I don’t remember my twentieth birthday. I don’t know what I did, who I was with, or how I felt the day my twenties began. I can remember the surrounding circumstances — nearly needing to switch schools before finding a way to graduate early, the one year mark of my ACL recovery, a breakup with my first official girlfriend, meeting my next, and getting even deeper in my understanding (and excitement) of this software called WordPress. I’m enjoying wondering what the bookend on the opposite side of this decade that I now find myself in entailed. I likely journaled about it somewhere but it’s proving to be fun to try to remember.
29 was a year of grief, losing my grandma just 13 days after it began. A year that pulled together all of my nomading and restarting abilities to create a soft landing in Seattle. Deep in sorrow, it was as if I could rely on emotional muscle memory to start over and create a way forward, following a playbook I didn’t realize I had. A year of choosing differently. A year of stepping into myself more, with a rad, new job to tackle. A year of staying put more and exploring all that’s around me, rather than venturing as far and as wide as possible. A year of loving deeply. A year of questioning the assumptions and attachments I have, from how I prioritize long term friendship to how I want to spend my days. I’m devastated by the changing dynamics yet trying to stand firm in what is. I hope I always have the capacity and courage to examine closely the things I hold dear as a chance to see clearly and choose intentionally. Even if the outcome is the status quo I do believe doing so gives me a chance to choose again for even more reasons.
It was a disjointed year in many ways with my first smashed car after a break in, an almost surgery on my hand, starting a surrogacy group (that went nowhere), volunteering at a retirement home (and soaking up all their stories), getting to know my uncle from my birthmom’s family for the first time, and dating again in a more intentional way after many years.
I started the morning and this new decade snuggled up in my bed next to a new love, one so present and deep. I played the following recording of my grandma singing me happy birthday in 2019. First for both of us and then again for just me. I held the phone close to my ear as the tears fell. I remember missing her call and being overjoyed to have this memory tucked away for the future. I have a feeling I’ll play it every year for years to come as I think of her.
This will be the first year that I won’t hear from her on my birthday. She called me last year while I wandered around the House of Sweden in Washington DC. I stepped outside of an arctic art exhibit and reminded myself to speak slowly/clearly/loudly. I still don’t know how she managed to call me as she was in a new living situation without the usual access to her phone. I teared up as we hung up and swapped I love yous. I wrote the following in a future letter to myself set to arrive today:
Grandma isn’t here to call you but know that she would if she could. Here’s how I’d imagine it would go. She’d call in the middle of the day or perhaps early morning forgetting timezones. You’d pause before picking up to ensure you speak slowly and clearly (you also did get nervous talking with her for whatever reason). You’d answer with a “Hey Grandma!”. She might sing you happy birthday or part of it (can you find that voicemail and play it even if it makes you cry/especially if?). She’d ask what you were doing for your birthday and you’d share the highlights, knowing she can’t hear you very well. You’d thank her for her consistent generosity and tell her about recent adventures that you hadn’t yet included in a postcard or letter. She’d tell you how she will “let you go” when she’s the one ready to go after a 5-10 minute conversation. You’d tell each other how much you love and miss one another. You’d share how you’re coming into town for her birthday in April. You’d hang up, smiling. I’m so sorry you won’t have that this year and I hope you spend time feeling that tangible loss. That 5 minute conversation that meant so much. If you’re able, listen to some recordings of your conversations and just miss her. Miss her until it fills every corner of your being. Miss her until it feels like your soul will explode. Miss her until she feels almost alive again. Miss her as much as you want. Miss her, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Miss her specifically – the tissues in her claw hand and the way she took pills with coffee yogurt. Miss her generally – how it felt to open the door to her apartment knowing she’d be around the corner in her chair, reading or watching golf. Grieve. Grief is the other side to love, the twin sister as Francis Weller says. This is your task now.
Coffee with Kelly & JoJo followed soon after, a cherished and easy neighborhood hang. I don’t think I will ever take for granted the preciousness of a quick, impromptu meet up. I spent my 23rd birthday here alone after two friends flew out that morning and keep finding myself marveling at how different this birthday is comparatively despite being in the same place. I wish I could give my former self a glimpse of my life now as a reminder to hold on. Somehow she found the reminders anyways.
I got a new driver’s license yesterday, new license plates a week or so ago, replaced my contacts today, filed for a new passport two weeks ago, replaced a credit card, and already have a lease lined up for the same apartment I’m writing from for the year ahead. Everything feels oddly new, like I control-r-ed my life and am watching it load. I waited to change my contacts until today, feeling the fraying edges as I wore them longer than I should have and the delight in saying little gratitudes before I threw them away.
What will last another decade? What will fade? What new habits will I create?Who will I give this decade to? It seems anxiety has made the cut — I hardly slept the night before the WordPress 6.2 product demo nor the night after. I started my twenties building WordPress sites for UNC Chapel Hill (my alma mater), for nonprofits, and for fun. I hadn’t been to my first WordCamp when the decade began. Ten years later and I’ve stumbled into the very edge of where WordPress is going next, sharing resources and updates as I go. It feels amazing to give back to a software and community that’s given me so much freedom, privilege, and opportunity in the last decade.
I met a man when I was 21 while visiting McWay Falls. It’s a short hike the viewpoint and I struck up a conversation with him. “Each year of your 20s will feel like a decade. You will change so much. Embrace it and expect it. Be a sponge.” Something about his advice got in. I haven’t forgotten it, unlike my twentieth birthday, and I subsequently have tried my best to ensure each year of my twenties has felt like a decade. I wanted my twenties to be a foundation building decade from as many angles as possible. I wanted to keep my body fit for the years to come. I ended my twenties with back to back days outside and a fifty mile bike ride only a month or so ago. I wanted to make my career engaging, sustainable, and impactful. I have a job of my dreams that embraces my strengths, lets me interact with wonderful folks, and has taken me all over the world. I wanted to build connections with folks that were authentic, honest, kind, and robust. The kinds of connections that were built to withstand hard times. I wanted to be outside as much as I could bear, photographing mountains and hugging trees, ideally with pals in tow. I wanted to travel meaningfully, with loved ones or to witness something so compelling, like two women’s World Cups and countless trips with my mom. I wanted to get to know my birthmom and to lessen the haunting question marks that circled in my mind. I got more than I bargained for, meeting all of my siblings and her siblings by the end of my twenties.
I spent the last few days of my twenties at an adorable house nestled next to some mountains with the same new love I woke up with today. I tried something new in a new place, cross country skiing at Snoqualmie. I had a blast. I wiped out repeatedly going down a hill the first day, not knowing how to stop. I loved concentrating so hard and feeling my body move in new ways, knowing how over time that will fade.
We went two days in a row, making food, talking, napping, and wandering nearby in between our snow adventures. A river snaked just alongside the house within walking distance and, on the last day of my twenties and our time there, clear skies called us to enjoy our coffee there.
We drove back to Seattle where I napped before playing soccer for two and a half hours, scoring a few goals, missing a few, and bantering back and forth with the men. I was sore from skiing but I couldn’t stop playing even as my stomach growled and the fatigue set in. I scored my best goal at the very end of the game, purely on instinct and muscle memory. Perhaps that’s how thirty feels, like I have more well worn paths to rely on, more awareness of the paths I don’t have, and more capacity to decide which I want to explore and develop.
I want to be more fearless, more interdependent, and somehow more intentional, perhaps by being less tolerant of bullshit in my 30s. I’m tired of yet amused by some aspects of myself. The fear that grips me when I try something new and don’t want to be bad at it, as if that counts for anything. The self reliance that causes me to isolate and figure things out alone, rather than trying on patience and perspective for size letting others into whatever might be going on. I don’t want to give into the delusion of separateness.
Since I joined Automattic just before I turned 21, I have the luxury of looking back on nearly the entire decade in post format. I pulled out favorite quotes from each:
I also find that my level of consciousness about my life is raised about a week before my birthday, during, and a week+ after my birthday. I think we can all relate to this. For me, it’s this feeling of “where did the time go?” meets “what am I doing with my life?”. It’s a strange mix of gratitude for making it another year, fear of time passing too quickly, and curiosity about what’s to come. I try to take advantage of this feeling as long as I can because I know soon that 22 will be easy to say and won’t make me pause.
I’m so thankful for 22 even though it has been such an unexpected year. I can think of a thousand lessons I’ve learned. I think 22 really solidified my belief in giving 100% to whatever it is you are doing in the moment whether that’s a job, a relationship, a city, etc. You learn way more diving into the deep end instead of just dipping your toes in the water. I learned that you have to have your own back. I learned that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. I learned that you create your own reality when it comes to your life and those in it – the reality you created isn’t always necessarily true though. I learned that I am more adaptable than I ever thought possible. I learned how important love is to me.
An ode to 23 (and a look to 24)
I learned this year that the foundation of who I am is something I can fall back on. I found that I’m more adaptable than I give myself credit for. I learned that overvaluing romantic love is silly and that valuing all forms of love opens up countless opportunities to be loving every day. I learned that it’s okay to retreat and surrender – not everything needs to be a fight. I learned that I can and should protect myself. I learned that I need to be careful with who I give my energy, love, and time too. I learned how to restart. I learned there’s no normal when it comes to pain. I learned that it’s 100% okay and awesome to be my introverted, minimalist, optimistic self. I can live however the hell I choose to and I can choose to use my resources to better those around me. I learned how to let go (err still learning). I learned to appreciate and cultivate the grey areas of myself and to rest easy in those parts of myself. I learned I’d rather be alone than spend time with folks living inauthentically.
I can feel 25 years of life dancing between my fingers. It feels new and strong – like it can be trusted. I choose to trust it. It feels electric.
24 is ready to be retired. 24 never quite fit me – I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was a cocoon year where I burrowed deep within myself and stumbled my way through to what normalcy meant to me. Thankfully, the dark and scary parts of my life feel known now. I’ve memorized their features as I would a lover…25 is a year of adventure. It’s the year I want to get out of my head and push myself to experience life in the way I have learned I love to. I rolled the dice unnecessarily by deciding to nomad again. When you know yourself really well, you become intimately familiar with your limits. I can trace mine. I choose to put myself in situation after situation this year to cross them. They are irrelevant anyway driven by fear, insecurity, and control.
26 feels like an old friend that’s been waiting for me at the airport with my name obnoxiously written on a sign ready to sweep me away. Starting March 16th, I’ll be taking 2 weeks off work to road trip to Utah exploring National Parks along the way with a lovely friend from college. Another World Cup year means I’ll be heading to France for a month to catch the blood, sweat, and tears of the incredible athletes competing. Starting September 18th, I’ll have a paid, 3 month sabbatical from work. I have no clue what I’ll be doing during that time but I relish that it’s a decision I even have to make…A closing thought: I can’t wait to see who I’ll meet this year — what their story will be, what their laugh will sound like, what questions I’ll be lining up to ask them.
For a long time, I felt distant in the wrong ways to the wrong things: distant from community, distant from new ideas, distant from lifechatting, etc. This last year I feel a distance now from the right things (work, people who take advantage of me, etc) and a comfortable closeness to that which makes me feel alive — I don’t cling to those things. Instead, I just am grateful for their existence. I recalibrated and while my life might look the same on the outside, the inside paints a different story. I feel more curious, more optimistic, more rested, more balanced, and like I’m living a more sustainable life. This has all resulted in developing a lovely pause button that’s allowed me to have space and calm in my life. This year was both filled with so many wonderful, hard fought normal days and unbelievably rare days. Ultimately though, it’s the normal days with new and old friends that I cherish the most knowing they’ll be the ones that’ll carry me into the future.
When I thought about what I wanted to say this year, I found myself drawn to it once more completely forgetting I used it then. This tracks though with how this year has felt filled with reminders of lessons I’ve already learned. A groundhog day of impatient “I know, I know”s back to the universe who doesn’t seem to quite trust that I have indeed learned yet what I’ve meant to and hurls the lesson back towards me. It’s almost meditative at this point as I find myself leaning into the repetition with the seemingly extreme nature of how I’m existing only serving to refine and expand (my chosen themes for 2021) that which I truly desire. Feeling so far away from aspects of the life I ultimately want is only preparing me to do the hard work to create it. In a sense, this year has been one of creativity in light of that. How can I start building the life I want now? How do I connect with new people? How do I show love from afar? How do I remember I’m not alone when I’m so isolated?
At one point, I scribbled down a note which partially says, “I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe I get to feel the ache of wanting to share it with others and to have others to share it with at all.” I both wanted to stay there for hours and was keen to move on by the end because there was more I wanted to do. I smiled when I recognized that to be the case. What a gift it is to have something more to look forward to you while you’re already having a wonderful time.
I felt nearly each day this last year whether it was the weight of it, the opportunity, the unfamiliarity, etc. I started getting hugs again. I got vaccinated (x3), lost my vaccine card, and went through joyous bureaucracy to get another copy. I began slowly nomading again over long drives and stretches of time to see loved ones. I lived minutes away from a best friend for nearly six months. I spent more hours on the phone than I thought humanly possible with people somehow game to do life from afar. I rapidly made new friendships, deepened others, and seemingly lost a few. I cared less about visiting new places and more about returning to stable, known ground. I created as many Absurdly Alive moments as I could trying to wake myself back up to life after the dreary height of quarantine from fancy dinners in DC to blasting emo music along the blue ridge parkway, friends in tow. I got a pasta maker, made a ton of pasta, and gave it away. I had some of the best days of my life and knew they were as they were happening.
As I read each entry over, I see so many patterns of gratitude, intentionality, curiosity, hard work, and a relentless drive to stay open and connect. I have so much gratitude for my past selves who worked so hard to hang on and build a life I am so proud of. The gratitude only grows when I consider all of the seen and unseen people who have walked alongside me through this life. I both find myself yet again wanting more of the same and staying so open to whatever comes my way.
I’ll close quoting another part of the future letter to myself:
As I write this, I’m digging through memories from my 20s. I could measure my time in countries visited, books read, projects done, postcards written, weddings attended, love given, love received, money saved, on and on. Instead of stats, I’m drawn to asking myself: Did you love well and truly? Did you unlearn and learn what you needed to? Did you show up for those in your life, consistently and fully, in big and small moments? Did you seek to understand before trying to be understood? Did you stay present and resist the many ways one can numb in this world? Were you brave? Did you give back more than you were given? Did you give yourself rest, renewal, and recovery? Did you ensure the benefits of your life benefited others? Did you leave room for the full range of experiences and emotions?
Thinking ahead into my 30s, I have a few wishes for myself. To continue to love deeply, to seek nuance, to keep intentionality close, to evolve, to remember abundance, to create interdependence, and to be so very present. Each of these require active effort! Don’t forget that.
I hope I am able to hold all of me in the decade to come, including the parts I’m tempted to fight against rather than to love harder and the parts of me that might change entirely. Maybe, just maybe, each year of my thirties can feel like a decade too.
2 responses to “30”
Hmm. Well, I’m 74 and I kinda wished I had spent as much time as you do looking at yourself. I am impressed. I’ve kind of stumbled through life. Baby years were ok. My father was still alive. He died when I was 3. Things changed. I basically went through life doing what was necessary to survive and remain sane. I became a people pleaser, big time. And I always want exactly what I know is not good for me relationship wise. Which still lingers today – however over the past years after getting sober I have learned to look at myself truthfully. Today I can and do examine my actions, see them for what they are and why they are and I can choose how to proceed. People say I’m too nice (my brother), but I am adamant about treating people with regard. I’m basically a homebody, worked as a secretary 30 years, raised a pretty cool daughter, tried to raise my grandson, and in 2016 I published my first book, about my father. I am now a published author who gets invited to speak, who knows people all over the world (because of my writing). I do not regret my past, I’ve learned how to write to myself when I am feeling depressed. Some days Life is Good. My goals (which I never had before I got sober) are to complete each book I am writing, to stay cute, to get a place of my own as opposed to renting a room in a house. My point is I believe you have done yourself a big favor by paying attention to your years, to learning yourself and for wanting to participate in wholly in your life. You are an inspiration. And if I can make it to 74 and still be happy, healthy and have a good sense of humor – you certainly will, I’m sure. Just so you know, I love to write messages to people when I am touched and think I have something worthwhile to share. Your post touched me. Am following.
Happy Birthday, Anna! Here’s to your thirties being your best decade yet. I loved hearing your Grandma’s voice. Know you’re both in my thoughts and heart today. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts, even the difficult and sad ones. Today’s post took me back to my thirties. A surprise gift, actually. It’s been a long time since I took the time to remember, to dust off my sentiments, and reflect. Thanks for that. Your man at McWay Falls is correct …” You will change so much. Embrace it, expect it. Be a sponge.” I’m looking forward to reading all about your new adventures, life insights, reflections, gratitude, intentionality, curiosity, hard work, and relentless drive to stay open and connect. Put a dent in the universe. Sending hugs.