“Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new.”
When I was younger, I used to wait in excited anticipation for my birthday. Falling out on September 9th, it always gave me something to look forward to even after the summer sun slowly began to blend with the autumn crispness. It wasn’t about presents, or cake, or adventures in mini golf and roller skating (though, granted, I enjoyed those, just as any kid would). But more so, it was about the chance to spend a day celebrating with all the people I loved most. It was a chance to make wishes for the coming year and believe, truly believe, that they’d come true.
The innocence of a child, right?
I hate to say it, because I really do think it’s best to approach life with optimism and hope, but over the past few years, that belief faded … and instead of looking forward to my birthday, it became something that put me in a funk. Instead of it being the marker of what I’d accomplished since the previous September, it became a marker for all I’d yet to achieve. All the wishes that went unfulfilled. All the goals that were still dreams and nothing more. Sure, I’ve written a book – or two, or three, or four – but they haven’t been published yet. Sure, I’ve gotten requests from agents, but they didn’t result in an offer. Sure, I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity, freedom, and support to create these book-babies, but they weren’t out there in the world to share.
If you asked me ten years ago where I’d be at twenty-nine, I’d have rambled off a list of answers. And do you know how many of them correlate with where I actually am now? A quarter, if that. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset about that for awhile. For as much as I would never begrudge anyone their success and dreams-turned-reality, it can be hard to watch these things happen to everyone around you while you’re still sitting on the sidelines. It can be hard to work and work – and work some more – only to have it not pay off.
But then something happened. I spent a lovely long weekend in Ocean City for my birthday. It’s amazing what a difference a week makes: not even seven days after Labor Day, and the shore was so quiet and peaceful. I swam in a pool that was empty except for my mom and me. I sat on a beach that was free from the summer chatter, music, and makeshift sports tournaments. I stood in an ocean that was rough from the rip currents, but devoid of all the boogie-boards you normally see. I walked on the boardwalk in sunshine, in clouds, and in a monsoon (no, seriously, that’s exactly what it looked like as torrents of water suddenly poured down from the sky and my dad, sister, and I ran for cover under a pavilion). I had Polish Water Ice, Dippin’ Dots, and Steel’s Fudge. I spent the evening of my birthday in my absolute favorite place in the world – Ventnor, NJ, where my grandparents used to own a condo. It’s been fifteen years since they sold it and Ventnor still has my heart. It always will. There was something very special about being there again – about walking on the boardwalk I’d traveled down every summer as a kid, about venturing onto the beach and watching the lights of the pier glimmer down onto the ocean water below, about going out to dinner with my mom at JoJo’s, a restaurant that will always hold such wonderful memories and still remains my favorite. I had a fantastic time with the people I love most in the place I love most.
And for the first time in recent years, I didn’t spend the day beating myself up or feeling like a failure for not having accomplished every goal. Twenty-nine feels old to me, but I know it’s not. My goals can still grow. Am I published yet? No. Married with kids of my own? No. Working at a news station like I’d have been insistent upon in my answer ten years ago? No. But I have worked at that station before. I have written four books. I have experienced a joy through writing them that words cannot come close to describing. I do have the best family and some really fabulous friends who are the family I choose. And those things? They’re the best gift of all.
So instead of getting into a funk because another year has come and gone, I’m going to be thankful for that year. I’m going to be thankful for the one ahead. I’m going to remember the inspiration of standing on the boardwalk and gazing out at the ocean. I’m going to remember how my family went out of their way to make it a special day. I’m going to remember the kind words from friends like y’all. I’m going to remember that, no, I may not be where I imagined, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means success comes in many forms. It means my hard work has paid off in other, intangible ways.
I am looking forward to what twenty-nine has to offer.
Here’s hoping for a wish come true.