Just as January marks a new year, so does February for me. It’s my birthday month. The month that reminds me I am another year older. I have always been a big believer in birthday celebrations and acknowledgements, but for the past several years, it has become increasingly difficult to convince myself I shouldn’t dread the day. Getting older is starting to become hard.
It’s true that other than spotting a newly developing wrinkle when I look in the mirror, I don’t think about my age much, but the approach of my birthday always brings with it a sort of life assessment. Something like: I am now (insert age here) years old. What have I even accomplished? Where am I in life? Shouldn’t I be further in my financial goals? Why haven’t I achieved any of those big, crazy goals I had for myself as a teen? Have I moved forward since last year? Is there still time to accomplish the things I want to do? How does EVERY SINGLE THING in my life measure up against where I think I should be or where I thought I would be? Etc., etc. followed quickly by: stress, panic, discouragement.
And truthfully, life assessments are a good thing…maybe not in a panic induced state of time-passing-too-quickly and coveted-youthfulness-slipping-way…but in general, evaluating what we want out of life is a positive thing. However, there is what I think is a common misconception that happens as people move into and through adulthood, and it is thinking that we should be more “put together” and “on track” than we actually are at “our age.” I believe it’s because we tend to compare where we are in life to where we perceived others were at the same age when we were younger.
But there isn’t a real track and there aren’t age milestones we must meet, and we will get to where we want to be whenever we get there. Success is defined differently by everyone, so it’s silly to use others’ lives (or perceived lives) as a measuring stick. There is a quote that I have always loved that I have leaned on heavily as my most recent birthdays grew near. It reminds me of why birthdays should be celebrated, and it lightens the sense of dread about aging that weighs heavily sometimes: “do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many.” I remind myself of this quote every year on my birthday, and I think about how fortunate I am to have been given another whole year and to be able to experience all the good things that come with it; not everyone gets that.
Maybe I haven’t reached every goal, or I’m not where I thought I would be at my age, but life is funny, and it doesn’t go according to plan. Things came up, surprises happened, opportunity presented itself, and there was devastation. Life gets filled with unexpected things, and I need to remember that those things were supposed to happen, and I was supposed to make adjustments in my plans. So this birthday, I will allow myself to evaluate, I will try not to panic, but when I inevitably do anyway, I will give myself the reminders I need, and I will set new goals to get me on my track….and then I will eat cake. Happy new year to me!
Sarah Curtis, MA
Lakes Center for Youth and Families