I’ve cried every year on my birthday since I was about seven years old, each year for a different reason, but mostly because I have always been overwhelmed by the possibilities and the uncertainties of a new age. Growing from nine to ten was particularly hard. “I will never ever be a single digit, again,” I remember over-dramatically moaning to my mother who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was experiencing her own misgivings about facing forty.
If you are fortunate enough to remain friends with any of your high school or college classmates, there is a certain sense of camaraderie and ease in knowing that no matter what your current station in life, whether you are: single, married, or divorced; wealthy or unemployed; wildly accomplished or still struggling to succeed at something- we are all aging at the same pace.
Many of my friends have established the thirty-something version of a bucket list, a 30 Before 30 list, or for those with less time on the clock, a 30 in my 30’s list, of things that must be accomplished in what is left of our youth (of course youth is meant to be taken lightly and within context, something to be elaborated upon in a later post). I, too, tried to develop my own list for my 30’s.
I have always been an obsessive list maker. When I was about fifteen I devised a life’s Wish List, of a hundred accomplishments for my life. Of course what we want, or imagine that we would want, at fifteen, doesn’t always seem so appealing at 29. I have completed about 40% of what was on the original list, but I am not quite certain if I would identify all of the things on the original list as accomplishments. I’ve read some of the “Great Books” I identified on the list, but I am not quite certain that Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the great works of literature, nor am I convinced that reading a 90 page novella is an accomplishment. I’ve lived abroad, but I have yet to learn Swahili and I am not quite sure that I would still want to if given the option. I’ve gotten married, but alas I did not marry Prince William and I am not quite sure that I would have made a good Duchess or future Queen. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to live a life without the husband I have chosen.
To write a 30’s list, as opposed to a teenage Wish List, requires a more finite and structured sense of time and a bit too much realism. The list can no longer be a hodgepodge of random aspirations. The tasks must be attainable, yet motivational. Some of the lists I have read are more aspirational then others, but generally among my informal observations, the lists include things like losing weight, travel, existential quandaries about family planning and carefully choreographed goals for career advancement. My problem as I sat down to face the abyss of writing my own list was the realization that this list would not be a circuitous smattering of goals, but rather a linear list that would require me to put my priorities in order.
Which thing should I tackle first? The order, when you are in your thirties, almost matters more than the items themselves. Your life takes quite a different turn when you prioritize family planning over career advancement or vice versa. The pressing need to make a choice, any choice, for me, remains too overwhelming.
My list making was interrupted on four different occasions in the past year. Through both Facebook and some face-to-face gossip, I learned that four friends, from different parts of my life, had died or were diagnosed with a terminal illness. These unexpected uncoverings refocused my mind, as death so often does.
With each revelation I found myself drawn to the two things that have always brought me solace: walking and writing. For me, the two are closely intertwined. Each process begins with an uncertainty, an essential question to explore, often one that does not or cannot have a clear and easy answer.
Writing is a messy and frustrating process, but revision gives clarity and order.
Walking is tumultuous depending on the terrain, but the end, whether it be a majestic summit or your own front door, brings an inner sense of peace.
Instead of writing a list, I focused on one resolution for the New Year, the first year of my thirties, to walk Wainwright’s 190 mile English trail beginning at the Irish Sea in the West and Robin Hood’s Bay in the East, traversing the entire country on foot. Through writing and walking, I intend to find my way to an understanding for all the questions of being 30 that I cannot yet fully articulate.