My entire life, I’ve looked forward to turning 25.
As a child, I viewed it as the final milestone to reaching “real” adulthood. At 25, you’ve been out of college for three years–long enough to get your life together and know who you are, but not so long that the world has totally beaten you down. You’re old enough to be taken seriously, but not so old that you take yourself too seriously.
However, the closer I got to 25, the more I realized that people this age (at least in my generation) don’t have it all figured out. You see, by the age of 25, my parents owned a successful business, had built their own home (literally, my dad is a carpenter), were married with a three-year-old daughter (yours truly), and carried all the other trappings of “full adulthood.” Me? I’m married (check), but my husband is still in graduate school, we live in a crappy rented apartment, and while I’ve started my own business, I’m nowhere near what most people would consider a success.
But I had a consolation. When the calendar rolled over to my birthday, I would still have something awesome. My quarter-life crisis.
Seriously, no sarcasm. I’m the kind of person who thrives under stress. I love sitting down and analyzing who I am. I adore writing lists and making goals. So, I couldn’t wait to wake up, be racked with healthy nerves, and puzzle out the solution to all my problems.
Honestly, it came as a surprise. Ever since moving to New Haven, all I’ve done is complain about how much I loathe this city. On a weekly basis, I gripe about my commute or my job. Just as often, I’m frustrated with budgetary constraints and my lack of free time. But all of those less-than-ideal circumstances stayed at the surface, and when I dove down deeper, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t find anything really wrong.
A few days later, by pure coincidence, I had to confront this realization again. I have a friend who likes to ask random questions, just as a way of generating conversation and creative thinking, and he asked me to answer yes or no to the following statements: A) I am happy with my life. B) I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do to survive.
I answered yes to both. He called bullshit. And we started a debate.
During this episode, I thought again about all the surface-level problems I face. And you know what hit me? Gratitude.
Yes, Daniel and I live in a crappy apartment in a noisy, dirty city. But we live here together–and after two years of long distance, I am so thankful for that. Yes, I have a long commute and my job is not my dream job. But I can use my commute to read/write, and my job has a lot of cool perks and has paid Daniel’s tuition and all of our living expenses. Yes, living here expensive and our next home might be too. But it’s all temporary while he’s in school. Eventually, we’ll choose an area more suited to our desired lifestyle.
My friend still challenged me. Paraphrasing here: “Sure, you might be content with where your life is, but that doesn’t mean you’re happy. You haven’t reached all your goals.”
No, I haven’t. But if I had achieved everything I want to by age 25, the next 50-plus years would be pretty damn boring.
Life is about enjoying the journey. I’d heard it before, read it in a thousand cheesy memes, but it had never really sunk in. Is my life perfect? No. But for 25, I’m doing pretty well, and I’m on a trajectory to reach my goals in the future. Somewhere in the last year or two, I’ve stopped agonizing over the past–over the mistakes I’ve made and the things that have hurt me.
At the same time, I’ve stopped looking at the future as something I lack. The future isn’t the lost puzzle piece that leaves my picture unfinished. It’s the landmark in the distance, and while I watch it grow closer, I also get to drive a fun car and rock out to my road trip soundtrack. And when I reach that landmark? I get to enjoy it for as long as I want, then head off for the next adventure.
The final layer of gratitude, the proverbial icing on my revelatory birthday cake, is that I recognize my privilege. I’m so lucky to be in a situation in which my biggest problem is that I haven’t achieved my dream yet. As my friend’s question revealed, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to for survival. Not everyone is that lucky. Hopefully, by appreciating what I have, writing books that offer escapism or education, and being a more positive, caring person (one of my 2017 goals), I can give a little back to the world and help someone else live better.
So that’s what I’m taking into my 25th year: forgiveness of the past, appreciation for the present, optimism for the future, and compassion for others. I only hope that I’m blessed enough to receive the lessons of ages 50, 75, 100, and all the years in between.