My birthday is coming up and I don’t feel like celebrating. I’ve been trying my very best to kick the question of what’s there to celebrate? out of my mind, but like a self-entitled guest, it lounges around and consumes all the joy in me. Each morning I wake up one day closer to 36, and like empty bottles of wine from the night before, I try to throw away the negativity that – yes I know! – wastes my time and energy. It still doesn’t help to change my recent default setting – foggy and tired, as if I have a hang-over.
Maybe I do have a hang-over. Hang-over from systematically trying different things from the cocktail menu of self-improvement tactics. Hang-over from drinking disappointments; ones that are most difficult to digest being the self-inflicted ones. Hang-over from devouring the previously determined and set in stone social norms of what a person my age should have achieved by now.
The big three expectations that society places on a woman my age are marriage, financial success and beauty. For example, I should have been married with kids by now. Instead, I’m in a lovely and painful “it’s complicated” situation. No kids… no future appointments to freeze my eggs. And the rest of that passive-aggressive message is that if I wasn’t savvy enough to get myself a husband, I should have at least been ambitious enough to climb up in my career and make enough money to buy myself a flat in a metropolitan city. Well, I still rent and my savings are just enough to give me one nice vacation and a couple of designer dresses. Well, “at least you’re pretty.” Nope, not feeling that either as the weight I gained is starting to feel more permanent than temporary.
The saddest part is that at my weakest, I buy into it all. The way down to self-doubt is a very easy one. It’s like we are pre-programmed to get wrapped up in a tornado of neurosis – insecurity, inadequacy, disheartenment, ambiguity, anger… In the belly of its destructive whirlwind, it makes us think as if we don’t have any control over our lives and all of our efforts are in vain. If we don’t speak the language of the norm or have the right currency – spouse, career, small pant size etc. – we feel as insufficient as an American tourist in Paris.
So…… what’s there to celebrate?
Plenty actually. When the emotional dust settles, when I’m gentle and clear, I see the dots connecting. The people I’ve met – the ones I’ve let go and the ones who sticked around….. The milestones left behind….. The landmarks of my life’s map…. My true calling…. The lessons, most burdensome and crucial, learned.
I can’t lie. I can’t mask my failures. I can’t create a permanent facade of bliss like my life is a facebook page. All I can do while I stagger towards my unknown future, is to remember these lessons:
- We see and interpret everything through our own insecurities. Every single person, even people you want to be, even celebrities you admire, carry a unique bouquet of insecurities in them. Grass is always greener on the other side.
- Don’t be afraid to be authentic. If you pretend to be or try to become someone other than your true self, life will never create a path that takes you to what you really need or meant to do. “Truth heals.” Rejecting your own self would deceive not others, but your own fate.
- Don’t judge anyone by their covers. Don’t dismiss someone for their awkwardness or unfortunate looks. Don’t give too much credit to the undeserving just because of their loud arrogance. As the Turkish saying goes, an empty tin makes a lot of noise.
- Always and always listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, even though it looks right and people keep telling you that it’s right, it will soon prove that it actually is not.
- Feeling pain and sadness is better than feeling numb. “If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.” Living is a cycle of dark and light. So you can’t feel truly happy, unless you can also feel truly sad. One follows the other.
- Recognize the personality of your emotions: Doubt is a virus. Faith is a medicine. “Comparison is a thief of joy.” Optimism is an energy-booster. Ego is a sinister assassin of self. Gratitude is serotonin. And curiosity did not kill the cat but it actually saved it.
- “Be the love you never received.” Don’t be afraid to be generous with your love and words. It turns out, instead of leaving you cold and dry and taken for granted, if you show your love, pay a compliment, give encouragement and thanks, kindness and hope to loved ones and strangers alike. life has a funny way of returning the favor timesfold. The trick is to do the same for yourself. Because the way you treat yourself is the standard you set for others.
- Being attached to someone or not committing to anyone – Neither of them means freedom. True freedom is loving, and receiving love, without expectations!
- Be present. It’ll be easier if you realize that not everything is about you! Get out of your head and complexes! When you listen to your friend’s problems, really listen. When you go to a restaurant with a beautiful view, don’t bitch about your table in the back, take the beauty in. When someone gives you something, make sure they feel appreciated. Open your senses to what life has brought you…. Moments. They are all you’ll remember in the end.
- Balance – in everything – is the hardest and the most necessary skill to master. “Love but don’t make a bond of love.” Give, but know your boundaries. Do your best, but don’t control. Want, but don’t obsess. Have a piece of chocolate, but not the whole bar.
See, growing is like learning a new language. In her latest book titled In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri tells the tale of her struggles to learn Italian. She questions how language defines us, roots us or frees us while realizing that:
IMPERFECTION INSPIRES INVENTION, IMAGINATION, CREATIVITY. IT STIMULATES. THE MORE I FEEL IMPERFECT, THE MORE I FEEL ALIVE.
So I’ve decided to celebrate my birthday after all. I am imperfect, therefore I am. The above lessons were not going to be learned if I had chosen to live by other people’s standards and values. For that I am proud. And now, they are my tools, my armor, as I continue to invent, create and imagine my future, “never allowing other people’s limited perceptions to define me.”
Cheers to the defiants, who chose the path less traveled. You are something to celebrate!