So what is the very last column I write in my 30s supposed to be about, anyway? All the stuff I’ve learned up to now? All the mistakes I’ve made and how I’ve grown from them? Bleah. That’s so boring.
Maybe the last column I write before I turn 40 next week (or thirtyten, as I think of it) should be just another column. Because, really, is it that big a deal to turn 40? I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. It feels like it should be a big deal. But it also just feels like, meh.
I have a theory about this. (Of course I do, I always have a theory.) The people I’ve known who have been the most freaked out about turning over a new decade are the people who go through life marking things off their to-do lists.
With the best of intentions, they lay out this map, and they give themselves deadlines, and they go though life checking the boxes. And when they hit one of these round numbers without a box checked, they lie down on the bathroom floor with a bottle of wine and cry.
I feel for these folks, and I know quite a few of them. But as I sit next to them on the bathroom floor, the only thing I can recommend is that they turn that infernal to-do list on its head.
Make the list backward. Start at zero, compile your accomplishments and then congratulate yourself. Because if I had this theoretical to-do list with boxes to check, here are some important things I would have failed utterly to do by 40:
* Publish a book.
* Earn a graduate degree.
* Figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
* Make enough money to not have to think so much about money.
* Stop cussing.
* Stop driving so fast.
* Be as loving and gracious as my mother.
* Fix my ridiculous hair.
* Stop yelling.
* Learn to cook something besides soup.
* Learn to enjoy cooking anything at all.
* Memorize the multiplication tables.
* Decide whether or not I believe in God.
* Write legibly.
* Think before I speak.
I mean, by any of those measures, I am an abject failure who ought to be crying on the bathroom floor. I can’t cook or multiply by nines, I’m a terrible driver with a foul, impulsive mouth and only a measly bachelor’s degree to my name, and my dog is the only person who has the patience to listen to me ramble about the nature of spirituality.
And don’t even get me started on the topic of the book I haven’t written. That one really does make the bathroom floor look like an inviting place to lie down.
But if I make my list in the other direction — the what-I’ve-done direction — it looks pretty darn good:
There’s my all-terrain vehicle of a marriage to the best man I’ve ever known. And there are our amazing, exhausting, infuriating sons, whom I love so fiercely that it’s occasionally terrifying.
There’s my work, which has been a quirky and enjoyable jumble of jobs all built around my desire to write for a living (a neat trick to have pulled off, if I do say so myself.) There are my beloved, compassionate friends, who know how very much they matter.
And there’s the peace I’ve made with my toughest critic. It took me a long time to figure out how to be kind to myself. I’ve learned to cut the poor girl a break.
There’s lots of other stuff, too, but who cares? Because here’s the thing I know at thirtyten that’s most worth remembering: If you get too busy worrying over to-do lists, you’ll miss all the fun.
Eyes up. Pencils down. Hearts open.
Email Mary Fortune at email@example.com.
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