I’ve been 27 for exactly one week now, and I’m having a bit of a hard time embracing it. I know, 27 is a pretty unremarkable number as far as age goes, anyway. There’s no big milestone associated with it, no new privileges to celebrate. It’s just your average, old, garden-variety, type of birthday. But for some reason, 27 has been a hard age for me to cope with, and I thought writing about it might help. My first idea was to write a letter to my younger self. It seemed like a good way for 27-year-old me to reflect on things, and gain a little clarity, while passing on some sound advice to 17-year-old me. But I realized I don’t really want to give her any good advice. I want her to make all of the really bad decisions she is going to make. I want her to rush into things, and get hurt, and feel lost, and I don’t want to save her from any of it. Because I'm pretty happy with how she's turned out so far.
So I decided to write a letter to my 30-year-old self, instead, to talk about this lingering, ominous, anxious feeling I’ve had since entering my late twenties. Ever since I realized how close I’m getting to the big 3-0 I’ve been plagued by this sense of impending doom that seems to get worse each year around my birthday. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I haven’t been able to shake these birthday blues since late October. So I’m hoping this letter reaches some alternate time/space dimension where future me lives, and I’m hoping once she reads it, she’ll send me some kind of sign – something that lets me know everything is going to be alright. But mostly, I'm hoping that writing this letter makes me feel a little better. Either way, here goes:
Dear 30-year-old Kayleigh,
Hey, how are you? How’s life? Are you hanging in there? Or have you fallen into a deep depression, and not been able to get out of bed in the past week? I’m just wondering, because my 27th birthday was last Friday and, as fabulous as it was, I can’t seem to shake the feeling of terror that grips me every time I start to realize how close I’m getting to that scary age you just turned. There’s a line in the sand at 30. I can feel it. It’s a cut-off point, a deadline for something, but I can't put my finger on what. I suppose if I had to guess why turning 30 scares me so much, I would say it’s the “adult-ey-ness” of that age. By age 30 you are supposed to be a full on grown-up. It’s not like in your twenties when you’re allowed to take your time, and figure things out, and mess up once in a while. You're allowed to be a little confused, and a little directionless, and not get too panicked about it. But not at 30. Nope. By age 30, “adulting” should be like second nature to you. You should be a capable, fully-functioning, self-assured member of the adult world.
So tell me, are you? Or are you still hitting the snooze button 100 times? Are you still ALWAYS running late? Do Doritos and Red Bull still make up 1/3 of your diet? Does your bank account still get down to single digits at least once a month? I need to know- do we got this?? And more importantly, what are we doing with it? That's the question that scares me the most. You see, I always imagined by age 30 I'd have shit figured out. I’d know who I am, where I was going, and exactly how I needed to get there. But here I am at 27, and none of that feels true for me yet. I thought, at least, by this age I’d know more, be doing more, and working more- and I don’t mean working as in nine-to-five for a paycheck. I mean the kind of work that gives me purpose. I thought I’d be striving for something substantial. Something defining, and important. I thought my goals would be more specific and achievable, and my path would be clear. But it's not. It's vague, and ever-changing, and most of the time I'm not even sure if I want what's at the end of it.
I’m not trying to sound ungrateful or whiny here, because the truth is I have a great life, and a lot to be happy about. I have a beautiful house, nice things, a new-ish car. I have a truly, wonderful husband that works super hard, yet always manages to make me feel loved and appreciated. I have a beautiful daughter who is the sweetest, most compassionate human being I’ve ever known, and she thinks I hang the moon. I have a loving family, close friends, and I’m even lucky enough to have plenty of free time to pursue my whims and passions. But what I don’t have is focus. Or rather, I don’t know where, or what to focus on. I know I want to be a successful writer. I just haven’t quite figured out what that means yet. How are you defining success these days, by the way? Do you still have your heart set on becoming an award-winning novelist? Does achieving anything less than that lofty goal still feel like failure? I really wish we could have picked something a little easier. Don’t you? Maybe a career with a more obvious path. One that’s studded with smaller accomplishments along the way- like promotions, and bonuses, and a personal parking spot, or corner office -to let us know we’re on the right track, and to keep us from getting discouraged.
But no, I wanted to be a writer. I want to be the best writer. But the truth is, even if I worked my little fingers to the bone, night and day, until I became the best writer I could possibly be, I still might never get published. And that would mean the best I could do was fail. I think, maybe, that's what’s behind my fear of turning 30, and my fear of "official adulthood" – it’s my fear of failure. My fear of not doing something grand, and meaningful, and important with the one life I have. We have. How are you coping with that old, existential malaise now? Have you had to redefine your idea of success? Is that even possible? At 27, I’m still skeptical. So much of our identity – our fears, our hopes, our daydreams, our narrative –is tied to our personal definition of success. And I’m not sure if an idealist, such as yourself, can simply redefine something that holds that much personal meaning just to make it more realistic. Or maybe you don’t have to. Maybe, you've already made it. Have we? Did you work hard or get lucky? Are you already a critically acclaimed author? Or does that even matter to you anymore?
I know, I have a lot of questions, and I was really hoping you’d have the answers to at least some of them by now. But if you don’t, that’s ok. Actually, it's kind of terrifying, but still ok- even if you’re just as confused at 30 as I am at 27. I guess I'll just have to have faith that if we stay grateful, work hard, focus on the things that add meaning to our life, and try not to get too down on ourselves, then one day things will start to make sense. One day you’ll wake up (on time) and realize you’ve got this whole, scary, adult thing down. Maybe you already do. So I guess, more importantly, I just have to remember to have faith in you. See you in 3 years.
P.S. I know it’s a week late, but Happy Birthday :)