A few weeks ago, while I was helping my husband pick out a suit for a work-related trip we passed by a department store and this shoe made me stop and produce several inaudible fawning sounds.
Beautiful black leather, high-cut Chuck Taylors. I wanted it. I have been trying to save more money and keep unnecessary expenses down though, so I rationalized that it could be an advance birthday gift to myself. For my 35th birthday. Then I placed it back on the shelf. My husband asked if I wanted him to buy it for me. I had to ask him: “Is it wrong that I’ll be 35 and I’m drooling over Chuck Taylors like I did when I was 21?” I asked because I knew my-sneaker-loving-husband who thinks heels are impractical would answer “Of course not!” And I had to ask because I could hear my annoying, judgmental 21-year-old self in my head, asking, “Yah, shouldn’t you be buying heels and wearing a string of pearls by now? And where are the babies?”
When I turned 30 five years ago, one of the newly-hired twenty-something bright-eyed and eager editorial assistants in the publishing company where I worked before asked how it felt like to be in one’s 30s. I paused and looked at her, thought of saying something clever or even just something useful. But then I realized I didn’t have a clue. So I told her as much. “I don’t know. I’ve only been 30 for a day. Let me get back to you.” Well, I’m now halfway through my 30s and if I see her again (Twitter doesn’t count) I’ll tell her that when you’re in your 30s, you can, with less difficulty, tell that 21-year-old version of yourself (yes the one with the deadline of things she has to achieve and to have by the time she’s 25) to shut it.
Sure, she still comes sneaking in right before you want to buy a pair of Chucks or after you meet up with old friends who seem to have it all together–years in the same 9 to 5 office jobs, the big paychecks, the house, the cars, the babies, the nannies. It’s what we’re all supposed to have isn’t it?
Until you realize that the life you want looks a little different from that picture. Or at least getting there doesn’t follow the same path. You make different choices. They don’t always fit into the image of how the world views success, but you make them anyway because they fit into your own view of success, of happiness. You get to do what you love. You get to do what (you hope) you’re good at. You get to earn a decent living from it. And you get to be yourself with the people you love.
A wonderful writer and much more articulate friend sent me this message after we had dinner a few months back: “Random thought after seeing friends who are happy with where they are: Never mind ‘success’. Creating a life where you can just be yourself is a wonderful achievement.”
Of course, there will always be that push and pull, from the world, from self-doubt (more often from self-doubt). But every day you wake up, and you just try do your best. (Thank you, mom and dad.) You wake up and you try not to sleep walk your way through the day. And that makes me happy. (I still don’t have that pair of Chucks though–just because now I’m not sure whether to get the high-cut or low-cut version.)