innocent as our biological clock, just casually ticking away every single second of each day, putting pressure on everything we do.
Find a partner! But do it now, while you’re still young and desirable, or no one will want you and all the good ones will be taken. Have kids! But do it now, even if you’re not sure you want to, because you won’t be fertile forever. Oh, you’re 28 and still doing THIS job at YOUR age? Better get started on that career. But do it now, because you need to buy a house. Use moisturizer every day to keep your skin young and avoid wrinkles. Please your man or he might trade you in for a younger model. Dye your hair when it becomes grey.
I could go on and on.
Ageism is everywhere and it affects everyone, whether you’re a 59-year-old who suddenly realises her opinions at work don’t matter anymore or a single 25-year-old who gets told by her doctor to freeze her eggs because it might be her last chance to have kids.
Our society worships youth and beauty.
And there’s this – sometimes hidden, sometimes pretty blatant – message that we, as women, become redundant as we age. Or that we’re only valuable as daughters, wives, mothers, worker bees or beautiful entertainment (while we’re young).
It’s no wonder we don’t like getting older.
Because who are we if we don’t have a partner, don’t have kids and are trying to find our way in the world? Who are we if we aren’t productive every single minute of the day or trying to build someone else’s life or business? Who are we if aren’t trying to support or care for everyone and everything in sight? Who are we when we lose our youth and don’t fit into society’s beauty ideal anymore? Who are we… when we just are?
Fucking awesome that’s who.
Because, in truth, getting older is pretty awesome.
I had an interesting chat with a friend a while ago. She told me that she couldn’t wait to get older. And that life is sooooo much better on this side of 30. And a lot of women in my online community, when asked how they felt about becoming older, felt the same.
Because here’s the secret that society doesn’t want you to know:
There’s a lot of power in getting older.
This year, I’m not 26 anymore.
And I’m not shaking my ass on top of dodgy pop-up bar in Ghent.
I am 30.
And for the first time in forever, I feel on top of the world.
I love my business.
I love my family and friends.
I love my digital nomad lifestyle.
I love the life I’ve created for myself.
But most importantly: I love myself.
It truly is a blessing to grow older.
And I’m so grateful for all the experiences life has given me so far.
What my body’s lost in strength, I’ve regained tenfold in wisdom, confidence and resilience. I know who I am, am excited about the direction my life’s heading in, and nothing’s gonna stop me from living life my way, even if it doesn’t always go the way I think it will.
So I’m gonna shake things up.
And shake the occasional ass too.
Because life doesn’t stop when you age.
It gets to get better and better.
And it was about time we shook off the pressure society puts on us to fit its ideal.
Because life can be WHATEVER you want it to be.
And what is it that you have always dreamed of?