There's a life after 30; a pretty great one, at that, once you get over the agony of no longer being part of the care-free 20s club. They say that age is just a number (and other overused cliches), but I don't quite agree. Age is a wonderful marker of the wealth of experiences, wisdom and lessons we accumulate and carry through life. So here are 30 things (I think) every Indian woman should know and be able to do with practised ease by the time she turns 30. Welcome to the next exciting decade of your life. It's great fun, I promise.
1. Not be horrified about being 30
It's not a death sentence or the beginning of the end. It's just one more birthday in the (hopefully!) dozens more to come. While fretting about non-existent wrinkles and greying hair is odious but inescapable (yaay, impossible beauty standards), at least don't spend your birthday moping around, behaving like an impossible-to-please pain in the ass.
2. Say 'no' unapologetically
You'll save a ton of time and free up an unbelievable amount of mindspace when you start saying no and mean it. Can you take the day off from work because your aunt's brother's best friend is in town and she thinks jodi perfect rahegi? No. Are you willing to stop working after marriage? No. Can you babysit your nieces and nephews while you work from home? No. Say it loud, say it proud.
3. Give a wilting death stare
Ours is a culture that thrives on community living. Which is great, until you find relative strangers planting themselves firmly in the middle of your business. We think nothing of asking wildly inappropriate questions and offering unsolicited advice. Every woman needs to own a death stare so perfect, it would make even the most persistent busybody shrink in fear. Especially useful when random people are inclined to ask about your marriage and reproductive plans.
4. Understand that women are more than their hymen
As a people, we're obsessed with virginity—women's, not men's. Stop judging on the extent of your sexual experience (or lack thereof) and most definitely stop judging other women for theirs. Have sex or don't, but understand that virginity is not a weapon to be proudly brandished while assessing a woman's moral worth.
5. Know that you aren't duty-bound to have babies
For some reason, everyone and their mother-in-law will make it their business to remind you of your clanging biological clock if you aren't with a baby by this time. If you don't want/aren't ready to have a baby yet, it is no one else's business but yours.
6. Don't get emotionally blackmailed by parents
Even with the best intentions, our parents often try to manipulate us by invoking our sense of duty and the debt we owe them for the sacrifices they made on our account. You can honour what they did for you without being held hostage by their wishes. You owe them love and care, not a son-in-law and grandchildren on demand!
7. Work hard and ask for a promotion
Women are groomed to feel like impostors who have lucked into success and don't really deserve it, no matter how qualified they are or how hard they've worked. Ask for a promotion when you truly feel you deserve it. And even if it ruffles feathers and earns you the tags of aggressive and pushy, standing up for yourself is one of the most essential skills of adulthood.
8. Know how to fail
Winning is incredible, but failing is essential for self-confidence. When you know you have the ability to pick yourself up and dust off after a fall, no matter how bruised your bum is, very little scares you. And women who aren't scared go on to become forces to reckon with.
9. Take a risk
The follow-up to learning how to accept failure is to be able to take a risk. Taking risks doesn't mean that you have to do something impetuous or irresponsible, it simply means you have confidence enough to gamble on yourself and the ability to absorb the shock if it backfires.
10. Call out manterruptions
It's happening to women of all ages and everywhere—while you hang out with friends, at the dinner table while discussing demonetisation, on social media and, of course, offices. Because we only silently seethe when men talk over or interrupt us, their behaviour goes unchecked and they don't even recognise how insulting it is. Clearly and crisply, call manterruptions out for exactly what they are: power play.
11. Speak up for others
It's just as important as speaking up for yourself. When you're in a position of power or influence, use it to help others who might need a champion or a helping hand. As a woman, you know better than most that the rights you enjoy today exist only because someone else fought the tough fight for you. Help someone in their fight now.
12. Take care of your health
When was the last time you went to your gynaecologist? We spend so much time, effort and money on trying to look like we're in the pink of health with endless beauty treatments that we're too exhausted to do the things that will ensure we are healthy. By 30, regular gynaecological check-ups should be equally, if not more, important than facials and hair-colouring appointments.
13. End a relationship with grace
Drama, pettiness and public displays of emotions are okay when you're young and silly, but they are among the most aggressively unappealing behavioural traits in grown-ups. Learn how to let go of people and relationships with dignity, even when you're hurting.
14. Not be intimidated by organising transport — for yourself, or others
Several Indian women I know, depend on others — often groups, and men to organise travel. I have seen friends wait interminably after parties for others to get their butts moving, so that they can hitch a ride back home. A little planning — if you don't particularly like having to wait for others to drop you home or pick you up — always helps. Give yourself a deadline if you want to travel alone (setting a reminder often helps), pre-book a cab and if you can drive, just make sure you haven't been drinking.
15. Say sorry without petulance
To err is human, but to offer bullshit justifications and excuses to avoid an apology is unvarnished douchiness. When you mess up, be grown-up enough to accept it with humility and a sincere apology.
16. Not saying sorry as a filler
We women have this terrible habit of apologising for things no man would ever think twice about. You don't owe anyone an apology for the space you occupy in the world, for not looking the way they want you to or doing what they think every woman ought to do.
17. Feel happy for others
By the time you reach 30, you should hopefully be secure enough to not compare yourself to everyone around you. Competitiveness is healthy, but not to the extent that envy is the only thing you feel every time something good happens for someone.
18. Take a joke, but not regressive BS
By the time you're 30, you should be comfortable in your person enough to not be offended by the slightest provocation. But at the same time, don't stay quiet and smile uncomfortably when someone tries to pass off regressive nonsense in the name of humour. We all have that one person on our family Whatsapp group who will make crass wife jokes or homophobic/racist comments while trying to be funny. Discrimination is never funny.
19. Check on your parents
Yes, a day comes when your parents stop being the rock-solid wall you have fallen back upon and instead need you to lean on. They are so used to treating you like the child who must not be bothered with grown-up things that you forget that, they need you. To plan finances, to goad them to visit the doctor if they are ignoring symptoms of sickness, to talk them out of feeling miserable after a random argument with a relative. This is a good age to make that a habit.
20. Know your worth
Many Indian women drop out of the workforce after marriage or babies. Even if you're not actively pursuing a career, for whatever reason, know that work that you put in at home and as a caregiver for your kids and family has a very real monetary value. You aren't "lesser" than your office-going partner simply because you don't get a paycheck at the end of the month. At the same time, develop a skill you can earn money off and support yourself. Financial independence is indirectly proportional to a woman's willingness to have others walk over her rights and treat her shabbily.
21. Handle your finances
You don't have to transform into a numbers ninja, but no matter how big or small your income or savings, every woman must have clear control on where and how her money is invested. Financial independence is not truly complete until you are empowered to make decisions about your money.
22. Support other women
By now, you know that the world is an unforgiving, sometimes cruel place for a woman. It becomes easier when there are friendly, supportive faces cheering you on. Be that face for someone.
23. Be comfortable with your body and choices
Most Indian women are brought up to please others. Some of our most personal choices are dictated by the log kya kahenge filter. By 30, your own comfort should be your most pressing concern, no matter how much it offends people's sensibilities. Be comfortable; in your body, your beliefs, your thoughts, in the clothes you wear, your own space, public spaces.
24. Accept people's dislike
In the grand scheme of things, being likeable is far less important than being ethical, empathetic, talented... Unfortunately, much of what we do and say is governed by the need to be liked, especially by men, sometimes even at the cost of our principles and what we know to be right. When you're trying to do something of consequence, there will always be people who will hate you for it. Accept that fact, give the haters a supremely unconcerned smile and carry on. They don't matter.
25. Have fun
Lots and lots of it. Big chunks of our society find it very objectionable when a woman loves and enjoys her life. Give them more reason to burn.
26. Set boundaries
If you're 30 and unmarried, there will be friends who will decide that it is their duty to lecture you in the ways of the world simply because obviously marriage and/or motherhood has unlocked some secret chamber of wisdom that is accessible only to those who've sealed the deal. Such friends can be exhausting to be around, no matter how close you might have been in the past. Don't quietly endure the torture of unasked for gyaan for fear of rocking the boat, because sooner or later, the irritation is bound to turn into resentment, which will lead to an ugly showdown. Set boundaries well in time about what is and isn't up for discussion in your life.
27. Handle your liquor
Find your threshold for alcohol and try to stick to it. And if you are indeed planning a session of binge-drinking, make sure no one else in inconvenienced by it.
28. Carve out time for yourself
Having a full social calendar is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn't come at the cost of feeling sub-human because you couldn't find time to just be by yourself and recharge. Grown up women have to-do lists with "me-time" pencilled into the non-negotiable category.
29. Look at a rulebook and show it the middle finger
If you're reading this, you're almost at the end of the list and it must be making at least some sense. So it's safe to say it now: anyone who presumes to know what you should or shouldn't be doing with your life and draws up arbitrary schedules and rule books for it is an idiot (me, included!) and should be treated as such. Career, relationships, marriage, kids, mortgages... You simply do you.
30. Stop feeling guilty
No matter what you do or don't do, there will always be an endless list of people who will be disappointed with your life choices. "XYZ did her PhD, what's this job you are stuck at?" "Oh, she already had a second baby?" "Oh, she can cook so well." You are pitted against men, other women and who knows, even Michelle Obama, by people close to you, and even random people all the time. It's as if you can never make anyone completely happy. But it's okay. Know that you weren't put on the planet to make people happy. Make choices that fulfill you and make you happy. And enjoy the happiness without guilt. The world can take care of itself.