On my 30th birthday I went alone to a nearby state park and wandered into the woods.
It was a strange time. I’d been back from an eye-opening and heart-filling cross country road trip with one of my best friends for a few weeks and, almost as soon I’d returned from that adventure, my husband confessed his infidelity and told me of his plans to marry his mistress.
Two years ago, when I turned 32, I was getting ready to deploy. The night of my birthday was my very last night of freedom before leaving home for the next year.
This year, for my 34th birthday, I went to Arizona. On Monday, my actual birthday, I hiked below the rim at the Grand Canyon.
It was the sixth park I visited during my Arizona trip, but I’d saved it for my birthday. I wanted to be there on the actual day of my birth, wanted to hike into canyon on that day and feel all my birthday feels in that place.
Afterwards, I drove back to Flagstaff and went to a brewery for dinner. I talked to the older couple who sat next to me at the bar about my trip, about why I was there, what I was doing and, of course, that it was my birthday.
“Oh! Happy Birthday! You have to let us buy you a beer,” they said.
I thanked them, told them I couldn’t drink another beer because beer hits hard when you’re 7,000 feet above sea level, especially when the beer is a 7% ABV IPA.
“A to-go beer then. We’re definitely getting you a to-go beer,” they said. “Wait – how old are you?”
“I’m 34,” I said, smiling at their beer-buying pursuits.
“Oh! You’re so young,” they said.
“I know,” I said, explaining that 22-year-old me would have disagreed, that she would have declared me so old, but that I’d finally stopped lamenting my birthdays. “My 30s have been fucking great,” I said.
“It just keeps getting better too,” they told me. “Just wait until your 40s. You’ll see.”
FOUR LESSONS I’VE LEARNED IN MY 34 YEARS
1. IT [probably] DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER.
When I was in college I spent a lot of timed worried about inconsequential bullshit. Like where to put my hands and how to swing my arms while I walked across campus. Seriously.
At 34, I give significantly fewer fucks. This has been the great gift of my 30s, I think, this newly-acquired ability to care less about the dumb shit that used to keep me up at night.
Yes, there are big things in life that matter. Friends, family, dogs, the occasional cat, adventures, hopes and dreams and all that good stuff. But life also includes a whole bunch of bullshit that is not worth your time, like worrying about how you swing your arms when you walk or how you are perceived by strangers. It doesn’t fucking matter if some stranger in Target thinks you’re a lunatic or you get side-eye from a blonde 22-year-old in a Grand Canyon bathroom because your shoes are covered in mud.
2. TAKE THE LONG ROAD, THE HARD TRAIL & THE MUDDY PATH.
It’s always worth it to do the hard thing, to get a little bit dirty, to drive the extra miles along the scenic route. You’re not ever going to regret seeing and doing great things, I promise.
3. UTERUSES BEFORE DUDERUSES.
Growing up, I was always the girl with a lot of boy friends. In first grade I even teamed up with two boy bullies to form a fearsome triad of evil. Later, life in the Army provided me with handfuls of boy friends, but lady friends were rare. Then I started blogging and it introduced me to so many incredible, beautiful and brilliant women who have become some of my closest friends.
These women supported me through my divorce, invited me to run a 200-mile relay race through the Napa Valley, dragged me across the country on a whirlwind road trip, greeted me at finish lines, encouraged me to take my first solo trip, to write more, to do the things that scared me. They’ve held me while I’ve cried, kept me up all night drinking wine, singing show tunes and telling stories. They’ve been there for holidays, around my dining table at Thanksgiving and they’ve invited me into their homes for Christmas.
These are the women I want to grow old with. These are my soul mates, the ladies who make life brighter and more full.
4. GO OUTSIDE.
Going outside is good for me. There’s the Vitamin D thing and the fresh air thing and the exercise thing, but it’s more than that. I’m not a religious person, but going into the wilderness is like church for me. It’s where I feel good, where I feel safe and empowered and better.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” — David Bowie