When you grow up as a typical “girly girl” who appreciates the shiny things in life and have a magazine journalist for an auntie, it’s sort of inevitable that you’ll inhale glossy publications alongside your daily dose of oxygen. I’m choosy about my literature these days, but there was no way I was leaving one of my favourites on the newsstand last month when I saw that it was said publication’s tenth anniversary edition.
As I flipped through my copy of Grazia once I got home, the articles got me thinking – something I suspect Jane Bruton and her team will be proud of – about how, in a way, I too am 10 this year. I turn 28 this week, which means I am 10 years an adult. If I’m honest, I wasn’t part of Grazia’s true demographic when it launched, but I read it anyway, as there was occasionally a beauty product featured which I could afford. The greater relevance I saw of this magazine 10 years ago was that it was an insight and guide to the life I would soon be living – would, not might, because I was certain that I’d be a high-flying career girl before I was 30 – and so I’d better know what I should be doing.
Grazia is still one-of-a-kind, a lone weekly glossy among the gossip magazines on the same cycle. When it launched, the strapline was “a lot can happen in a week”, and now here I am, reading the tenth anniversary issue and being reminded that an awful lot can happen in a decade. When I flicked through the first edition of Grazia, aged 18, I still harboured dreams of being a journalist: I’d applied to journalism degrees – and got rejected by the universities – and had no backup plan. I sat my A levels that summer with no idea what would happen afterwards, other than that I was booked in to hospital to have surgery on my back, and that I had no true idea of how long it would be until I felt “normal” again (answer: approximately nine weeks, which is when I first swung myself back into a horse’s saddle – don’t try that at home unless your surgeon gives you permission, kids).
And change absolutely became the theme of my decade: every time I thought I had things figured out, organised and handled, life would shift again. Sometimes, that meant sending out yet another job application, or looking for a new place to live. On other occasions, it was about handing my notice in and booking a flight in order to start the next stage of my life. And most of the time, I felt like I was failing: people are very conscious of what they don’t have, and we live in an age where we constantly compare ourselves to others. When people around me, from cousins to colleagues, were busy doing very grown up things like settling down and buying homes and climbing the career ladder, I was, at best, going sideways, and horrifyingly occasionally going backwards. I felt like a bit of a loser in the game that is life.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Twice, I’d sat down and mapped it all out, putting together my grand plan of how I’d take on the world and win. In the earlier one, I was at the very least married and a home-owner by now, and I was definitely winning in the career stakes. It’s taken me a long time to learn that goals are fine, and even achievable, but big grand plans to conquer the world and having your life mapped out year by year? Not so realistic. And although it’s happened to us in different ways, I’m not the only person I know who’s come to this realisation.
Friends of mine have said premature goodbyes to family members, or seen their own lives overtaken by illness. Others have supported partners through redundancy or grief. Some have picked up and moved to the other side of the world, thriving in their new surroundings. And others have stuck to the traditional dream and plan of buying a home, getting married and, no doubt filling their lives with children. I don’t have any of the traditional elements of an adult life – my first career is behind me and my second is only now starting to take shape; I haven’t even started saving for a home of my own, nevermind actually picking up the keys to it; wedding and baby plans also aren’t on the horizon (though that I’m more than happy with) – but thankfully, I also haven’t experienced the reality of other adult issues.
When I thought about what I haven’t done in order to craft this post and report on my first decade as an adult, I began to feel pretty despondent, like I didn’t have much to show for myself. So I started to think about what I have done, rather than what I haven’t done, aided in part by a friend’s theory that our five years post-university are the times when we go through the greatest personal change, or rather, they’re our actual growing up years. A bit like the common wisdom that you truly learn to drive after passing your driving test.
If my baby adult decade were put together in a highlights package, what would they look like? I had the driving thing nailed already, but in terms of everything else…
- I got my degree. It felt like a minor miracle (especially having almost fallen asleep whilst standing up when waiting for my dissertation to be bound – don’t try and write it in four days)
- I went on holiday by myself. There were strangers when I got there, almost all of whom weren’t alone – my first lesson in adventure and being bold
- I worked, and climbed, and fell… and got back up again. Essentially, I persevered. Until I felt I could no longer…
- …and then I came up with yet another plan. Except, with the realisation that the previous plans hadn’t worked, I settled on an idea and allowed it to flourish
- I lived and worked in another country. I made friends there. I explored, on a shoestring and by the seat of my pants sometimes. Which means I observed my comfort zone a few times (from a cosy distance)
I don’t have a house, husband or horse (still. Guess which one of those annoys me the most?), but I do have stories to tell and lessons learned, the biggest one being that if a lot can happen in a week, good luck on guessing what can happen in a decade. I’m making no bets on the next ten years, and I’m making the shortest plan I’ve ever had: I’m dedicating my time to being happy. Because I’m not interested in just ticking boxes any more.