Tomorrow is my birthday and I don’t know about you, but birthdays always make me kind of introspective. Like my own little personal New Year’s Eve, I find myself reflecting on not just the last year, but all the years before it. I think about the hard-learned lessons, who I’ve been and the roads I’ve traveled. But perhaps more importantly I think about where I want to go and the woman I want to become.
It’s funny, because if you’d have told me ten or even twenty years ago that this is where I would be at thirty-six I’d never have believed it. Not because things went according to my well-intentioned plans, but because they didn’t. I’ve learned a lot about life in my now thirty-six years of living and I can only imagine how much more I will learn in the thirty-six years to come.
Here are a few things I’ve learned for sure.
You won’t have to chase the things that are meant for you.
That goes for relationships, friendships, career opportunities and truly everything. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to put in some work, but working for something and chasing it are two entirely different things. For example, when you put work into a relationship the other person is also making an effort.
You make spending time together a priority and you feel a balance, even if the scales tip further in one direction or another over time. But if you’re chasing someone, you never feel at ease. You feel that if you stopped your efforts, that relationship would be dead in the water. At first this realization can be disappointing. But here’s the best part about it. You won’t have to chase the things and people that are meant for you. They’ll be like a octopus on your face.
Our happiness is meant to be both more simple than and greater than any goal.
That seems contradictory, right? When we think of our happiness, we often think in terms of goals. I’ll be happy when I get this degree, receive the promotion, reach my ‘ideal’ weight, get married, etc. The list goes on.
So what happens when we actually achieve things off of this list? The target is always being moved and we are barely even allowed a moment to revel in our glory before we set off on the next task. Happiness can often be found in the space between the goals. It’s in the love that becomes a marriage or the act of creating something that becomes a business. Accomplishing a goal is worth celebrating, but so is just being alive.
Grief changes us.
A friend recently sent me a photo of me with a friend who passed away over a decade ago. When I looked at that picture, I was transported back to that exact moment in time. But sadly, I can’t think of just that moment without remembering that they’re gone. I still think about them often.
Sometimes it’s a soft tug at my heart and other days it knocks the wind right out of me. I don’t think we ever stop grieving. I don’t believe it ever hurts less. But we change and the people we love take pieces of us with them when they go, leaving us with a small piece of them that we will forever hold onto.
It honestly doesn’t matter what you look like.
If I could get back all the hours I have spent obsessing over whether or not my earth suit was good enough, I could probably add actual years onto my life. No sooner than I could make peace with certain aspects of my appearance, a new issue would arise that needed to be ‘fixed.’
Don’t get me wrong. There are things I do to my appearance for myself in order to make me feel my best. But I have stopped obsessing over it because my appearance is the least interesting thing about me and it’s the least interesting thing about you too. And if somebody has a problem with how I look, that’s between them and the Lord, because it’s not my business what anybody else thinks of me.
It’s never too late.
Our society has a weird hang-up with age, and once upon a time I actually bought into this bogus narrative. I thought that for whatever silly reason, certain ideas became off limits because I hit some invisible age bracket. I can’t tell you how many people I know that have given up on lifelong dreams all because they think they’re too old. The day that you’re too old to do the things your heart desires is the day you’re no longer breathing. Until then, it’s never too late. Do the things that set your soul on fire and make no apologies.
This isn’t a dress rehearsal.
This life, this moment right here, is the main event. Life is going to pass us by whether we show up for it or not. It’s going to solider on, with or without us. That’s both a sobering and comforting notion for the same reasons. Because no matter what we choose to do and no matter what mistakes we make, life will go on.
Our memories and what we did with our time on this earth will become the stories we tell when we are old and gray. Every day we are faced with a choice of how we want to live. Every single day we are given the gift of time to create the life we want to live. And that is always worth celebrating.
About Mel Stephens
A born and raised Fairview girl, Mel Stephens is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in publications like Medium, Thought Catalog and The Mighty. She is also a mental health advocate, podcast host and drinker of lattes. Mel lives in Fairview with her husband and five (yes, five) fur children where she is probably currently re-watching The Office for the 734th time. For more uplifting content and lots of dog and cat photos, you can follow @musiccitymel on all social media platforms. You can also drop Mel a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.