Turning 30: Why getting a year older should be celebrated, not commiserated

Many people feel sorrow and commiseration upon reaching the big 30, but I don’t really understand why. To me, unless I’ve booked a trip somewhere as a treat, my birthday is just another day of my life. Last year I barely even gave my birthday a thought, I was too busy wedding planning and I didn’t even tell my colleagues it was my birthday. I didn’t care that nobody wished me a happy day, nor that I didn’t receive many cards. I don’t view hitting age 30 as bad thing, I don’t feel like I’m getting old and I most certainly don’t feel like my best days are behind me. In fact, with every year of my life I can genuinely say that I have been proud of my achievements and that I have made the most of my life. I have always stuck by the motto of ‘work hard, play hard’ and I feel that it is only now, as I reach age 30, that a lot of my hard work is beginning to pay off. So on this 364th day of my 29th year on this earth, I reflect on the past 30 years and highlight my 30 achievements at age 30.



1- Lets go back 14 years to when I was only 16 (seriously, where have all the years gone, it feels like only yesterday I left secondary school!?). Life was hard for me. I played an active role in bringing up my three baby sisters (aged 1-5) and I had put up with years of domestic abuse from my step-dad, supporting my mum where I could. This was the year, however that it all changed and I really learned to fend for myself. My family moved to Cambridgeshire and I moved in with my dad and step-mum. I began attending a failing college with some of the roughest students I had ever encountered (cue fireworks being let off in the school canteen, muggings on the bus and drugs being sold outside the college gate) and I split up with my long-term boyfriend. These were challenging times. Despite this, I’m proud of myself. Many might have cracked under the pressure, but I didn’t. If anything, these hardships gave me a greater appreciation of the things that I have now and contributed towards making me the determined, strong, independent and successful woman that I have become.



2- This failing college did not help in my success, in fact, it almost prevented it. The standard of teaching at my college was terrible. One lecturer spent more time in his office than in our class. Another told me I wasn’t allowed to attempt higher grade work. I had been told over the two-year course that my work was of a C grade standard (which I wasn’t particularly pleased with, but was told that I wasn’t capable of achieving any higher), however it was downgraded by 1 ½ grades, leaving me with a DE classification. As an experienced College Lecturer I am confident that I am in a good position to judge the standard of the teaching provision. I also think that my good GCSE grades, my 2:1 degree classification, my merit grade at Masters, my PGCE and now my PhD prove that I was more than capable of achieving a B grade on my travel and tourism AVCE. I was one of only four students who passed the course in the end and when I look back on it now I realise how lucky I was that (somehow!) I still managed to get into university. I would LOVE to go back to visit these lecturers to tell them how much they could have impacted on my life. I can’t begin to imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t got into university… in a 2 bed council flat with a couple of children and working in a travel agency for 10k a year?
3- That brings me on to my qualifications. I worked (and partied) hard throughout my degree course. I was disappointed not to get a First Class Honours (I was so nearly there!), but I now know that a 2:1 is a very good grade and I am pleased with it.
4- I’m even more proud of my Masters degree. I went to a red-brick university that it very highly ranked, but this was a world away from my life as an undergraduate. All of a sudden I was exposed to the likes of Marxism and Foucault, development theory and politics and A LOT of new, long words that I was unfamiliar with. My distance travelled between completing my Degree and my Masters was huge and I was incredibly proud to graduate with a merit.
5- I applaud myself for completing my PGCE (DTLLS-which is the FE level teaching qualification), not because it was challenging or difficult in the slightest (in fact, it was really a bit of a joke at times-cue being taught the difference between an introduction and a conclusion and two years of extreme patrionism), but because I managed to get through the two torturous years! Being forced to write at a level significantly lower than it should be (level 6? Yeah right!), being treated like a 16 year old and locked in a classroom until 9pm each Monday (hello, I’m an adult who is capable of managing my own time!) and having to bite my tongue at the remarks made by the lecturer (who was just as qualified as me and less intelligent) was hard going.
6- Of course my PhD is a HUGE achievement. I haven’t yet passed my viva and I don’t want to speak too soon… but just handing in the thesis (which weighed almost as much as pre-pregnant me!) was a MASSIVE weight off my shoulders.
7- As it’s such a big achievement I’m going to make a second point about my PhD- the fact that I completed it part time in three years. This is almost unheard of. I may have had no life for the past three years, but I DID IT!

8- Becoming Cabin Crew, especially for a renowned airline like British Airways, is a dream job for many and I achieved this dream at only age 19. I was flying around the world at the same time as doing my degree (hence the 2:1 result as opposed to the First). It was incredible.

British Airways cabin crew Hayley Stainton
9- Then at age 21 I got my job as a College Lecturer. Seriously, I hadn’t even graduated yet and I was teaching students who were OLDER than I was! I either did an amazing job in my application… or I was the only person who applied! Haha Either way, this opportunity was the beginning of a fruitful career in education.
10- Three years later I got fed up with teaching and I wanted to see the world some more (I’ll come to travelling achievements shortly). I therefore secured myself a job as a TEFL teacher in a Thai secondary school where I taught English in the beautiful coastal area of Chonburi.
11- Approximately a year later I secured that dream job a second time and returned to British Airways. This time however I did long-haul flights- hello Boston, Tokyo and Accra!
12- After a few months of flying I decided to return to the ground and went back to teaching. I had a fantastic relationship with my students and colleagues and before long I had been promoted to Course Team Leader and HE Programme Manager. I loved this job and I loved teaching HE, but before long it was time to step up into the world of university.
13- My most recent appointment is my job as a University Lecturer. I loved working at the college, but there was so many frustrations that I had to work around. Now I am treated like an adult, I have the flexibility to work from home, I am not forced to pass students who don’t deserve the qualification (I won’t divulge here, but believe when I say that tight restrictions on funding has led to a corrupt further education system!) and I am given the time to research and write about the things that I feel passionate about. I love attending conferences and publishing my work.

three minute thesis
14- Speaking of publishing, I do have another recent achievement that was pretty big. My work has been published in the BEST academic tourism journal! This is a big achievement for any academic, especially an early career researcher like me!
15- I also won the three-minute thesis competition earlier this year. Cramming 3 years of work into 3 minute is an extremely difficult task and presenting this in front of hundreds of people was certainly nerve wracking, but I did it and I WON! You can watch the video here.

16- The last achievement I would like to highlight under this category is the success of my blog. I haven’t had the time to dedicate to my blog that many people do (refer to points 8-14), but all considering I think I have done pretty well. I currently have over 30,000 social media followers and this is growing every day (and to all of those reading this- please feel free to share!!).

17- My first major travel experience was when I went on a two-week holiday to Malia and didn’t return home! At age 19 I lived in a foreign country for the summer, got myself a job and partied hard!
18- Then at age 20 I went on my first solo-trip…all the way to South Africa! This was my first long-haul flight and SA was not like anywhere I had ever been before. It was a real eye opener and gave me new perspective on a world, that at that time, I knew very little about outside of Europe.
19- At 22 I flew to South America to do volunteer work in Argentina and Brazil. Whilst in all honesty, there was more travel than there was volunteering, it was a great experience which was made all the better knowing that I might have helped make a difference to the lives of the children I volunteered with, even if it was only by a tiny amount.
20- My biggest travel achievement, however, is without doubt my solo backpacking trip at age 24. This made for some of the best months of my life. It was whilst sat overlooking the waves in the Gilli Islands, learning about the mass murders of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and exploring the sand dunes of the Arabian desert that I really began to learn more about myself and to gain perspective on life (as cliché as that may sound!).
21- When I began travelling with my husband this brought a new angle to travelling and in the summer of my 28th year I climbed my first mountain. As a previous international athlete, my husband is both sporty and competitive and a little of that has inevitably worn off on me. We not only climbed to the top of the highest mountain in North Africa, but we were the first people out of over 300 who had stayed at the refuge the night before to reach the summit!

Mount Toubkal summit
22- My honeymoon was quite probably the best two weeks of my life. Yes, I know most people would say this was their wedding day- but I’m not most people! Visiting the Galapagos and the Amazon rainforest was a once in a lifetime experience and whilst it can be argued that this may not have been an achievement as such, I couldn’t have a list of highlights without it being in there!
23- According to Trip Advisor I have visited 27% of the world. Whilst I have a lot more of the world to go, I am so proud of all of my travels. Each trip has brought with it new experiences, new perspectives and so much fun. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but it has all made me the person that I am today.

24- So how have I funded all of this you might ask? Education doesn’t come cheap and nor does travel. So, well, I did get myself into a bit of a financial mess. I racked up thousands of Pounds of debts and reached a point where nobody else would lend to me and interest rates were all being raised. I was in a difficult place. I am incredibly proud however to say that over 2 ½ years I paid back every single penny! It was hard and torturous work at times, but I got there in the end and I most certainly learnt my lesson. I don’t regret it, because I have achieved so much, but I will definitely be taking a different approach to financial management in the future! You can read how I paid off the debts so quickly whilst continuing to travel here.
25- Despite being in the midst of paying off my raging debts, my husband and I bought our first property in 2014. It was a 2-bed terraced worth £240,000. It was my first home and I loved it. And if you know anything about how difficult it is to get on to the housing ladder in Britain you will appreciate this achievement!
26- In my 28th year I really got on-board with the fitness thing, my main motivation being to look good in my wedding dress! I was, however, perhaps a little ambitious when I signed up for Tough Mudder. This was a 12-mile marathon incorporating psychologically and physically challenging obstacles. Imagine ice baths, ‘birth cannals’ and barbed wire! It was SUCH an achievement when I crossed the finish line in one piece!
27- Almost one year ago I married my best friend. I know, I know, that sounds super cheesy, but it’s true. Whilst the lead-up to the wedding involved some of the most stressful weeks of my life (no, I wasn’t stressing over bridesmaid’s shoes and flowers-if only this was all I had to get stressed over!), I had a fantastic wedding day. If I could do it again, however, I might have a couple less vinos so that I actually remember the latter part of the day!
28- Last month my husband and I bought our family home. It’s a new-build 4 bed house worth half a million Pounds (thank Goodness for mortgages!) in a quaint semi-rural location. I’ve been enjoying spending the weekends getting the house ready for when the baby arrives and organising the travel-themed nursery!
29- That brings me to my forthcoming achievement-motherhood! In just over 14 weeks’ time my husband and I are due to become parents and to enter a completely new, yet very exciting phase in our lives!

travel baby announcement
30- So where does all this leave me? This leaves me happy. I’m happy with my success. I’m not lucky to be where I am, contrary to many claims. I am where I am as the result of hard-work and determination. But also as a result of chasing my dreams and being ambitious. Yes, I’ve sacrificed weekends in exchange for my PhD research and social events for credit-card repayments. Life hasn’t always been perfect. But with my 30th birthday looming I don’t enter this year of my life with commiserations because I’m growing older, I enter it feeling proud of where I am and what I have achieved in my life. I am excited for what my 30th year will hold (my first baby, becoming a Doctor and travels to Spain, China, Beer Fest and possibly Peru to name a few). Life most certainly is short, but if you use your time wisely you can achieve a lot, and you can make the most of every day!