I recently turned (gulp!) forty. Something about those milestone birthstone birthdays encourages reflection.
So I found myself thinking back to my thirtieth birthday…
Ten years ago, I awoke with the determination to learn to run a mile. My first efforts were pitiful, as I barely managed to cover a quarter of my goal. But it felt good to try, like I was giving aging the finger. My birthday gift that year was an assortment of running clothes to aid in my new goal.
Later that evening, I enjoyed a birthday dinner with my then-husband. I was completely in love and completely unaware of the duplicitous life he was leading. Ten years ago, I was finally feeling competent at my job and happy with my position teaching gifted and accelerated math.
At thirty, I reflected back on my twenties, to getting married, moving across the country and starting my career. My twenties had been a time of growth and change; and at thirty, I felt like I had arrived. I felt like I had done my evolving and that I could, with relative certainty, envision how I would be going forward.
And now at forty, I look back at the changes I’ve made over the last decade and it makes my head spin. Far from my expectations of my personal evolution slowing, my thirties were a time of incredible – and incredibly challenging – change.
That first quarter-mile run morphed into a completed marathon a few years later. That fabrication of a husband simultaneously destroyed me and resurrected me. After a few years of navigating a new system, I found myself back in an accelerated math teaching position.
My thirties were a period of destruction and rebuilding. Of losing one love and finding an even better one. Of impossible goals and painful journeys.
I hardly relate to the woman I was at thirty. She almost seems like a former friend. Her name has changed, her outlook is different and even the results of personality inventories have morphed. The changes have been so drastic and so complete, it’s difficult to comprehend.
And now at forty, I feel like I have arrived. Like my period of growth and change is over and now, with relative certainty, I can envision how I will be going forward.
Even though I can be almost guaranteed that I will feel the same way a decade from now.
In fact, research has shown that people inevitably underestimate how much they will change even into their eighties, continually expressing that now they have become truly the person they were meant to be.
It’s easy to look back and see the evolution, but it’s difficult to imagine that transformation continuing forward.
When we try to envision our futures, we rely heavily on our pasts and our present. It’s as though we’re trying to create a new painting using scraps of the old canvas. We can imagine some change, but we struggle to accept that everything could end up different than it is today.
On the one hand, it’s scary to think that we are always evolving, always becoming. That any feeling of “making it” will always be fleeting. Yet the realization is also exciting. Our futures may be unknown, but they are also unbound.
I just hope that my next decade has a little less drama than the previous one…