Reflections On My Birthday

Today is my birthday (the day of writing this, not the day of posting it) and, after waiting my entire life for this moment, it finally arrived. My Golden Birthday (or Champaign Birthday or Lucky Birthday, depending on where you’re from). I turned thirty-one on the thirty-first of August. I was always very excited as a child about the idea of a Golden Birthday and always a little sad that it would take me so long to experience mine. As I got older, I comforted myself by saying at least I’d be able to have a real party. In the last decade, though, I’ve stopped caring. I don’t really like to make a big fuss about myself. I like it when other people fuss over me, of course. Who doesn’t love attention from the people you care about? But I also don’t like people making a fuss over me when I’m in a bad mood and, as I mentioned in the post that actually went up on the 31st, I’m usually not in a good mood during the month of August. This year has been no exception and, in fact, might be one of the worst in the last decade thanks to everything else I’ve got going on.

I’ve already written about all that and I have nothing more to add at this time. What I do have is a lot of reflection on the way our goals and desires change over time. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, at least prior to the current spate of troubles, because I’ve finally started turning my attention toward the more distant future again. The world looks very different than it did three years ago, and not in any of the ways I expected. Climate change is worse (in that fun “oh, now we know how bad it actually is and were just wrong about how bad things were before” kind of way), geopolitics seem less stable (which feels like a lot, given how bad things were), basic human rights feel like they’re slipping away from folks (or being ripped away, as the case seems to be), and I’ve been forced to confront a huge number of things I’d set aside as not mattering to me. Turns out they did matter. Turns out the world isn’t in a stable arc toward betterment for all. Turns out some people really are just vile pieces of shit. None of this is insurmountable, of course, just incredibly difficult to surmount and not necessarily surmountable on your own.

One of the common bits of “wisdom” about growing up, usually held up in a cautionary manner or as a sign of becoming a defeated adult, is that you eventually give up on your dreams. I think that’s probably true in a few cases, but I think most people’s dreams just change. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a train engineer or operator. When I got older, that dream changed to being a weather scientists or TV weather person. When I hit high school, I wanted to be a doctor, forensic scientist, and a handful of other things depicted as being service-oriented and society-bettering by popular media. I also wanted to be a famous author like Brian Jacques or J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time I hit college, I wanted to be a literary critic, academic/teacher, and writer. Nowadays, as a result of a slow shift over the past decade, I want to be a storyteller (in any or possibly all of the many ways that can happen).

I never really gave up on any of those dreams. The ultimate dream in question was finding fulfillment by doing something that I feel matters and that interests me. The shape of what that means has changed drastically, of course, as I’ve learned more about the world, more about myself, and more about what I think matters. A lot of my earlier dreams involved the things my parents taught me to prioritize but still (somehow) expressed in a more healthy manner. They were focused around providing aid and a service to others, around being useful in a way that others can appreciate. Even my early conceptions of being a famou author involved writing stories that helped people, via escapism or by giving them the words and ideas to express how they felt after being stuck in a bad situation their entire life. Now, I want to tell people stories that they can do whatever they want with. I want to create something and send it out into the world for people to find and interpret. I want to tell stories because I think it is important to have storytellers in the world and because I have so many stories I want to tell.

I used to want to achieve fame and fortune, to be a person people valued and respected, to be pursued and desired as an inspiriation. I wanted the validation that I lacked as a child, that I was denied by my parents. Now, I just want to have enough to live comfortably. To be able to pay bills, buy groceries, and pursue my hobbies without needing to constantly monitor my bank account balance. I want to have space for other people, to have enough to share with those I care about, to be able to have the space to spend my time and resources helping those who need it. I want to be comfortable, to feel loved, and to be engaged in my own life and the lives of those I care about. Much simpler in some respects, but all still in pursuit of personal fulfillment. The only difference is in how I define personal fulfillment to myself.

My dreams bear no resemblance to those I had as a child, teen, or even college student. I think that’s pretty fair since my life bears no resemblance to my life as a child, teen, or college student. In the ways that matter most to me (mentally, internally, etc), I don’t even resemble myself as a child, teen, or college student. I’ve done things I never thought I’d do, I’ve fought for myself in ways I never thought mattered, and I’ve become a more complete and whole person as a result. Why should my dreams stay the same when I’ve changed so much? Why should I allow myself to think I’ve given up on anything when I’ve fought for it every day of my life, just because it looks different than it did when I was younger? If anything, my dreams are more achievable than ever now because I’ve narrowed it down from a broad-strokes idea to an incredibly specific goal.

The future fills me with doubt as I consider all this. After all, I was thinking about this stuff for a month and then, within two weeks, it was all thrown into doubt and instability as my life changed again. So long as I come out of this alive (and I have no reason to doubt that I will, even if my anxiety and OCD are suggesting that I at least consider the possibility), I’ll figure out how to get back on course again, eventually. It’ll just take time, a little shifting things around, and slow progress. Thanks to the past three years of chaos and change, I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole process.

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