I wave and grin at the teenage boy playing basketball in his driveway. My feet beat an unsteady staccato on the pavement to the African-infused rhythms of Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble. The teen shuffles and nods in my direction, but avoids eye contact. Ever since he caught me run-dancing down the sidewalk last week we switched from an innocuous “we’re just jolly, friendly neighbors” wave to this bashful greeting instead. He is embarrassed for me.
With my first marathon just two weeks away, my runs have been like clockwork, always catching this teen in his driveway in the late afternoon as he shoots hoops. Running through my head as I run is the recent litany of questions from long-time friends soon following me into the next decade of our lives. How does it feel to hit a milestone birthday? Am I okay with turning 30?
It’s my birthday. Three days after Christmas and just before the New Year… a really crappy placement on the calendar, but then, I didn’t choose it. I woke up this morning and greeted 30 with little fanfare but much contemplation. The only thing on the schedule for the day was a run. My birthday gives me the odd convergence of aging with the new year, which I have talked about before. Each year, my personal goals float on the waves of resolutions circulating as the world blows kazoos to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
My thoughts again drift to the teenage boy, the thumping of his basketball has long faded. It’s god-awful-terrible to be a teenager. High school was a painful experiment in conformity, humility, and perseverance for me, and I know why this boy is embarrassed on my behalf. Heck, I would have ridiculed the now-me, fearful of anyone confident enough to live their own brand of weird.
Fifteen years, though, changes a lot.
Progression is inevitable.
I double back toward home. Like many people, each year I make mini-goals and resolutions that march me forward into a New Year. Some I share here, others I hold tight, fearful if I tell someone they might hold me accountable. Then the year progresses with its daily dramas, mild successes, and hard-won happiness. A year later, I check back in on December 31st to take stock and see how much I have accomplished. Then I judge myself against that list. I lament over the little failures, and nit-pick any success, assuming anything good that happened was a fluke—never to replicated.
The boy’s driveway is now empty, and I think back to the 15-year-old me, full of insecurities and fears. I am not that person. Though any single year in the last 15 years netted many failures and losses, there were successes within those years I missed at the time. Fifteen years later, I am different. I am changed for the better. Travel did some of this for me, the decision to leave five years ago caused profound shifts in my perspective (and life). But I worked hard throughout too, and looking back now, those little successes I never celebrated have shaped the best parts of what I have now.
In the macro perspective, it’s easier to be kind to myself. And that’s worth thinking about. Worth honoring.
This boy is in his home now, I am a forgotten moment lost to his own daily dramas. But as I turn onto my street, I am thankful for this final lesson before the New Year. He reminded me to step back from the minutia of last year that seems so significant now—minutia often masks progress—and instead look at the fuller picture. Even in the years I felt unmoored, confused, or purposeless, even in those years I made progress.
I share this now because it gave me unexpected happiness to think of the progression a decade brings. I have faith that this year will see progress too.
And to the questions about my perspective on entering my thirties? Bring it!
As always, thank you for the support over the years. Many new readers joined the A Little Adrift community this year—welcome! I look forward to getting to know more of you through the comments, interactions on the Facebook page, and in reader meetups. If there’s ever any way I can help, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Cheers and happiness in 2014, I hope it’s a year filled with your own brand of weird and awesome. :-)