I’m 36, as of today! I don’t know why we all have such a fixation on age (like how we always need to know how old the person who wrote the embarrassing story in seventeen magazine is, or the entrepreneur who’s profiled in the style section?). But it’s pretty drummed in. Anti-aging breakthrough technology. 40 is the new 30. Things you should do before you turn whatever. Blah blah blah. There’s this constant message of comparison around age. Like there’s an idea of where you’re supposed to be by now, what other people think you should have accomplished, or where you thought you’d be.
And where was that? I’ve always said I didn’t want to get on a rocketship. I’ve never seen myself pointed straight at some audacious goal with rockets ready to fire. I know people like that— phi beta kappa, professional school, thirty under thirty, flying first class in their instagram stories. Looks cool! Not me. I never had a vision of myself as a wife and mother, either. I just never felt like that was my path— even thinking about being a mom, or having a baby, actually made me feel revulsion, and it seemed so odd that people told me forever that I’d change my mind. As if my own decisions about my own life were somehow not “correct”.
I’ve struggled to find a balance between choosing what I want and relentlessly pursuing it, and being open to whatever opportunities present themselves around me. The former is sometimes fetishized, and I can see why. It’s effective! Identify what you want and plan meticulously to achieve it. The problem is, sometimes I don’t know exactly what I want. Or I think I do, and I’m wrong. Or it changes. Or the goalposts moved, making the original goal harder to achieve. Or something new came along that changes the opportunity cost. The existence of such complicating factors is the rule, not the exception. It was never as clear as “pick a goal and go after it hard”. The flip side is to value flexibility and willingness to listen to and respond to external and internal cues. Being observant and responsive is helpful to happiness! Taken to extremes, though, this same tendency can lead to aimlessness, constantly changing directions, making choices based on other people’s priorities, and failure to follow through. Where’s the balance? I try to find it, but I don’t always succeed. I suggest to myself: Do some self-probing. Figure out what feels right. Plan, pursue, put in the work. And then check in with myself, when branch points come up— is this train going to a destination I want to go to? Or am I on it because someone handed me a ticket? Did I choose this, or let myself be chosen? If the answer is “both”, I’m OK.
And I think I’m OK. I’m going good places, rocketship or not. At 36, I have been married to a loving and supportive partner for almost 10 years (even though I never had “find a partner and get married” on my goal list!). We help each other through difficult times, make each other laugh, challenge each other, and learn from each other. We’ve undertaken a lot of big decisions together— like packing up and moving to Oregon this year, seeking a place we could both be happy. Honestly, I think we nailed it. I’ve been a nurse for 10 years, a nurse practitioner for five, and an educator for three (although child-me never considered nursing. Medicine, maybe?). I earned two doctorates, one for clinical practice and one for research. I’m growing into leadership as a clinician, as a teacher, and as a part of a faculty team. I’m an animal lover, and have offered loving home to three dogs who needed one, including Pippi, who lives with us now and makes us laugh every single day. I’m a yogi with a daily practice and a member of practice communities. This is physical but it’s also spiritual and introspective and very, very human. I’ve grown to love being an athlete, running and hiking on trails, on roads, in races, on relay teams, and just for fun. I’ve also grown to love getting stronger through deliberate training, whether it’s dedicated functional strength training, krav maga, boxing, or whatever else strikes my fancy. I’ve always been a writer and an artist, through stories and drawings as a child, poetry and essays in college, paintings and comics over the years, and blogs, academic papers, instagram photos, and journaling these days. I’ve always fed this creative drive with reading and listening. I love music (especially live!), books (yes, paper books), magazine, podcasts, and audiobooks (which are a revelation for a slow reader like me). I like to dance (even though I’m not especially good at it). I like to play guitar (ditto). I love to travel, and I’ve gone to places all over the world with family, with Max, and with friends. I also feel a real call to service— through things like my clinical work (literally helping people) and social justice work (integrated into my teaching and practice and in things like political engagement or marching). And I’m a lover of beauty: flowers, bright colors, long eyelashes, perfect proportions.
I’m happy with all of this! But I’m not done. I still make goals. I write them down and plan steps to achieve them. I talk with mentors, and I read. I take time to reflect. Sometimes I change the goals. Occasionally I abandon them. Some of them are huge, and some of them are funny. Some make sense and some don’t even try. When I want something, I make it a goal. If I don’t know what I want, I think about it. And it’s always an iterative process. That’s what makes the moments and days into a life, like I just wrote out in this post. So I DO have a path, a trajectory, a series of themes! And it will keep twisting along as I start this next trip around the sun. Hello, 36! Let’s see what you’ve got!