Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Forty

Yesterday, I turned forty.  Really, it's just another year.  But, I like pausing and thinking about the decade that was.  Really, the 4 decades that have been.

I like to joke that I've been growing into middle age my whole life.  My best friends, when I was a child, were often quite a bit older than me.  Often, they were adults.  Teachers.  Mentors.  I've always been career-minded and focused, wanting to have jobs from a very young age and always relishing my work.

But, now, as I actually turn the age I feel I've been, in many ways, my entire life -- it's interesting to reflect on the growth that has brought me to this new decade. Growth that has, in many ways, surprised me. 

My 20s were definitely the decade of foundation building.  Finishing school, those first jobs and resume building, law school, my first fellowship after law school.  And, a lot of my foundation building also came with tearing down the structures of childhood.  It was painful for me.  But, now, as a mother - I think it was probably equally (or more) painful for my parents.  Especially my mom.  I think the rejection and pushing away from your past is often associated with teenagers -- and, to be sure, I did that as a teenager. But, for me, the real push away from my childhood and my past came once I was out on my own.  The process of developing an independent identity also meant tearing down the one that had been constructed by me, but also for me, as a child.  It was rejecting narratives about myself that I had never been totally comfortable with and trying to figure out who I really was. It was proving to myself that I was a risk-taker (although, not at the fairgrounds), an academic (although, more in a practical way through work than in the abstract space of school) and independent (while being in a very close relationship with my partner in life).  And, in my 20s, my natural inclination was to demonstrate these things through work and career and school.

And then came my 30s, which is when the real building began.  The foundation I built in my 20s was strong -- for a career especially.  I knew what I wanted to do, and had carefully put in place the pieces to do those things.  Internships, classes, law school, more internships, a fellowship.  I was poised for a stellar career.  An impactful career.  And, then, Eric and I started talking about what else we wanted to do with our lives and the possibility of family.  So much of the identity I had reconstructed for myself in my 20s was based on a rejection of family that our early forays into conversations about building our own family felt like an abandonment of the persona I had created for myself.  Luckily, I had the presence of mind not to be too tied to an image. And, I also knew that whatever image others had of me was just that -- an image.  In fact, that was what I spent so much of my 20s fighting against internally.  It was rejecting the notions others had of me (or, at a minimum, the notions I thought others had of me) and building confidence in who I really was.

So, we talked about dipping our toes in new waters by shifting course and building a family alongside our careers.  And, then, we plunged -- since both the pregnancy and the baby came far faster than we had ever anticipated. 

And so my 30s were about a new kind of building and balance.  The building of a family. And, in building my own family, I found that I also started reconstructing the ties to my past -- to the very things I had spent so much of the prior decade rejecting. My friend Sarah jokes that the change was instantaneous and she saw it in my eyes the second she saw me in the hospital after I had Kailey.  But, now, I know that what she saw was just that initial root taking hold.  It was a new area of growth that started immediately, in that instant of becoming a mother.  But, growing into what that really meant for me was the work of my 30s.

The work of my 30s was about growing more towards peace, patience, and understanding. I've learned a new way of interacting with the world and those around me that was previously foreign to me. The irony is that I found real independence by being tied so completely to others (aka my children) that I no longer had moments to really reflect on the profound change that had taken hold.  I gained empathy towards others when forced to ask for help - both at work and home - as I attempted to juggle the constant daily chaos of work and kids and home maintenance and repair.  And I've gained an understanding of the most important parts of my childhood -- that I was loved, nurtured and supported -- by viewing that childhood through my new eyes as a parent that is constant making mistakes, second-guessing and questioning myself.  Over this last decade, I've experienced a softness in myself that often feels foreign to me.  And, I've learned a lot more about forgiveness and the importance of letting go of the past and embracing each day.  I'm not sure what it is about parenthood exactly that brings these lessons so squarely into the forefront.  And, it's entirely possible that I would have gained these insights and experienced this growth in my 30s regardless.  Who can say.  For me, becoming a mom and feeling more connected with the people and world around me are inextricably linked.

Which is not to say that I am entirely a changed person. I'm still extremely career-minded and driven.  And, I'm focused on that impactful career and try to deepen my impact every year.  And, for sure, I still possess my most intractable flaws that I've had for all my days.  I have a quick temper, am easily frustrated by others, like to be in control, and can be callous and indifferent towards others' feelings. And, I continue to be terrible at admitting wrong or fault or making amends for my own bad actions.

So, here I am at 40.  If you had asked me when I was 20 what I hoped to be doing at 40, I probably would have wanted to be a jack of all trades, running for Congress (or at least being Chief of Staff for a member of Congress).  My answer would certainly have been almost entirely about work.  My answer would have been rooted in knowing the parts of myself that had always felt the most comfortable -- that I am a doer, an organizer, a worker, and an activist. I knew these aspects of myself as a younger person, for sure.  And, to this day, these traits are what I consider to be my core self.  

And, yet, as I sit here at 40, I find that even as I have maintained that core, I've been capable of growth that I didn't anticipate.  Now, if you ask me what I want to be, I think beyond work and  define myself equally by my relationships.  I am wholly a mom.  A daughter.  A wife.  A friend.  I find myself wanting to push myself to be better in these relationships as much as I want to continue to grow in my job. Trying to constantly do both - and pushing as I do to do both really well -- can be so exhausting.  But, I'm also finding, it is so worth it.

It's funny how as I turn this page on a new decade how much more connected I feel to my past than ever before.  Not necessarily to the the child people thought I was.  But, to the child who was loved and nurtured into the adult I wanted to become and - everyday - am becoming more. 

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