It was another birthday in a foreign country for me last month. As I go through pictures of birthdays in my twenties, it feels weird to see how I have changed and how much I have grown. On the inside more than on the outside, maybe. To be quite truthful I do not want to switch places with that girl who just turned twenty in El Paso, Texas, In fact I can hardly believe she’s me. She was so much less confident, so much more doubtful about her place in the world. At 25 – a birthday that I for once spent at home, back then that was Tübingen – I had already found out much more about who I wanted to be. It was to be one of the best years of my life, the year I got to travel through the Balkans. I was in a good place that year – full of hope and anticipation, full of blissful naivety.
Last year, I was in Tallinn, Estonia for my 28th birthday. I made a lot of big decisions on that day, resolutions really, something which I do not usually do. Miraculously, all of them have worked out for me. I quit smoking. I ate more healthily. I exercised more. I have loved and been loved. I cannot deny it: I have had a blessed, blessed year.
Birthdays make me reminiscent, reflective and a bit nostalgic. I take my birthdays seriously. When people do not set great store by their special day, I understand that. But for me it doesn’t work that way. I look at those pictures above and I see a different person with different experiences at different stages of her life in every one of them. I can see how I have grown as a person into who I am today. And I have reason to think about that development and ask myself if I want what I have, if I want things I could have if I tried, or if I want things I can never have and will just have to get over. I have come to have two rules: If it’s the first, be grateful. If it is either of the last two, do something about it – even if doing something only means to suck it up and stop fretting.
As I start into the last year of my twenties, I think to myself that I have learned so much since I was that girl in this post’s first picture. I have learned that short hair suits me better than long. I have learned that even the best of friends sometimes come and go, and that it’s not a catastrophe if they do. I have learned that a broken heart will heal, even if it feels like it can never possibly beat without hurting again. I have learned that a good man will care about his girl’s happiness and fulfillment. I have learned that too much ambition will kill you, and that being second best can be okay (although I am really still struggling with this one, being a horrible perfectionist).
One might think that with all this life experience I could now lean back and harvest what I’ve sown. But maybe the most important lesson that my twenties have taught me is that knowing all these things makes me none the wiser. The next time I fall apart with a friend will hurt just as much. The next heartbreak will, too, and it will feel like it will never ever stop. And it will probably take me quite a few more times of feeling like a failure before I finally come to a healthy understanding of achievement. May the last year of my twenties bring me one step closer to balance and inner peace, even if that means chaos and struggle for now. I would like to get to a bit of a stable place in my thirties – as much as I loved every bit of uproar in my twenties – and if 29 needs to bring on the crazy in order for that to happen, so be it.
This year, my birthday was spent in Chicago – that is, I was at the beach in Wilmette for most of the day:
What have your twenties taught you? Do you set great store by your birthdays? Do or did you have any dreams for your thirties?