Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. Its been a long time coming. 30 years to be exact. Now I am on the precipice of being a 30-something-year-old, and to complicate things further, a 30-something-year-old Australian woman born of Indian immigrants.
“Believe in the magic of your dreams,” my father told me as a child. He even bought me a diary with that catchphrase emblazoned on the front. I remember reading it, studying it and believing it. I maintained this resolve notwithstanding the struggles my family experienced: substance addiction, financial hardship and mental health challenges. Nowadays I colloquially, albeit somewhat cheekily, refer to this as the ‘childhood hardship trifecta.’
There was also the stigma associated with being visibly Non-White in a predominantly White country. A diet of assimilation was fed to my parents. In the Australian context, assimilation originated out of a desire to absorb First Nations people into the dominant White culture. Adopted as government policy right up until the 1960’s, its remnants infected my parents when they arrived in this country in the 1980’s. The lesson was simple; if you are a model minority, you will be accepted by this country. As I subsequently discovered racism was much more insidious than that.
Turning 30 is a birthday milestone. That’s what society tells us anyways. But there is a double whammy attached to it when you are a first generation immigrant and female. Not only are you are tackling the socially sanctioned expectations that come with your age, but you are also tackling the socially sanctioned expectations that come with your cultural background and your gender. Luckily, my father told me to view these qualities as strengths, not weaknesses in my quest for personal and professional success.
For this reason, I felt comfortable reaching the realisation that I did not want to get married even if it meant denying my parents the privilege (or horror) of a big Bollywood wedding. I felt comfortable reaching the realisation that I was ambivalent about having children. I felt comfortable jumping between career aspirations including but not limited to being Australia’s next big pop-star, a recluse writer, prime minister or most recently a criminal defence lawyer.
But despite the individuality nurtured in me by my Indian immigrant parents, I have fallen victim to certain trappings in the last year of my 20’s. In particular, I have caught ‘comparison fatigue’ – that gnarly form of self harm where you compare yourself to the carefully curated lives of your peers.
It is ‘comparison fatigue’ that has made me acutely aware of my single and childless status as increasing numbers of my friends and acquaintances start ticking off traditional markers of success: settling into long term relationships, moving in together, getting engaged, married, having children and purchasing their first, or even second homes! I also became acutely aware of my tendency in jumping between jobs while my peers worked up the career ladder attracting increasing levels of seniority and authority as they did. Both these personal and professional insecurities are heightened for my first generation and female peers who face the pressure to achieve these traditional markers of success at a faster rate.
“Believe in the magic of your dreams,” my father continues to tell me. So I will continue to dream. I will continue to strive for a loving and committed relationship, possibly children and work that nourishes the soul. I will continue to read and write vociferously, travel the world, meet new people and have new experiences.
No longer will I subscribe to the pitfalls of ‘comparison fatigue.’ Instead I will carve out my own path. Why? Because turning 30 is a privilege denied to so many so the least I can do is to embrace it boldly.