3 important lessons I learnt turning 30 in 2023

3 important lessons I learnt turning 30 in 2023

Happy “Be-twixtmas” to you, dear reader. I love this season-the delicious limbo after Christmas where some of us lucky ones can collectively exhale. Brush dust off our clothes from the wreckage of the year, admire any ornaments of joy we’ve collected from the past twelve months. Despite all the “what day is it again” jokes on Threads, I have no doubt folks out there are too in the process of taking stock, reflecting, and shaking off any collective 2023 baggage.

Most know I write sporadically, often with the intention of a) only writing when I have something to say and b) providing utility to anyone reading. Looking back, it also served as a form of self-admonishment: who am I to take up space online unless I can be of use?

And then I turned 30. I had the pleasure of celebrating twice, once with my family in Kuala Lumpur, and another in a kaleidoscopic Eastenders-themed bar in South East London. In the months since though I’ve stayed in my shell, convincing myself I had nothing to say, no wisdom to give, nothing I’ve learnt in these difficult months besides “life is tough”.

In the process of drafting an upcoming piece about my first year at my current place of work (right now I’m Stotles’ People and Talent Manager) I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I wrote something for the sheer joy of it. So, as much as this post is hopefully useful to some of you, even if it’s just one of you, out there… indulge me a little by coming along for the ride.

Grace is the best gift you can give yourself

A selfie, a woman with long dark hair wearing a purple and yellow watercolour-syle jumper is smiling into the camera.

Guilt and shame were two dogged demons who’ve haunted me this year. A lot of “I should have achieved X by now”, or “I wish my mental health didn’t stop me from doing this” or “I’m embarrassed for feeling so much, needing so much”.

My most used word this year has been “sorry”. Taking up space has been very challenging for me, and I’ve identified a fear of reliance on others because the last thing I’d ever want was to be a burden on those who care about me.

I have lots of ugly feelings. The more I struggled, the more I wanted to hide, mostly because I was scared of unmasking and revealing the truth of what I was going through. This was effective up until everything I was feeling boiled over and I’d burst into tears or be snippy / argumentative for no reason.

A recent therapy appointment really helped shift my perspective on this: if the shoe was on the other foot and I was observing someone I cared about in deep pain, how would I react? What would my judgment be? It hit me: I would never go “I can’t believe Brenda is so needy,” or “she has too many feelings”, but give the person space, and grace, and maybe a cup of tea.

As I said earlier, life is tough. It is only tougher if I’m tough on myself in addition. Recognising that it isn’t a crime to be pouring from an empty cup has been a helpful re-framing, even if it’s a lesson I’m still in the process of learning.

Cherish your community

A group of five friends sit at a marbled dining table smiling into the camera. The backdrop is nighttime on the river, city lights making the water twinkle.

There’s a story behind this photo: a few months before I got married to my wonderful husband Nick, I received some awful news (I’ll talk about it a little bit in the next bit, but it’s not 100% my story to share). I created a Whatsapp group called “The Bat Signal 🦇” in the calm of this storm, asking some of my dearest friends for support. As mentioned previously, feeling needy is near anathema to me but I knew I’d drown if I didn’t get help.

In the nearly two years since, my friends have helped me arrange wedding bits, a hen do brunch, and more than once arranged behind-the-scenes plans to spoil me. Here, my pals arranged a going-away party for me as I was preparing to fly home to Malaysia for an extended period I’ll explain in the next point. (Fun fact -they had to cancel once because I got COVID, leading them to scramble to re-arrange the surprise.)

At dinner, my friends arranged a little card game where they read out individual moments in our friendships that made an impact on them and it made me sob over my pasta. There’s no better feeling than being so seen and understood.

Look, I don’t have some big guide on how to build a community, because saying that would imply I have all the answers. I don’t. I know I’ve lost touch with people I adore this year because I haven’t nourished those particular relationships. However this means my ongoing goal is to “water the friendship garden” more to see more of these moments bloom.

Never regret loving as hard and as earnestly as you can

A photo of a family at a coffee shop, with various lattes on the table, all smiling at the camera. Mum is on the left in her wheelchair while her family surrounds her.

Some people know this, some people don’t-I try to be as open about it as I can, but treading the line between transparency and being a downer is a tricky one. My mum is a stage 4 cancer patient, and she and my family have been going through this journey together since July 2021.

Read my mum’s account of her first round with “The Big C” here - it’s a piece from long ago but it’s something I’m so proud of her for having put together, with the help of my father and sister.

This is her second round of it, and at time of writing she’s gone through over 70+ sessions of various radio/chemo/targeted therapies. I mean, just thinking about that makes my stomach turn. My mum has more emotional and physical resilience in her little finger than most people, but it doesn’t mean this hasn’t taken a huge toll.

I’m writing this post from my bedroom in my family’s flat in Kuala Lumpur, where I’ve been spending the past five weeks. I’ll be here until at least mid-January; even that doesn’t feel like long enough. I’ve watched dad and my sister care for mum from a continent away, feeling so proud of how they’ve organised themselves, how they fuss over her, how strong they are, whilst still feeling helpless because I can’t physically support them from all the way in the UK.

Being here, being with my family, and going on this journey with mum (temporarily) has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. The deep sadness and dread that comes with eventually having to go back to London is overwhelming, but I’m already trying to figure out how to return for more time.

What has this taught me? To say “I love you” whenever possible. To care for your loved ones in all the ways you have capacity for. That loving is the most rewarding thing you can do, no matter how much it aches. It is always worth it.

As I conclude this post, she should be on the way back from chemotherapy now. So I’ll put down my proverbial pen for a bit to spend some time with her and apply this lesson-thank you for joining me and hug anyone who is special to you extra tight for me today.

Thanks for reading, pals. I’d love to re-enter the online world a little more so hit me up on Threads (@brendaisarebel) or LinkedIn if you ever wanna reach me.