To more of being broken apart

reflections on turning 34

I write one of these every year. I had to read last year’s in order to reacquaint myself with how much has changed, and on the surface nothing much has changed, for I am still learning this powerful lesson:

Giving myself entirely to anything indicates an unequal distribution of power. This is where it gets counter-intuitive. To fulfill our own potential, to be at maximum capacity, requires seeing ourselves as equals to the entities we are serving. We want to give something that is of value. How can the other party receive something valuable when us as givers, see ourselves as less than them?

I still vividly remember writing last year’s post in New York. I remember my emotions — the naive idealism and a sense of liberation, having freed myself from the chains of my mind.

That person this time last year, had zero clue to the events that were going to cascade from that day forward.

I have found myself repeatedly coming back to what I had written at 32:

I have learned that life does not unravel in spectacular fashion once I have found myself. I had the naivety to believe that once I have found myself and my meaning, everything will fall into place. I was very wrong. It only opened my eyes to the gigantic mess I have to navigate through in order to have a stake in my dreams. Life gets harder, not easier.

Learning the morals of stories is very different from the real-life application of them. The more I unravel my self, the clearer it gets that I can no longer hang on to previously held comforting old truths and I need to take the leap to create new ones for myself. It is one thing to discover external beliefs no longer hold true, and another thing to realize my previous self that formed my entire identity, along with an entire lifetime’s perception of myself no longer existed.

With growth, the dreams I had for myself had to evolve too, and that meant having to throw them away wholesale ruthlessly and seek new ones. They never told us that disowning imagined futures could be more painful than letting go of the past. I didn’t know it then, but with hindsight I was subconsciously mourning over the alternate versions of myself that I would never come to meet.

So many times in the past year I had to break myself in favor of truth — the uncomfortable truth that all things can differ or remain the same, but the only constant that remains with me — that I will always be seeking change whether I am conscious of it or not, no matter how painful it gets or how many people’s hearts I have to break. I often surprise myself rather unpleasantly by finding out belatedly that I am no longer the person I think of myself to be. I had to realize and accept that it is difficult to keep pace with all that change happening on a subconscious level. I comfort myself by believing that this is the fundamental meaning of life I am choosing to hold on to, that every moment of life is never the same as any other, that the existence of life itself relies upon change.

The three years between the ages of 30 and 33 were mostly an upward trajectory in terms of my personal happiness and the fulfillment of long-held life goals. The past year however, felt traumatizing to me in many different ways. I still half-joke to people that I have PTSD from the series of events that occurred, though they happened mostly from my own conscious choices, the trauma perhaps arose from having to personally dissect my own beliefs of who I am and who I want to be.

How does it feel, to get to the peak, and realize it is the wrong peak that one had been climbing for?

Or possibly, it is not peaks that I want to climb, but valleys I want to descend into.

I made a analogy to a friend spontaneously earlier this morning. She is an endurance athlete, and I was telling her that the whole point of finishing endurance races is not for the success, but the opportunity to seek out new ones. How much higher and lower can one get? How far can one person break herself? How much fatigue, pain and disregarding of one’s negative self-talk can one endure? How long can one keep in running into uncharted areas without having people alongside you?

In the end, we hope we are like muscles, that we break down in order to grow stronger, we constantly seek to endure more so we can break down further, but also keeping in mind that periods of rest is necessary for ourselves to heal in order to gain that strength, that the long-term goal is not to break completely apart in order sustain ourselves for more races.

That is what turning 34 has been about for me —

At 30 I have found myself, at 31 I discovered the meaning of life, at 32 this year, I am learning that finding myself and the meaning of life is only a small step towards a long and winding road ahead.
Now at 33, I am learning to be truly me, to not only be comfortable in my own shoes, but to know where and how I should walk them, the weight I am allowing them to bear, and when I should take them off.

— not only do I want to wear my shoes thin, grow out of them, I want to switch between many pairs of them. Sometimes I want to wear loafers too.

Life can only get richer ahead of now, because only now I am walking this earth as myself, not as an identity constructed by the norms around me.

That I do not have an obligation to be loyal to an identity I have constructed for myself either, much less people’s projected identities for me.

I no longer have any long-term dreams or ambitions out of the awareness that I don’t even know who I’ll become tomorrow, much less the next decade. The only ask I have for myself is to live brilliantly through as many diverse experiences as I can possibly accumulate in this lifetime, on my own terms. The more I grow, the more I don’t know, the more I no longer wish to anticipate. Painting a narrative for my future self is akin to creating artificial limits for myself. Who knows who I’ll grow to become? If you asked me five years ago if I’ll be writing this post in the redwoods of California, I will be the first person to laugh in your face.

The past year, I have been doing a lot of letting go, breaking apart and regenerating. I wish to be that person who is capable of looking forward to more of this, for that can only mean I will be creating space for myself to experience the richness of what life has to offer to me, and more importantly, bridging closer to the potential of what I have to offer to life.

The heavens must approve, because this is what I see when I look up at this exact moment:

Thank you for witnessing this journey, along with me.

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