“Do you have the post birthday sads?” my co-worker asked.
She was referring to that mild disappointment after your birthday is finally over and the festivities and attention come to a close.
I realized I wasn’t sad because my birthday was over. I was actually sad it happened. It was one of those milestone birthdays that when you’re young and naïve you envision. When you’re 15 you dream up what your life will look like at 25, 35, 45. You think about dumb stuff like the car you’ll drive, the house you’ll live in, the clothes you’ll finally be able to afford. You also plan out more serious life events such as whether or not you’ll be married, with kids, and what type of job you’ll have.
So when that milestone birthday, when that “I thought my life would look different by now,” birthday came and passed I must admit I was initially pretty sad.
It would’ve been easy to throw myself a pity party instead of a birthday party.
I have a tendency to be pretty hard on myself. My first tendency was to give myself a stern talking to as I evaluated how I didn’t measure up to the expectations of my 15-year old self.
I weigh more than I thought I should and make less than I thought I would. I’m not married. I still get acne and I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I don't know what the hell a co-pay is and I’m woefully ignorant about politics. I could go on...
But instead of berating myself for not meeting my own expectations I decided to try something new. I decided to give myself a gift because, after all, it was my birthday.
I decided to give myself the gift of being a human being.
It was probably the best gift I received that day, the gift of learning to give myself grace. As my birthday came to a close I realized that I want to focus less on my expectations and more on the following:
I can’t do it all.
Not only can I not be everything to everyone but I also can’t be everything to myself. I can’t be all the things my 15 year-old self envisioned and still function as a real person.
Because of things like social media and the Internet I feel so much self-imposed pressure to do it all. I’ve felt as though I should be an all-star employee who also works out twice a day and takes exotic trips with all her magical vacation days but still manages to save money for a down payment on a house so I can cook gourmet meals in my white washed kitchen with my perfect shiny husband and still manage to walk our Goldendoodle before building our own bookshelves to house the three best sellers I’ve managed to write in all my downtime.
Doesn't that sound exhausting?
I’ve realized I only have the bandwidth to focus on three things in any given season. I’m allowed to change my focus as the seasons change but if I’m going to tackle a new project or try something new then something else has simply got to go.
I don’t have my shit together.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I don’t know where I want to live or who I’m going to marry or if I’m even going to have kids. My shit is all over the stinking place. Just because I look confident on the outside doesn’t mean I’m not freaking out on the inside.
Did I make the right decision? Did I say the right thing? Am I on the right path? What’s my next step? Where am I going? Who am I going with?
While I definitely have goals and aspirations for myself this year I’m allowing for some shituations. Yes, that’s right, shituations. Because life happens and I don’t have my shit together and things get messy.
When stuff goes wrong or I have to do the hard and vulnerable work of saying, “I don’t know” or “Can you help me?” which isn't bad or wrong or weak. No, if anything, it’s just life. It’s simply a shituation. I can either choose to think I’m inadequate and the universe is out to get me or I can rest in the fact that no one else really knows what they’re doing either.
I can’t perfectly plan everything out or account for every emotion and decision and human in the room. All I can do is the best I can with the information I have. Most of the time, even then, I still don’t know exactly what’s going on. I’m going to mess up but that doesn’t make me a failure because I possess everything I need to succeed. Speaking of success…
I’m exactly where I need to be.
I don’t need to be any farther along than I already am. I don’t need to be anywhere else but right here. I don’t need to be anyone else but myself.
I won’t ever arrive at the unrealistic expectations I set for myself.
That doesn’t mean I just throw my hands up and hope for the best. But it does mean I can give myself the grace to enjoy the present. I don’t need to look to the future to secure my identity, no, if anything the future will simply disappoint. Instead I’m learning to be fully present rather than getting ahead of myself and trying to be perfect.
The truth is none of us ever arrive. We’re all this beautiful work that’s unfolding if we would just hold some space and give ourselves room to stretch out and grow a little. We need time and patience and nurturing and some good ole fashioned sunlight if we’re ever going to grow.
So this week, this year even, I wonder what it would look like to give ourselves the time and the space for our unfolding. I'm hoping to get curious, to get honest, and most importantly the get to a place where I can rest in the fact that my story isn't finished.
And neither is yours.