I turned 33 this month. I hadn’t expected it to be a particularly significant birthday, but it was.
For the past 15 years or so, I have asked myself the same questions every birthday: Does my life look like I wanted it to look at this age? Do I have what I think a 23-year old/26-year-old/30-year-old should have? Do I earn what a 23-year old/26-year-old/30-year-old should earn? Am I happy?
Year after year, I’ve assured myself that getting older is a wonderful gift and I can feel good about it because I can answer yes to all my questions. The boxes on my life-so-far to-do list are all checked. Yay me.
This sounds quite narcissistic, but I always perceived it as an exercise in gratitude. I was acknowledging my many blessings for which I felt both proud and immensely thankful.
Last year, my birthday journal entry read: “I’m 32! We picked our kitchen! Jensen cooked dinner. Bry made me a very special card. I had good quality time with Brody. I adore my family.”
We were building our dream house at the time. It was another box to check. I was still working through the shock of having a baby with a disease, but I was in a good place overall. I considered myself worthy of my age.
But this year, I can’t answer yes to all my questions. I have suffered a profound loss and our family picture is not what I dreamed it would be. My situation feels unfair and my future uncertain.
I’m not going to feel terrible about getting older though. I’m not going to measure my worth by checked or unchecked boxes.
This birthday, I asked myself new questions. In fact, I decided to end my former birthday tradition for good.
This year, I asked myself if I am who I want to be at 33. Do I treat my family with love and kindness? Am I generous with my friends? Do I have a good sense of humour? Am I learning new things? Am I brave?
I can’t answer yes to all of these questions consistently either, but it feels incredibly freeing to disinvest myself from the outcomes I can’t control and to put my energy toward who I am. Doesn’t who I am matter a whole lot more than what I’ve done or what I have?
Even if I end up being tremendously successful going forward, even if all my dreams come true, I don’t want to go back to the boxes. I think it’s much more important to live a life that honours my values than it is to try to create one what meets my expectations.
Older and wiser, I guess. Yay me.