Since I've been 30 for over a week now, I decided it was time to reflect on this monumental occasion in my young life. Here are a few of my reflections after three decades on this crazy planet:
Reflection #10: I am impressed with myself for simply 'getting by.'
Since graduating, I've supported myself with limited credit card debt (<$6k) and without relying on things like antidepressants. This is probably a better track record than at least 40% of the American population. I'm going at life full-out, experiencing it all without numbing it or dumbing it down. Every day. That makes me proud.
Reflection #9: No job will be entirely perfect.
There are a lot of ways to do good in the world. Some pay better than others. I've worked as a highly-paid tutor teaching French to kids, and I've worked as an advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse. One isn't better than the other, and sometimes it's OK to get a job just because it pays well. Do-gooders can be self-righteous. Finance people can be kind and giving parents. Sometimes it's OK to chase the money.
There is also no one job that will meet all of my needs or within which I will express all of my gifts. I'm talented at writing, languages, performing, facilitating, coaching, and teaching. I feel the strongest call at the moment to the realm of male/female dynamics and healthy relationships, but I also accept that that might not be "what I spend my life doing." In fact, I've let go of the idea that I was meant to 'do' something with my life. My generation is said to likely change careers five times. A job won't create meaning for me; I create my own meaning. It's a relief to finally admit that I'm not failing just because I haven't found the perfect job. The perfect job doesn't exist. This is life. This is what I'm doing with it.
Reflection #8: One of the most effective and long-lasting ways to learn is to mimic a good role model.
This is somewhat of a lost art in our culture. We have a lot of books and a lot of words and spend a lot of time in our heads, but watching someone do something well -- like give a boss good feedback s/he can hear, run an effective, productive family meeting, have a healthy conflict with his/her partner -- is more valuable than all of that combined. I want more role models in my life. I want more mentors. I don't just want to grow up, I want to become wise.
Reflection #7: For me, being heard, receiving genuine compliments, and nurturing physical affection are how I feel loved.
To me, the utility of dating is to see what really works for you and what doesn't. To see who you are in relation to others. To discover your patterns -- both the useful and destructive ones. Everyone is good at some things, and not good at others. Marriage isn't always a good thing. Divorce isn't always a bad thing. Some couples just don't work together. Some do. I'm 30 and I know how I feel loved. I believe that makes it more likely that I will feel loved in relationship.
Reflection #6: Sometimes growing spiritually feels like dying.
I've engaged in a lot of different healing modalities in my lifetime. But when it gets right down to it, growing for me has always been about confronting where I feel the most weak, the most vulnerable, and feeling it all the way down to the bottom. I've screamed until my throat was raw. I've cried until I couldn't breathe. I've broken through barriers by digging all the way down into the ugliest of the ugly truths about who I am, who I may never be, and where I am right now, in this moment. Present. After that, there is space. After that, there is peace. After that, there is expansion.
For me, the process is rarely fluffy and light. Often it has felt like I won't make it, or don't want to. Sometimes it has felt like the end. Spiritual growth is one of the most difficult and wrenching things I've ever done, and continue to do. Worth it, but wrenching.
Reflection #5: I am incredibly sensitive. So what?
I can feel what other's feel and intuitively know things. I'm good at coaching and listening and empathizing and being. At the same time, I require extra care and affection and attention when it comes to relationship, and tact in terms of feedback. I used to be ashamed of this. I should be different. I should have a thicker skin. I shouldn't be crying. I should be "stronger." Now it feels more neutral. I'm less resistant to who I am and how I am. Yeah, I'm sensitive. And ... that's how it is. Instead of spending time trying to change how I am, I spend more time figuring out how to work with it. This is what is. Now what?
Reflection #4: I am fortunate to have solely first world problems ... and my problems aren't insignificant.
Should I get a Kindle or a Nook? What should I do with my life? Maybe I should see a show tomorrow, instead of staying in. What do I do about the fact that I wore the shoes today so my feet are wet -- do I buy new ones? Should I eat my Luna bar now, or later? Who left the toilet seat up!? #firstworldproblems.
I don't have children to feed or schlep up and down subway stairs. I don't have HIV/AIDS. I don't have to walk two miles to a well every day, twice a day, that might have malaria in it anyway. I'm not an orphan. I'm not addicted. I have access to clean bathrooms (with soap) and potable water -- the water that comes out of my shower is drinkable, for crying out loud.
At the same time, the emotional growth I've done has been extremely confronting and arduous. It's not better or worse, it's just distinct. There are lots of types of challenges in the world. I used to be ashamed that my problems weren't 'enough' or 'valid.' Now I feel grateful that I'm physically housed, clothed, and fed, but I also recognize that the work I'm doing in this lifetime is also legitimate -- it's just different.
Reflection #3: There are going to be some MAJOR changes in our lifetime.
Global warming is real. It's going to cause serious change. We're going to advance technologically in ways we can't yet predict. Things are going to change geographically, socially, societally, personally. We live our lives as if this isn't true, as if everything is going to be the same, when really, at any moment everything we have could be swept away. What do you do if a tsunami and/or earthquake hits the entire Eastern Seaboard the way it hit Japan or Haiti? You get through it. You sort through the rubble and create something new. Instead of teaching at Horace Mann or PS 192, you teach in a refugee camp in Jersey. Then life becomes about that, not this. You survive. It's not better or worse, it's just different.
Phenomena like climate change and the possibility of what a post-oil world will look like, take the pressure off decisions I make now. Things much larger than me are shifting in ways no one can predict; I just happen to be on the planet for it. Whatever happens, it's going to be a wild ride ... exciting and scary and thrilling and very, very different. It's inevitable and it's going down now. This is it.
Reflection #2: I still look pretty hot for 30.
Reflection #1: I wouldn't go back in time for anything.
I haven't done a lot in my life in terms of external achievements. I did manage to get into a world-class university and excel there (according to my own measurements), but that's about it. I don't own a house or have a big IRA. I'm not the CEO or founder of a hot new startup. I haven't been written up in Page Six, I don't own a fancy car, and I don't have a bunch of letters after my name.
However, I have made significant strides in terms of my humanity. I've built a strong sense of self and learned how to be connected to something higher in a genuine way. I've developed a backbone and a big heart. I've worked on caring for myself and others. I forgive, where I once didn't. I laugh, I stand up straight, I listen.
There is no amount of money or fame or anything else that would have me go back. I'm still learning, and I can truly say that if I died, I'd be at peace. Because I've come a long way, and at least every few days, I remember what's important and act on it. So alongside the very human sense of emptiness and lack, I still, on a regular basis, experience a sense of fulfillment, even if I don't always feel 'happy.'
I'm not perfect, but I'm doing the right things for the right reasons.
In other words, I'm 30, and I've earned it.