A little over a week ago, I took a foray deeper into my 30s when the clock struck 32. And you know what? I feel it.
Not in that tired way people sometimes say they feel about growing older. If anything, what I notice in my 30s and particularly in this phase of them, is a sense of centeredness. I am not so gaunt anymore, so hungry for worthiness. There is a roundedness, a completeness about my life that I never enjoyed – and even feared – as a younger person. To be sure, I haven’t done all the things I want to do. I’ve still got some pieces of unstrung and drooping character to patch up. But my 32 years have been abundant and full, leaving me with a contented satisfaction for a life definitively imperfect, but still beautiful.
It leaves me to ask, what now? I’m in a transition phase between a restless young version of myself and…I don’t entirely know what. But I recognize that the learned attitudes and behaviors of my youth no longer fit anymore. Though we may love certainty and clear pathways, our lives are much too intricate to abide by our wishful boxes. When we’re young, we say that we don’t want to change, but this is short-sighted. Of course we’ll change. To resist change is to resist growth, to shutter from our imagination the idea that we could ever realize a better version of ourselves.
Becoming looks like unhitching myself from the seduction of linearity. It is loving and laying to rest a younger, more naive version of myself in favor of discovery and growth. It is leaning into new ways of being that expand my understanding of myself and the world, and carefully undoing ignorance. There are central tenets of who I am that remain intact, like rebar holding up the structure of this metamorphosis. But the narrative of my life isn’t carried forward by who I was. It is ushered in by who I decide to be today, and tomorrow, and the next day. I hope to remember this about others too.
This season of life also comes with an unexpected guest: joy. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I think we are conditioned to believe that contentment is for the simple. Our market economy teaches us ever to feel incomplete until we achieve or obtain the next thing. We lionize restless overwork and the pursuit of legacy. As a young person, I feared comfort in the same way I feared suffocation. I conflated it with settling. My view of the world was too small and rigid to make room for both joy and growth together.
But these days, contentment is near at heart. I am deeply grateful for the gifts I’ve been given. I know they may be taken away from me. I know sooner or later new griefs pierce us all. I know that. But for today, I am deeply joyful for this little life, even this little season of life, I get to savor. The smallest moments, as usual, are the most meaningful. It’s waking up next to my husband, walking our elderly dog, crafting a delightful cup of tea, or going out on a familiar trail. The first part of my life was characterized by overcoming and understanding sorrow and confusion. It’s foreign and even courageous to accept this joy, to allow it to crest over my life. Joy and contentment teach me about new angles of our lives, new sides of the soul. I am grateful for them. The various tomorrows that lay ahead may take us through all kinds of struggle. They almost assuredly will. And we will greet those new winters when they come. At 32, I trust my ability to heal and find meaning, and in trusting myself to be present in sorrow, I can also be present in joy. This too is a gift of the 30s.
In this season I find myself prioritizing presence. Savoring requires stillness. I’ve slowly set aside different distractions in the interest of being more fully inside of the moments, whether with loved ones, in my work, or simply my own enjoyment. I am constantly asking the question of how to balance our digital connectedness with meaningful engagement, and in my current place the scale tips away from most forms of online networking. I think constant connectivity distracts from my work, dulls my relational senses, makes me a more reactive and less critical person. These are the things I lament in our society, so how can I overlook them in my own life? While digital networks have their benefits too, the very reasons I vacillate, I am for now more cautious of their collateral damage and remain relatively aloof.
In the space left from excising some of this distraction, I am able to critically evaluate my life. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished as a 32-year-old woman. My grandfather only lived to be 33. But I also need to be honest enough with myself to recognize that I didn’t do all of it for myself. Some of the most applaudable achievements of my life are things I did to make others proud, even if they left my inner passions somewhat uncultivated. In disentangling my motivations, I draw nearer to the pulse of what I truly care to accomplish in the next phase of my life, unadulterated by youthful identity crises. God-willing, I have decades left to fill with truer endeavors, and this is where I want my focus to be. If I am satisfied with the years I’ve held so far, what will I build with the time I have left? How much more could I do in the next 32 years without the youthful angst and posturing of the first 32?
I have various other quiet reflections about the slow metamorphosis of age and time, but that’s where I’ll leave it today. Thanks for taking the time to tune in. 🙂
*Featured photo at the top from a magical 32nd birthday hike in Sedona to the iconic “Devil’s Bridge” – complete with snow!