It’s My Birthday And I’ll Cry If I Want To

I turn 28 today. Birthdays have always made me emotional, and I’m not entirely sure why. Logically, I know it’s just a day, and is really no more significant to any other day of the year, but my birthday makes me philosophical. It makes me take stock of my life and assess where I am moreso than any other day of the year.

I’m not the only person who does this, and it’s easy to see why people evaluate themselves around their birthdays. The beginning of a new age allows us to look at the age we are now, and think about how old we feel. We think about where we thought we’d be at this age. We measure our achievements against the goals we set for ourselves. A new age makes us think about the choices we’ve made, and how we’ve gotten to where we are.

Today I am 28. When I was a teenager, I thought I’d be married with kids and own my own house by 28. I thought I’d probably have my own chat show, and be rich. That was my idea of success at 28 at the time. Of course, these ideals change. Our visions for our lives change. I don’t want to be married with kids right now. I haven’t got it all figured out, and I don’t feel like I should at this age. I have a lot more growing and learning to do, and those things will come in their own time, when I’m ready for them.

Reality is a factor in goals changing — when I was a teenager, I didn’t understand the housing market, or know that none of my friends could hope to own a home until we’re all well into our thirties. I was in school. I thought I’d avoid any of life’s hardships and have everything easy, because I was going to get my degree, go straight into my dream job as a journalist, and then within three years I’d be so good at interviewing and so charismatic that the TV station would just hand me my own show. It was going to be great. I was going to be a flawless success in every area of my life, and I’d never have any problems because I’d be just that good at what I did.

Of course, that’s not the way life works. My career went in a different direction, and my dreams have changed. Having realised I’d make a terrible host, my dream is writing now. I don’t have it all sorted out in my personal life. I have great friends, enough money to get by, and I’m finally working towards my goals. On a day to day basis, I’m happy. Something about birthdays makes me question that, though. Every year on my birthday, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing with my life. Every year, I wonder if I’m behind on significant life milestones, even though I don’t believe in milestones on a day to day basis. I believe my path is my own, but every year on my birthday, I look at my new number and measure myself against where I’m expected to be. Right now, I’m thinking. “28. I’ll be thirty in two years, and what have I got to show for it?” I know writing this I have everything to show for it. I’m happy, I’ve travelled the world, and I’ve worked in some amazing places. It’s irrational, and I’m nowhere near old, but the number still scares me. The number gives me feelings of sadness I don’t often feel in my daily life.

I think this happens more as we get older. When we’re younger, birthdays are magical. It’s a day all about us, we get presents, we get attention and we’re desperate to grow up. Our new age sounds cooler, and we feel like we have more social gravitas in the school playground. Once we become adults, and stop needing fake IDs to go out, the desire to grow up stills a bit. We want to stay young. The first few years of our adult lives are all about finding our independence, finding who we are and who our people are, and having fun. As we grow older, we want to keep a hold of that time in our lives, when we’re excited about the future and have no idea what it will bring. This is a natural part of our twenties. When we’re younger, we think people in their twenties are grown up, and know exactly what they’re doing, when in reality, our early twenties are a mess. We spend them trying to figure out who we are outside the structured environments of school or university. We pave our own way for the first time, and we get to choose how we want to spend our time every day. As we get further away from our late teens and early twenties, and our responsibilities and real lives begin to settle and take shape, it’s easy to see the years racking up and wonder if we’re doing it all properly.

Don’t get me wrong, birthdays are not all negative. In fact, I really love my birthday. It gives me a chance to see friends I may not see all the time. It’s been nice hearing from so many people today. When it’s your birthday, people take the time to think of you and get in touch, even if it’s only a quick customary comment on Facebook. People put in the effort to talk about memories we have together, and even though everyone does it, it still makes me feel appreciated. Friends might send you a message and spark up a conversation. I’ve made plans to see some friends I may not have otherwise spoken to just off the back of them messaging me for my birthday. It makes you feel good about yourself when so many people have something nice to say about you on this one day. I have plans to celebrate tonight and at the weekend. I’m getting presents Birthdays are mostly exciting, but they have their sad moments.

Maybe we are overly hard on ourselves on our birthdays. Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves when we’re thinking about where we are in life versus where we want to be. Maybe age doesn’t mean anything. Maybe we’re being completely irrational when we fear getting older.

Or maybe there is something to it. It doesn’t do us any harm to think about where we are and where we’re going. Maybe it’s okay to take some time to think and be conscious of where we are now, and just be sad about things that haven’t worked out for us, and excited for things to come. Maybe birthdays are the perfect time to do that.