It was my birthday last week, and lawdie it was fun. Full of friends and family and good times. I made a bigger deal of it this year than usual because it felt pretty momentous to turn 35, not least as last year was full of a lot of amazing things, some tough things, and much learning and growth.
Here’s what I learned last year:
1) Nothing is guaranteed. And that’s what makes life interesting.
We like to think we’re owed. Either because we worked hard, or because we’ve been given something in the past, or because we know we’re the best.
The fact is: we ain’t owed bupkes. If the universe really had a system of checks and balances, in which shit was kept fair, then we’d be suggesting that the five-year-old who died of cholera in Africa deserved that. And she obviously didn’t. Ergo, we’re not owed anything either.
Instead, we have to earn shit. Some of us have to earn a lot less than others, and we have a lot more chits with which to negotiate. Those of in this situation should be grateful for that fact, and never forget it. In fact, anything that makes it so that we’re not actively dying of cholera at five years old is something for which we should feel lucky.
But think about how much that fact we’re not owed brings to our lives. It means we are actively in this equation. We have to make things happen for ourselves. And if we can’t achieve what we want, we have to find another route, or another passion, or another reason of being.
2) Nietzsche was right: You really do have to become what you are.
Life is a shitshow. It’s frustrating, and painful, and nauseating. It’s not fair, it’s arbitrary, and it’s ridiculous.
It’s also glorious. We’re capable of so much, we humans: such beauty, such passion, such drive. And obviously, all the counterparts of these things: ugliness, banality, cowardice. So it’s up to us how we live. I think the thing I’ve realized most this past year is that it’s not going to get easier. No one is going to come along and make it all better, or fix shit, or take off the pressure.
It’s all up to me how I live this life I’ve ended up with. It’s up to me to fill that life as best I can. To accept the love that’s offered, and walk away from that which is withheld. I’m the one who has to witness the beauty. Who has to carve my own path. Who has to insist on seeing my vision and seeing it through. Who has to get myself out of my own darkness–even if that means getting my fat ass up at the butt crack to go volunteer at the food bank and remind myself that I have it really damned good.
Because we can’t avoid the hurts. The truth is…
3) Life isn’t about not hurting; it’s about living to spite the hurt.
The thing I learned most this year was that the only way to combat hurt is to spite it. When someone lets us down, or something doesn’t go the way we wanted it to, or something we thought was definitely going to be a success ends up a failure, we have two choices: we can either let that stuff take us under or we can get on our bikes and ride.
And as all fat bottomed girls know, the latter is the only way to make our rockin’ world go round.
So yeah, I’m basically reiterating point #2, but that’s because I’ve had to learn this fact a lot this year. It’s up to me to make the hurts go away. No one else can do that. But this, again, is actually a good thing. It means that the people in my life right now, they’re there because I love them and want them around me, not because I think they can do something for me. It’s not because I’m hoping they’ll give me focus, or make my life worth living, or figure me out, or bear for me what I cannot, myself, shoulder.
I’ve learned how to lift my own pain, and lift myself out of it. Paradoxically, this has helped me appreciate even more the people I love.
After all . . .
4) It’s all about Tribe.
And not the one called Quest. Although they’re pretty rad. But for real, the weirdest thing I’ve realized after a summer of figuring out no one else can do it for me, is how much I need other people.
But also how much I need the right people, and how part of the reason I need people is because the best way to feel good about yourself is to love the shit out of someone else, and give to them, and care for them as you’d like to be cared for. Not because you want to fix them or because you want them to define you, but simply because loving someone else feels really good, in whatever capacity that love takes.
Because it’s ultimately not just about individual ties, but about community. A bunch of people helping each other out, talking things through, providing that little boost of love that means we’re not just robots going through the motions.
Community also inspires us, if we do it right. I want to live up to my friends expectations of me, because they’re deliciously high. I want to impress them, and amuse them, and entertain them, and be there for them. I want to be a better person because they’re good people. They’re interesting. They’re doing their own things in a variety of fields and I admire them for that.
But it’s a different dynamic than living for another person, different than wrapping yourself up in someone else and letting them define you. It’s about being with people who genuinely recognize who you are, even if you’re not entirely there yet. Having them see me makes me see me–and the person they see is pretty rad. And she’s really chuffed she’s found her tribe, because her tribe is bad ass.
And it just keeps growing.
So that’s what I’ve learned over the course of this year. I’ve learned it’s not all about me, even while it’s all up to me. That it’s about building genuine community, not relying on individuals. That it’s about challenging myself, because there’s nothing more dangerous and ugly than stagnation, especially for those of us with active minds.
I can’t wait to see what I learn this year. 😉