Not sure how it’s come to this, but today I turned 39.
As I get older, birthdays seem at once more and less anti-climatic, more and less weighted with significance, more and less a cause for celebration.
With only one year to go until 40 (though, my dad would point out that turning 39 means I’ve just completed my 39th year and am actually starting on my 40th…), I thought this might be a good time for a little reflection.
There are the big milestones met, like marrying a wonderful partner and earning a PhD and buying a home, and those unmet, like having children or getting on the tenure track. I’m more interested in the quality of my life than the boxes I can check off, though. So here are my top accomplishments for the first 39 years:
1. I chose happiness over expectations and abandoned pursuit of a tenure-track job in anthropology so I could pursue my dream of becoming a writer. So far, I have no regrets. I started writing seriously in 2007, which means I’ve put in about 6 years. I’ve written three novels and have sold five short stories and met a whole bunch of amazing people and generally relished the liberation of saying, ‘hey, I’m not happy and I’m going to take a risk and do something about it.’
2. I’ve prioritized travel and new experiences. In my 39 years, I’ve visited England, Scotland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Plus, I’ve been to 30 of the 50 states in the U.S. Also, Canada. Still, I consider this a drop in the bucket. I’d love to go to Asia — especially Japan and Mongolia — and I’d like to do a safari in Africa someday. Northern and Eastern Europe are on my list, as is the Arctic Circle and Alaska. I’ve never been anywhere in South America, either. So, definitely still lots of travel to do.
3. I’ve maintained a really close relationship with my family. Sometimes friendships come and go, but family are always there. I’m glad I never let disagreements or distance diminish my family relationships. My greatest regret about potentially not having children is maybe missing out on sharing what I have with my parents and sister with kids of my own.
4. I became an archaeologist. I mean, how cool is that? I’m proud that I took a path less traveled and pursued something that fascinated me rather than something that seemed safe. Training in and practicing archaeology has brought me heartbreak and disappointments, but it’s also offered up amazing (and exciting) experiences. At its best, the life of an archaeologist is literally exhilarating. I mean, I lived through a Latin American coup d’etat, for heavens sake!
As I move forward into what will hopefully be another 40 (or more!) years, here are some of things I’m shooting toward:
1. Becoming a published novelist.
2. Living in another country for a short period (3-9 months). Maybe New Zealand or Australia.
3. Having more adventuresome adventures. I live a pretty organized, structured existence. One goal I have is to loosen up more and be more open to the unexpected. When I plan trips, for instance, there are spreadsheets involved. There are very specific plans. I’d like to take some trips where I just have a ticket to arrive and depart and everything in a backpack.
4. Learning more. I’d like to attend a cooking school or train in Pilates instruction or learn more about wine-making (and wine in general).
5. Saying YES more and never being afraid to change. I hope I always have the courage to take chances in life and that I never settle because I’m afraid of taking a risk.
So, with all that in mind, I think I’ll spend my birthday afternoon working toward finishing my latest novel. There’s no time like the present, after all.