For all the hoopla, I didn’t mind turning 30. But 34? Nobody warned me about 34.
34 is definitively in your mid-30s – a milestone that I denied last year on my birthday. At that time, I felt surprisingly sanguine. Despite 2015 being a pretty terrible year, I felt confident about the future. I was pregnant with our second child, was dreaming about potential future jobs, had a handle on my volunteer work, and was balancing work and life reasonably well.
Then the world threw me for a loop.
Having a second child once again brought all of my anxieties about parenting to the forefront, from sleep training to not spending enough time with them. The election brought my entire career into question. The grind of making compassionate change in a world that doesn’t seem to want it wore on me more than ever.
But yet, slowly but surely, I’m coming back around. While I still have my teeth-grinding moments, I’m starting to approach that ease I described last year. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity or perhaps it’s because I caught up on sleep over the Columbus Day weekend, but I’m allowing more and more to roll off of me.
Part of it is the sense that now I’m the experienced one. As parents, we’re been through the infant stage with two kids, neither of them incredibly easy. There’s so much more to learn, but I hope that little leaves me helplessly flailing the way hearing my baby cry does. At work, I’ve been through a presidential transition before, even though this one is very different. As an activist, I’ve felt ready to resist since Inauguration Day. Even I’m incredibly frustrated, I didn’t feel paralyzed the way a lot of people who had never been politically active were. My outrage isn’t going away – nor should it – but I’m learning to compartmentalize it so I don’t have to carry it everywhere I go.
A few reflections have further helped me put things in perspective. When I was particularly anxious about the impact – or lack thereof – I was having, I read this quote from Colin Beavan in the book No Impact Man: “The job is simply this: to live our lives as though we make a difference.” I can’t force change to happen. But I can live as though I already am making a difference in someone’s life.
I also realized something else much more big picture that lessened my burden. Contemplating the stars, I realized that no matter what happens here on Earth, supernovae will still be exploding and galaxies colliding a billion light years away. (For a map of this, check out this gorgeous interactive tool.) We can destroy our ecosystems, we can even destroy each other, but we can’t destroy beauty.
None of this is to say that I really know what I’m doing. Sometimes what I don’t know feels overwhelming.
But in some ways, people are like ecosystems, full of complex interactions and relationships. When ecology first started, scientists thought that the most, healthy, productive landscapes were climax communities where nothing ever changed. As they gathered more data, they realized that this model was wrong. Instead, the healthiest ecosystems are in a state of flux. They often have catastrophic events like fires and floods. The relationships between plants and animals are constantly shifting. It’s actually because of the change, not in spite of it, that ecosystems thrive. I think it’s that way for people too. Change isn’t always good, but the ability to respond well to it is. Feeling experienced isn’t a bad thing, as long as I recognize how many more experiences there are to have.
As my now-retired mom says, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” That used to seem intimidating, as if you never found your place in the world. Now it sounds downright hopeful.