My birthday is in a couple of days. Last year I turned 30. Although I was for the most part pleased to have reached this point in adulthood and, quite frankly, just to be alive, I must admit that I experienced a slight emotional crisis at the time.
Throughout my life, all the way through my 29th year, I put so much pressure on who I should be and what I should have accomplished by the time I reached my 30s. Married – or at least with the man I would marry. No children necessarily, but the groundwork for a family should have been laid. Established in my career, with a significant savings adding up. Own some type of property, or at least seeing it as a possibility. And living in a place I considered home. Not very many of those things were accomplished on the day before my 30th birthday. I’m lying. None of those things were accomplished. Not even close.
Let’s just say I was experiencing perpetual singledom, it having been 3 or 4 years since I had been in a relationship (depending on how/who you count). The angst of living in NYC had already emerged, so I knew I wouldn’t be staying forever. Not too long before, I realized that my job was not my career – great job and a career for some, but not my career. And savings? Not even worth mentioning.
Due to the (somewhat inexplicable) pressure I had put on myself, I reached 30 feeling like I was failing, not doing the whole life thing right. I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted. And instead of simply revisiting and revising the goals I set, I punished myself. I was dreading my birthday, feeling sad and frustrated. The funny thing is that I frequently find myself complaining about overly ambitious goals for my job, questioning why the organization doesn’t take a step back to reevaluate what’s possible, what’s not likely, and what’s just not necessary. Too bad it’s harder to see the unreasonableness when I’m doing it to myself.
Leaving the country for a vacation on my birthday helped me cope with these feelings. Everything else can be going wrong or feeling impossible. But as long as I have an opportunity to get on a plane and be somewhere beautiful, there’s no way I can deny my good fortune. Last year it was Jamaica. And it was wonderful. All of those concerns about what I wasn’t accomplishing were temporarily suspended as I focused on catching up with friends and getting a tan.
And it was actually in Jamaica, brainstorming new ways to approach life, that I was inspired and motivated to make my idea of moving to Amsterdam into an actual plan. When discussing the unrealistic, silly idea that had recently been crossing my mind, I decided it wasn’t so crazy (with the encouragement of friends who also have nomadic spirits, of course).
Why not set goals that excite me and that I can control? Who says the life I see other people living at the age of 30 is the right life for me? The path I had been on had become so muddied with self-pity and regrets, it was time to find a new one anyway.
So I spent my 30th year trying to put some legitimate plans in place, with less focus on finding a husband and not forcing my current job and city to be the sum of my future. In all honesty, I was derailed and distracted one or two times by boy situations (it’s hard not to revert back to that old wishlist when I think I might have a chance at living that life I originally imagined). But the revised focus has definitely been a step in a very positive direction.
So here’s the deal: a year has passed and as I approach my 31st birthday, I’m sitting in the Dallas airport waiting to board a flight to Mexico. The desire to get away and experience beauty (and warmth) on my birthday still follows me. And I can’t pretend that the unsettled feeling and now 4 or 5 years of singledom doesn’t still bug me. Because it really does bug me. But instead of fighting it, I’m just recognizing it for what it is: a messy and imperfect process of living. I have left my complaints and frustration in NYC to be dealt with at another time. For now, I’m allowing myself to enjoy this escape and giving thanks that I have the ability to escape on yet another year. And hopefully in my 31st year, I’ll see this newer goal of moving to Amsterdam become a reality. Who needs a husband and a house, anyway? I hear it’s all more trouble than it’s worth.