34 Going On the Rest of My Life

I haven’t blogged for a while. To my surprise, I missed it. I missed pouring out my thoughts onto a blank page, translating — approximating — their complexity into a string of words. Words with meaning and rhythm. I missed the revision process of trashing, trimming, tweaking — searching for the right words that seemed to be lodged in the abyss of my gray matter ready to be found, so close yet so far. Yes, it is still an agonizing process, but the lonely dance of writing can still be beautiful.

So, why haven’t I blogged recently?

I turned 34 last Tuesday. I had been dreading this birthday for weeks, more so than usual. The downside of not working crazy hours is the luxury of spending hours and days dwelling on unpleasant topics, like aging. Rationally I know November 23 is just another ordinary day in a continuous span of life. The increase in a number has little impact on my daily existence. But emotion has its own logic and power.

As a budding thirteen year old watching Sound of Music, I loved the duet under the gazebo between Rolf and Lisle (despite the fact that Rolf turned out to be an asshole). Sixteen going on seventeen is magical — “an empty stage for fate to turn the light on”. I still remember vividly when I wished that four years could speed by so that I could turn seventeen sooner.

Now, I wish time could slow down for me to cling onto membership in the “25 to 34” club a little longer. Many surveys use the age brackets of under 25, 25-34, 35-44, and so forth. I like being grouped with people in their late 20s because of the sense of possibility. A struggling artist in her late 20s sharing a tiny apartment with roommates and partying all night is a hipster. The same person in her mid-30s would be considered irresponsible. According to societal standards, she should be juggling a career and babies (hopefully with a husband), tending her 401(k), and taking care of the mind-blowingly boring chores of domesticity.

Indeed, turning 17 twice at 34 — on a stage half full — is the cusp of middle-age. The US census lists middle age as including the age brackets of 35-44 and 45-54.

The past ten years passed me by in the blink of an eye . How long do I have before my boobs sag and my ass cheeks wrinkle? Probably sooner than I expect.

So, I was down. I felt old –- despite having recently felt young upon my liberation from BigLaw. The lines on my forehead seemed to have deepened. Brown speckles, which could be sun spots or, worse, age spots, seemed to appear on my face overnight. I couldn’t help thinking about all the possibilities that have been foreclosed. I would never qualify for any of those “30 under 30” lists. Soon it will also be too late to qualify for any “35 under 35” lists.

The day before my birthday, I happened to come across the web site that profiled the evolving careers of alumni of the Soros Fellowship, a prestigious award that supports the graduate studies of 30 “New Americans” each year. I applied for this fellowship nine years ago, but wasn’t selected.

Losing out on the money was disappointing, but I took the rejection more deeply. I knew a few Soros fellows personally. I compared myself to them and decided I would never achieve the greatness they could. I was simply not as resourceful, as creative, as visionary… When I later succumbed to the embrace of BigLaw, the soreness of the rejection along with my dream to become a “somebody” faded away.

So it was with special interest that I now read through the profiles of the fellows, seeing the life they have chosen and settled. Their achievements were certainly impressive, but I didn’t feel that these achievements were so far outside my grasp had I wanted or tried their paths. I questioned whether my belief in my inadequacy was well founded. I felt my dormant ambition stirring.

I pondered this over the next couple of days. I was attracted to these Soros fellows’ seeming ability to follow and to succeed in their passions. Can I ever succeed in something that has meaning to me?

At the age of 34, I accept that certain aspects of my physical state may be in decline and certain opportunities may no longer be available, but my mental agility and energy level (especially after months of recuperation) are in tip-top shape. Why wait for fate to turn the light on? Why wait for opportunities to open or foreclose? Why not forge my own path?

Indeed, I have a rare opportunity before me right now. The timing may in fact be better than nine years ago. I have the advantage of being more seasoned and stable and am equipped with the financial means and emotional support to explore, achieve, fail, and try again.

I am exploring now. I may succeed. But I may fail and that would be okay because I am going to pick myself and try again.

I have 358 days remaining in the 25-34 age bracket. Not sixteen going on seventeen, but 34 going on the rest of my life.

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