Today I am 31 years old!
I love birthdays, not only because it is the one day a year where we get to celebrate ourselves completely unabashedly and bring all our friends together from the various random parts of our lives, but also because they are a great time to both reflect and look forward. Birthdays are a great way of marking time and progress, of looking back at what you were doing a year ago and looking ahead to what you would like to be doing a year from now. They are a time to be grateful for all that we have and to think about what we would like to cultivate more of in our lives.
This year, I am reflecting a lot on my ambition, my community, my privilege, and my relationships. I am looking back at all I have experienced and learned this year and I am thinking about the values that drive me forward and motivate me to do the things I’m doing.
I have often worried that I am a lazy person, that I am not that smart, that I am not ambitious enough to achieve the things I want to achieve. That is a thought pattern that has held me back for a long time and is something I am really working to change.
One thing that helps is to look back at this part year and highlight the things I have achieved and am proud of. Hiking the Annapurna circuit, becoming a yoga teacher, getting an A+ in my cell biology class – I am incredibly proud of all these accomplishments and had moments at which I thought I would not be able to complete them. And yet here I am on the other side!
When I feel like I am not capable of something, it is so helpful to remind myself of what I have accomplished and to remember that at some point, I thought each of those things was impossible. By proving my doubts wrong time and time again, I am learning to retrain my mind and adjust the limits of what I believe is possible for me.
In my 31 years here on Earth, I have been incredibly fortunate. I have been born into immense privilege in a country where I have the freedom to do pretty much anything I want in life. I’ve always had plenty of money and a safety net to catch me if I fall. I have been supported and encouraged by my family and have received unconditional love on a daily basis.
These are only a few of the ways in which I have won the lottery in life and for that I am truly grateful. When I think of everything I have been given, it fills me with an intense desire to serve, because I did absolutely nothing to deserve these things and there is no reason that everyone on Earth shouldn’t have them.
And yet, so many people live their entire lives rarely having their basic needs fulfilled. This is something that traveling to countries like India has really driven home for me. It is one thing to see such stories in the news, but it is a completely different experience to see them in real life. Why is it that I should have so much and others should have so little, simply because we were born in different parts of the world?
Even within my own country, there are such disparities between the rights and respect given to various members of our society and rampant discrimination causes many people to live in constant fear, a fear that I can’t even begin to imagine. Of course I face my own challenges as a woman, but overall I have things pretty easy here in the states.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed because I feel like I should be trying to fix everything and I know that I can’t. I know that there will continue to be hatred and discrimination for a long time and I feel powerless to stop it. I feel discouraged and disheartened by the current state of this country that I love. I also know that there are ways in which I contribute to the problem and I do my best to have open conversations with friends and ask questions when I don’t know what to say or do. At the same time, I know that there are lots of things I CAN do, even if I can’t solve everything, and I can’t let my despair stop me from taking action.
Becoming a nurse is one way in which I am working to make the world a better place. Not only will I be working in a job where I can directly serve other humans and try to make their lives a little better, I will have more money to donate to projects that are doing good in the world. This is the motivation that keeps me on track when classes are difficult and the road ahead seems daunting and I am so grateful for the conversation I had with a nursing friend over a year ago that set me on this path.
Several times over the last few years, I have had overwhelming moments of clarity where I know that my purpose in life is to create community. My heart always comes back to this idea of creating a space where people feel safe, loved, and able to be vulnerable. Where people can let down their walls, open up their hearts, and connect with those around them. I have been in many different manifestations of such spaces throughout my travels and have always longed to create such a space myself.
While I may not yet have the means to own land on which to build such a community, I have been doing my best to take small steps in this direction through running wellness events, hosting Sunday Night Dinners, and being a good friend and listener. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what feels like an unachievable vision and I worry that I will never be able to make it happen, but I have to remind myself that every step I take gets me a little bit closer to my goal, no matter how small that step is. And every person who has built such a space had to start somewhere.
To be honest, the desire to create this space is as much for myself as it is for others. I want to spend my life learning and evolving into continuously more authentic versions of myself and I want to be able to do this alongside my amazing community. When I think of what I want my community to look like and what I want it to provide, I simply think about what I want and need in my own life and I know that if I follow that, others will resonate with it as well. Not everyone, of course, but the people who want and need the same things I want and need in my life are exactly the people I will be able to reach.
Individual relationships are probably one of the most important things in my life. Of course no relationship exists in a vacuum and community is created by the intertwining of many beautiful relationships, but for me, each one-on-one relationship carries a lot of value and is separate from the way in which I value community.
Sometimes I struggle in my relationships because I expect so much from them. This is something that has been a constant work in progress for me and I don’t always know the best way to approach it. Being a good friend is very important to me and I give a lot to the people I care about and so I expect a lot in return. Fortunately, because I am this way, I tend to attract a lot of people who feel similarly and I generally feel very loved, understood, and cherished in the relationships in my life.
Of course, there are also quite a few people in my life who do not operate in this way and that is where I tend to struggle. I worry that, because they do not show love in the same ways, or do not make plans in the same way, they don’t care about me as much as I care about them. Even though a part of me knows this is probably not true, my fear of disconnection and not belonging overrides my rational mind.
Now I know that the “spiritual” way of being is to give without expecting anything back, but sometimes I really need that gold star! I need to be shown that I am loved and cared about and valued and when I receive that, it means A LOT to me. It really takes very little – a kind message, a small gift, a gesture of friendship – but it is more about knowing that someone was thinking about me and wanted to let me know.
Again, I know that I shouldn’t rely so much on external validation and I do try to give myself plenty of love from within, but who doesn’t enjoy little reminders that they are loved?
In any case, all of this is to say that there are a lot of amazing people in my life and each of them interacts with me in different ways. I am grateful for the people who show love in the same ways that I do because they are easy for me to understand and connect with deeply, and I am equally grateful for the people who don’t because they force me to think outside my limited perspective and understand that not everyone sees the world in the same way as me.
I thrive when I feel connected, understood, loved, and cherished, and I would not be the person I am today without the many wonderful family members and friends who have shaped me throughout my life.
For my 31st year of life, the goal that sticks out the most is to study hard, do as well in my classes as I can, and get into nursing school. Of course, there are all sorts of other goals I could lump in alongside this and there are other things I would like to achieve in the next year, but lately I’ve been finding it easier to simplify. I have a tendency to overcommit and create way too many goals and projects for myself, so for now I am going to try something new and keep my goals simple. I suppose if I were to simplify it even further, it would be just this: get into nursing school.
Fortunately, this is not a goal that means I have to set all my other interests aside. Getting into nursing school will allow me to continue working towards the other big goals I have in life. It will set me on a path to use my privilege for good, to have the money I need to buy some land and build the community I want to create, to have the flexibility in my schedule to continue traveling and putting time into the important relationships in my life. And it will tie in nicely with teaching yoga and an overall focus on health and wellness.
At the end of the day, I am grateful to be able to look back on my 31 years and know that I have used my time wisely. I have worked hard and played hard. I have made plenty of bad choices but I have made lots more good ones. I have loved deeply and had my heart broken many times. I have explored a tiny fraction of the world and its people and look forward to exploring much more. I have made many mistakes and I have apologized a lot and there are many times when I should have apologized and I didn’t. I have done my best to be authentic and kind and live a full life and if I were to die tomorrow, I would have absolutely no regrets.