My birthday was a couple weeks ago. 34. I’ve spent 34 whole years on this planet, and I still don’t know what the f I’m doing.
In the weeks leading up my birthday and in the weeks since, it’s felt like every day presents a stressful obstacle to remind me that sometimes I have to try harder at just living than I’d like to. Sometimes when I catch myself complaining about a #firstworldproblem, I sarcastically exclaim, “It’s so hard to live!” But you know what? It IS hard to live. (Are you encouraged yet?)
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It’s finally springtime, so my head has been swirling with outdoor projects I’d like to complete to make my yard cute and inviting. When the day finally came for me to bust out the new lawnmower I got for Christmas, I was so ready. It was GO TIME for the yard. I pulled the starter (is that even what it’s called?), and nothing happened. It never goes on the first try. I pulled again. Probably just needs to get warmed up. I pulled again. Again. Again. 20 more times.
I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, so I called my dad. He said to give it a few more tries and let him know what happens. I tried until I thought my arm would fall off, but none of my huffing & puffing or expletives did the trick. Defeated, I asked if he would come over to help me.
That should be the end of that story. My lawnmower didn’t work. It happens! But in the span of time between texting my dad and his arrival at my house, I had a full on breakdown. I hadn’t cried like that in a while, so it all poured out at once. And the thoughts came flooding:
It’s not fair that I have to do this by myself.
Why is everything so difficult for me?
I can’t do hard things.
My broken lawnmower crushed my spirit because it was a physical reminder that I’m alone. No — that I’m still alone.
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My birthday has a way of bringing out my obsession with measuring progress. I think of all the things I haven’t done since this time last year and wonder what I’ve spent the past 365 days doing with my life. I should have written more. I should have read more books. I should have accomplished more at work. I should have made better decisions. I should have tried more things. I should have met someone. I should have done more.
It’s easier for me to lump an entire calendar together and say, “Welp, that one’s over! What a waste!” than it is to break time down by months, weeks, days, even hours, to find those small victories — those moments when I did do more.
So, even though it’s hard, that’s what I’m going to do now: talk about some of the things I’ve done over the past year that were meaningful and real, even if they weren’t earth-shattering, history-making, course-altering moments.
I became an aunt. Before my nephews were born, I planned baby showers and anticipated their arrival nonstop. Although it felt strange that all of my siblings were going through an experience that I wasn’t a part of firsthand, I did my best to show up for them and celebrate them on full blast. Since each of my nephews entered the world, I’ve marveled at their existence nonstop and have done my best to spend time with them whenever I can. I’m literally obsessed with them and so thankful that I get to be Aunt Tata.
I started doing some things alone. I know that might sound weird to list like it’s some sort of accomplishment, but it is. I have always let my singleness keep me from trying things people typically do with a partner. This past year I started going to movies by myself, and I went to a concert and a music festival by myself. My next goal is to take a solo trip and do some solo dining. Baby steps.
I went on a date. It was really nice and unexpected. And even though the whole thing didn’t work out in the end, it was worth it to feel like someone was interested in me, if only briefly. I remembered the good parts of what it’s like to have a crush on someone.
I showed up for Amanda. One of my best friends, Amanda, got married last year, and I did everything I could to be present, even though she lives in Washington, DC. It worked out that I could fly to NYC to surprise her for her bachelorette weekend, which was so epic and carefree and FUN. And I got to be a bridesmaid in her wedding in Mexico + spend the best week ever with her and her people. When her dad passed away in the fall, it broke my heart that I couldn’t physically be there for her. Every phone call with Amanda was precious time I got to spend grieving with her from a distance, and I know she felt loved through that. Sometimes when you feel like it’s the least you could do, it’s really the most.
I did a photo shoot. One of the most fun and empowering things I did for myself last year was star in my own photo shoot. (Most of the photos also co-star my dog, Gretta!) The photographer, my friend Emily, did a great job of making me feel confident while we were shooting, and I think it really showed in the final product. It’s an experience I think every single gal should have!
I went to Harry Potter World! What a dream come true! After years of wishing it would happen, it finally did, and every second of it was pure magic (wink!). Bonus: I got to spend a fun weekend with my aunt and cousins and spend another full day at Disney World. It’s my favorite memory of spontaneity in year 33.
I kept Brittany’s kids alive. That’s right. I was entrusted with two small children while my best friend and her husband went on a trip abroad, and I kept everyone happy, fed, and alive! It was my first time caring for kids overnight, so I was a little nervous. But it was a fun, exhausting, eye-opening adventure that made me respect parents of small children 1,000% more than I did already.
I sent out a Christmas card. One of my favorite things about the holiday season is receiving Christmas cards. I’ve been hesitant to send my own for years because it’s just me (hi!) but I finally decided to go for it. I loved when friends would tell me my card was their favorite or send me photos of the fridge/card display to show me I had a place in the lineup.
I took some trips. Chicago. Nashville. New York City. Toledo. Raleigh. Cancun. Orlando.
I got 2 new tattoos. One is a black & gray matryoshka doll with a sunflower design for Ukraine. Below her, are the words “truly free” in Ukrainian. The other is my nephews’ birthstones: ruby & peridot.
I went to a bunch of concerts. This is an accomplishment for me because, while I absolutely love going to shows, I’m always tempted to skip them because they happen so late, and I’M OLD AND TIRED. But I saw a ton of great bands this year including: Bleachers, St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Dr. Dog, Richard Edwards, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jens Lekman, Dashboard Confessional, John Mayer, Noah Gundersen, plus a Fleetwood Mac tribute band that I was far enough away from to actually believe I was watching Fleetwood Mac. Plus, I got to see one of my favorite authors, John Green, and two of my favorite comedians, Trevor Noah and John Crist.
I committed to returning to Ukraine. Although I won’t actually be going until mid-July, this trip has been months in the making. I first went to Ukraine 2 summers ago, and I can’t wait to go back and serve at the same camp for kids with disabilities.
I learned about the Enneagram. I spent a lot of time in year 33 learning about myself, which was something very new and foreign to me. I read a book about the Enneagram, went to a conference, and started listening to podcasts about it, and I’ve never felt so understood and aware of who I am. Identifying with the Enneagram has changed my life in a way that makes me want everyone to experience the same illumination. (Do it!) It’s given me freedom and challenges and self-acceptance and opportunities for growth. Big fan.
I started going to therapy. Fun, right?! The self discovery continues! Entering therapy was a huge step for me because I rarely pay attention to myself enough to know what I really need. It’s still difficult to talk about myself every week, but I know it’s important, and I’m committed to doing the hard work. Therapy isn’t one of those things you can talk about when people ask how you’ve been or when you want to casually mention something you’ve accomplished. It’s just not a conversation starter anyone wants to throw out on the regular. But I can talk about it here and tell you that I’ve made progress and that I’m proud of myself for it.
I have been present. Or at least I’ve tried. I’ve brought meals to friends with newborns. I’ve made birthday presents, Christmas gifts, baby gifts. I’ve gone to baby showers and gender reveals and graduation parties and bridal showers and birthday parties and bachelorette parties and going away parties and weddings. I’ve been a dogsitter and babysitter and plant sitter. I’ve made cookies for my neighbors. I’ve opened my home and hosted guests. I’ve tried to say yes whenever possible, with a heart full of gratitude that I am able to love and serve my friends and family with my time & resources.
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Remember the lawnmower? Turns out it needed a new part. There was nothing I could do to make it work, even if I had tried to start it a zillion more times.
My dad did come over that day. He let me cry on his shoulder and spent time with me, trying to get it to start. It’s been in the shop ever since, so he’s come over each week to mow my grass for me.
Life is frustrating and discouraging sometimes. The past few weeks have been evidence of that. But reflecting on year 33 and realizing that I really did spend 365 days doing my best, even when it meant I was just trying to live, is a lot like when my dad showed up to help me with my lawnmower: it’s a reminder that I’m not really alone, not ever. That I can do hard things. And that everything’s gonna to be alright.