Today’s my birthday. I’m 27. Every time I think about my age, I think about the scene from Reality Bites (my all time favorite movie) where Winona Ryder tells Ethan Hawke she wanted to make a name for herself by the age of 23. Ethan consoles her by saying all she needs to worry about is being herself.
I’ve been thinking about that quote and how I’m not “something” on a regular basis for close to 10 years. First it was counting the years I had until 23, my cut off. Then it was counting how many years past my cut off I was and lamenting I still wasn’t there yet. Every year around my birthday it gets a bit harder, and my thoughts linger more and more on the things I am not than the things that I am.
I moved back in with my parents for a brief period in 2015, because I was going through a divorce and couldn’t afford to pay the rent on multiple apartments and pay an attorney. (The ex kept our apartment, but couldn’t afford the rent payment on his own. I paid my half and didn’t live there for several months.) I remember the initial novelty of going through a bunch of my old things. One day, I went through all my old yearbooks from middle school through high school. I even read all the comments. (Tip: Do not do this.)
The worst comments? The ones about how I was going to go places, be somebody, do great things I would do with my life. Some people believed I’d make it as a writer and produce the next “great American novel.” Others thought I’d win an Academy award. (Seriously, I acted like in 3 plays in MIDDLE SCHOOL. I can barely memorize lines. WHO COULD HONESTLY BELIEVE I COULD MAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD?) A lot of my senior yearbook was about how I wrote a great movie and “Thanks for letting me be in your film.” (Context: I wrote a feature length film, and then my friend and I cast and filmed it. Just for funsies.)
Why did all these people think so highly of me? Why did they all believe in me? I remember breaking down in tears, because I was nothing. I was nothing compared to these yearbook comments. I took the first job I was offered out of college, and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t bad at it, but I was almost ashamed to tell people what I did for the longest time, because I thought working in customer service management wasn’t good enough. (Thankfully, I’ve mostly gotten over that.)
And I was living with my parents AGAIN – the second time after moving out for college. And I was getting a divorce. And I was almost 25, which meant 2 years past my “I really thought I would be something” age. I didn’t have anything to show for my life but failures.
It’s taken me a lot of work to get to the point where I can see how strong I really was even when crying over those yearbooks. I had the strength to leave a bad relationship and not let friends and family who didn’t fully understand affect my decision. I had the strength over time to provide them some insight into why, which lead to a greater level of support. I had the courage to ask for help financially during that time. I literally showed up one day at my parents house, bags in my car, asking to move back in. In 45 minutes, they went to having no clue about my martial unhappiness to helping me bring my possessions in. It wasn’t an easy conversation, especially since they raised us to believe divorce was wrong. I had the ability to embrace the work situation I was in and try to find enjoyment in it. I had the self-awareness to know that things were going to get worse before they got better, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some allies, including professional help, on my side. I had the belief in myself to pick up a pen and start writing again. I put roller skates back on and tried to start doing more things for myself.
I’m still trying to detach myself from the expectations society, my family, and others have placed on me. I’m still trying to remove unnecessary expectations I placed on myself. I’m in the process of learning that being me is enough. It isn’t easy, but I’m worth it.
So, this year instead of replaying my life and how I could have already made “something” of myself by now, I will calm myself by listening to Ethan’s voice on repeat in my mind. He will say, “Honey, the only thing you have to be by the age of 27 is yourself.”