My next 30 years…

30th birthday

I’ve always loved birthdays. So of course, I started thinking about the upcoming milestone of my 30th birthday several months ago…okay, maybe a year ago. Thirty is that nice round year when I’m supposed to be solidly into a career, perhaps be married with kids, and own my own home. So they say.

As I turn 30 today, the most I can hope for is that people will stop thinking I’m still in college, or tell me that I still have plenty of time to find my soulmate. But then again, I don’t think that will change anytime soon, either.

On a serious note: I may still be in between careers, I may be living with my parents, and I may still be single — but these are all actually extremely wonderfully great things. They also say that 29 is supposed to be that crazy, upside down year, and I think a lot of it was. But it (and some of 28) was a year that could have gone differently had I not had the support of my parents, and had I not taken a giant leap out of everything that was comfortable in my life and looked for something more. So for that, I am grateful, and I am thankful that I am turning 30 with two amazing, inspiring, and devoted people at my side, urging me to create a fulfilling life on my terms, and no one else’s.

A few years ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to make a 101 Things list, or as he calls them, Life Lists. I never finished making the list, but when I came across it a few weeks ago, I was delighted to discover how many of the 50+ items on it I had completed already, and even more surprising, how many just in the last several months. To name a few: learn to make beignets, join a running group, become a tutor, see the Walk of Fame, visit the San Diego Zoo, visit California (I think I went overboard on that one), learn to create and edit short videos (thanks, Dad!), plant a garden (thanks, Mom!). I was glad to see I had checked off some of the important to dos in DC, and was okay with deleting a few items that no longer held significance.

So, now comes the next part: updating the list and getting it to 101, and then working through it, perhaps this time with a plan. But perhaps more important than the list is focusing on the big picture. Creating memories and experiencing life’s moments are more than just checking off an item on a list. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year — heck, in my 30 years — it’s that it’s within your control (mostly) to create the life you want. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get there. Sometimes it takes fallings out with friends and family and lovers, and sometimes it takes rediscovering why you are meant to do something, or be with someone.

Some things never change, like the fact that I still like lists. So with that in mind, here are a few things I’m looking to accomplish in my next 30 years:

  • Run a marathon
  • Publish a book
  • Sew a quilt for my future child
  • Meet Tom Hanks (I am dead serious)
  • See a show on Broadway
  • Do a literary tour and and royal castle tour in England

Delighting in discovery

My first car!
My first car!

 

When you hear or see the word “discovery,” you may automatically thing big, bold life-changing things, like finding new species, coming up with a scientific equation, or unearthing centuries-old artifacts. But as I’ve learned in the last few months, discovery can also mean the everyday little things that we might take for granted until our life situations force us to look at them in a new perspective. Discovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean completely new, and it doesn’t have to be important to everyone or even understood by everyone; it can be something that’s just for you to marvel at and cherish.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered recently:

  • Getting your first car ever just before turning 30 can be just as exciting and life-changing as it is for a teenager. When I drove home in my newly leased reflex blue Mazda3 two weeks ago, I had that feeling — the one in songs and road trip movies. It’s been a long time since I drove around town in a car, and now that I am doing it in one that’s all mine, well, it’s just wonderful.
  • Volunteering at a library does make you more well-read. Heck, even having a library card makes you more well-read. I hadn’t used a library since college until about a year ago when I moved to California, and now I’m volunteering at my library in town, keeping the books in order on the shelves, and cleaning the gross ones. It’s unbelievable what’s out there (many times I ask myself, “Why did someone write about this? Why would someone want to read this?”), and it’s making me expand my reading horizons a bit more each week. A library is a perfect place for discovery.
  • Meeting people in a new city in your late 20s is harder than it looks. Especially when you start out without a car (problem now solved) and you live 45 minutes from downtown. You have to make things happen yourself. This means going on Meetup.com and joining running groups (have done one run so far), or signing up to be a volunteer (check), or taking on a part-time gig (check), or joining Match.com again (reluctantly, check). It’s not like arriving in the city fresh out of college when friends fall into your lap at networking events, happy hours, and work gatherings. This is where “pounding the pavement” becomes a thing again.
  • Your parents are always going to be worried about you. That’s their job. After living away from mine for several years, they got used to not knowing every detail of my life. But now that I live with them, things get scary again, when you throw in driving around a new city, meeting new people (men!), etc, etc. Best way to work through it? Talk it out, and get everyone on the same page about feelings, expectations, and needs. Then just know that they’ll still worry, and you all have to live with it.
  • It’s easy to get comfortable. But it’s better to challenge yourself and be true to yourself. Between moving forward in my new career path, making choices about people from my past, and not falling into old habits and emotional setbacks, I’ve been constantly reminding myself to keep my eye on the prize. So I cold called a tutoring center down the street and convinced them I would be a great addition to their team despite having no educational background — one step in the right direction for following my passion. I’ve turned down consulting projects that don’t align with my interests or my availability. And I’m striving to stay true to my needs when it comes to relationships of all kinds.

As I continue to explore my new world and my new lifestyle, I’m sure I’ll continue to make more discoveries, big and small, that play a role in what happens next. What are some things you’ve discovered?

Remembering my motivation

fortune cookie

In high school, the goal was to get into college and get scholarships. In college, the goal was to get on the newspaper, get internships, and get a job after I graduated. Once I moved to DC, I needed to find a place to live (a few times), find a new job (a couple of times), pay rent, let relationships go, and make friends and connections.

And for all of these things, I was motivated to do them because, essentially, I had to. You work to eat to live, and you find ways to make it all work.

In the year I’ve spent in California, I’ve been really lucky. I don’t have any obligations other than to pay a couple of bills. I still don’t even have a car. I don’t have to pay rent, and I’m still making money as a consultant. I’ve had the freedom — the privilege — to take my time and explore what I want to do with my life, and how I will get there.

But there’s a funny little thing about motivation: sometimes, when you don’t have to do something, it’s easier not to do anything.

That doesn’t mean I’ve been lazy. As I said, I’ve been working with multiple clients for a year, I’ve been working on my health and fitness (10 lbs. and counting down to prove it), and reconnecting with people from my past to feed my emotional growth.

What about THE thing, though? The whole “figuring out what I want to do with my life” part? That’s where it’s been easier, many days, to think and stew and be afraid, rather than to act. I’ve journaled, I’ve whiteboarded, I’ve talked things to death with family and friends, but the getting shit done part has been the challenge. Recently, I got the reminder (again) that there is no better time in my life than now to try to make my life what I want it to be — this is the big chance I get — the chance that many people never get. That ripe age of 29 going on 30 with no kids, no mortgage, no debts, no health problems, nothing.

What do I have? I have a lot of opportunity, and I have a lot of support. I have things I care about, but caring only goes so far. It’s time for action, and it’s time to act like I have to do these things — like there’s no other choice.

It may not work out, and then I’ll have to try something else, but like before, I figured it out. And what’s worse than trying and failing? Not trying and then never knowing and being stuck in a continual cycle of what ifs and self-doubt. That’s my motivation.

To all my motivators out there — thank you for reminding me why I’ve made these choices, and what I’m capable of.

What have I done in one year?

whiteboard

 

A week ago was my one-year anniversary since arriving in California. When I stepped off the plane, I was excited to spend a few months in Central Coast’s wine country with my parents before diving into being a writer and consultant full-time. I figured I would end up in San Francisco, and life would be somewhat similar to what it was in DC, but with enough changes to suit my needs.

Talk about a change of plans.

A month in, I wondered if I was crazy for leaving a city I loved, a great job, and many friends. Three months in, after a visit back to DC, I was more comfortable with my decision, but wasn’t so sure about the plan to write full-time. Six months in, I had become a bit of a red wine snob, read more books than in the previous two years combined, and still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

That’s when I threw all plans out the window.

My parents and I started going stir-crazy at the same time, and as a family, we decided to move to San Diego. They had lived here for two years previous to Paso Robles, and I had enjoyed my visits, so I said, why not? Nothing else was calling to me, and it made the most sense. Who could turn down beaches and consistent sunshine?

So I’m here now, and still not quite sure what’s next. Sure, I’ve been writing, doing a fair amount of consulting (I still need an income), and still running and reading more than ever. But what’s next? There are days when I look at this past year and wonder what the hell I’ve been doing, and where I’m going. There are many days when I wonder if I’ll make friends like the ones I had before, and others when I realize I may not quite want all the friends I had before. I question why I can’t figure out what I want to do, and wonder if I’m making it too hard.

And yet, it’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to become okay with being stuck, to not make any movement, because it’s not as scary as making things happen. Which is what got me here in the first place, right? If I had stayed in DC, doing what I was doing…would I have grown? Would I know what I know now about my relationships, about my interests, about what and who makes me tick? Probably not.

My biggest weakness is still my fear of things not happening in the way that I imagined them for so long. The fear of turning 30 and still not having met the love of my life, of still living with my parents and not figuring out my career, and of starting over. But then I remind myself that my parents essentially did this very thing (for the most part) – they changed careers, they found love again, they moved and started over. A few times, in fact. And they made it work, far beyond what they ever imagined.

So it’s been a year and I haven’t figured it out yet. My ideas and feelings and passions are a bunch of sticky notes on a whiteboard. But what have I done? Run hundreds of miles, read dozens of books, written thousands of words, reconnected with people from my past, and imagined a few new ways to live.When you look at it that way, I’ve done a lot.

Here’s to year two of my new life. Surprise me.

Six Life Lessons from Jane Austen

I’ve loved Jane Austen’s works since I first received “Emma” as a Christmas gift more than 20 years ago. But I only recently began reading essays and books on why we love her stories so much 200 years later, and what they mean to us on a personal level, beyond the basic lit class critiques.

I just finished reading “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter” by William Deresiewicz. The author begins the book by explaining how when he began graduate school, he had never even glanced at one of Austen’s novels because he felt above them, and above her style. But when he had to read “Emma” in one professor’s class on 19th century English literature, his view of Austen, and himself, started to change.

Deresiewicz reads and rereads all six of Austen’s novels over the course of a few years of graduate school and even incudes a chapter in his dissertation. But even more important than learning to like Jane Austen and all of her heroines, he learned more about life, love, and literature than he ever imagined.

Although I thought the author could be a bit rambling and repetitive, each of the six core lessons he pulled from Austen’s works resonated with me, and I found they applied in my own life. They are as follows:

“Emma”

Many think the plot of one of Austen’s most popular novels, frequently translated into film, is lacking. But the author latches on to Austen’s ultimate goal to get people to pay attention to the little stories and happenings of the people in our lives, no matter how small and ordinary they may be.

Deresiewicz says, “She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels.” Instead of just focusing on the big milestones and events and drama, Austen encourages us to remember the small stuff and to talk about it, perhaps again and again, if that is what brings us closer to our community.

“To pay attention to ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes,” says the author, and of Emma, her father, and their best friends. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always valued the little things like snuggling on the couch with coffee and my dogs, frequent chats by phone with my parents, or hearing the “minute particulars” of small town life from my family in Louisiana.

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