30 Before 30 Conclusion

Looking back on my goals – and how many I achieved

Well, the last few years have gone, let’s say, not as we would have hoped. I put my 30 Before 30 list together when I was coming up to 29, not giving myself very long to tick off my goals. Then a pandemic happened. Not only was the world suddenly closed off, but I found myself living through some of the strictest lockdowns in the world here in Melbourne. Some of you may have realised that my 30th birthday has been and gone, and indeed now my 31st has as well! Taking everything that’s happened into account, including the months when we couldn’t go further than 5km from our house, I decided to cut myself some slack, and give myself until my 31st birthday to ‘finish’ the list. A key point of my 30 Before 30 goals list was after all that it should be realistic, so it seems fitting that I’ve had to be flexible about the time limit as well.

So, without further delay (!), let’s take a look back through my list and see how I got on!

1. Learn to drive – complete!

Of everything on this list, learning to drive was by far the most significant goal, and I did it! I’ve had a learner license since I was about 18, but now I’ve finally gone and done the real thing. In the end I just had to knuckle down and get on with it, setting myself a deadline. I did my theory test between lockdowns, had a few lessons, and then was delayed by further lockdowns. Eventually I finally sat down and did my hazard perception test (which thankfully you can now do online), and immediately booked the next available driving test. There’s been a huge backlog because of all the lockdowns, so I knew if I didn’t get on it I’d have to wait for months. Even so, I still had to wait about three months for my test. In the time, I found myself a new (and very lovely!) driving instructor, and went hard on the lessons and practice. A lot of parallels parks and some intense test-day nerves later, I passed with no areas for improvement! I’m already really enjoying the freedom of being able to drive by myself, and feel so good to have finally ticked off this big step towards being a ‘real adult’.

2. Lean to swim – in progress

I can’t say I’ve made it with this one, but I’ve definitely made strides. I’ve accepted that I’m a bit phobic about water, am working on my confidence, and am starting to feel more at home in the water. I have a lovely teacher who knows just how to make me feel safe and push me out of my comfort zone. The end – swimming unaided – is in sight!

3. Run in a Half-Marathon – complete!

View of people running along the Great Ocean Road with the sea on the left, green hills on the right, and a rainbow.

I’ve actually run two half marathons! The first was the Great Ocean Road Half-Marathon, and the second was the 2XU at St Kilda. Both were great experiences in their own way, and have been just what I needed to build healthy exercise habits. These won’t be the last – now I know I can do it. I’m looking forward to trying new ones and seeing where else my running takes me!

4. Read the Complete Works of Shakespeare – in progess

Boy did I miss on this one! I have no where near completed this, but I suppose it has helped me develop an appreciation for the plays beyond the academic lens I’ve always experienced them through in the past. Since setting this goal, I’ve read Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and The Tempest for the first time. Not a great achievement, but a start. I’ve also read the sonnets. This will be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t really enjoy them. I think they’re taken a little too seriously, and seen as some kind of paragon of romantic love. What I enjoyed most was the humour and self-awareness in some of them. But overall I still found them a bit of a slog. Perhaps I need to find some readings where the speaker leans into the elements I enjoyed. What do you think of the sonnets? Are they over-rated?

5. Attend an opera – complete!

I was so incredibly excited to tick this one off earlier this year, seeing La Traviata at Melbourne’s Arts Centre. It was a fabulous performance, and a truly wonderful experience. You can read more of my thoughts in my full review, A Normal Person’s Review of the Opera. Of all the goals on this list, this is one of the ones I had the most fun with – it was fantastic!

6. Climb a mountain – incomplete

While I’ve climbed things called ‘mountain’, such as Mount Elephant in Victoria (near Daylesford), I don’t think I can really say I’ve completed this one. Certainly not as I had intended to. The lack of travel largely put paid to this, but with plans developing for the next year, I’m confident I could tick this one off by my next birthday. Thanks to my various fitness goals, I feel more up to the challenge than ever before!

7. Read Jane Eyre – complete!

I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book – I loved it! I can see why as a child it might not have grabbed me – it is a bit of a slow burner, but once you get going it is really gripping, and far less gloomy than I had expected! Perhaps the content and Jane’s personal struggles just speak better to a person who’s seen a bit more of life. I would definitely recommend picking this up if like me you’ve been too intimidated to do so before.

8. Ride in a bike race – incomplete

This is another one the lockdowns postponed for a long time, and bike races are only really starting to pick up again now. I have seriously worked on my bike fitness though; I’m a devotee of GCN training videos on YouTube, and although I still have the same janky bike, I’ve made some improvements to make it a bit more roadworthy. I think I’m partly put off by the quite ‘serious’ culture around road bikes, but I’m sure if I dig beneath the surface there’s a lot more to it. I’ll have to make the effort and sign-up for something in the next few months when spring comes round again.

9. Cut down my wardrobe – complete

This is a harder one to judge, as I’ve realistically still got a lot of clothes. But I think what matters is my attitude to my wardrobe. I’m a lot more realistic with my expectations for clothes, and pieces have to work harder to earn their place in my closet. The purpose of cutting down my wardrobe was to focus on clothes I enjoy wearing, and although I still struggle with over-consumption, that is something I’ve definitely achieved.

10. Get back into art history blogging – incomplete

This is one I am sorry to say I haven’t really progressed. Between lockdowns, working full time (with few to no holidays/travel), and the number of years since I properly studied art ever increasing, the thought of blogging on art history is just a bit intimidating. I no longer feel I have any authority to write purely informative pieces, and I haven’t had the opportunity to write my favourite pieces – those where I just sit in front of an artwork for an hour or two and compose my thoughts and impressions on it. Over the past couple of years I’ve also become more honest with myself about what my writing is for. I don’t owe anyone my writing, and I certainly don’t get paid for it, so I should only being doing it when I’m enjoying it. That applies equally to The Feminist Gadabout and Personal Interpretations. So, when I find the time and the pleasure in art writing again, I’ll return to it, but for now I don’t feel too bad about leaving this one unfinished.

11. Give blood (regularly) – complete

Headshot of Helen in the seat giving blood, with blood pressure band visible on arm, but no needles or blood on show.
Giving blood for the first time in Australia

It turned out that as someone who had lived in the UK during ‘Mad Cow disease’ times, I was ineligible to give blood. But excitingly, this rule has finally been changed, and I’ve now given blood twice. It’s really easy to do: the staff are great and super friendly, the snacks are delicious, and booking an appointment is incredibly straight forward thanks to the great app. I will definitely be keeping this habit up. I would really recommend trying it – it’s a very simple way to make a huge difference, and a very rewarding experience.

12. Learn to ski – incomplete

Another goal blighted by travel restrictions, this hasn’t happened. Things have been pretty hectic this year, and it’s looking like I’ve missed another season (at least here in Australia), but it’s still something I’d like to do in the future. So not achieved, but still a goal I’d like to aim for.

13. Knit a jumper/vest – incomplete

No excuse for not finishing this! Everyone seemed to turn to crafts during lockdown, but I was let down by my lack of patience. I thought I’d ease myself into it with a ribbed beanie, and even that was too much. I think I just found it too much of a contrast to my very chill, relaxed blanket and scarf knitting. Suddenly having to concentrate on counting stitches and mixing things up was a bit of a radical change! Having said that, this is still something I’d love to do, so hopefully one day I’ll be able to achieve this.

14. Sew a skirt from recycled materials – incomplete

Unfortunately I haven’t made any progress towards this. I did some research into patterns and watched some instructional videos, but by the time op shops were opened up after lockdown, I’d thoroughly lost momentum. I still think this would be a good thing to try, not least from the perspective of appreciating how much effort and skill goes into making the clothes we buy, but perhaps this is one to attempt further down the line.

15. Master Duolingo French – in progress

The goal posts on this one keep moving, so I’m not surprised I haven’t completed it! I have however reached an over 800 day streak, and made good progress on the lessons. I’ve come to realise this is one I might not ‘finish’ as the course keeps being updated (which is good!), but it’s certainly achieved the goal of integrating learning the language into my daily life. I am definitely better at French than I was when I set the goal, so I’m going to chalk this one up as a success.

16. Read the 100 Novels that Shaped our World list – in progress

My reading took a real nose-dive in 2021, only picking up towards the very end. The weirdness of the year in general and bereavement really knocked my reading habit, but I’ve got back into a rhythm since then, and am making good progress. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve finished even a single section of this list. I tackled a lot of them, and it really helped me get back into reading seriously. But I also found it a little inflexible. Come my 30th birthday and what I thought was technically failing this goal, I decided to open up my reading choices again, and I’ve really enjoyed following my fancy. I still return to this list when I get stuck for recommendations, and I’ve now read 27 entries on the list. Given that in my whole life up to that date I’d only read 15, I reckon nearly doubling that in two years isn’t bad going. Definitely a list I will be coming back to again and again.

17. Try a team sport – incomplete

Lockdowns prevented this one from happening for a long time, and then it was fairly hard to build up again. So, unsurprisingly I did not manage this one! I’d still really like to give this a try, but I’m not quite sure what form this will take. Since coming to Australia I’ve come to understand why AFL or ‘Ozzie Rules’ is so popular, so I’m tempted to give AFLW a try. One of my friends is a former player, so perhaps I should hit her up and see how I go? Watch this space!

18. Up my film knowledge – incomplete

Unfortunately this is one I didn’t get very far with. In its own strange way, I think it was a bit of an unrealistic goal, because it made watching movies feel a bit like homework. I’ve definitely broadened my cinematic horizons in some ways, catching some great films even recently that I’d been meaning to watch for ages, including The Lobster (I loved Lanthimos’ The Favourite) and attending a screening of the director’s cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I had wanted to watch for years. So while I’m making some progress, I’m not feeling too bad about not ticking all of these off.

19. Go to a stand-up comedy gig – complete

This is one I have completed many times over! Before embarking upon this list I had been to a single solitary comedy gig (Dylan Moran), but now I’ve been to so many I’ve lost count. Most importantly, this includes comedians I hadn’t seen on TV first! I was really hoping to get into the live comedy scene a bit more, and not be solely guided by the television in terms of who to see. Turns out I’d come to just the right city for this, as Melbourne has a famous international comedy festival. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Comedy Gala twice, where lots of different comedians performing at the festival, from household names to fresh faces, get short sets. Over the two festivals that have happened since I moved to Melbourne I’ve also been to lots of individual gigs, with some of my favourites being Melanie Bracewell, Aaron Chen, and Lloyd Langford (I realise this fails the ‘not been on TV’ rule!). There’s a really fun atmosphere around the festival – once you’ve bought tickets to one gig you’re often offered free ones to sets by newer comedians, so you can make some fun discoveries. Taking up this offer has led to one or two kind of awkward gigs, but it’s fun to try them out! I guess this is a bit what the Edinburgh Fringe feels like (which sadly I’ve never been to). I had a great time thoroughly ticking this goal off, and look forward to more gigs in the future.

20. See the Southern Lights – incomplete

I was hoping to tick this one off with a trip to Tasmania, but sadly that hasn’t happened yet. Apparently you can sometimes see them on Phillip Island (which I’ve visited twice) and the southern coast of Victoria, but I haven’t hit lucky with that yet. I’m hoping to get to Tasmania before next year is out though, so hopefully this one might come good then.

21. Organise my digital life – complete

My digital life has been a bit chaotic for many years – I’m not the tidiest of people at the best of times, and when it’s something as intangible as digital space, that just gets worse. However I’m pleased to say I can pretty much tick this one off. It started with an order for a couple of new external, solid-state hard drives, and has culminated in me getting a new laptop. I’ve had some fairly harrowing experiences in the past with hard drives breaking, so it feels great to have multiple secure back-ups of my precious photographs. The new laptop has been a huge improvement – my old one hadn’t quite conked out, but it had done me great service since the first year of university, so it was about time to retire it. I’ve not thrown it away, I’m still keeping it as a back-up. But I’ve definitely got a way more relaxed attitude to my digital life now things are backed-up, the technology is up to date, and I know where everything tis!

22. Take a vineyard tour – incomplete

Victoria is famous for having some great vineyards, so this seemed an appropriate one to try while I’m here. However, I haven’t really found the motivation to tick this off. If I’m totally honest with myself, I’m not all that much of a wine fan. It’s not my favourite thing to drink, and though I like it in some contexts, it’s not the first thing I want to explore. I might try this one in the future, especially when we have people visiting from the UK, but I think it’s one I’m happy to put aside for now.

23. Get (politically) engaged – incomplete

I had high hopes for getting involved in the political life of Australia, but with lockdowns and the pandemic throwing the normal order of things into total chaos, it’s not happened. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a slight sense of political ennui, not quite knowing where my place is anymore. Politics back home in the UK has been almost relentlessly depressing, with neither side offering the inspirational vision we’d hope for (not to imply that there aren’t huge and deeply meaningful differences between the parties), and over here in Australia I’ve just not got a handle on the system. Couple that with having a job which to some extent requires me to be apolitical, and I’m not sure this is one I’ll be embracing in the imminent future. When I first got into political activism, I was convinced party-centred politics was the way to go – I’m not quite so sure that’s where my interests lie any more. You can be political without aligning yourself directly with a party, and perhaps that’s something I’ll explore more in the future.

24. Take a road trip – complete

We didn’t quite bill it as a road trip, but when I was doing the Great Ocean Road Half-Marathon, we did a trip down the road itself. We stayed in Apollo Bay for a couple of nights, as well as up in the Otways, actually staying at a lighthouse (sadly not in the lighthouse itself!), before travelling back up the road towards Melbourne and stopping at a few places along the way. It was a really great way to get to know the Great Ocean Road, and Victoria. We hadn’t long been out of lockdown, and it actually wasn’t long before we went into another one, so it felt so liberating to be on the road, with the glorious sea on one side and beautiful green countryside on the other. I’d love to take a more serious road trip through Australia at some point, but for now this definitely scratched my road trip itch.

25. Ride a train – incomplete

Yet another goal that was scuppered by the pandemic! I did take a train ride, from Melbourne to Geelong. It wasn’t the most inspiring ride, nor was it very long, but it did give a taste of what a proper trip would be like. There’s something just so exciting about sitting on a train and watching the landscape change around you. Although I’d love to give something like The Ghan a go, a more realistic aim would be to do the train to Sydney, which is apparently pretty cool. So not a completed goal, but one I’ve dipped my toes in.

26. Go (semi) vegan – incomplete

So this is one I didn’t do particularly well with this year if I’m honest! My love of cheese has still held me back, although I have done better at experimenting with different kinds of vegan cheese, and various cheese alternatives. One thing that I have really improved this year is the number of ‘accidentally’ vegan meals I cook. An increasing number of my favourite go-to week day meals are vegan, from tasty bean stews to egg-free fried rice and delicious roasted vegetables. Definitely something I can improve on in the coming year, but still one I’m relatively happy with my progress on.

27. Buy a digital piano – complete

This was, unsurprisingly, one of the easiest things to tick off, and I actually did it in my original 30 before 30 year. It was in fact even easier than I expected. Once I had saved enough money and finally decided to do it, I ordered the piano from a local shop and it was delivered the same day! I really hadn’t expected this one to come off so quickly, but I’m so glad I took the plunge. I was a little wary of spending so much money in one go (it ended up costing me just over $1500, including a piano stool), but it has brought me so much pleasure. I had really missed having a musical instrument in my life, and it’s the first time I’ve had easy access to a piano for many years. I go through phases of playing a lot and playing less, but I still am incredibly happy to have it, and it’s been so lovely bringing playing back into my life. I find it really relaxing, and takes my mind of things in a way not much else does, so it’s been good for my general sense of wellbeing. If you’re considering taking up or reviving playing an instrument, I really would encourage you to go for it!

28. Publish a magazine article – incomplete

Sadly this one didn’t come off, although I can’t say I’m particularly surprised. In an environment where every writer was even more desperate for work than usual with steady jobs disappearing and little to write about beyond the impact of the pandemic, a newcomer like me was unlikely to break into the publishing market. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot in terms of my writing (as discussed above) is my individual voice, and what I can actually offer. I don’t want to write about things just because that’s what people normally write about, and I don’t want to place myself in competition with people who have genuine experiences to draw upon. So my writing will be limited to what I enjoy writing about, and what I think I can add some value to the discussion on. This means slightly recalibrating what I consider pitching, but I think it will be more rewarding in the long run.

29. Take a dance class – incomplete

I don’t want to blame the pandemic for everything, but let’s just say it was a combination of the pandemic and this not really being something I was that enthused by which stopped me from pulling this one off. There was an element of pushing myself out of my comfort zone with my 30 before 30 list, and this was perhaps just a little too masochistic a goal. As someone with terrible coordination, I didn’t predict myself actively enjoying this one, thus it always went to the bottom of the to-do list. Perhaps I’ll get it done eventually, but as it stands, there have been more pressing, and enjoyable, things to try.

30. Make a vegan pavlova – complete

I can’t say that this pavlova scaled the heights of culinary perfection, but I did make it! I chronicled my efforts in a separate post – have a read to see photos of some rather soggy pav! Adventures in Aquafa

31. Do a Parkrun – complete

Shot of a lake in the morning sunshine with reeds close to the camera, ducks on the lake, and trees visible on the other side of the lake, under a bright blue sky,
The view from the end of my first Parkrun

Given that I ended up adding an extra year on, I thought it was only fair to add an extra challenge on as well! I had been meaning to do a Parkrun for literally years. Back when I lived in Oxford I even bought the little barcode tags you use for tracking your times, but I never actually got round to doing one. So I thought this was a fitting challenge, in keeping with the exercise theme of many of the challenges, and the theme of trying something I’d always wanted to. It turned out to be really fun, and I’ve run it a couple of times since. When things settle down again in the new year I’m definitely going to make a habit of it. Having something, even something quite small and achievable like a 5k, makes a real difference for my exercise regime, so it’s great to have these lined up. There’s a nice little one round a lake not very far from my home, with super friendly volunteers and a nice non-competitive crowd of runners, so I’m pleased to have found it. The only downside is that it’s always at 8am on a Saturday! Still, good to kickstart the weekend with something lively I suppose!


So there you have it, my 31 before 31! In the end I only achieved a measly 12/31, with some others still in progress. In that respect, it can hardly be seen as a roaring success! Despite aiming to be quite realistic, I think some of my goals were a little too lofty to be achieved in a single year (or even two), especially given the pandemic. However, I think it did succeed it getting me motivated to try new things, have some exciting goals to aim for, and keep me motivated during some quite hard years, both personally and for the wider world. I’m not going to give up on the remaining goals just because the deadline has passed – they’re still things I’d really like to do, so it would be silly not to. Perhaps I need to add them to a 40 before 40 list?

Thank you so much for reading and following my progress with this list. It has been a really fun thing to attempt, and although I haven’t finished everything, I still feel rather a sense of achievement from it all! I’d love to hear about your 30 before 30 lists – what did you include, what did you regret including, did you achieve them? Please do feel free to share your experiences in a comment!


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