I am writing this blog post on my 45th birthday – a number I never really let sink in until today. I am now halfway through my 4th decade! And boy does it feel weird! But it’s not as terrifying as I thought it would be. A few things go through my mind today as I look back on 45 really interesting years. I always enjoyed my twenties. Something about the free spirit of exploration, finding, defining, and refining yourself. Then reinventing yourself again.
What's your favorite decade?
Do you have a favorite decade? Talking to my friends, family, and colleagues, it seems most everyone of them does. It appears to be where some of us live in our heads, where we feel the most comfortable, and the most validated.
In my twenties, I experienced a breakthrough to realize my dreams for the first time. Looking back, I always felt that it was a must to endure relationships long past their natural expiration date. Some were romantic relationships that kept me trapped in eternal boredom or suffocation in a narrow-minded headspace. Other such relationships were of a professional nature. From all of those, I should have run much sooner rather than enduring the eternal pain of twisting myself into a pretzel, just to please the expected norms of my family and society.
An example of early personal growth
One such example: would have been terrible to throw in the towel with my doctoral candidacy in medical school? I was terrified that I would waste the very semester I had set aside to work on my doctoral thesis. I hoped for expert guidance as a wide-eyed and inexperienced student who had all the enthusiasm to help her climb the Mt. Everest of molecular biology lab geeky-ness. While I suffered in a toxic mentor-student relationship, I watched my fellow students sail through great mentorships and finish a thesis in no time. I was in awe of their courage to walk away from bad choices and start over new.
The weight of shame
Needless to say, as much as I tried, I was not able to complete my thesis (this was back in Germany). For many years to come, I would hear the disappointment in my parents’ comments when they expressed their regret at my failure. Such comments would freeze me into a permanent stone figure from sheer shame and embarrassment. Looking back, I would tell my younger self that it's ok to walk. It’s ok to call out toxic people for their shitty treatment, bad relationships for the soul-crushing effects, and that it’s ok to stand up to expectations of an anxious family that only adds to your stress ulcers.
But although I wish I could have done things differently, I don’t have any true regrets. Going through misery and experiencing gut-wrenching emotional and psychological pain, vomit-inducing anxiety, and back-breaking weights of stress because you just have to keep up that façade of “I’m doing great, and all is going according to plan!” - attitude showed me what I wanted to avoid. Now I have a compass to guide me around toxic obstacles. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Moving towards your ideal - become your own hero
The person I still strive to become is the version of myself I started creating then. I realize all the meanderings through life with its ups and down have been an odyssey to where I wanted to be – although over time I certainly have refined my goal. It is an ideal that has served as the collecting jar and the drawing board for my ideal over time, shaped and colored by the values that define me, the moral compass by which I live, and the figurative growth spurts I have experienced.
So here I am - proudly proclaiming that I am closer to this person I always wanted to be now more than ever. Two decades later. What a feat.
Questions for self-reflection
I wonder, do you have a favorite decade? And how are you realizing your ideal self? Are you hiding away from your past pain? Did you live through something so terrible that it defies any attempts at all to see anything but primal, gut-wrenching pain? Or are you using it as a source of strength to extract pieces of treasured lessons from it that help you grow and mold yourself to the ideal you want to become? Maybe your ideal has shifted? Have you reinvented yourself over the years through your trials and successes, your relationships, your work, and much more?
Everyone has a story that matters
When you think about these questions: how is it shaping the way you view others, especially older people? Do you ever wonder about who they aspire to be on the inside? Do you ever wonder about who they see when the think of themselves or look in the mirror? Does it give you pause the next time you want to dismiss someone’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences because they are just ‘too old’ to get it?
Everyone has a story and everyone’s story matters. Sometimes it’s hard to see past our own noses to perceive the other as a complex human with more than one dimension. But I ask you: if you were to sit back and just think about what someone’s story might be, does it instill you with a sense of human connectedness and compassion? It certainly does for me. I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions!
Please leave your comments in the box below, and if you would like, please share your experience with truly seeing another person for the rich life story they encompass.