Today, I am 29.
Exactly nine years ago, I stood in my college dorm room, an eager and typically-spirited sophomore, broken and discouraged. There was something frightening about leaving the teens behind, and I was a disaster from the minute I woke up that morning. If you knew me at the time, college-disaster-Michael is much different than current-disaster-Michael. This might be hard to believe, however it’s my birthday and I’m asking you to just go with it. That afternoon, and after a particularly trying morning, a very dear friend of mine shared with me that she had a surprise for me that night, and that I would be really happy about the outcome. Again, for those know know me well, another thing you must know about me is that I absolutely hate surprises. I think it probably has something to do with control, or my inability to hide my emotions. Either way, I really loathe being caught off guard, and this specific friend knew it.
The night commenced, and my anxiety was alarmingly high. Just as we were planning to leave campus for what I thought would be dinner, my friend asked me to come down to the student government office in the student union before leaving. I turned the corner, probably annoyed that we were running off-schedule, and before I knew it, I caught a view of around eighty people packed into the tiny office that, on a normal day, should hold no more than forty. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHAEL,” they all screamed, among giggles and, “whoooos.” A huge round of applause broke the awkward, Michael-hates-this-he-hates-every-second-of-this, moment, followed by a hearty singing of, “Happy Birthday.” I was speechless, and as I looked around, I realized the room was full of friends from all walks of my college life. It was stunning, and I will never forget that visual. I note this last point as, in that moment, I realized the page had already been turned. You see, we don’t actually get to turn the final page of some of our favorite chapters.
And here we are, nine years later. Today, I am 29, and officially one year out from what historically has been a tough chapter to turn. A lot can happen in a decade, and a huge reason I was so fearful of leaving the teens behind was a deep and dark fear of not belong able to “top” the successes and achievements I acquired during that decade. After all, this was the decade where I hit puberty, learned to drive, graduated high school, went overseas for the first time, met Tony Blair, got a full-ride to college, and the list goes on and on. And although these fetes may seem noteworthy for the years of adolescence, they were also the time where I lost my grandfather, moved multiple times, acknowledged the struggle of many of my identity issues, and also a variety of other heartache and challenge. Through this reflection, I have realized that leaving my teens was actually not about achievement whatsoever. It was about growing, and learning.
Somewhere over the past ten years, I discovered that, with each decade, it is not at all about finding more or better successes – it’s about finding more and better happiness, it’s about finding more smiles and better health, and it’s about finding more authentic people and better souls to engage. It’s about growth. And growing does not solely equal success and achievement. This development also encompasses loss and heartache, and struggle and dissonance – specifically, how it is that we cope and grieve and move forward. This, too, is impacting and essential.
But today, I feel different. I don’t loathe today, or what this next year can be. Today, I feel more like almost-thirty than I do 29. And I’m absolutely okay with this reality. You see, there is a privilege that comes with almost-thirty: an assumed-sense of maturity, survival-pride, a new dating bracket, earlier bedtimes, and the list goes on and on. I cannot tell you where I’ll be at 39 (physically or emotionally), but I can tell you this, I have ten more years to make the most of this next decade – to live, dance, see, dream, go, do, be, believe, fail, succeed, lose, win, and ultimately prepare to look back and be proud of each of these feelings and moments. And for that, I am hopeful.
Today, I am not 29. I’m almost-thirty. And I’m totally okay with that.