I imagine I’m not alone in finding it increasingly difficult to feel excited about each new birthday, but I know that I should. It’s a privilege, absolutely– to have been alive for another year, to have this opportunity for introspection and reflection on the 35th anniversary of my birth. Each day presents new challenges, and with them, new opportunities to learn. It’s important for me to consider the lessons I’ve learned over the previous year, so as not to forget them in the next year.
I’m 35 today, and I’ve got several of the same concerns that I had when I turned 34. Making new friends remains a challenge; I’ve learned nothing new here.
Maintaining communication with folks over social media has become more difficult than it used to be. There are many people that I only know via the Internet. These folks want to make the world a better place. They see hate in the world, and they want it to end. I can get on board with that, but I also know that you can’t fix hate by piling on more hate. Frequently, this leaves no room for conversation, and these relationships suffer as a result. In the past year, I looked for answers here by reading books about nonviolent communication. Much of what I read made sense, but I haven’t learned yet how to apply those lessons to social media.
I still love to read, but most of what I read is non-fiction. For several years, I’ve felt that any time I invest into fiction is wasted time, and in the past year this has extended to movies, TV shows, and even video games. Maybe I should be more concerned about this than I actually am. Fiction is fuel for creativity, after all. But for me, the most critical fuel is an audience. When I invest twelve hours creating a podcast episode that is only downloaded by fifteen people and generates no feedback, I feel like a failure. This is an old problem, one which I’ve often tried to solve. Last year I tried a new approach: Make something that requires little effort, and almost no time investment– something with a daily format, so that you won’t feel as discouraged if Monday’s episode fails to resonate with folks, seeing as how you’ll be giving them something new on Tuesday. After a full month of apathy, I realized that the experiment had resulted in me feeling like a failure every single day. Logically, I know that the real problem is the attachment I place on feedback. If I can’t create something for its own sake, perhaps I’ve got no business trying to create something, regardless of what it is.
At work, I’ve had more opportunity to serve in leadership roles. I’ve faltered at times, to be sure, but I’ve learned a lot and have become more confident. For several years, I’ve struggled with self-doubt, believing that each new colleague is smarter and more diligent than I am. This belief sometimes manifests as frustration with colleagues when they don’t approach a problem the same way that I would, and that’s an aspect of myself that I need to change. My best opportunity for growth is through understanding of the different perspectives my colleagues can offer.
There’s also the concern that I’ll invest more of my free time into career goals. That’s not a bad thing on its own, but it is a problem if I’m doing it as a way of avoiding loneliness, or avoiding failure with personal creative projects. Still, I’ve invested a lot of time into this sort of thing over the past several months, and have learned a lot: about setting expectations for others based on what your own schedule will permit, about collaborating effectively with others when everyone involved in a project is a volunteer, and about the dangers of over-committing yourself by taking on too many side projects.
The most significant change in my life over the past year– maybe over the past ten years– happened on September 16th when my son, Daniel, was born. I’d worried so much about how my life would change, about the things I’d have to give up. Once he arrived, though, I realized that I don’t actually mind making these changes if it’s for someone I love, and I loved that kid right away. A particularly frustrating evening would be nearly forgotten when I saw him smile in the morning. Stressful days at work became more tolerable when I could look forward to being at home with my family. Parenthood has been more demanding of Karen than of me, and I’ve had to find ways to deal with the resulting guilt that I feel whenever I go into the office, but mostly I’m just glad that Daniel is here.
I don’t know what I’ll be writing here in a year’s time, assuming I’m fortunate enough to make it that far. I don’t imagine that I’ll have solutions to the problems I’ve had with friendship and creativity. But the one thing I absolutely must ensure over the coming months is that I always make time for my family– my wife, my son, my brother, my sister, my mom and dad. These are the most important people to me, and the time that I spend with them is precious. That’s an aspect of my life that I never want to change– no matter where I live, no matter where I am in my career, no matter how expensive life becomes.