Today I am 29.
For many years, I used to feel blue on my birthday. Not because I was born the day after Christmas so that none of my friends were around to celebrate with me (“see you in a couple of weeks!”), nor because I would get one gift instead of two (this rarely happened actually). I would feel blue because my birthday, to me, used to symbolize loss.
Instead of cake and balloons and smiling for the camera, my birthday represented the walking away from a Me that would never again be. I associated my birthday with time leaving me, so that I was standing on a cliff of the unknown, like I was losing a part of myself rather than entering into a new phase of Me and who I could become.
On my 20th birthday, I wore black to “mourn” the death of my teenage years. (So dramatic, I know, but what can you expect from a 20 year old?)
My problem is that I was too focused on the past. We celebrate birthdays to celebrate life lived, yes—the anniversary of our birth, the fact of our existence, that we make a true difference in the lives of the people who love us, yes. But birthdays should also be a time for looking outward as much as inward. A time for appreciating the life in your veins, the memories you have made, and the moments that have built you—but also a time to appreciate the simple fact that you’re alive! That through all the intensities of the past year, you’re still here! You’ve made it to another starting line!
Growing older is something everyone dreads. It’s natural to fear or feel melancholy about the passing of time—something so irretrievable. And the obscure future, the unknown, “what lies ahead”, can most definitely be intimidating.
Birthdays force you to look yourself in the eyes, to acknowledge your mortality. They inadvertently cause you to reflect on where you are in life. Birthdays, not New Years Eves, ARE the horizons of a new start.
I’m not sure how many of you follow Humans of New York, but there was one post I came across some time ago that really resonated with me because it made me think: Finally! A positive perspective on turning 30. It was a photo of a young woman, who, when was asked, “What was the happiest day of your life?”, responded, “When I turned 30.” Upon being asked why she replied, “Because I felt like I had made it through all the crap.”
I thought it was interesting to perceive your birthday as an island in the middle of an ocean. A place you’ve made it to safely, rather than a place to which you’ve been thrust.
Birthdays and “The Timeline”
Do not worry about others leaving you behind. They are not going where you are headed. It is not who finished first, but who saw the most of life. ~ Dodinsky
I think one reason people become less and less ecstatic about their birthdays, especially those within the 20s and 30s range, is because of the pressure they may feel regarding “the timeline”. Whether this “timeline” is set by family or friends or society or self, this hovering elephant-shaped cloud stirs inside the hearts of many and makes people panic.
That you must be married by this age, have a child by that age, have the dream job by this age, have the degree by that age, have a home by this age, have the answers to life by that age… whatever milestones dot your timeline, birthdays seem to light a flame beneath them.
Well, to everyone feeling burdened by this nonsensical thing called “the timeline”, I say: Let go of the freakin timeline and JUST LIVE a conscious and intentional life. Stop comparing yourself to others. Life is not a race, not a competition of who’s struggle is greater or who’s accomplishment is the most refined. We all have different paths, different life circumstances, different goals and dreams and priorities and visions.
Timelines are all in the mind. Some people want to achieve specific milestones by specific birthdays and that’s okay, if that’s what they want to do, if that’s their own personal challenge and desire. But to feel pressured and to be hard on yourself if you are not where the idealistic timeline says you should be by a specific date—why? There is more than one way to live and be and grow and experience and learn.
The point of life—to my 29-year-old brain—is to never stop evolving, regardless of your pace or place in this world. Never stop expanding your heart and mind and you will continue to surprise yourself and to discover things and people that light up your life and inspire you in ways you never dreamed.
Birthdays: A Time for Gratitude
Now that I’m at the end of my 20s, my heart is swelling with GRATITUDE, not loss. Where there is life, where there is the opportunity to start anew… there is hope and much to be happy and thankful about.
I am the accumulation of all my years and experiences. I am still me. And I am still here. There is still so much I don’t know, so much out there to explore, experience, and learn and taste and see. Still so much I want to contribute and create. And funny as it may sound, I probably have friends out there, people who will impact my life in a big way, out there in the world right now, that I haven’t even met yet. How’s that for an interesting thought?
I’ve never been 29 before, so I’m excited. Terrified, slightly, yes, but definitely excited. And grateful. 🙂
What do birthdays mean to you?