As I've mentioned in the past, birthdays are something that I don't really embrace. I'm not good at getting older (few people are), and I feel with each passing year that I've become more and more distant from where I wanted to be with my life, particularly my personal life. As a result, what is a joyous occasion for some occasionally strikes me as particularly rough, though I don't always exactly know why. This year, though, I was particularly low right before my birthday, and I can say with pretty solid clarity why that was: I didn't really accomplish anything in the past year.
The past year of my life has not been the worst year of my life. I don't know if I can exactly give that one out, but 24-25, when I went through some severe rough patches involving work, weight, money, and the end of my relationship with my best friend, seems like the most likely victor of that title. But the past year is arguably the least eventful year of my life, the year that I'm probably least proud of getting through. Every other year of my life I can recall with a signature achievement or achievements: a graduation, a long-awaited promotion, coming out of the closet, getting my first boyfriend-these are major life achievements, ones that may have glossed over other things that I didn't accomplish that year.
This year isn't that. Sure, I did things that are small but might add up to something. I went on my first vacation by myself in years, to a place I'd never been (again-first time in years). I didn't get promoted at work, but enjoyed a relatively strong personal year at my job and felt an enormous amount of personal growth there. I paid off my car, and actually accomplished a library project that I have been pushing around for almost a decade (if anything feels like an unequivocal success from 2016-17 for me, this is weirdly it as I never thought I'd get there and I did).
But by-and-large, this was a year where nothing really happened. I started the year without a boyfriend, I ended it without having had one, and quite frankly I took a few self-esteem hits from guys that I did date and weren't particularly nice to me. I still have the same job, I live in the same apartment, and I haven't made any progress on the book I've been meaning to write. My blog output has been the lowest it's ever been in terms of quantity since I restarted it, I have made surprisingly little progress on the OVP, and I've gained-and-lost the same four pounds for the past 8 months. I don't own a house, and there's little chance I'll own one this time next year, and I don't have a dog yet, and that also seems on-hold. I look a year older, but on-paper I'm still the same age, continually waiting for the next chapter of my life to begin.
In the past I would encounter this sense of unrest and little accomplishment with first a mourning period ("why does my life never turn out the way I hoped it would?!?") and then a sense of profound determination that I will turn everything around that lasts for, if I'm lucky, a couple of months where I hopefully fix some problem in my life that can't easily be undone (like buying a new laptop computer or moving my median weight down by ten pounds), and then going back to a life of stress, disappointment, and staid nights where I do little more than watch Netflix in bed until I go to sleep & pray to the lord that I have the strength to go the gym in the morning. I can't even say "this time will be different" without internally laughing or mocking myself.
But I will say that my worldview has changed a bit in a way that may end up being the signature achievement of the past year without my realizing it that gives me a sense of hope that forced optimism simply cannot do for me anymore, and that is this: I have finally, slowly, started living genuinely for myself first. The straw that broke this camel's back was the November elections, when people seemed to do the most selfish thing I could imagine by electing Donald Trump, willingly throwing everyone in the country under a bus just to send a message that none of us really have gotten (seriously-if electing Trump was sending a message, Republicans, none of the left has gotten it except that we think you don't care about us or what happens to us-if that wasn't your intended message, it's failed miserably). I wrote about this before, but since then I genuinely can't remember a time in my life where I've felt more alone, where more of my time was spent simply by myself or practically by myself (people are around, but no one is really aware of me on a cognitive level). There is a part of me that fears this is going to continually get worse as I get older, as I become an afterthought to people in my life who don't have children but will soon or where close work friendships will evaporate due to retirements or switching of teams, and they won't be replaced by anyone new. This genuinely frightens me as I don't want my life to be like the past year-filled with repetition and so little joy, empty except for purchases I make that no one cares about except me.
But it also makes me feel emboldened, because I have truly gotten to the point where I am making decisions based entirely on what is best for me, and me alone. I have had moments in my life in the past year where I genuinely told someone "what you're saying is mean" in a way I haven't in the past. I find myself continually discarding toxic elements from my life or people who treat me like an after-thought I lift out of my universe, and am more than willing to say "no" than I think I ever have been before. For example, I spent a small fortune on a trainer at the gym to better get in shape rather than decorating my apartment or other things that people around me wanted me to do instead. I have booked multiple trips, and make decisions based almost exclusively on whether it makes me happy, not someone else-when people say "you should have asked me if I wanted to go on that trip," I point out that they could have planned it, and that I don't have to always plan everything. This occasionally has made me seem pricklier, or less agreeable than before, but I have realized through doing it how often I do things just to make other people feel happy. How for so many years I pushed a friendship and was the planner, and they didn't do anything but show up. How I let other people dictate decisions for me without getting anything in return-no one lives their personal life differently for me, and I don't need to live it differently for them. I might not achieve my goals for the next year, but I need to know that the reason I'm not achieving them is because of what I wanted to do, not because of what other people instruct me that I have to do. I pray that the next year is the year of my life where I can look back and say "damn, you did that John," but if it isn't, it will no longer be because I acquiesced to what people wanted me to be, what their version of John was. It will be because I tried my best and failed. But I am done letting other people guilt trip me into being what they need me to be-I have to be done living my life the way that works around other people's lives, because it never happens the same way back to me.