Everyone seems to be intent on reminding me that I’m turning thirty in a few days and so of course that got me into a reflective mood.
My personal preference is to simply ignore it more or less and have a quiet, but enjoyable day, without all the fanfare. While others tend to make a huge deal out of the day, which is perfectly fine, it’s just not my style.
Even so, turning thirty is hard to ignore. It is one of the big milestone birthdays in the mythical world where such things matter, but what does it really mean? It’s supposed to mark your passage from your crazier twenties into your more mature thirties. The time where you should be settled and ready to unleash your creativity, ideas, and beliefs onto the world.
What it really is though, is 10,959 days of living. What it really is, is an arbitrary milestone we’ve created for a single purpose: to track our progress in life. More on that later.
It’s important to reflect on life regularly and birthdays are a great time to do exactly that. Even better if you’re in solitude for a bit, to truly give yourself some space to be alone with your thoughts.
Reflection gives you insight on how things are going so far in your short life. What’s working, what’s not, and what can you learn from your experiences. Even remembering death as you inch towards it, can be a powerful tool for reflection and what is truly important to you.
The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.
Taking time to review your years is invaluable and should be done often, or at least every year. As you reflect, remember that there are no rules or guidelines or maps about where you’re supposed to be in your life. Everyone has their own path that’s completely unique.
You’d do well to remember that, but the problems seem to arise when such reflection turns to comparison.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Actually it can be downright depressing. It’s one of the most destructive things we can do, yet we do it almost regularly (I’m just as guilty). The problem with comparison is that we don’t have nearly enough information to do it in the first place.
The biggest culprit has to be social media. We see how amazing people’s lives are online and we wonder why we don’t have that ourselves. What we’re doing when we compare ourselves in these moments is like reading a good paragraph from a 300 page book and assuming the entire thing is phenomenal. The issue is that this is a ridiculously small sample size and there’s zero context.
Sure, that person you’re comparing yourself to may be a millionaire CEO of a hot new startup, but maybe they have a terrible relationship with their significant other. Perhaps this other person just wrote their 10th best selling book, but maybe they’re depressed and lonely and unhappy. The point is, we have no damn clue what’s happening, especially not when we’re getting our information from choreographed Instagram posts that probably took hours to manufacture.
Would you really want to trade what you have for some of these situations? Perhaps, but you’d certainly think twice if you could see what that truly means.
The short of it is, reflection is good, but comparison is bad. Stop doing it.
The other day I was at dinner with my lovely wife and she asked me a simple question, are you happy?
I immediately answered of course! I’m pretty much always happy. If you know me, I’m always smiling and laid back (except in traffic, but I’m working on that). It’s just my nature. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t need much to enjoy life and the introvert I am, being alone isn’t much of a problem either. Suffice to say, I’m pretty damn happy.
She then asked, why are you always complaining then!
Of course I laughed. It’s probably true, I complain quite a bit, but mostly to her. I mean who else will I complain to. More importantly, there’s a reason I still complain and am not satisfied with life. I explained it like this:
On a daily basis, I think I’m operating at like 90% happiness. That’s pretty damn good, but I’m greedy. I want that last 10%. I want to make it a perfect 100% and it’s in reaching that last 10% that I get frustrated and complain about.
Now that may sound overly-confident, but I have to say I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far, as I feel like I’ve built a solid foundation to grow from.
There’s not much wrong, but as any other person, I want more. I want to become better. So yes, I do complain and get upset, but that’s hardly because I’m not happy. It’s because I want to grow and believe I can.
The most interesting thing about getting older is that you finally begin to realize who you are and what you’re all about.
Much like a wine, you get better with age. You understand what you like and what you don’t. What speaks to you and what doesn’t. Where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
With this knowledge, other aspects of life begin to make more sense as well. You gain an understanding of where your life should be going. You start to realize how to make decisions and what truly matters to you.
It takes a long time to become young.
Despite how we often have a negative outlook on the act of aging, it’s actually a beautiful thing. You are getting closer to the person you truly are. In a way, aging actually reinvigorates you and makes you younger, as you discover more and more about yourself. You’re becoming who you are meant to be.
Finally, when I look back on my years, I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I count my blessings everyday for so many things:
- To be raised in a loving family that provided everything I could have ever wanted
- To have found my life partner, early on
- To have been able to go to college and get my education
- To never have had to really worry about money
- To have my health, both physically and mentally
- To have a home, food, water, and basic amenities
When you look at the rest of the world, you start to recognize just how lucky you really are:
- 2 billion people earn under $3.10 a day, while I spent that on coffee this morning
- 1 billion children live in poverty today, while I had everything I wanted as a child
- Nearly 1 billion people don’t have enough food to eat, while I live in a household that has leftovers
- 750 million people don’t have access to clean water, while I have water everywhere
It goes on and on. I take a lot for granted, but when I remind myself of how fortunate I am, it’s hard not to give thanks. If anything, I’ve realized that I have been afforded the opportunity to do more, and if I waste that opportunity, then I have something real to worry about.
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
George Bernard Shaw
In the end, when I look back on the years, I can see how much I’ve grown and changed and learned. I can see the path I’ve taken and despite the wrong turns and detours, it’s starting to come together.
I’m nowhere near fully comprehending life and what it has in store for me, but I’ve realized that’s pretty normal. No one truly knows what they’re doing or where they’re going, but they take things one day at a time and do their best.
As I turn thirty, I’ll be a little more wise, a little more aware, and hopefully I can turn that into something meaningful.