As I sit down to write this year’s birthday post, I can’t believe how long I’ve been making these lists. My very first one was when I was on the cusp of turning 23, what seems like a lifetime ago now. I was living in Australia with my then-boyfriend. This year, I celebrate 29 from a resort in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. I’ll be there for a week for a writer’s retreat to work on my book (!!!) and explore on my own. As I get closer to the big 3-0, my priorities have shifted.
After quitting my “side hustles” last year to go full-time freelance, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But thankfully everything has worked out. When one job ended, another one came in its place. And I’ve become better about pitching stories and not just waiting for them to come to me. As the ladies of my writing groups say, “pitch with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” I’ve had the best year to date in terms of money and had three months in a row that were triple my average monthly income. This year, I worked on two local visitors guides and was published by Thrillist, Roads and Kingdoms, and The Daily Beast. I worked on an Atlanta guide for the Google Trips app and started the dream job writing about film tourism for Explore Georgia. I’ve traveled to Guatemala and Israel as well as return visits to a handful of states.
I probably didn’t succeed in holding people to appropriate standards (#1), but it’s something I’m working on. I didn’t continue with my HTML/CSS education (#2) but hope to pick it up again soon. My work-life balance has improved (#4) since I signed up for a coworking space that I go to a few times a week when I’m home. I went on a few trips for fun (#5) and try to incorporate leisure time even into work trips. So far I’ve been to a few new states (#8), not the required 6, but I thought it was a pretty good start. I am definitely working on my book (#9) as we speak. I do go to sleep earlier (#13) and wash my face daily (#15). This summer, I attended my first professional meeting for a writer’s organization and was glad I did (#14). And I’m proud to say I buy more quality items or secondhand if I need to (#26) after reading about “fast fashion.” And while it wasn’t on the list, I actually completed a triathlon!
Here are my 30 things to do before turning 30. And in case you’d like to catch up, here are the posts from the last few years:
1. Read for pleasure every day. I’ve heard many times that the only way to be a great writer is to read great writing. Since I work for myself, I always feel like there’s something I should be doing with my time, but I want to set aside at least 30 minutes to read every day, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or last thing before bed. If you want to see what I’m reading at the moment, check out my Goodreads profile.
2. Cut down the drinking. This is something I say to myself every year, but everything has become much more difficult. Hangovers seem to last twice as long and the next day guilt hits even harder. After reading the memoir of someone who quit after years of back and forth, I thought a lot about the role alcohol plays in my life.
3. Focus on domestic travels. 2017 was a bit of an unusual year for me with three international trips. I usually limit it to one, but each of these adventures was two weeks long. It took a toll on my sanity. As I move into a new place and bring my dog with me, I hope to stay closer to home. I also want to do fewer press trips and more personal travels, specifically to Chicago, Louisiana and the Pacific Northwest. I haven’t had time to write the stories from these press trips.
4. Eat vegan at home. This was on last year’s list, but I think living on my own will make it easier. While I do love animals, it’s equally for health and financial reasons. It’s so easy to give up meat for a few meals and the environmental impact is enormous. I got the Minimalist Baker cookbook for Christmas and have tried a few recipes so far.
5. Pitch stories that scare me. In nearly every field, there’s that voice in the back of your head telling you you’re not good enough. It says “You don’t have the degree to go after that job” or “You’re not an expert on that subject you want to write about.” This year, I want to kick that voice’s ass, pitching stories that feel like they’re too big for my britches. The kind that involves more investigation and interviews. I want to expand beyond travel and write more personal essays. I had great reactions to what I wrote for Yes and Yes and Ravishly this year, but both terrified me.
6. Go to fewer conferences. This totally goes against previous years’ goals, but I’ve learned this year, after going to three or four, that they’re not for me. I spend the entire time on little sleep, expelling all my emotional energy, eating crap and drinking too much, and making small talk with people, my least favorite activity. It’s also a good chance to meet colleagues and potential partners, but I think I should limit myself to one a year. That’s when I’m at my best, not exhausted and running on fumes.
7. Act on a last minute fare. Travel hackers turned me onto Scott’s Cheap Flights, a free newsletter that showcases the best deals around the globe. I file a few away for later, but they tend to be gone quickly. This year, I’d like to act on these fares and go someplace spontaneously based on price alone.
8. Make my health a priority. The healthcare system wasn’t kind to me this year as my existing coverage through Humana ended and was replaced with a more expensive, much worse plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield. I’ll admit that I got overwhelmed with my choices, none of which were good, and ended up with a plan that only covered the basics. This next year, I want to choose a plan that suits my needs, perhaps through the Freelancers Union, that will cover the operation on my right foot. And I wouldn’t mind getting Lasik while I’m at it, even though it wouldn’t be covered.
9. Open myself up to the possibility of a relationship. “You’re exhausting,” a male ‘friend’ told me a few years back, not so chill himself. I thought that one day someone wouldn’t find me exhausting. If you think I’m exhausting from the outside, though, you should be inside my head. My friend Jessica and I joked about just how closed off we are, like Fort Knox. But I wasn’t always this way and hope that I won’t be again one day soon.
10. Go for more walks. When I get into my head or find myself in the midst of writer’s block, this is my body’s way of telling me to get out for a little while. I know my dog sure appreciates it. The natural endorphins are essential as is the sunlight for a ghost like myself.
11. Start giving blood again. My travels to Zika-infested places in the last few years have kept me off the list for blood donations, but hopefully, I’ll be cleared to donate again soon. When I first started, I would go every few weeks.
12. Get involved with causes. The presidential election and the Georgia Congressional race that followed it were two blows almost back to back. I consider myself to be fairly politically informed and did my part of voting early and telling others to do the same. And while I didn’t canvass or volunteer, I thought I did my part. But it wasn’t enough. I want to spend this year actively involved in making a difference so that the people we put in office have our best interests in mind, not their corporate donors.
13. Do another Facebook Live to answer your questions. I did one earlier this year about my working holiday in Australia, summing up how I went about deciding to go and the actual visa process. I’ve also answered these questions via email and even in person with readers. I’d like to do another about any topic you might be interested to hear about like freelance writing or solo female travel.
14. Finally take Amtrak. I’ve avoided it thus far because it’s rarely the cheapest option, or fastest, in getting from point A to B, but it’s about the journey. I have a few routes in mind, but the Crescent to New Orleans might be a good option this year.
15. Get a tattoo overseas. When I was in Turkey a few years back, some of my travel companions randomly went into Fethiye and got tattoos one afternoon. I only have two right now, but both were carefully planned over the years, even researching tattoo parlors. But I like the idea of spontaneous ink as well.
16. Finish my book. I technically should have finished this already, but it’s getting close. There is a lot of editing left to do and it may never be seen by anyone, but I still need to write it.
17. Take a first aid class. With the state of the world, I think it would be smart to know how to handle basic emergency situations. I have the blessing and curse of not being very queasy around blood. I’d like to be able to actually help the next time something comes up.
18. Get some new photos taken. I am desperate for new headshots as mine are now at least three years old. I’ve also had people recommend an Atlanta-based company for boudoir photos and based on their Instagram feed, it looks amazing.
19. Actually complete a reading challenge. I sign up for the PopSugar reading challenge every year, completing 52 books, but have yet to even crack 30. Some of the categories are much harder than they sound!
20. Meditate. I downloaded the Headspace app but didn’t go beyond the free version. But I know there are dozens of resources out there for calming your mind. I also might want to try a sensory deprivation tank, just to see what it’s like.
21. Learn my family history. I know stories here and there about family members, but I don’t really know where we come from beyond Great Britain. I know my last name is of English origin and I would like to find out where specifically and how long ago they came to America.
22. Sort out my financials. I’ve been wanting to change banks for a while now because I dislike Wells Fargo’s business practices as well as their fees, but haven’t found the right one for me and my small (one person) business yet. I’d also like to start something resembling a retirement account.
23. Become better at making friends. I’ve been friends with more or less the same people since middle school. And while I meet people constantly through networking events, few become “real” friends that I hang out with regularly. I’d like to change that!
24. Sing in public. I have a serious fear of performing in public, even though I grew up doing it. But I shouldn’t be terrified of Buford Highway karaoke.
25. Work on my record collection. It’s taken me all this time to finally buy a record player and I’m so glad I did! My first purchase was the best of Otis Redding, followed by Rilo Kiley rkives, a two-record collection of b-sides. What else should I add?
26. Finish my top movies challenge. There are so many classics that I’ve never seen on the IMDB list that’s been a part of my Life List for many years. And there are some I’d like to add to it. How have I never seen Donnie Darko?
27. Cut off my hair for charity. I think it takes 10 inches to donate to Locks of Love or a similar charity, so I think I’ll continue to grow it out before lopping it off again. I have about four to go before I can do it, but it grows fast.
28. Make a writer’s retreat a quarterly event. This particular one is different as it’s ultimately pushing towards finishing my book, but it would be nice to get away and disconnect every few months to work in a pretty place. My friend Jackie went to Madonna Inn. I’ve also got a place outside of Asheville in mind.
29. Keep a plant alive. How is it possible that I can kill everything, including air plants and ferns?
30. Spend my next birthday in South Africa. This one has been on the radar for some time, but I can think of no better birthday to celebrate in the country I’ve been dreaming about since my grandparents went. If you have suggestions, send them my way!