The Big 3-1

Birthdays are always disappointing. I go to bed the night before thinking that the next morning I will wake up and feel different. I hope I will feel smarter and wiser and more confident; that I will instantly know what I want out of my life and what I don’t want and how to get there; and that there will be an unusual spring in my step.

The next morning the alarm goes off and it’s Wednesday. I have to get up, go to work, and instead of feeling new, I feel like my same old self — not wiser, not smarter, not knowing more about the world around me.

It happens this way every year and it’s been happening since I can remember my birthdays. The thing that I do enjoy about birthdays is when my parents call and recount the day I was born. It is always the same story, obviously, but in the story itself there is always so much hope and promise that it gives me hope that maybe this will be the year when it will all click.
I turned 31 last week and I think I’m having a harder time with this than with turning 30. Turning 30 was something to celebrate. It was a nice, round number. A rite of passage, if you will.

But turning 31 seems like a whole different era is about to begin — or maybe it’s already underway. It feels like everything important that is going to happen in my life will be determined in the next nine years: having children, figuring out my career, hitting the decade marker with my husband and helping my parents settle into their new life in the U.S. This is the first year when I really feel that I need to get my butt in gear, so to speak.

There is suddenly urgency to everything, every decision. When I turned 25, it wasn’t a big deal to think that “well, maybe I’ll have kids when I am 26 or 27.” But now it matters whether I’ll have kids at 32 or 36. At 25, it was OK to feel that my career was without direction, but I am not so sure that it’s still all right. At 25, I didn’t think about my parents getting older, or taking care of them. Even though they are still young and healthy, that thought crosses my mind more and more often these days. This is all important, grown-up stuff that I should feel ready for, right?

But the truth is, instead of feeling ready, I feel the same panic that I felt when I turned 18 or 20 or 29. I woke up on those birthdays with uncertainty and with questions swirling in my head — and it wasn’t any different last Wednesday. The answers are not clearer, the path doesn’t seem to be easier. It is the same old me — only now I am actually “older.”

So I wonder: If I feel the same year after year, is there some sort of cumulative knowledge and wisdom that happens throughout the years without my realization?

There must be, because I was ready to graduate from college when I turned 22; I was ready to get married when I turned 26; and I was ready to become a U.S. citizen when I turned 30.

I hope that the panic I feel is normal, that secretly I do know the answers. The real trick might be to trust the panic and to trust that I will know what to do next.


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