With my 29th birthday fast approaching, I’m in a contemplative rather than excitable mood. I find that as I get older my own birthday is almost an afterthought. Rather than the anticipation one would expect to feel in the lead up to a birthday, I’m generally nonplussed by the event, or at worst apathetic. However, this is not to say that I don’t get excited by other people’s birthdays, or that people don’t become excited for my birthday on my behalf – i.e. I’m not a miserable bastard! I almost feel guilty that I’m not excited by my own birthday. People understandably ask me what I’m doing, what I’d like or where I’m going. My only reply to these questions is: “nothing”. Puzzlingly, to some, “nothing” is an unacceptable and depressing answer.
Even from an early age my birthdays have induced a contemplative mood and a period of self-reflection in relation to the passing year. This year is no different, and in some respects calls for more self-reflection given that I’m one year away from being 30. The question is: should this birthday call for more self-refection merely because I am one year away from becoming 30?
Our society sets us arbitrary targets according to what “it” feels we should have achieved by 30 (or 29 for that matter!). What these “targets” fail to recognise is that we are all individuals, each with hopes and dreams. It’s simply not possible to put us all in boxes. Although this sounds like the generic rhetoric of one of those overpaid and increasingly popular (and shit) corporate motivational speakers, the point is surely a good one?
We allow ourselves to be dictated by society’s expectations of us: we should own a house; we should be married by 30; we should aim for stable desk jobs etc. The reality is that these targets or expectations are so wildly off the mark for a significant proportion of us. In relation to home ownership, do I really want to saddle myself with debt by purchasing an asset I don’t wish to have right now? Should we be content with merely existing in a stable office job because that’s how it should be? If something doesn’t work for you, at whatever age, I fail to see any reason why it should be pursued – even if society claims that you should and lambasts you for going off script.
How I used to be
I spent a large part of my early twenties being an anxious wreck by being that guy trying to conform to society’s expectations. Even now, like the vast majority of people, I find during weak moments that I’m influenced by external expectations rather than what I want. However, with age comes perspective, contentment and realism. Our teens and early-twenties are spent comparing ourselves to others and are invariably littered with weak-minded self-questioning like: what did he do to get a better job?; why don’t I have a girlfriend?; why does he have twice as many Facebook friends as me?
I’m now of that age where the weak-minded self-questioning is rare. I can look subjectively at my achievements and set myself realistic goals which matter to me. When you get to 29 you take a good look at your circle of real friends and find that it’s rather small. Even 5 years ago that would be a cause for great concern, now it’s a matter of pride. When it came to friendships I took me a long time to realise that it was quality rather than quantity and accumulating superfluous superficial friendships. At first this realisation is depressing, but slowly you appreciate this was for the best. In this respect, my retirement from the hideous acquaintance accumulating Facebook helped no end. This is not to say having many acquaintances is a bad thing. Not at all. Rather, with age comes an awareness that there are a few people you can actually count on, but many people I could watch a game at the pub with.
My report card at 29 reads rather well and that in itself is a cause for great celebration. I have a loving family and girlfriend who have my back at all times. They inspire me to embrace all achievements – even my own birthday. I have great friends I can call on at any time. I have a job that pays reasonably well. I have my health. In a society which encourages the endless accumulation of things, this list of achievements could seem sparse, but when you really look at life what else actually matters?
Targets and goals are great, and I have many of them. However, to get bogged down and anxious because you haven’t yet reached a target or because somebody else has done so before you is part of a mental fragility we must all try to avoid. We would do well as adults to simply accept where we are for now. Everybody’s time will come.