Today is going to be another personal one. You see, my birthday is coming up soon, and I’m feeling rather conflicted about it.
No, I’m not worried about getting older, exactly. Age, up till reaching the challenges of extreme old age, has always seemed an enviable condition to me. Middle age, in fact, is something I look forward to.
So, while the years themselves aren’t troubling, I’m still young and I know it, there are other challenges. This birthday marks a series of specific goals I have long held, goals I have not met, and am unlikely to meet in the 12 months following my birthday.
Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, I have to be rather vague about both when my upcoming birthday will be, and how old I am. But, even without those details, I can discuss what this particular year was supposed to mean, the goals I had laid out, the things I thought my life would contain.
It should be no surprise since I’m making this post, that many of the goals I am about to discuss have gone unmet. So, I’m also going to talk about how I’m attempting to deal with the differences between reality and plan a younger and more idealistic self first created.
Let’s start with the big one. I will shortly be the age I wanted to start having kids. While I am still young, and in many ways still finding my way, I am older now than my parents were when they had me. I am older than at least one set of my grandparents were, having my mom and uncle. I have always known that my goal meant having children later than those members of my family.
But, I privately hoped it wouldn’t be much later.
I saw first hand the benefits of having younger parents. While my friends almost uniformly had older parents than mine, I’ve never wanted that for myself. People talk about young adulthood as a time for partying, irresponsibility, and finding yourself.
Well, I’m not much of a party-goer. I don’t drink much or often. I am much more comfortable behaving responsibly than irresponsibly. I did a lot of the work of finding myself as a teenager and in college.
I believe in life as a series of neverending becoming. I want to be myself. To allow myself to be a person in flux, always growing and changing.
So, I’m uncomfortable, even ungrounded, in the descriptions of what this phase of my life should be. While I’m not comfortable with the idea of myself as a parent, because I know that becoming a parent will require growth and change into a person I have not yet become, it’s at least an idea of being I find familiar and desirable.
It’s also out of reach. Neither my living situation nor my finances support making moves toward parenthood. I am not established in any career. My partner, while steadily employed with a good company, does not many enough to support us without help. We live with roommates, and they are not interested in children, so we need to move out before beginning a family.
The steps it would take to make parenthood a reasonable goal are long-term plans. Things that will take time and energy to create, and which almost certainly won’t happen within a year.
So, this goal, my private marker of the age I should be when I become a parent, is going to go unmet.
A secondary, but equally troubling fact. I have long thought that I would be able to establish myself as a writer by this age. Friends and family have been convinced that I would be published at almost any time for the better part of a decade.
Meanwhile, I have always been less certain of immediate writing success, and more certain of eventual writing success.
But, I am not a published author. I am a freelance writer, but I am the kind of freelance writer who struggles to pay the bills and takes just about any assignment I can get. I produce a huge quantity of writing in a week. Usually close to 20,000 words. But almost none of that mountain of production is my writing, my projects, my ideas, and inspiration. It’s writing to meet goals, deadlines, and the ideas of clients.
All that writing leaves little time for my projects, including this blog, organizing my desk and computer files, and working on querying for short stories. Not to mention the 2 novels I’m working on.
So, while I’m paying the bills, progress toward my long-term goals has been glacial.
Meanwhile, other friends and family members are creating successful careers and launching their dream businesses. As I help writing friends craft query letters and try to make time to read and critique other friends’ work, I find myself struggling with twinned emotions.
On the one hand, I am happy for my friends. I’m genuinely proud of the work they are doing, and the tenacity, bravery, and skill it requires. I’m glad to see their successes.
At the same time, I have to resist the urge to compare their successes to my failures. As I help a friend prep a manuscript for publication, I find myself lamenting the fact that I don’t have a manuscript of my own to prepare. As I share posts and art and try to boost the signal, I find myself wishing I had more of my own content to focus on.
As my friends realize they want to be writers, I sit and quietly wonder why they are successful when I have been working toward this goal since grade school.
It’s jealousy. And I know that comparing my life and work to other people is never going to be a fair or reasonable metric. But it’s a struggle not to when I’m helping others achieve my dreams, but cannot seem to do it for myself.
This birthday, for me, feels like something to be mourned rather than celebrated. I know that I have most of a lifetime ahead of me to achieve my goals. I have most of a lifetime ahead of me to continue my journey of being and becoming.
But, for me, this month is a marker of what may have been. What I may have done and have not. What I wanted, and cannot now reach.
I am not sad to be growing older. Quite the opposite. But I think I am mourning for the child I am no longer, and for the idealism that created the goals I cannot meet.
I think the cycle of joy and mourning is natural and normal. I’m not sad to be mourning, although mourning is sad.
At the same time, I am trying to set my sights on celebrating the success of reaching another year. I have made it another year. I have overcome difficulty, I have grown and changed. I have learned. I have loved. I have spent another year on the path of self-acceptance and growth.
I have made important achievements this year. I graduated with my Bachelor’s. I stuck to my dreams enough to start building an income from writing. I have learned to be kinder to myself in hard times. To give myself breaks in good times and bad.
I am still learning these things. I hope I never stop.
So. Here’s to an upcoming birthday. Here’s to conflicted feelings and uncertainty. Here’s to knowing that there is no one true path. Here’s to getting lost in life.
I’ll keep a light on.