'You're 29, Shouldn't you be settling down now?'
My first venture into the travel world was at 18 when I went solo to Australia. I managed to move around, pick up work, find somewhere to live and even landed a PADI Divemaster internship on Day Dream Island in the Whitsundays. For some strange reason, of which I will forever berate myself for, I declined and came home. I don’t have many regrets but this definitely still haunts me on rainy days...
Anyway, during that year I also ventured to the Philippines for 3 months, staying with some second cousins on an island. There were no roads, no post – and no need for shoes. I did a lot more Scuba diving and was introduced to some of the best people I’ve ever met. I saw and experienced a tonne of things in that year. My world view expanded 100 fold, showing me there are a million different ways you can live your life. I also did it alone, an experience dangerous in the knowledge that if I’d done it once, I could do it again. Through the following 7 solid years of Medical school and Psychotherapy I never, ever forgot this. Through those years, due to being a waitress and an eternally poor student, I only managed to scratch the adventure itch once with a disastrous 3 week trip to Costa Rica in 2013. Then in 2015, my whole immediate family went to the Philippines, reigniting the past. Once I had graduated and realized I was now free, the urge to travel came back full force and I found myself googling 'ski rep' one Tuesday afternoon.
However, after 18 months away, I just turned 29 and all of a sudden there is this burning ‘should’ looming over me. The fact being, if I was 23 it’d be a no brainer and I’d just carry on with the adventures. Everyone would be all ‘Oh you’re such a free spirit look at you! Enjoy it while you’re young!’ etc etc – but at 29, back in the U.K., I’ve found admiration now switches to concern; ‘But doesn’t Sophie want to settle down?’ ‘What if you miss out on your chance to have a family? – or get married – shouldn’t she be getting a proper career??’ Ok – we need to take this apart because im pretty sure im not the first late-twenties woman who has experience this - and there is a lot to discuss here; Number 1) I’m 29, not 49 lets keep this in perspective please. Number 2) Yes I would like to get married and have a family one day, but if I haven’t found the right man or situation, I would much rather be single and childless than in a loveless relationship and matching the conventional timeline. Number 3) there are people in ‘proper’ careers who are also desperately trapped and unhappy. There is no linear path to career success, and after my experience of failing medical school, I know the price of investing heavily in something you’re not sure about and still losing anyway. And the big one; number 4) What if I just don’t want those things yet? Is it ok that I just don’t want to settle down yet? Is it so unusual that a 29 year old doesn’t look at family life and think 'yes, I’d love that right now!' and that if I was in a relationship I’d rather be planning our next adventure than shopping for a sofa?
What if you’re just your best you when things are a little chaotic and unpredictable and you don’t quite know what’s next? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. At 29, the idea of a comfortable, predictable job for a long period of time completely frightens me – and even though I know I’m lucky to still even have the choice to freely go wherever I want, I judge myself massively for this. Settling down is supposed to be what everyone eventually wants right? Particularly if you’re nearly 30.
Then there are the occasional offhand ‘you’ll grow out of it’ or ‘I used to be like you..’ comments which have sometimes left me seriously questioning that there’s something wrong with me. Some people go off and do a few months in Thailand and then they’re like ‘great that’s me done, I’ll start saving for a house now!’ If that’s you, great – but perhaps for some us a few months in Thailand is just the beginning - and it’s just a different choice. I’m also pretty sure that if a 29 year old man wishes to go off on adventures, stay single and see the world – then he’s viewed as a rugged, free-spirited explorer – rather than being met with a ‘so when are you going to calm down then?’
When I look back on the times when I have felt most alive and happy – I generally wasn’t doing what I should be doing. Honestly, my season in Meribel wasn’t the greatest, which I incorrectly concluded meant I should go home and ‘grow up’. I’ve been home just over four months and the urge to go off again is already back. Not for any negative reason about the U.K. – it is home and it’s been bizarrely sunny, but just because it’s actually what I want to do, and it’s the way I’ve always been. My time in education was really only ever the thing that kept me pinned to the U.K.
The adventure-life doesn’t make you much money, and there’s no glory or prestige– but everyday you have a beautiful life. You’re not just waiting for the weekends or for when you can get out of town. Even in my darkest moments of long restaurant shifts, or transfer days and homesickness, I never once felt the heaviness I did at medical school or in the sleepy comfort of a 9-5. It’s a dangerously wonderful thing to discover a lifestyle, which yes can be pretty exhausting and unstable, but it means you don’t waste a single day of your life wishing you were somewhere else. And the more you do it, the more you learn how easy it can be to pick up work, hop around and make new friends. How do you walk away from that?
Anyway, the dilemma is that I want a successful career – to commit to something and become accomplished, so I don’t know if I can go away again now - sometimes its about deciding what you want more. There is a lot out there saying you don’t have to have it all figured out by 30, but I’ll be honest; since I’ve been home, in this world, I’ve definitely had to fight some inner demons of feeling like a failure because at 29 I haven’t built a solid career just yet. It really just comes down to the fear of missing out or scarcity. If I don’t hurry up and do those things before this age or that age – I'll miss out - and be doomed! If I don’t get married, I’ll be left on the shelf. If I don’t pick a career, I'll miss out on a chance for success, Yet frankly, when you break it down – all of those beliefs are completely irrational and untrue- what about just being happy? If its right, you can find love at any age - and build a career at any age too.
Going back to what I discovered travelling at 18; there are a so many ways to live your life. I’d grown up in middle class suburbia where pretty much every adult I knew (apart from my Dad!) had been in the same job for 30 years. Then I spent a year as an impressionable teenager meeting the world and seeing it doesn’t all have to be 9-5 and married at 28. If you're willing to be brave, you can do anything you want. I never forgot that and for me, adventure, being physically active, living in a naturally beautiful place with a certain level of unpredictability, has made me far happier than chasing big prestigious degrees or being able to afford fancy dinners. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy dinner – but despite my love of clothes, I'd choose adventure over luxury anyday.
There is so much out there to see, and you can literally paint the canvas of your life any colour you like – but as I’m finding right now, first you have to silence the ‘shoulds’, before abolishing the belief that you’re doing something wrong for making choices that other people won't always understand.
So here I am in August, with several job offers for the winter which can take me to either France or Italy, and I have no idea what to do. I have this huge list of things; exploratory stuff, places I still want to see and experience, languages to learn - and how do I say no when the majority of the happiest moments of my life have been living this life?
For a variety of reasons, I was burnt out after Meribel, but I’m not as done with the adventure thing as I first thought. I also have a career I want to build (what this is yet, I still don't know!), so my current state is a tad conflicted - but calm or settle down simply because of my age? I don’t think so. It might be a war of head and heart but they’ll be no 'calming down' either way. I do have to stay still and build – but then a job pops up in Italy and my heart is like oh man. What you trying to do to me?..!’ and the dilemma continues.