I turned 30 almost two months ago now, a birthday that became a milestone for many more reasons than I ever could have predicted. There were the usual ones: it was my Champagne Birthday (30 on the 30th), it was 30 (holy poop, I can no longer qualify as a ‘young adult’), and you know, adulty-stuff (what exactly is adulty-stuff anyway?).
But this particular birthday marked several other things for me as well. It meant I have officially lived longer than my mother did, as she passed away at 29. But it also meant I am the same age my father was as he tried to rebuild his life with two young daughters, a broken heart, and very few people around for support.
It meant facing the fact that my dreams of becoming a published author by 30 could never come true, and that 15-year-old me who had journaled about never being ‘that girl’ who gets married, wants a family, owns a home in the ‘suburbs’ and drives an SUV, would be terribly, terribly disappointed in me. (Plus, she’d die upon hearing my favourite colour is now pink).
But what it really meant was taking a good, hard look at the expectations I had placed on myself as an adult and understanding reality is not only quite different, but some of those dreams could not have been a reality for a variety of reasons.
If you had asked me ten years ago where I thought I would be when I turned 30, I certainly never would have imagined the answer would be “burnt out, searching, yet oddly self-aware.” I would have told you I’d be a successful career-woman, making a solid amount of money, and all around living it up. I could have been married, or I’d be living in a condo in downtown Toronto working for the Globe and Mail or some Canadian Magazine. I would have been skinny and pretty, suave and cool, hanging out at all the cool indie places in the city.
I never in a million years could have imagined the decade that would follow those dreams. Bankruptcy, betrayal, and drama. Loss and being side-blinded by mental illness and major health complications. Being burnt out and sent on stress leave before I turned 30.
But there were also amazing things I never expected to happen. Like learning that I could be my real, geeky self and actually find friends who would embrace me for who I was. Or finding love with a man who thought my nerdy quirks, sarcasm, and goofy personality were sexy as hell.
I figured out it is possible to find my own direction in my faith, through asking questions and digging deeper. That it didn’t need to be just coasting along and believing without helping myself understand why I believed those things.
I learned people can be assholes and people can be angels; sometimes you clash and sometimes you click. The quantity of people you click with and connect with isn’t important, but the quality of people is. I spent years with no-one I could consider a close friend beyond my sister, and I’ve had years where I had a small group of people I would consider some of the most important people in my life.
I embraced my mental illness so I could learn to overcome it, and transitioned from fearing it to speaking out about the importance of mental health. I learned life is short, and hardship, trials, and tragedy should not be used as reasons to not live.
But most importantly, as I approached my 30th year I began to understand the danger of expectations not grounded in reality. Dreams and hopes are good — they help spur us forward and give us a purpose. But when those dreams become expectations without room for life to happen, they end in disappointment.
The truth is, I have few expectations for the next ten years of my life. Not because I think it will be bland, or boring, or end up somewhere bad, but because I know how quickly plans and goals change. Five years ago, I would have told you I never wanted kids; now, we hope to start a family soon. My expectations are small, rooted in reality. My dreams and hopes exist, with a dash of salt added to remind me nothing in life is guaranteed.
There is excitement in thinking of life that way. It is no longer a set-out, linear plan, dabbed with goal-marks and waypoints, but rather an adventure story with blank pages. Absolutely anything could happen over the next decade. Good, bad, decent, or mind-blowing. Finding out what it is along the way is part of what makes it great.
I’m nowhere near where I thought I would be, yet despite the lemons life has thrown at me, I’m pretty pleased with the direction.