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I totally changed my life in 30 days - here’s how

Writer Jennifer Barton embarked on a 30-events-in-30-days challenge

Young woman posing in a tweed blazer
21 September 2023
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Have you ever had a feeling gnawing inside of you that wouldn’t go away? Something between a niggle, nudging you gently out of your status quo, and a ravenous hunger threatening to explode? I’ve felt like this for the past few years, and I’m pretty sure I know why.

It’s called ‘hitting 40 and deciding I need to be the one in charge of shaping my present, and my future.’

Though I’m a creature of habit, notorious for avoiding things I find stressful – driving, sorting through my extensive clutter, dragging myself to an event I’m going to find overwhelming – I don’t want to be like this forever.

Young woman making honey© Sam Lake
Jennifer Barton Packer stepped out of her comfort zone - and learned a lot about herself in the process

However, I also happen to be decisive and impulsive, (as evidenced when I moved to London with no visa, family or job prospects from my native New York City to try things out with a guy.)

So it’s both surprising – and totally in character – that I applied for a challenge Eventbrite was running a few months ago.

The company was looking for a Londoner to take part in the #GTFOChallenge (Get the [expletive] Out). They were looking for someone who wanted to shake up their daily life by trying 30 activities across 30 days in July.

The experiences would be wide-ranging, from fitness classes to gastronomy, art workshops to communing with nature trying beekeeping and forest bathing.

Woman smiling holding bees© Sam Lake
Jennifer found herself enjoying stepping out of her comfort zone

Why did I take on the challenge?

Filling out the application felt like a rebellion in itself. I am married with four children aged six to 13; leaving the house solo, especially on evenings and weekends, requires Cirque du Soleil contortionist levels of organisation and scheduling.

 RELATED: I changed my entire life at 54 – here's what happened 

Truthfully, I think that’s precisely why the desire to do something so out of character, so life-upending (for 30 days, but still), burned so strongly in me.

I’ve spent 13 years as the primary ‘do everything for the kids/husband/house’ person, working freelance and remotely and I needed to get unstuck.

When I was selected, I felt proud. And absolutely terrified. How do you drop: ‘I’m going to be out nightly for the next 30 days and need you to pick up my load, emotional and otherwise,’ into a casual convo with your husband?

Family logistics was one thing to worry about. I also felt anxious about my abilities: would I really have the stamina to be out past 10 pm nightly, trying new things, and then up again at 6:30 am with the kids?

There was only one way to find out. I threw myself into the Eventbrite challenge with enthusiasm and wild abandon, from my first day cuddling dogs in puppy yoga.

woman in a samurai workshop © Sam Lake
Jennifer tired a samurai workshop

 What did I do in the challenge?

I allowed my body to move to music in ways I didn’t know I was capable of in an ecstatic dance class. I found beauty in what’s broken at a kintsugi pottery workshop. I laughed at myself through various life drawing and painting classes.

Navigating my way around London’s postcodes was as exciting for me as visiting a new country since it had been forever since I’d explored the city I’ve called home since the 2000s.

I shrugged off all my social phobias by introducing myself to and chatting with tons of new people, something I typically find overwhelming.

One week, I thought I would collapse, having pushed my body to its physical limits after a 5K run, a 16th-century Italian sword fighting class, a 70s whacking dance class and a samurai workshop led by Tetsuro Shimaguchi, a samurai artist and fight choreographer from Kill Bill Vol. 1. (The most incredible experience!)

Woman with a sword© Sam Lake
Jennifer tried a variety of new hobbies

Physically, I was in agony, my joints screaming and sore, my muscles angry (especially the one in my groin I somehow managed to pull during one of my activities). But mentally, I was happy. I’d done more physically in one week than I had in months and it felt like a rebirth.

Woman samurai sword dancing © Sam Lake
Jennifer stepped out of her comfort zone

How the challenge calmed my mind

My mind is a busy place, so I appreciated having time for myself. I packed a lot of spiritual things into those 30 days: sound baths, forest bathing, collaging, and meditating. By the end of the month, I felt more connected to myself and my needs, which enabled me to connect with new communities I’d never have come across in my everyday life. (Like the witches’ circle I’m a part of now.)

Woman forest bathing © Sam Lake
Forest bathing was one of the hobbies Jennifer tried

The challenges themselves were fun and unexpected, but two months on, what’s more surprising is how much my life has changed from this experience.

Here’s what I learned trying 30 things in 30 days

1. You never know what can happen: I quit drinking alcohol and haven’t looked back

I applied to Eventbrite’s challenge because I was in search of adventure. I didn’t expect to have something mega-life-changing happen early on, but it did. I don’t drink anymore, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have stopped if it hadn’t been for this challenge. (Also, it’s unclear if I would have survived this challenge if I had been drinking throughout!)

That first weekend in July, I attended a sober/sober-curious dance class mixer and walked away feeling like I wasn’t going to drink again. Ever. (Yes, it was that random and that final.)

I haven’t touched alcohol since, I haven’t missed it, I haven’t craved it and I don’t have any plans to drink again. I feel amazing as a result, even though it was the last thing I was expecting to happen from this experience.

 READ: I overhauled my entire life on a whim – here's what happened 

I was always a moderate drinker who didn’t feel a desperate urge to stop. But I see how much more energetic and positive I am without any booze in my system, not to mention how much better my sleep is and how good I feel… and I want to hold onto that for as long as possible.

2. You’ll meet new people while rediscovering yourself

I sometimes worry people’s eyes glaze over when they first meet me and I describe myself as a working-from-home mother of four kids. Of course, I’m lots of other things, too: a book lover, a vintage enthusiast, someone who enjoys musicals and exercise and collaging.

Young woman smiling and drumming © Sam Lake
Jennifer tried 30 new things in 30 days

Turns out, I get on with others who are into all of that stuff, too. Being a mother wasn’t my primary identity in July – and I think that’s a good thing. I desperately needed to remember myself as a person outside of that label.

3. The challenge reminded me why I still live in London

I’ve spent a lot of time saying no to London life, claiming I’m too tired, I can’t afford it, not on a school night… there’s an excuse for everything.

This experience reminded me how dynamic London can be when you get out of your comfort zone, from the djembe drumming group that meets each Thursday night in Finsbury Park to cooking Gambian cuisine in a church hall in Peckham Rye through UK charity Migrateful. It is so much easier to try something new, whether locally or further afield, than I’d allowed myself to believe.

It helped that several of the experiences I signed up for were free – or at least offered a free taster session. My month of experiences has shifted my mentality and helped me reframe things. Now, instead of rejecting something I might want to try outright, I’ll try to find a way to make the space and time for it.

 READ: I went on my first solo holiday at 69 – here's what happened 

 4. You’re never too old to go back to your first love

In my case, dancing. I spent a decade training to be a classical dancer, but it was so long ago that it sometimes feels like something I imagined rather than my past reality. Trying several new dance styles and classes across the month was truly joyful.

Even though I can never be the kind of elite dancer I once was, I will always feel most like myself when moving my body to a beat. This surprised me. It’s like part of me had been asleep and reawakened, more vibrant and colourful than before.

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5. You might want to challenge yourself all the time

This experience not only fed my hunger for self-discovery and fun adventures – it reignited it. Big time. I find myself scrolling Eventbrite for new activities on a regular basis now. When I do go out, the last thing I want to spend my nights doing is a boring dinner meet-up… when I could be at a jesmonite casting workshop making a pretty tile instead.

I may have gotten hooked on the signing up to challenges thing… currently, I’ve committed to Race For Life’s Run 60 Miles in September challenge, which has me lacing up my trainers and pounding the pavements most days this month. I’m not a runner; I won’t manage to do all 60 miles, but I don’t think that’s the point. For me, at least.

I’m trying, and I’m failing, and that’s something I haven’t done in a very long time. It feels fabulous.

Read more inspiring stories on HELLO!'s Happiness Hub and follow Jennifer's journey on Instagram.

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