The 30 List

The 30 List: Things I need to do before I turn 30 (according to my 18 year old self)

When I was 18, I wrote two lists for myself. One of them was the list of things I wanted to accomplish before I was 20. The second? The bigger list, of things I wanted to do before I was 30. This was a very long, but very concise list of everything I hoped to do before I was “old.”

The day before I turned 28, I decided to revisit this list. I didn’t have a copy of the original any more, but I was surprised to discover that I could remember nearly every item that had been on the list, despite the fact I hadn’t even considered this list since the day I turned 22.

Unconsciously, this list had been shaping my life for the past six years. Become a professional ice skater – yep, I have worked as a professional ice skater for three years in total. The first time I set foot on the ice? I was seventeen years old and didn’t know my Salkow from my Lutz. I’ve had competent skaters ask, “how old were you when you started? I was six. Didn’t you love the friends you made at the rink?” In an environment where everybody has to constantly outdo everyone else, it really doesn’t go down well to tell them I started skating at seventeen (in fact, I didn’t tell them, for the first year). In the skating scene, that’s like… leaving school at eighty! I retired after three years due to a back injury. I lost six months of my life to that back problem, although it affected me for years afterwards, but before that happened, I’m glad I got to tick off one of the most unattainable-seeming points on my list.

Train as a teacher – done. I wanted to be a teacher, applied three years in a row for History, but kept getting turned down for two reasons – firstly, my degree is in archaeology, not history, a distinction (that’s irrelevant to teaching high school) that only history graduates care about, and secondly, although I’d volunteered as a teaching assistant for a year during sixth form, I apparently didn’t have enough school experience. When a friend got their application fee refunded, due to a government scheme to get more maths and science teachers, I decided to send my application to some science PGCEs. There was also a dare involved, and anyone who’s dared me to do anything will tell you I can’t say no to dares.

Three of the four colleges dismissed me out of hand, and I don’t blame them – my total qualifications in science related subjects at the time consisted of two GCSEs grades C and C, and a failed maths AS-level that I was nonetheless very proud of, since it had taken me three tries to get my maths GCSE (first time – missed coursework deadline, second time – wasn’t allowed into the exam, third time – got a high B).

Three weeks after sending my application to the fourth of a list of about ten providers, I got a phone call. Someone who ran a PGCE wanted me to come for an interview. Long story short, I got offered a place, including a fully funded year learning physics and chemistry, then passed a fully funded PGCE in chemistry. I spent the best part of a year working in secondary schools, then gave it all up to work in a supermarket. I still do supply work sometimes, when I feel like it, but mostly have decided it’s not worth the mental anguish. I was mildly annoyed and highly amused that they never did refund my application fee.

Learning to drive with a full (non-automatic) licence – oh this one took some doing. After giving up on three separate instructors since age 15, I learned the best way to pass a transportation related qualification is to effectively strand yourself in an unpleasant location until you can drive out of there. I moved out of a shitty Edinburgh council high rise (sublet by a creepy, lecherous alcoholic) three weeks after I passed my driving test, but only because I couldn’t get a McDonald’s transfer any quicker. That was a bad year, but everything had to happen and I did get some great writing material from it. Also, passed the driving test first time with three days left on my Theory Pass Certificate. I’m often a late winner.

Be on TV – maybe I should have clarified this one better, but I feel my responsibility to the hopes and dreams of my eighteen year old self has been fully enacted. I signed up with The Casting Suite back in 2007, and in the space of a month got work as an extra on TV and in a film. My television career consists of being shocked at a dropped coffin for a sketch in the Friday Night Project where I worked with James Nesbit (yeah, me and 200 other extras).

My glittering film career was playing a student (another extra role) in a film called The Oxford Murders – one of those box office flops; it could have rivalled The Da Vinci Code, but it didn’t make any money because the marketing was awful and nobody knew it was out. Shame really; I felt Eliah Wood’s performance had been a little wooden, but John Hurt gave an excellent performance (on and off camera), and the actual plot and script were really strong, as an adaptation of a mathematical mystery novel. Mostly, it was a day spent sitting on a chair, but there’s a split second cameo of me with red hair in the final cut, in a long lecture theatre scene. I decided film work was boring and London was the place you had to be to actually get paid or participate in projects that weren’t grassroots, so I gave it up as I had two years to go on my degree.

Languages – I have learned French, German (Austrian) and Italian this decade. I’m not fluent, but I can get by, and languages are a journey, so I intend to expand my knowledge as time goes on. I haven’t learned Greek or Japanese to anywhere near the extent I was hoping, and my Swahili is still non-existent. I’ve clearly wasted my life.

Get four A-levels – I actually left school with two (history and geography) and an AS (Drama; also the failed Maths which didn’t really count). So I studied and did exams for two more while I was doing my PGCE. Just to prove that anyone can learn anything, one of my additional A-levels was my longtime nemesis, maths. The other was psychology. I’d actually wanted to do physics or chemistry to make myself more employable as a science teacher, but none of the private candidate exam centres could supervise the practical components. Having dyscalculia, I was damn proud of getting a D on A-level maths. At 50% marks, that’s classed as a passing grade on an A-level (indeed, so is an E, at 40%). The French course that I studied at uni last year is equivalent to a fifth A-level, and the Chemistry course the year before my PGCE is equivalent to a sixth. Why? Because I love learning, and find tangible measuring points an integral way to assess my understanding against an established baseline.

Publish a book – I’ve done this twice. There was a dubious erotic novel which I got paid for, the details of which I will spare you, and a parody of the Famous Five, which I didn’t get paid for. The parody was self-published, the erotica was through a quality-controlled publishing house. I’ve also been paid to work as a writer for a research project which needed some reading passages and comprehension questions. The grand sum of £25. Which they PAYE taxed, sending me a cheque for £20.

Travel around Europe – I’ve done this twice, too. Once on interrail, which was a glorious way to waste a second student overdraft, which was readily given to me in the pre-recession months. The second was a more responsibly funded driving holiday, which involved my MPV campervan conversion from a Citroen Xsara Picasso (I really must do more on that before Morocco).

Work as an archaeologist – I have and I haven’t. I’ve been on digs, excavating the past, interpreting it (as much as you can) and bagging, tagging and EDM-ing. It’s far and away the best social life you can ask for. I’ve also worked at some awesome heritage sites such as Rosslyn Chapel. What hasn’t happened yet is getting PAID to work as an archaeologist, which I believe was the spirit of this task, if not the letter, so really I can’t tick this one off.

Buy a house – This one seemed like it was going to get left off the list, it seemed like the unattainable one, but in the end, it was easy. I and my partner saved large portions of our PGCE bursaries and put them down on a house the minute we graduated, using our job contracts as proof of our financial standing.

Ironically, three months later, neither of us were working at the same schools, but we make our payments and I feel very lucky to have gotten this mortgage six months before the rules were tightened – nobody would possibly lend to us under the new rules, and we’d still be trapped in rental hell, with some complete stranger owning our house and feeling free to turn up and nag at us every month or so, a task landlords willingly give themselves to, for the modest compensation in rent of about 250% what we’re paying in mortgage plus all those nasty deposit, letting fees, credit checks and whatnots.

For digital nomads with parents, it probably seems odd to want a house, but I don’t have the security of mom and pop boxing my worldlies in their attic or garage until I’m “ready to settle down.” For me, owning my own home gives me a safe base from which to explore. When you consider Attachment Theory, it’s actually what everyone needs (the safe base, not necessarily in the form of a house) in order to explore the world without taking too many risks (avoidant) or being paralyzed by fear (anxious). Plus it’s nice to have somewhere to hang street art and keep bunnies.

And the things I didn’t complete yet (although, two years to go):

1. See the pyramids. I’d like to drive there but I can’t seem to get a suitable circuitous route that doesn’t involve long time on a boat. The land is all in the right places but for some reason (mass genocide, and all the other tragedies that accompany it) it just doesn’t work.

2. Go to Antarctica. I’ve probably missed out on this one – I have no skills to offer to the British Antarctic Survey and no pressing reason (as far as they’re concerned) to go. I’d love to do some archaeological surveying to test the Atlantis Theorem of Rand Flem Ath, but without the backing of a major government (and let’s face it, no-one’s going to give me money to investigate a Fringe Theory or pseudoscience, even if my rationale is sound), I’m never going to be able to investigate. To just go on the survey as a member doing things they actually want people to do, you need some sort of qualification or skill. You also need to be able to commit to a particularly awkward timing of departure, length of stay, and return, which gives me exactly one opportunity of timing before I turn thirty, and I’d rather spend next year doing something else since being in Antarctica without being able to do my survey will just be frustrating.

3. Get a Master’s Degree – so I did a PGCE, which is a postgraduate qualification, but it’s not a full Master’s Degree, and I have little interest in topping it up to an MEd because that feels like cheating and defeats the point of getting a Master’s. I haven’t done this yet because every year masters’ fees just go up disproportionately with inflation, so I can never save enough to pay for the course. For some perspective, my house deposit was not enough to pay tuition for a Master’s degree in Archaeology the same year. I doubt I’ll have the money for a full time course before August 2015, so I won’t have an MA or MSc before I hit 30.

4. Excavate Xi Huangdi’s burial site in China – I don’t like to relegate things on this list as impossible, I believe the very act prevents you from thinking big and achieving your dreams. I like to be unrealistic (for a given value of real) but I don’t like to consider anything as impossible. This, sadly, was the exception. I can’t get to China, I don’t speak any Chinese (C or M) and anyway, they haven’t changed the law to allow anyone (even natives) to excavate Xi Huangdi’s tomb. It is very sad, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to get around this one, and good archaeology is just decomposing to waste. I don’t think I will ever complete this in my lifetime.

5. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro – I’ve actually got a huge laundry list of mountains I should have climbed by now. Unfortunately, I’ve had to take a rain check on mountaineering for a long time due to the back injury I got when I was 23. I haven’t had an “episode” (period of time when my back won’t even let me move) for about 13 months, although I get occasional twinges still, mostly due to good management (see article, once it’s posted).

Everest, Kili, Matterhorn, Mount Olympus, Mont Blanc, even Ben Nevis and wee Ben Lomond have had to take a back seat. I did successfully climb Pen-Y-Fan in South Wales in 2012, followed the very next day by Lord Hereford’s Nob on the English-Welsh border. At the summit of Pen-Y-Fan, I cried tears of joy, because I thought my awful problems were over. Another severe episode in late 2012, followed by one in April 2013 and another in November 2013 have prevented me from further attempting anything that might require an airlift to get back out of.

I have had to accept that this just hasn’t been my decade for achieving physical fitness and endurance goals – I haven’t cycled or ice skated since my back injury, either. I still remain hopeful, since I haven’t needed my hiking sticks for support since November 2013, that I might be able to tick off at least one of these mountains before I turn 30. One thing’s for certain, I envision a day when I have the time and support to get up these mountains. After all, if double amputee Mark Inglis can get up Everest…

6. Circumnavigate in a boat. So it turns out you need special skills for this. I don’t know how to sail, navigate or even use one of those fancy radio-ma-jigs. I’d love to learn and then tick this goal off at some point in the future, but I don’t think now is the time to do it. One of the keys to my success at this list has been pragmatism – you have to relentlessly pursue your goals, but there’s always a trade off. There physically has not been time in my schedule to learn sailing this decade, except at points where I would have been incapable of doing so due to ill health. Sailing is also pretty expensive. I’ll carry this forward, though, because I really really want to do this, particularly stopping at islands and coastline that would be otherwise inaccessible or expensive to get to.

7. Skate the fjords of Finland. I’ve always loved the idea of ice skating as a practical and useful means of transportation, as well as the beauty of manipulating your body within the parameters of the forces acting upon it to produce stunning physical artwork. To be fair, anything to do with skating’s got my vote (except TV shows. I love watching the Olympics, it’s inspirational and educational, but I dislike Dancing On Ice – why watch other people skating on Saturday night during primetime when you could be out on an actual rink, skating? It’s as baffling as travel documentaries). Using frozen waters as a route to get from one place to another, camping on the ice, has all the excitement of trekking combined with the sheer joy of ice skating. This is one thing that will be on my lists until it’s happened at least once.

8. Music – Grade 8 flute. This was a massive failure. I lack the self-teaching-of-music ability to actually learn music on my own, and I’ve struggled to find a teacher or do the exams. Earlier this year, I finally decided I didn’t want to try and cram seven grades of music into two and a half years before the advent of my next decade, so I sold my flute. I still have a fife and a piccolo, but you can’t do grades on those.

What next?

With two years (one year, 48 weeks – eep) to go before my 30th birthday signals the onset of my fourth decade of life, the real questions are what am I going to do between now and then; what else can I cram into my twenties? What is going to go on my new list of things to do before I’m thirty? I feel the list of mountains deserves at least some attention. I also feel that educational goals have been given a lot of time and energy, so perhaps the final couple of years should be spent on something else. I’d love to focus on travel, but obviously the cost and time investment mean I need to pick carefully.

Do you have a list? What’s on it? Do you find lists motivating? Tell me about yours in the comments.

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