Last year, for my 29th birthday, my dear husband took me out for an amazing dinner, the fanciest dinner we had ever shared together. He knew that 29 was a big one for me: the last stop before the 30 drop-off.
My whole life, I have looked at my 30th birthday as a deadline. I felt like I had better accomplish all the excitement that life has for me before I turn 30 so that I could feel better about settling down, starting a family, and inevitably disappearing into adulthood. I hoped that I would have a firm grasp on a fulfilling career that would put me at the helm of world change (whatever that exactly means, I’m not sure). And then I would turn 30 and…? Would I give up this world-changing career for the rearing of children? Would I return to said career after they start school, or attempt to continue throughout my kids’ early years? Do I even want kids? Is any of this really about kids?
I’ve read several articles recently that poke fun at my generation and how self-entitled we are, inflated to feel like we owe it to the world to be our amazing selves: only I can be as amazing as me, and it’s my duty to share myself with the world around me in astounding and life-altering ways. Well, there may be some truth to that. I have definitely felt this urgency that I have some purpose beyond myself, that I can do some pretty awesome things. I’ve felt this way since I was very young. Maybe it was parents or teachers that fed my narcissism. Maybe it was the religious groups that I’ve been a part of through the years slathering on extra layers of expectation in this vein, that I am “called” and that I am responsible for other humans’ souls. No pressure.
Regardless of cliche, this last year of my twenties has been a torturous adventure in self-discovery. It started with The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin), setting a year’s worth of intangible personal goals for becoming the “complete” woman of my mind’s ideal before turning the big 3-0. I was so excited to implement all of “the new me” that I layered on multiple goals at once and checked through my list in about four months. Although number 3 – my cursing habit – has picked back up recently.
I researched the astrological phenomenon of Saturn’s Return, the time when Saturn realigns to the same heavenly position it sat when I was born. The horiscopic theory goes that every 29 or so years, an individual crosses into a new life stage because of this realignment, shaking up complacency and urging you to discover and follow your true self before Saturn continues its celestial arc. This threshold period can create turmoil if you are not following destiny’s course. And if you fail to readjust your life to line up with its true purpose, the next 29 years could end in disappointment, re-evaluation, and lost time. Yikes, the deadline is for real!
I began reading The Fire Starter Sessions (Daneille LaPorte) in an attempt to discover my life’s true passion. And because I didn’t need a book to tell me that one life-long passion is photography, I began a photo 365 project to get back into regularly shooting and editing, posting a photo every day here on my blog. Now if only I could speed up this struggling process to find my artistic voice without feeling pressure to shoot for money – also known as wedding photography. (Kill me now.)
Then I came across this article On Changing Dreams from Emma at A Beautiful Mess that really struck a chord. I’ve read it at least a dozen times, this point in particular: “Don’t set your heart on achieving one thing, only one specific way, in order to feel happy and accomplished. . . . Dreams don’t have to die, but they do sometimes have to change. Embrace it.” I’ve wanted to be a world-traveling photojournalist since I first laid eyes on a National Geographic magazine in elementary school. The dream of traveling all over the world is still an ideal I grip firmly with my heart. But the reality is that, for now, I’d rather be at home with my family. Which leads me to another quote from the article: “Move with the flow of life, not against it. . . . Being successful in whatever you are pursing in life is never going to magically happen one day and then it’s done. It’s an ongoing thing.”
So, after months of considering what would be an appropriate way to celebrate this monumental game changer of a birthday, I signed up for a weekend of yoga and meditation at a secluded Buddhist learning center. This was an activity I’ve dreamed about for years, and it seemed fitting to make it work now. It was both a breath of nostalgia for my independent, world-traveling, Bible scholar, college days and an empowering holding space to collect myself before embarking on life’s next adventure. And thanks to several attendees who represented womanhood from all stages, the retreat also turned into an unexpected initiation into motherhood. Two years after it was recommended to me, I picked up The Art of Family (Gina Bria) and promptly dropped my jaw while underlining nearly every sentence of the introduction:
“In our landscape of anxiety, we are haunted, both men and women, by the fear that family is a vacuum that sucks away our own visions, families domesticate our dreams and us. We fear we will become only mothers, only fathers. . . . Having children is the most identity-challenging and identity-changing thing women do – starting with pregnancy, when even your body gets an identity change. That should be our first big clue. But we are terrified to face it. Who wants to watch your identity evaporate, which is what having children often feels like? . . . Identity is something you build relationship by relationship, not role by role. . . . We fill up what we do with who we are. What we do can never fill us up.”
Again with the kids. I’m sure there’s a whole slew of feminist psychological studies to explain my oppressed fixation on child-rearing and how it affects me in the greater realm of society. But I don’t feel oppressed by motherhood. I just feel confused about myself in general, and having a little person whom I am to teach the ways of the world adds a little more weight and urgency to that quest. But what better life lesson to learn than that you are always allowed to evolve, make mistakes, redefine success, appreciate yourself exactly as you are each day?
In the end, most of this year was a lesson in waiting and release. My natural mode of operation is entirely in the do-it-full-force-right-now arena. I get all worked up attempting to fine-tune the details of a future that is completely out of focus. Patiently allowing things/life/me to unfold is not easy. But most of the time, letting go lets peace prevail.
As many 30-somethings have already discovered, 30 certainly is not the end of fun or excitement or life. For many it is just the beginning. The closer I get to 30, the more I believe that will be the case for me. New beginnings.
Or I’ll just drop dead as soon as I blow out my birthday candles. We’ll find out in a few days.