I’ve been mulling over what to write about next and then I realized I should acknowledge that today is my Birthday. I’m not one to be overly-excited about celebrating and making big plans, and especially now given that we’re still very-much living through a global pandemic here. There isn’t much one can do at this point and I’m not really one for video chats or digital meetups. With that being said, if it means spending my Birthday in solitude, then the least I can do is some self-reflecting, right?
Times really change. When I was younger, it was really all about the gifts and the monetary value. Yes, I was spoiled mostly, and because I boarded the intelligence train later than most youngsters, I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to grow up feeling wealthy until much later in my life. It was actually through meeting other people and expanding my social circle that I came across many individuals who weren’t nearly as blessed as I was. The lavishness of what I grew up with wasn’t without struggle as my parents worked 16-hour days to make it possible, so I won’t say we were wealthy, but I can say that I never felt financial danger either. Again, I learned about this concept much later in life. Once I started working and discovered I could afford all of the things I wanted on my own, Birthdays became more about the gestures and, most importantly, the Dairy Queen Blizzard Cakes. There would be a day of liming at home with the cousins, a couple of Boston Pizza dinners with the closest friends, and one night of pure debauchery at a club with the colleagues. Those times were really focused on just having an excuse to be social with the best people. Then, there came this point when Birthdays transformed into something very different and almost frightening for me; I started to use them as a benchmark for failure. You might be wondering how that works? Well, at 29 the general thought-process was, “After 29 years of existence, I’ve accomplished nothing, become nothing, saved-up nothing, and have nothing. Congratulations Sean.” After that, tears of immense sadness and self-pity ensued as I remembered all the times I failed at things, embarrassed myself, had my heart broken, and made regrettable decisions. This was the gateway to the rabbit-hole I fell down in 2018.
I spent the better-half of 29 spiraling out of control emotionally, becoming negative and full of self-loathing. I’d fallen victim to the thinking about all the things I didn’t achieve yet instead of looking at what I had. My ability to be self-aware seemed to turn itself off and instead a switch turned on that caused me to feel insecure about every single little thing. When I look back on this, I don’t feel as though I’m strange for having felt that way, or that I’m the only one that ever did feel that way. The truth is that we’ve evolved into a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone we meet in real-life and everyone we see on social media. While I learned quite some time ago not to take anything at face-value when it comes to social media, to this day I still struggle to not feel ways about the people around me. Why does she deserve love? Why does he deserve that promotion? How come they get away with everything? I think it was hard to digest all of this because I felt like I was doing everything right according to a moral compass, but the results weren’t happening in tune with everyone else’s. All of this lead to the anxiety I began to feel about turning 30. After 3 decades of being alive, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I expected myself to be and time was running out. Growing up and constantly hearing from my parents that they had finished school, left their country, gotten married, had a child, and started a business all before the age of 25 did more damage to me in my later life than I had ever expected it would. That good old-fashioned immigrant child-rearing, am I right? I didn’t realize until after turning 30 where that bad habit of constantly comparing myself to others came from, until one day when I thought back to my childhood of being compared to every single relative in the family. Then to all of my friends. And then to complete strangers.
I will forever remember 2019 as being one of the most important years of my entire existence because it was the year of the most monumental change in my life. You can read more about that here. By the time I turned 30, all of the fears and emotions I felt about it turned into something else entirely as I began to confront the root of all my feelings. As I started writing this reflection, I tried to recall how I felt around that time, but I have something even better than just a memory: I have the exact words. I went back into my journal from May 25th, 2019, and found this:
How time flies by like no one’s business. It’s like you wake up one day and suddenly you’re 30! I think the most shocking thing is that I don’t feel the way I expected I would feel… I thought it was going to be dreadful and morbid. After all, I’m still heavy, still single, still at home, still working like a maniac… I mean, those are some big things. Yet, after writing all of those things out, I didn’t feel hurt, nor anger, nor sadness, nor disappointment. While, yes, all of those things are true, for the last little while I was not approaching any of it with the state of mind I needed to have. I was coasting by with all of the wrong emotions and intentions, until this week when a lot of things shifted into perspective.
I guess the big moment of the day was when I cried. I’ve been crying a lot lately, more than I think I ever have. I never thought I would be an emotional basket-case, but the good news is that today’s tears were those of joy. I never thought the day would come, but alas, it did and it was quite unexpected. I got to thinking of all that’s happened in the last few weeks, months, and years, and then I started crying out of nowhere, because despite it all, I made it. I made it to 30 and I didn’t make it as a failure. I made it as an adult, who yes, has all of those things I mentioned above, but is still is a smart, self-aware, empathetic, successful, loving, and driven man. I made it through some hard stuff, and knowing that there is probably even more to come, I now firmly believe I have what it takes to make it through whatever else is waiting along the way. I cried because I couldn’t believe it, but I pulled through.
As I read those words, the tears come back to my eyes because of how quickly things can change from one state to another. I recall so many memories that took place around that time. I wrote a letter to myself proclaiming all the things I love about me, which I folded-up and kept somewhere safe. I then wrote a second letter where I forgave myself for everything I ever held against me, which I burned afterwards. I planned my first Birthday gathering after years because it was time to start celebrating it again instead of mourning it. I woke up that same day of my Birthday, hungover, and still managed to go to the gym to workout. I took a week off to meditate, clear my mind, and set the goals for the next decade of my life. Overall, it was a dramatic shift from the path I was headed down prior. I began to see all of the things I did, in fact, accomplish, and what made me unique from, say, my parents. I learned that my experiences are mine and they happen at the most convenient times for my growth and betterment, not according to any timeline that matches the people around me. I realized that I had far more loving and supportive people in my life than actual enemies. I also, slowly, but surely, broke away away from old conditioning to new thinking.
So, we come to today, age 31. What is it I’m feeling now? To be honest, COVID-19 changed the game quite a bit. Many will say the biggest epidemic is the virus, but I say the biggest overhaul is the amount of realization that has come from it. To be forced into the confinement of four walls really does a number on you, and it certainly has brought forward one key thought for me: mortality. Just when I thought 30 was the end of the world, something bigger comes into play to remind me that it could always be much worse. I won’t lie… I’ve had my moments recently. Why didn’t I travel more? Why didn’t I RSVP to more events? Why didn’t I cut back on my spending sooner? Why didn’t I apply to more job postings? Why didn’t I learn how to cook? Why didn’t I search harder for a partner to share my time with? I think I had at least one week earlier this month where I felt purposeless and just couldn’t figure out how to navigate away from that feeling. However, the universe has a way of nudging you towards the right direction when you get lost. I remember it was a Friday night when I was at the end of my patience when I wound up taking a short drive over to a friend’s house to pickup something she had bought for me. We swore on all that’s good that we were both in good health, and then proceeded to spend 3 hours in the car just reveling. We discussed everything under the sun and probably more in that 3 hours before I finally headed home late into the morning. As I drove home I felt so much lighter, and when I woke up later that day, I felt this sudden surge of energy, like I was injected with a shot of happiness. I came to realize how important it is to take a break from your own thoughts and partake in social interaction. While I often thought I do a fine job of entertaining myself and could survive living on a dessert island alone, this isolation process has proven me wrong. Since that day, I’ve come to become passionate about my hobbies and ambitions again, and I’ve decided to take this Birthday to look at the big picture: I am healthy and well at a time when many are suffering and even dying. I am blessed to still be employed and earning an income when many are struggling to keep the lights on. I am fortunate to be able to work from home so as not to expose myself to danger. I am privileged to still live at home where I can save my money for whatever is meant to come next in my life. I have an abundance of spare time to get things done now that I couldn’t manage before. I am in a position to discover and rediscover passions, like crafting and reading. I am lucky to have great friends who check in on me and my wellbeing. I have the opportunity to plan where I want to go and who I want to be with when this is over. Finally, I have the pleasure of being able to wakeup everyday and be me, unique to the bone.
On that note, I take this moment to wish everyone out there a very Happy Birthday when your time comes this year, and I challenge you all to reflect on your coming of age as I have today. I hope my story provokes some thought about what is means to celebrate one’s day of Birth and the importance of every single year that goes by. Nothing is for waste and every Birthday is a lesson in loving yourself as much as you can. God bless.