Every year after Thanksgiving, a familiar sense of impending doom begins to slowly consume me because I feel in my bones that a certain date is approaching… My birthday. This feeling is a mix of dread and expectation, though rationally I already know two things :
- I shouldn’t dread another ordinary day
- I shouldn’t set expectations
Adults enduring birthdays
Birthdays are odd when you’re an adult. You can’t just look to your parents and say, “Please throw me a princess themed tea party and be sure to invite all my friends”. You also feel awkward saying to your friends, “Everyone, let’s go out for a drink because it’s my birthday!” because then the expectation is that they will need to buy you a drink or at least show up to something– probably on a week night. But then, if you don’t say a single thing to anyone, you discover that your secret expectation was for someone–anyone– to magically surprise you with birthday attention. However, since you neglected to properly inform anyone that your birthday is coming up, nothing was said and nothing was done. Birthdays are even more odd when you’re an adult that doesn’t live near family. Usually, even when your friends and your significant other (or lack thereof) completely drops the ball on your birthday, the expectation is that your mom will at least buy you lunch.
The enemy is expectation
I suppose the root of the problem is expectation, and not just for others, but for myself. The thing about anniversaries is that I expect tangible progress. I guess that means that every year I expect I will have improved with age. The reality is that I’m too close to the situation (I am myself after all) to judge the “improvement”, and, what exactly am I looking for anyway? For me, vagueness has always led to dissatisfaction. I know this about myself because every year I have the same awful habit of demanding some vague proof of personal improvement from myself on December 10th and turning up empty handed. I’m not certain whether I’m analyzing my career, personal relationships, financial stability, physical health, spiritual life or even just the number of books I’ve read– I never specify and therefore I always disappoint. As someone that wrestles with anxiety, my birthday transforms from a carefree celebration of life into a day devoted to counting all the miles I have yet to trek in order to meet my end goals.
The enemy is time
Another–perhaps more universally shared–reason why I dislike my birthday is the simple acknowledgment of time passing. I get melancholy when I take out the trash for the same reason— it doesn’t matter if you’d done all you’ve wanted to do, time still marches forward without your permission. Every year on December 10th I find myself praying, “please God don’t let this be my last birthday. Let me do next year differently” because no matter what job I booked, how much money I made, who I befriended, or wherever I traveled, I still don’t feel satisfied and I yearn for another chance to do it better next year.
A year in review…
Tomorrow I will be 27 but for some reason, I have been telling everyone I’ve encountered since December 10th, 2017 that I’m already 27. You have my permission to acknowledge that what I just wrote sounds crazy. Mistakenly or unconsciously, I don’t know– I’ve told everyone that has asked that I’m 27. I did this unintentionally and so frequently that I almost forgot how old I actually was. Maybe it’s the spiritual-hippie-dippie yoga instructor coming out, but it occurred to me recently that it’s almost as if my subconscious was actively trying to jump past all the hardship I was going to experience in year 26 so I could get to the mysterious good stuff in year 27. And to be fair, this logic (if you want to call it that) sort of checks out because 26 felt like a gigantic practice run. In the 26th year of my life I made bigger, bolder, and sloppier mistakes than I ever did before. And I failed– beautifully and epically. I was rejected from 90% of my career pursuits and from my long-term relationship. I attempted–and failed at– securing temporary and permanent residence in multiple locations, and it wasn’t until that last month and a half of year 26 that I found an independent housing solution.
The moral of 26 (as I see it)
I spent the better part of my 26th year scaling down to fit someone’s life or idea of who I was. Both materialistically (I kid you not when I tell you that all my possessions could, not so long ago, fit comfortably in the backseat of my Honda Civic) and morally (more on this particular sacrifice in a later post), I lowered all the vague expectations I had for myself and raised all the expectations I had for powers beyond my control. Maybe the reason why I view my 26th year as such a gigantic bump in the road is because I had never before set realistic and specific expectations for myself. Maybe–just maybe–that is the moral of my 26th year.
With that to say, the expectation for the 27th birthday is… nothing. It will be an ordinary day and most people on this planet will have no idea that this random Monday in December holds any significance at all. I will have the ordinary joy of going to work for two different companies I love– I’ll be princess Anna of Arendelle during the day and acting teacher to a group of 7 energetic elementary girls at night. I won’t have a party or go out to a bar, but I will have an ordinary night at my apartment with my dog where we watch Netflix and eat leftover Annie’s mac and cheese. I won’t be pampered by a significant other or soak in the comfort of family that lives nearby, but I will enjoy the ordinariness of falling asleep alone in my own bed and fighting for leg space with my dog who thinks the bed belongs to solely to her. Maybe–just maybe–in my 27th year I’ll meet my husband. Maybe I’ll get accepted into grad school and start victoriously in a direction of a new career path. Maybe I start writing the plays I’ve been thinking about for years or travel to somewhere really awesome and exotic. Maybe. Maybe 27 will be thrilling or maybe it will be ordinary. I have some work to do in the way or readjusting those expectations of grandeur and appreciating the simple ordinariness.