Today is my birthday. I am now officially 37 years old.
The significance of my birthday has changed a lot throughout my life. When I was younger, my birthday was a joyful excuse to eat cake for breakfast and wear my most pretty dress and have a party at McDonalds or the roller rink and open piles of presents, things like board games and pajamas from really annoying relatives. Birthdays were about being celebrated by friends and, for a fleeting moment, feeling popular.
But somehow, since I left my twenties and careened into my thirties, birthdays became increasingly traumatic. Because I thought I'd have accomplished a lot more by this point. When I was fifteen, I confidently crowed that by the time I reached thirty I'd be a famous classical flutist. And possibly have published my first (or third) book. And own my own equestrian center with horses grazing peacefully on my property. Oh, and I'd be completely recovered from my eating disorder and have fantastic relationships with my family and be sophisticated and graceful and eternally youthful and ALWAYS know the perfect thing to say.
And now, here I am at 37. And there are STILL no horses in my backyard.
Often, on my birthday, I remember what my fifteen year-old self dreamed of. I remember what high hopes she had for me, and I feel like I've let her down. She was positive she'd get what she wanted, and always feel confident and accomplished and secure.
But on this birthday, I feel hopeful. Because I'm learning to see aging as a process that contributes to a more whole and centered me. Aging need not be the pessimistic concept we think it is. Instead, it is the chance to learn from past mistakes, accept them gracefully, and bravely move forward with new knowledge. In the past year alone, I've taken giant leaps of courage. I've moved farther along in my recovery from anorexia than I have in the twenty years of being sick. I've let go of toxic relationships and learned to set healthy boundaries with friends and family. I've gotten much better at asking for support when I need it. And I started this blog, which has grown from a simple excuse to document outfits into a statement about body image, courage and confidence.
I have absolutely no desire to be old. No matter my age, I yearn to be youthful. Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a expression of will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, and a taste for adventure. A woman doesn't grow old because she has lived a certain number of years. A woman grows old when she abandons her ideal. The years might wrinkle my skin, but preoccupations, fears, doubts and despair are the true enemies of aging. I will remain young as long as I am open to what is beautiful, good and great; welcoming to opportunities to be courageous; and eager for the chance to be creative. I want to be willing to risk failure, and learn to live gracefully if it happens. Life is nothing but a chance to live up to our potential, whatever it may be. And I will embrace those chances. Because I am excited to see the person I will become.