I didn’t know that when I was Twenty


Today marks 30 years since the day I came into this world. I was 6 weeks early, and this seems to be how I’ve lived my life. I am always the first to do things in my group of friends – the first to start uni, the first to marry, the first to have a first, and then second child.

Turning 30 is a milestone. I think any time you change a decade you look back and see what you’ve accomplished, and if you are where you thought you’d be. Ageing in itself doesn’t bother me – none of the people I consider role models are on this side of 50, and generally speaking, in my field of work, (although not in the place where I work), age is synonymous with competency, so I embrace the ability to not be in my 20’s any more.

For me, life is decidedly different to what I had planned – although at 20, I was planning my wedding, I thought I would be a doctor. I’d maybe have one child, if any. I’d own a house. I’d have worked overseas.

Things change. I had Moo, and I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I can’t explain it any other way than it just stopped pulling me. That doesn’t mean I did nothing – I focussed on my medical science job and got promoted. I wanted to have a second child and so I did. I don’t own a house, and most likely, will not, any time soon. I’ve never worked overseas, although I have travelled. I’m not sad that things didn’t turn out as expected – I don’t have regrets about it. That in itself is unexpected. I have learnt when things change from what you planned, sometimes it’s because you didn’t know enough to plan what you really wanted. I didn’t know that when I was 20.

Other things have changed too. I have lost all my grandparents in the last 10 years, which I never would have thought would happen. I have had friendships last through my 20’s. Some friends I still see and speak to weekly. Others I speak to less often, but when I see them, it’s like no time has passed – they are also friends for life. More still have sadly fallen away. Some friends that moved through so fleetingly that I didn’t yet know them when I turned 20, and now, they are already fond memory of earlier times and not much more. It’s funny how transient relationships can be, when others are as unmoving as bedrock, and you can never really predict which way each one is going to go. I didn’t know that when I was 20.

Hard things have happened. There’s been a lot of sickness, and as mentioned above, a lot of death. There has been a lot to deal with in the last 10 years – money issues, health issues, both mental and physical, loss and gain of jobs, promotions that resulted in much more work than expected, and even a natural disaster thrown in somewhere near the middle. I thought things like that would weaken me, weaken my marriage. But despite not so certain appearances during all this, I’ve come out tougher and smarter. Sometimes, bad things are necessary so that growth can happen. Sometimes, you need bad things to appreciate the good. I didn’t know that when I was 20.

When I was 20, I was so obsessed with how I looked, or more precisely, how I measured up to how the world said I should look. To be acknowledged as attractive meant more to me than most things. Even at my best, I have never more than pleasant-looking, so this validation was often reserved to my then-boyfriend/now-husband, and close friends, so my self-esteem was often low. And then I got married, and had significant health issues that took several doctors and several ill-advised and side effect riddled prescriptions. My face and body changed rapidly, and has never returned. They changed again, though not as markedly, after each child. And my husband, he just didn’t care, or notice. If he did, he is the best at hiding it. If you asked him, he would tell you that I am still the most beautiful woman in the world. I am glad he thinks that, but I know most others don’t. That would have made me really sad once upon a time. But now, it just doesn’t. I just don’t care. Now, the compliments that stick are ‘You are so smart.’ ‘You’re doing a good job.’ ‘I feel better because I talked to you.’ In fact, the compliment I always go back to, the one that helps me get my self-esteem back, occurred after my Nannie’s funeral almost three years back. We were at the wake and I was standing with my mother. I had helped out as much as I could that week, trying where possible to take the burden off everyone else as much as I could. My aunt came up to me and put her arms around my shoulders and said to my Mum ‘You know, if there was ever a war or anything, I would want Anneke to be on my side. She just gets things done and sorts things out. She’s a rock.’ If you had told me, 10 years ago, that being the one who people can count on when things go pear shaped would make me feel better than being thought of a physically beautiful, I couldn’t have imagined it. That when you have low self-esteem, helping other people feel better about themselves or their situation would actually improve yours. I didn’t know that when I was 20.


10 years ago, I thought I was so very smart. I was. I am. I’ve always been smart. But I confused intelligence with knowing stuff. And that is not the same. Looking back over what I’ve learnt in my 20’s shows me I have a lot more to go, and a lot more to learn. On my 40th (which will hopefully be spent on an amazing holiday – hint hint Rhys), I’ll look back and see what I know that I didn’t know when I was 30. I hope it’s a big list.

If you could talk to yourself from 10 years ago, what would you tell them that you now know that they didn’t know then?

I’m An, the wife of a wonderful, but extremely nerdy gamer, a mother to two, a scientist, an amateur pastry chef, a daughter, a sister and a friend.

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