When I turned 13, I went with my family to see “13 Going on 30” at the movies. The night I turned 30, we watched the same film together, but this time on Amazon Prime. I still knew every song from the movie . . . but that might have something to do with the fact that the movie soundtrack CD was my alarm for a solid few years in middle school/high school.
It’s pretty wild how much can happen in a decade and some change. At 13, I’d never been kissed, had just transferred to a school I didn’t know a soul, and I’m pretty sure my biggest worry at the time was if the boy I liked knew I existed. At 30, I’ve kissed my fair share of frogs to last a lifetime, am done going to school (albeit I hope I never stop learning), and these days my main concerns oscillate between responding to snarky emails from opposing counsel and figuring out how to turn a “no bones day” into a “bones day.”
This might be my favorite birthday yet, but it’s not because I have it all figured out, whatever “it” is. As a teenager, and even into my early twenties, I definitely thought I’d be married, and might even have a family by 30. I thought I’d be more established with my career. I thought I’d be less anxious about the future.
Well, none of those things have happened. I mean, some of them, kind of sort of. I do have kids if you count the three dogs I herd every day. They’re a family of sorts that I’ve curated over the years. I don’t have a husband, but I am enjoying my dating situation these days. I wouldn’t say I have an established career by any means right now, at least not yet, but the work I’m doing is meaningful to me and I’m learning a lot, so right now, it’s a good fit. The one thing I do have from that list though, is less anxiety about the future.
Like Jennifer Garner’s character, at 13, I couldn’t wait to be 30. Now at 30, I’m not chomping at the bit to fast-forward through the next decade and a half. I’m trying to learn to be more present and to enjoy where I’m at with what I have. So, as I’ve done on past birthdays, I wanted to share a few “pearls of wisdom” I’ve gleaned in the last year or so:
1. IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE TO ANYONE ELSE. I feel like I should add “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” but that might be the lawyer in me doing a little CYA (cover ya ass). For me, one of those things this year has been getting close to twenty five hours of tattoos. To some (who know me), it didn’t make much sense why I went from zero tattoos at 29, to more than a few by 30. To others (who know me), it didn’t matter what prompted me to do so, they were just stoked I was in a better place than I’d been in a while . . . and if getting some big ass tattoos helped facilitate that, why not? And yes, I’m well aware of the phrase “bumper stickers on a Ferrari,” but sometimes that Ferrari’s been through a few accidents and it needs some body work done, ya feel me? And who says I’m not an Audi instead of a Ferrari?
2. YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR HAPPINESS. Not your partner. Not your coworkers. Not your friends. Not your family. Not even the barista who makes your favorite cortado in the morning on your way into the office. I’ll never forget the ex who told me it was my fault (and my fault alone) that he was struggling with his mental health. Those words tore me apart when he said them, and sometimes they still give me acid reflux . . . but I’ve come to realize that while people can (and will) do things that might upset you, the only thing you can control is how you react to them. Sure, others can contribute to unhealthy situations that can impact your mental health, but ultimately you’re in the driver’s seat and it’s your choice if you’re happy or not.
3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A GREAT DAY EVERY DAY, BUT THERE IS GOOD IN EVERY DAY. I’d like to thank my gaggle of chronic illnesses for this one. While I’ve been having more “good” days than I’ve had in the past, I still struggle with flares that can leave me in the fetal position in tears, often for hours on end. Even on these (literal) shitty days, I try to find things to be grateful for. Sometimes it’s finding an ice cream bar tucked away in the freezer, or a song from high school playing on the radio, or even my three dogs politely pushing the bathroom door open to hang out with me while I’m out of commission. I’ve found eeking out slivers of gratitude can yield even more goodness . . . plus, it helps reframe your state of mind from things happening “for” you instead of “to” you.
4. SOME FRIENDSHIPS ARE MEANT FOR A REASON OR A SEASON & NOT A LIFETIME. . . & THAT’S OKAY (& TOTALLY NORMAL). I feel like it’s more accepted that romantic relationships will either end in tears or happily ever after, but no one talks about platonic friendships and what happens when your bestie suddenly goes Casper the Friendly Ghost on you? Ten years ago, my closest girlfriends got me a box of Sprinkles cupcakes that spelled out my name, as well as some cards and balloons, one of which said “congrats on beating teen pregnancy.” It was a rip-roaring good time. We went line dancing at two different spots, my roommate baked more apple cinnamon streusel muffins than our oven could handle, and it felt like I was on cloud nine.
Fast-forward a decade and I’d say I’m only still in touch with a few of those friends, which kind of makes me sad, but at the same time, I’ve come to reframe their absence as making room for the new friendships I’ve made over the years. Loss is a part of life, but even knowing that, it’s something I continue to struggle with. It’s tough in the wake of breakups and things, how people whom you’d shared intimate details and special moments of your life with suddenly become strangers overnight.
For me, this one has been a big “birthday lesson,” if you will, and I’m trying to practice the idea “if people want you in their life, they’ll make time for you,” and vice versa. I’ll reach out and make efforts to connect, but after a few cancelled plans and radio silence, I’m learning it’s best to direct my energy elsewhere and to find gratitude for what that friendship taught me.
5. (Last, but certainly not least) IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START OVER. Man oh man, the quote of the century. After my first longterm relationship ended after five years, I was terrified to date again. Fast-forward a few years later, on the heels of another longterm breakup (coupled with a called off wedding and all the mess that entailed), I was scared shitless at the idea of starting at ground zero, again.
It was like deja vu to when I got sick in law school and took a year off. I felt behind – all of my classmates were going to graduate without me, I was going to be in a new class where I knew no one (if I was even able to physically go back to school at all). *Cue all the tiny violins.* Well, life after a breakup is super similar, in that (it seems like) all of your friends are in relationships and now you’re the odd duck at what would’ve been double dates. Everyone is moving on with weddings and babies and life in general, while you’re going on first dates asking about hobbies and trying to suss out red flags before you catch feelings. You’re navigating an uptick in evenings alone and forced to sit with the discomfort of your own faults and insecurities.
BUT it’s not all bad. Let’s reframe it: what’s meant for you will always find you. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, a whatever, if the timing seems like it didn’t work out, that’s almost always because there is a better version of whatever you’re seeking in the wings. There is something so awesome about curating time with friends separate and apart from being social with a significant other. Plus, that time alone will one day be something that you’ll miss when you’re in a new relationship . . . but, you’ll be so glad you had all that time solo to work on yourself and to really be intentional about what you want in your next relationship, instead of just jumping into something quickly out of fear of being alone.
Sometimes good things have to fall apart so better things can come together. And sometimes those things weren’t very good to begin with, but you don’t realize that until you’re presented with a whole pie instead of crumbs.
Sure, things suck when you’re starting over and everything feels impossible and overwhelming, but man, the climb through those lonely evenings and teary mornings is so, so worth it. Over the last year plus, I’ve curated more independence, a better sense of self, and a life that truly lights me up each and every day.
So, cheers to thirty spins around the sun. I think it’s been the best birthday, yet.