[Originally written on 10/7/14. How time flies.]
Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. And while being married to somebody over a decade your senior gives you a fairly “meh” attitude towards the actual number of your age (I actually forget how old I am quite frequently…), I’ve thought a lot over the last few months about my 20s, where I am now, and what it means to be successful. Seeing as I am going to celebrate 30 by waking up alone in a hotel room 150 miles from home, the lead in to writing about my 30th birthday almost writes itself.
I don’t remember my 20th birthday. I didn’t realize this until just now, when I tried recalling it as a point of comparison. I remember 19, which was a really incredible birthday. I was a freshman in college, and my roommate and boyfriend at-the-time threw me a surprise party. It was in the study lounge across the hall from my dorm, only had chips and soda for refreshments, but there were *so many people* there. Back then I was far more extroverted, but no less a stranger to compartmentalizing my life, and there was a crossover of those compartments that my roommate (one of the biggest extroverts to ever extravert) managed to track down and get into one place, if only for an hour or so. I felt so amazingly, wonderfully, loved. And skipping ahead two years, whlie I don’t remember 20 (it *might* have been because we combined it with a Halloween party? I remember a Halloween party that year at least….), 21 was another year marked with the various social circles I kept–my work friends one night. My family. My work friends from the job I had recently left. My school friends. With my birthday falling on Columbus Day weekend, I had a five day long celebration, and while many drinks were purchased, never got truly drunk once.
And now, a decade later, I am sitting in a hotel room, drinking beer, eating sushi and tempura delivered right to my room, and listening to music playing on a cell phone app, and the sound of a serious thunderstorm. Alone.
But this is not a lament.
I actually got the general idea of this almost two years ago, right after I announced my pregnancy at work. One of the other managers was asking me about my feelings on becoming a mother, and mentioned that she was older than I was, but I had a house (even if we rent), a husband, and now I was going to have a baby. She wasn’t being deprecating, more just congratulating me on what is, I feel, a very white, suburban measure of success (particularly as she isn’t white–and yes, that is significant, as that white, suburban dream rarely takes into account the fact that other cultures don’t share the same dreams, and aren’t afforded the same opportunities to achieve it even when they do.).
Graduate. Get married. Have a baby. These are the things you do in you twenties. These are the things I see friends who have already turned 30 joking about if they don’t have, congratulating themselves on if they do.
My response to my coworker was that success is subjective, and then to point out the numerous trips overseas she’s taken, trips she wouldn’t have been able to take as easily if she was married (traveling together is awesome, but vacations do tend to double in price, especially if airfare is involved). Trips that people who do get married young later can wish they’d found a way to do before they settled down. She brightened a little at that, and began reminiscing about some of the things she has seen. In her 20s. She’s so well-travelled–and that is successful.
I have another friend, a close friend, a friend I admire endlessly, who is just older than me, and is not married and does not have children. We worked together, years ago, and left that job around the same time–where I moved back home and ended up getting married, and finding a job in the same mall I worked at when I was in high school even if in a vastly different role, she has been touring the world on concerts for people you may -may- have heard of. Like Ricky Martin. And Beyonce. Not too long ago her job took her to New Zealand, and while it was for work and not pleasure, my jealously over that cannot be understated. She is successful.
So why, at milestone birthdays, is there such pressure to measure ourselves? Why in general? Why is success ever anything other than subjective?
For what it’s worth–I consider myself successful. I am a wife, and a mother. I recently took a job that allows me to support my family financially. I might not be home as often as I would like, but I have given my daughter the gift of her father, and given her father the gift of time to pursue his dream. I am writing fairly regularly. Maybe not anything that will ever be published, but it is a constant, creative outlet. I bought my first brand new car last month. I have roots. As nomadic as I thought I was, for as long as I spent yearning for the greener grass, I have a solid network of friends, and a city I love and am proud to live in. And I am not sad to wake up tomorrow, alone. It is a side-effect of a life that is different than I ever would have imagined, but one that I am happy with.
And time flies. Ten years ago I was reluctantly pursuing a college degree, ready to drop out to either take a full time job in theme park entertainment, or to be a military wife–whichever opportunity presented itself first. Would 20 year old me be satisfied, that I haven’t been to New Zealand? Would teenage me be anything other than disgusted to learn that she grows up to be a Suit? Because despite this ridiculous measure of white, suburban success, it’s also a white, suburban cautionary tale: don’t give up your dreams for the stable job with benefits, lest you end up with a body that won’t cooperate, remembering everything you *meant* to do. Right now, it’s what we are supposed to want. In 30 years, it will be something I compromised on.
Today, I am happy. Today, I measure success differently than I did at twenty. And I’m sure differently than I will at 40.
Tomorrow, I will start a new decade. And it will only be as different as I make it.
[I should note, here, that I woke up around 3am violently ill from the aforementioned Chinese food, and that sense then I have gained weight, found more grey hair, and an old knee injury is coming back in force. So maybe my 30s suck a little more than I thought they would on their eve. But it doesn’t change the fact that even though the idea of doing a Middle Earth tour is more and more a fleeting dream, I have a happy, fulfilling, sexy, and loving marriage, a healthy daughter who is full of joy and laughter, and a successful career, and that while I might not be protesting in D.C., or chaining myself to Redwoods, I am learning more ways to create private influence within my own life…)