Today I turn 31. This particular age feels simultaneously foreign and familiar, like a too big, too old-fashioned coat you once bought and thought you’d never wear that now mysteriously fits so you reluctantly just wear it.
My husband and I have birthdays a week apart, so he is 31 too. I wrote in his card that 30 had been a rollercoaster year marked by a surprising flux of highs and lows. “I’d never felt so much like an adult until I turned 30,” I’d remarked more than once this year. He agreed.
Several of my friends have described 2016 as a bit of a disaster, and with all that’s happened in the world, I’ve been tempted to say the same. Yet in all that disappoints or disturbs, my faith challenges me to seek out God’s silver lining, as there is so much to be grateful for in this life. This world, it’s both stunningly beautiful and broken, perhaps best characterized by the word “bittersweet.” I discovered this description from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, who offers this advice about life’s ups and downs: “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”
In the spirit of gratitude, here are a few things I’m thankful I learned at 30, three lessons I want to share with you.
On life and death
We’ve all been told life is a fragile, ephemeral gift. But at 30, that really sunk in for me. It started when my husband’s cousin died unexpectedly.
I remember the night my husband came home from the hospital, red-eyed and downtrodden. (Plagued with morning sickness, I’d regrettably stayed home.) He had looked up to his cousin TG so much, and it devastated him to see a man he knew to be so full of energy and love and kindness on life support. TG passed away that night.
The loss of TG shook us to the core. It was so sudden and shocking and it just seemed so unfair that someone as big-hearted as TG could die so soon, at the age of 45. TG’s funeral was an incredible testimony to his life and spirit. He was, in a word, unforgettable.
Just as the funeral was coming to a close I saw a text from our pet-sitter, who asked me to call her immediately. Already weepy, I stepped away from the funeral to make the call. I broke into hysterical crying as she broke the news: Gus, our puppy, had been hit by a car, she said. A freak accident when he slipped out of his collar.
As we raced to the Vet ER in a panic, I feared we’d mourn two losses that night. Helplessly I watched the minutes tick away on my Google maps app as we got closer and closer to our final destination. When we finally arrived, seeing Gus in the ER was both a relief and terror. Hooked up to oxygen in an unfamiliar place, he looked so helpless and afraid.
He was just a puppy. This just wasn’t fair.
The veterinarian had said Gus would be OK if he made it through the night. So afraid we’d get a call from the vet, I could barely sleep that night. Doubtful and angry, turning to prayer felt like an impossible task. So I sent out an SOS to my women’s group and to others, asking them to hold our family in prayer.
When the first text came in, “I’m praying for Gus, Erin,” my heart softened and I felt a wave of relief. One by one the messages came in, and I began to hope, and I even attempted my own feeble prayer, “God, if you are out there, please let my puppy live.”
To our surprise, Gus made it through the night and the next day, and the day after that. It was truly a miracle. I was beyond grateful that Gus survived.
The lesson in all this? Ever since that day, I’ve practiced resisting the ease that comes in taking life for granted. Each day is a new opportunity to tell someone you love them, to find beauty in the highs, the lows, the ordinary moments.
On trying (and failing) and trying again
This year I was rejected from a small handful of career opportunities I really wanted. To be clear, these weren’t all job applications–I actually love my current job–but they were certainly new challenges that I thought I might be a fit for. Well, I wasn’t. #fail
It’s hard not to take rejection personally, especially when you’re a creative. As a writer, so much of my work IS personal, so hearing “We think you’re really talented, but you’re just not a good fit for us” can be pretty hard to swallow.
I’m also a self-described “recovering perfectionist” who has spent nearly 30 years people-pleasing, so I know I take things harder than others might. I’m working on that.
The thing I’ve learned about failure, though, is that even when it really hurts, it’s actually a really good thing.
I still remember the first time I practice taught part of a yoga class at the start of my teacher-training journey in fall 2015.
Um, I was awful. I couldn’t remember the sequence, my voice was too quiet and I had no presence whatsoever. It was pretty uncomfortable for everyone. #fail
And, you know what? It was also awesome. It was so incredibly freeing to fail. It gave me such a rush–I wanted to do it again, to try again, and maybe get a little better but probably only do an adequate job at best the next chance I had to teach. So I did.
By January 2016, after more rounds of practice teaching than I can count and hours upon hours of learning and practicing yoga at my studio, I was certified and on my way to teaching power yoga with confidence, grace and good humor towards my shortcomings.
Throughout teacher training, my instructors never once framed trying and making mistakes as failure. They were encouraging to each and every student who was brave enough to put herself or himself out there, and provided direct, gentle feedback to promote an atmosphere of growth. The experience pushed me to let go of my deep-seated fear of failure in ways I never dreamed possible.
What I know now (and I can’t believe it took me this long): Getting rejected or failing at something is key to growth. And rather than let rejection slow me down or scare me away from pursuing my dreams, I will keep trying, and failing, and trying again at 31.
On putting down roots
Earlier this year my husband and I made the decision to buy a house. With a baby on the way, we knew it was time for us to put down roots. So we started talking about and dreaming about house-hunting. After eight years in Chicago, we weren’t convinced that this city was the place we wanted to raise our family.
Sure there were great things about the city, but we’d grown tired of the crime, the high taxes and the soul-crushing commute times. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I did not mention the soul-crushing weather! We’d read that Illinois was (and continues to be) a state with a very high rate of residential departures for warmer, fairer states. Was buying a home even a good investment here?
Uncertain about the city, we resurrected our dream of moving west and settled on checking out Denver again this July. I’d always loved the area but hadn’t been back in a while. It seemed to have all the things we were looking for that we couldn’t find in Chicago–better weather, the great outdoors, a slower pace of living–to name a few. After returning from that trip, once again enamored with the city, we made a pro/con list and pitted Denver against Chicago. Guess which city won?
It was Denver, by a longshot. We were moving. So we started putting things in motion in Denver, looking into realtors and remote work policies and how the move might impact our family. We were on the way to making the leap.
Near the end of the process, the week before we’d fly to Denver to look at homes, I started feeling a little doubtful. Moving to Denver wasn’t convenient but it seemed like the right decision, it seemed like we would finally be pursuing our dreams of living somewhere new. And, it won by a landslide in the pro/con faceoff!
I talked about this with a dear friend who was dreading the prospect my moving. “I can’t really talk about this with you because I’m biased, but, I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” she said. “I don’t want to influence your choice though. . .”
After that conversation I went home and practiced an exercise that podcaster Jess Lively describes as “writing to your intuition.” I answered the question: Why do I have this inner conflict? As I started typing, I was startled by what I found.
It seemed that even though moving away seemed like a logical choice on paper, it didn’t jive with my values. We couldn’t just move away from my entire network of friends–and of course family–when we were having our first child. I am a person who thrives on relationships. Even though we’d seen so many of our friends move away from the city in the years we lived here, we still had new and old friends we loved who were a big part of our lives. It seemed completely foolish to abandon the incredible network and church we had here, especially given the ways we’d need to lean on them–and of course my family, for support in the year ahead.
That night, laying next to my husband in bed, I told him I wanted to stay in Chicago. He said he did too. As soon as we talked, I felt calmer and more at ease. We knew the decision was right. We just had to rework our plans a bit. And even though it was stressful, in the end we found the perfect place to live in Chicago. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What I learned: Listen to your heart, not your head. Big decisions take time–and even when you think you have your mind made up, you may have a change of heart. And that’s okay.
Onward and upward
There were, of course, several other lessons I learned at 30, more than could be detailed in an already-long blog post. What will 31 have in store, I wonder.
For one, a baby–as long as I have a safe delivery, I pray–and the ups and downs of motherhood. And another, more stories. For a long time I’ve wanted to start a blog. And finally, at 31, it feels like I have more to say, more to explore, and I need a space to do it. It is my hope that I can use this tiny corner of the internet as a virtual “room of my own”(inspired by Virginia Woolf) to write and to share more moments with you.
I’m sure there will be times when it’s hard to for me to post consistently, and others when the writing muse will strike, as it has for me now. Either way, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I look forward to connecting with you.
It was wonderful to read about your decision to stay in Chicago. Marcus and I have been talking a looooot about out various networks and where they might lead us. What a challenging decision! Glad you’re in Chicago! Cheers to your new year
Thanks, Mariah! It was a challenging choice but in the end it was what was right for us. Sending good vibes to you and Marcus as you discuss the future! I would love to see you all stick around the area 😉 but you have to do what’s best for your family. Xo