Today is my 30th birthday.
Ten years ago–with college to finish, legal drinking still in my future, and no idea what I was going to do with my life–30 seemed like a remote, hazy, unfathomably distant milestone. The whole world of possibilities was still ahead of me. If you had asked me on the eve of my twentieth birthday, I probably would have said that I planned to continue on to a music conservatory like Juilliard or Eastman to further my training in music composition. And then onward to become a professional composer, underpaid and unappreciated, but immersed in my art.
Or maybe I’d become a film maker. Or a professional trombonist. Or an historian. Or a novelist and writer of short stories.
(Hey, in a way, I guess I sort of have become a short story author…)
A part of feels incredibly nostalgic (and a little sad) remembering this time in my life when anything was possible and my whole future was ahead of me.
It’s a cliché often cited that “I don’t know where the time has gone.” Or “It feels like just yesterday that I was 20.” And part of me feels like that’s true, but at the same time I wonder if it’s just the novelty every human feels in realizing that a decade has passed by. Most of the memories of ten years ago are cloudy and distant, save the handful of now-romanticized stories and relationships which become the oral history of one’s life.
At the same time, I feel incredibly lucky to have had the past decade. I graduated college, despite my terrible grasp of the German language nearly causing me to flunk the foreign language fluency requirement. I’ve experienced the grown-up pride of having my own apartment and then, later, of buying my first house. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to interesting places around the world, both as part of my job and outside of work. I bought a car, and then eight years later, another one! Yet, surprisingly, I’ve survived my first thirty years without getting a speeding ticket, moving violation, or being summoned for jury duty. (Crossing my fingers for another thirty years of that!)
Nothing says celebration like a well-crafted piece of Clip Art
I’m fortunate to have ended up working at Microsoft doing a job that I love. I have been accused of being a workaholic, but it’s not because I love working in general–it’s because I love the work that I do. It’s surreal to me now that I’m here helping to reinvent the user interface of programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook of which I myself was a user early in my life. The most fun part of working on Office is that you impact so many people; while it does mean that because of my blog I’ve been called “stupid” and “an idiot” on the Internet in a number of languages, it also has meant opportunities to meet and correspond with fascinating people around the world who use our software to do amazing things. That reach is immensely satisfying to me.
I spent my sophomore year in college working in the Yale Law Library for $6.15/hour. I reported at 7:30am each morning and drove a manually-operated elevator down six stories into the below-ground subbasement. It was about 120 degrees down there, and my job was to open cardboard boxes of dirty, dusty, parched legal briefs and to shelve them somewhere in the dark, hot, grimy underground stacks. If I finished early, my reward was to come upstairs to photocopy books a page at a time for law professors who wanted to read them without buying them.
Despite the meager income from this terrible job, I remember being ticked off at the Shawmut Bank ATM because the minimum you could withdraw was $10 and I had a total balance of like $5.83. Needless to say, I understand the value of having a job worth getting up and doing.
The best part of my 20’s: I was so fortunate to find a beautiful, caring, amazing woman who became my wife. She also happens to be the smartest person I know (and one of the best trombonists as well!) As important to me as the great companionship and the love that we have for one another is that she inspires me to be a better person in every facet of my life and work. I am so lucky to have found her.
So, while I’ve done many things and had many experiences I’m proud of in my 20’s, I’m feeling melancholy thinking about everything I didn’t do and won’t have a chance to do again. I think I’ve started to internalize only recently how finite our time on Earth is, even if you’re lucky enough to live a long life. There’s so much more I want to accomplish in my life and in my career, and it feels like I’m already behind.
I remember a decade ago thinking 30 was old. Now I’m 30. Am I now on the inevitable downslope towards oblivion?
My grandma, in her beautiful, eternal optimism used to say “you’re only as old as you think.” I didn’t understand what she was saying when I was a kid but the words are finally starting to have meaning for me. Back in elementary school, when I complained about homework and having to mow the lawn, my dad used to say “I wish I could be your age again.” That didn’t make any sense to me at the time–he had the freedom to do what he wanted with no one to tell him what to do. But while I truly don’t think I would want to be 13 again, I do for the first time understand and feel the impulse of wishing I could turn back the clock.
Still, life stands still for no one, and trillions of people have successfully and gracefully turned 30 before me. So “ever forward,” as they say. No regrets about my 20’s, but I’m ready to hit my 30’s full-throttle.