So I’m going to be 28 tomorrow.
I figured that I’d write something down to commemorate the event. I have a web domain that I barely use, so why not?
The common saying is that age is just a number, an arbitrary measure of how long someone has been alive based on some ancient tradition that dictates that a “year” is one revolution of our planet around the sun. Yet, there is still something about those same arbitrary markers placed on the irrevocable march of time that people use to measure all sorts of expectations. People of a certain age are expected to have accomplished certain things.
Now, these sorts of expectations have of course varied a lot over the years, based on the culture, on the people, and the matters of importance that mostly concerned those alive in those days. Today is no different, as those expectations can be rigid or flexible, and can vary wildly based on where you live and what people you interact with. Most of the time, in my experience, it’s not a strict set of requirements so much as it is a general cultural expectation to have X experiences by a certain age to best position you for the future.
It’s the sort of pressure that someone like me, hitting twenty-eight, feels quite a bit. The twenties are a sort of holy time frame for Americans, it’s the entry of someone into their adulthood when their bodies tend to be at their physical peak, and when both the responsibilities and the fun, of “real life” really start to emerge on someone’s personal radar. The twenties are the last of the significant age milestones that people can’t wait to reach, and once you’re past them, that’s when you start dismissing your age. Well, after all, it’s just a number, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter if I’m twenty-five or forty-five.
But it does matter. If there’s something significant that I haven’t done as a twenty-five-year-old man, people might sound a bit surprised but they’ll accept it. If I haven’t done that same significant, vague thing by the time I’m forty-five, that’s going to turn some heads. And even if I’m the sort of shut-in introvert who spends more time at home on the couch with his cat than out and about with friends who might comment on those sort of things, I’m still going to think those thoughts to myself, wondering why I haven’t done things that my peers have by my age.
Here’s the thing. I’m going to be twenty-eight tomorrow. And I can’t help but look around and think of everything that I haven’t done at some point during my twenty-eight revolutions around the sun that it seems like almost everyone else my age has. I wish I could just ignore those expectations, and no one’s pushing them on me, it’s just that they’re infused so deep into the culture around us that they’re unavoidable. Let me rattle through a few examples.
I’ve never had a girlfriend. If I wanted to use the old metaphor, I’ve never stepped into the ballpark, to say nothing of any of the bases.
I’ve never traveled abroad. The furthest away from my hometown I’ve ever seen have been trips to Baltimore and Orlando.
I’m no closer now to working in writing or making a career in a field that I really care about than I was when I graduated. I’m still in the profession that I told myself I was getting into to help pay for grad school.
There are a lot of other, smaller bucket list checkboxes that I’ve yet to check off, fears yet to be conquered that I’d love to try at least once at some point in the future. Things like singing karaoke, flying a plane, driving a sports car, stuff like that.
It weighs on me. Maybe it’s just because that’s who I am and the way my brain works, but I’m wired to compare my life and what I’ve accomplished in that life to the people around me. And As I hit twenty-eight years old, I can’t help but see myself coming up short in a lot of ways.
But this past year, I’ve done some things to start changing this around. This past year, I’ve done things that I would never have done before, all of my own provocation.
I guess it’s something that I’ve been saying to myself a lot over the past year. Twenty-seven was the year for me to say “well, why not?” to myself more than any that I can remember. It used to be that, whenever I’d get an idea in my head of something to do or say, I’d scare myself out of actually acting on that thought, through some unconscious, primal fear of doing something incorrectly. I’ve been terrified my whole life of failing or being rejected, or getting it wrong. Because of that, I’ve always had people behind me, pushing me toward things that are in my best interest, but that carried a risk factor, real or imagined, I found unacceptable.
Something changed this past year. I don’t know if I just got fed up with my own insecurities, if some self-confidence switch in the back of my head got flipped, or if it was just a day at a time thing. But I’ve done things this year that, a year ago or two years ago, I never would have done.
I bought a plane ticket and flew to a convention where I would know absolutely no one except a few folks I’d met on Twitter.
I bought a house, not a big one granted, but it’s my own place that I am now paying a mortgage on.
I finished writing a book that I’ve been working on for over a decade, and it’s in a state that I’m actually happy with (and hopefully it’ll get published next year, fingers crossed).
I’ve run both 5 and 10k distances, though not in an actual race, and have managed my weight to the point where I’m happy with my body.
Yeah, it was a big year for me in a lot of ways. There are, of course, more things that I could have done that either didn’t happen, that I backed out of for one reason or another, so I’m not one-hundred-percent saying yes to everything that I would have said no to in the past. I fully acknowledge that I’m still a work in process as a human being.
But here’s the thing. I didn’t start my twenty-seventh year by thinking that everything that happened, would happen, and that lack of foreknowledge extends to my twenty-eighth year as well. I have no idea what this year holds for me. Steps forward or steps back, it’s all a matter of perspective really. I just hope that the streak continues and I keep up the “well, why not?” into and beyond the next year.