I was telling a friend of mine at work today that I generally don’t flip out over turning a year older. I like my birthday. I like celebrating with my friends, and I like measuring the progression of my age against my achievements – most of the time. And today, I turn 32, which suddenly frightened the hell out of me last night and sent me into a panic. What, exactly, do I have to show for these 32 years?
I have these weird little mid-life crises every few years or so. It’s never on big birthdays. It’s always on inconsequential ones. 32 isn’t an important birthday. It’s not even one that most people would celebrate in any kind of a significant way. I celebrated by having a campfire in our community park (with a permit!) and hanging out with good friends over the weekend. But last night, as I put together an outfit for work in the morning and made sure my lunch was packed, I suddenly wondered what exactly I could prove I’ve done with my life.
No one has to prove anything. I know that, rationally. I also know that you can’t compare yourself to others. My path hasn’t led me to marriage and babies. Most of the time, I’m glad it hasn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my career in quite the same way. I wouldn’t have learned the same lessons. And yet, some societal, or instinctive, pull in my psyche tells me that I should be married with babies right now. It makes me feel like a bit of a failure, even though I am honestly glad that my path has led me to where I am now.
You can’t measure success by the standards that someone else sets. You measure it by the standards you set for yourself. That’s the one thing I’ve learned this year. Your path is not the same as someone else’s. It shouldn’t be.
So, today, my 32nd birthday, as the gentle sounds of The Head and the Heart play in the background and I wind down in preparation for sleep, I’m proud to say that I have so far achieved these goals:
1. Social justice never meant much to me until I realized how it affects every single person. We’re all connected to each other in some way. I have learned to stand up for what I believe in, no matter what anyone says. And what’s more, I don’t care what they think. I know that fighting for the respect, dignity, and equality of all is part of my purpose. I will continue to do it until I die.
2. I have lent my sympathies, empathies, listening ears, and pieces of my heart to those who needed them. I have been a good friend, daughter, sister, cousin, human being. I do not regret any of my actions this year. If I have made mistakes, I have apologized for them.
3. I was told when I was 22 that writers who write creatively will never get anywhere in life. The only writing one should do is writing for profit. I didn’t realize at the time, but the well-meaning editor who gave me that advice set me on a path to prove her wrong. I have published two books, countless stories, and many personal essays, many of which have been picked up by large publications and outlets. But the thing that tells me I’ve succeeded the most with my writing is how it’s affected my loved ones and friends. If I have resonated at all – if I have changed minds for the better, and learned something in the process that changed my mind for the better – that is how I have used the gift that was given to me at birth.
4. Children continue to be a mainstay in my life, though I have moved away from full-time nannying. The lessons they teach me have changed me for the better. Always share. Be kind. Everyone deserves to be loved. And if you’re feeling sad, a hug will cure most ills. Thank you to the many little people who help to make me who I am.
5. Wherever I go, I have found stories. Travelling to London, England. In the alleys of Old Toronto. Between the waves of Lake Huron. And my greatest success is not only finding stories, but being able to decipher them and tell them anew. I have been proud to give voices to people who may not have had the chance, like in my historical fiction, or to create a setting where others can tell their tales. We’re a species that has survived on history. And I have left my mark for another year.
I’m a little older. There are bags under my eyes, and laugh lines that don’t disappear when I stop smiling. I have noticed a strength in my eyes and an edge to my personality that wasn’t there before.
But you know, I kind of like it.
I’m not afraid of aging. I’m afraid of losing the thread of what success means to me. What it doesn’t mean is white nights wondering if I’m measuring up.
I know, in my heart, I am.
Here’s to feeling 32. I’m happy to start another trip around the sun.