So, it turns out that–despite the existence of alcohol and chocolate–I have made it to my thirty-first birthday. A year ago today, I was in a sort-of-impressive-sounding corporate job with a four-hour round-trip daily commute and an email addiction. I was really depressed, and so, shortly after turning thirty, I took a leave of absence which ultimately led to me quitting my job. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, with the possible exception of going into that super gross hot tub at Myrtle Beach during our senior trip in college (those flesh-eating viruses are NO JOKE).
Now, one year into this journey off the beaten high-achiever path that I’ve dutifully followed for most of my life, I’ve achieved a new milestone: being proud of myself on my birthday.
This may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it really is. Once I was legally able to drink, I stopped enjoying my birthday. Every January 5th brought on a contemplative funk during which I lamented my lack of achievement and progress during the previous year: “Some people my age are olympic medalists! Half my friends have graduate degrees! Look at that guy; he’s only twenty-three and he makes so much more money than I do! Look at that girl; she’s only twenty-five and she’s married with a baby! What have I done? Look at how worthless I am!”
I once expressed this attitude to one of my coworkers at Google a few years back. She was a pretty cool chick and refreshingly honest, and she was baffled by my view of aging. She’d lost a close family member at a young age and birthdays inspired gratitude in her–she was always happy and relieved to make it another year. I remember nodding and chastising myself internally for not being grateful enough for my birthdays and for not having cancer or losing an arm to that Myrtle beach hot tub, and then going right back to dreading early January and berating myself.
This year, however, is different. When it comes to traditional measures of success, this year certainly hasn’t touched most of those that preceded it. I can’t say that I work at a fancy company. I can’t say my salary is XYZ bucks per week. I can’t talk about awards or kudos or performance scores at work, or drop the name of any executives I work with.
What I can say, however, and what I’m proud of, is that I’ve had the most new experiences in the past year of my life than in the previous eight put together. These experiences ranged from good to bad to everything in between, but they made me think (and blog) about myself and the world deeply, and in different ways than I have before.
I experienced the joy of realizing that I could write, and write well(ish), and write enough words and sentences and paragraphs to make a whole book-type document that people might want to read. I experienced the excitement of getting an agent, and the subsequent anxiety and boredom of submitting to publishers.
I experienced the love of my family, and the grief of saying goodbye to a family member, albeit a furry one. I also experienced the excitement of welcoming a new love into my life, though this created drama with my old love, which was iced coffee (sorry bae).
I experienced the stress and exhilaration of travel, from people-watching the crazy costume-clad nerds of San Diego Comic Con to getting knocked up by food in Florence and trudging through the rain in Paris in super ugly shoes and seeing Britney dance way worse than when I saw her on tour when I was sixteen.
I witnessed two amazing couples get married on opposite-ish sides of the country and cried my eyes out both times because I AM A SAP, OK?
I experienced breakdowns and bad nights, and discovered new coping mechanisms to pick myself up when I fall or when the world seems too much to handle.
In short, I experienced life, and I had the time to really take it in, as opposed to watching it all pass me by. And, for the first time since I was a little kid, I’m proud of myself for that fact alone. I’m proud of myself for trying to live well, and I’m grateful to all those people (both IRL and on this blog) who have come along on the journey with me this year.
So, here’s to the thirty-first year of the Jackie! May the thirty-second be just as interesting, and may you still be interested enough to tune in and read about it once in a while 🙂
The Birthday Girl