Reflections at 35
|Photo by Jessica Sanders Photography|
I honestly enjoy getting older. This blog has been around for about a decade, and during that time I've changed and grown and matured so much, and I like who I am now better than who I was then, though 10-years-ago me is still an integral part of now-me. I turn 35 today, and I've learned a few important things over the years.
There are an awful lot of voices telling you everything you HAVE to do and be and own. The world exerts immense pressure on people - women especially - to look, behave, feel, and operate their lives in a certain way. I'll tell you a secret - you don't HAVE to comply with any of it. You don't HAVE to color your hair when it starts turning grey, you don't HAVE to wear anything (anything!) that makes you uncomfortable, you don't HAVE to go insane planning weddings and showers and parties, you don't HAVE to follow trends, you don't HAVE to have the latest-greatest-best of anything, or get a college degree, or strive for an "impressive" career, or have children, or get married, or shave your legs, or anything the world tells you you HAVE to do.
None of that is mandatory. None of it.
When I was a child, I used to think that eventually when I grew up, there would be a point at which I would become an Adult. At that juncture I would know all about mortgages and taxes and health insurance, keep a clean and tidy home, my car would be spotless instead of the bottomless pit of filth that is the hand-me-down barn car of a teenager, and I'd be well-dressed and composed and confident like my mother. I'd stop feeling awkward when meeting strangers or making doctor's appointments and grow out of my taste for t-shirts with funny sayings or pictures of animals on them. I'd be an Adult. In reality, none of that turned out to be true. At 35, some of my favorite pieces of clothing are screen-printed with images of silkie chickens. I know enough about taxes and mortgages to make smart financial choices, but the topics still bore me to death and make my eyes glaze over. I still prefer fantasy and science fiction over non-fiction or self-improvement books. I'm still the person I was at 8, 12, 17, 25, just in an older body and with a (blessedly) wiser mind. My car is still an absolute wreck. I never reached that imaginary pinnacle of Adulthood, and I've realized that it doesn't really exist.
Additionally, no one actually knows what they're doing. Everyone is, in some sense, flying by the seat of their pants through life. After all, all of us are living and experiencing aging for the first time. I find this fact immensely comforting.
As a young person, I was sold the lie that my value stemmed from my social status and how much money I had. Growing up in an affluent, small-town New York City suburb, the Only Option offered to high school graduates seemed to be to apply to a prestigious (read: expensive) college, graduate with honors, and then go on to at least one (expensive) advanced degree, after which one would simply move into an impressive (soul-killing) corporate job where one would make a whole lot of money and continue to rise through the socioeconomic ranks for the rest of one's life, retiring in wealth. This, they told me, was what Success looked like.
Looking back on it now, I can see what a sad, sick lie that is. I (obviously) did not follow that path, and while I am leagues below many of my friends in income and social standing, I am content. I am, most days, happy. I've stopped letting myself feel "less than" because of my job or all the money I'm not making. I am not caught in the tide of competition and striving because I have learned, more deeply perhaps than anything else, that my value is most certainly not in my job title or my salary. It is in my existing as a human being, and in being a human being that has been redeemed by Christ. As said in a poem I love, "I am God's dream". What does money matter if I am already held in such high esteem by the mere fact that I exist?
Lastly, in my 35 years on earth, I've learned that empathy is one of the most powerful tools we have. Empathy lets us open the door a crack to see what it's like to be human in the million different ways that people live. It softens our hearts, it breeds compassion, it spurs us to action. To be empathetic is to feel another's pain, joy, suffering, perspective, and to move closer to each other. Through empathy, those different from us cease to be the "other" and begin to be what they were all along - beautifully, painfully, uniquely human. Allowing my sense of empathy to blossom as I grow older - to no longer be afraid of feeling what the rest of the world feels - has shown me that the point of it all isn't to climb higher, earn more, and be better than the rest.