Friday, February 3, 2012

Birthdays, Lists, and Dolphins.

Last year at this time, I was closing in on forty. It felt like a big deal. It felt…kinda crappy, actually. Forty’s one of those “milestone” birthdays that you think about when you’re younger and imagine the kind of person you’ll be. (Spoiler alert for you younger folks: you’ll be EXACTLY THE SAME PERSON, but hopefully with better fashion sense and a lowered tolerance for bullshit.)

What wasn’t helping me feel better about reaching this so-called milestone were the “things to have done by the time you’re 21/25/30/40” checklists and the ever-popular “bucket lists.” (God, I hate that phrase. I don’t like the word bucket for starters, and it seems either weirdly arrogant; like you have any say in when you’re going to die, or profoundly sad; like you’re a kid in the Make-A-Wish Foundation program.)

Anyway! A year has gone by since then, and it turned out that forty wasn’t such a big deal after all. I’m still awesome, and I’m still stumbling around with no idea what the hell I’m doing most of the time. Business as usual.

I'm really sorry you had to see this. Also, it's not true.

So I say we dispense with those other lifelong-to-do lists entirely. All they do is make you feel bad for whatever supposedly important/magical things you haven’t achieved yet:
  • “Have a substantial nest egg.” Oh shit, I must be a terrible person to not have a pile of money at my age.
  • “Swim with dolphins.” Um, okay, but I think I’d rather just leave them alone.
  • “Have a one-night stand?” ONE!? Is this even a thing?
  • “Ride a rollercoaster." Who gives a shit?
  • “Buy a Birkin/Rolex/diamond ring/pair of Manolos.” Oh, go piss up a rope.
"God, get off me, bitch!"

Rather than chart what other people should do by the time they’re any age, I suggest you look at your birthday this year as an opportunity to look back over all the great and interesting things you’ve accomplished in your life so far. It’s infinitely more random and rewarding. One size does not fit all (especially when it comes to swimming with dolphins), so write down your own unique and amazing story.

Here’s mine. It only took a few minutes. I’m sure there are loads of wonderful things I forgot to include, but maybe I’ll remember them next year.

Things I’ve done by 41
  • Forgot most of everything that seemed like a huge deal in high school
  • Got married
  • Had a kid who turned out just swell
  • Got divorced
  • Buried a parent
  • Got married again
  • Went on welfare
  • Got off welfare
  • Sowed my wild oats
  • Ran a small business
  • Ran that business into the ground
  • Went back to shcool
  • Figured out my “dream job”
  • Figured out that my “dream job” is actually the hardest job of all
  • Amassed an impressive collection of abdominal scars
  • Still wear a bikini
  • Learned how to cook some nice things
  • Set a kitchen on fire
  • Made some terrifically, jaw-droppingly ill-advised decisions
  • Gave my heart away to people who didn’t deserve it
  • Got it back again
  • Felt the depths of depression and despair
  • Went into therapy
  • Caught a fish and ate it
  • Wrote and published two books
  • Watched a beloved friend give birth
  • Discovered I know things that people want to learn
  • Started sharing those things
  • Lived half my life with a weird autoimmune disorder and never (okay, hardly ever) let it stop it from doing anything awesome
  • Learned to appreciate scotch
  • Learned to apply false eyelashes
  • Spent two weeks in relative solitude and didn’t go crazy
  • Got comfortable with the idea that I don’t know everything, won’t ever know everything, and that other people might not feel exactly the way I do about everything
  • Laughed loudly and often
  • Loved my friends and my family more than I could ever tell them
  • Realized how much they love me back
  • Began to realize I deserve it. 
So...what's on your list?


  1. 1. I love lists, and this is one I have never made. Although about a month after I turned 33, I wrote a post called "Things I've Done Since I Turned 33" which mostly consisted of "played video games" and "walked in the woods." I have a very uncomplicated life, apparently.

    2. Roller coasters are my reason for living. But the phrase "nest egg" gives me hives. I wonder if the two are related?

    1. Hey, I love roller coasters too. But suggesting that someone "must" go on one just increases the likelihood of me getting barfed on. I'd like to avoid that.

      I need more video games and walks in the woods, and less...well, whatever the hell it is I'm doing lately.

  2. Weirdly enough I just wrote a "bucket list" the other day, even though I usually have total hate for them. But I just felt compelled; and it actually got me excited about some things I want to do! I have to say that none of the things on your example bucket list are on mine thank god :|
    But I seriously love your list of things that you've already done; it's such a great idea. This whole post is full of awesome in fact.

    1. I wrote a "you know what" list in high school that I think I still have somewhere. I can't remember any items except two:
      --have a kid (done!), and
      --buy a motorcycle (still working on that one).

      I think it's great to contemplate the things you'd like to do and try in life--but putting age limits on them seems so unfair. If a 12-year-old wants to run her own business, or a 70-year-old wants to have a one-night stand, I think they should be encouraged!

    2. If I think about where I thought I'd "be" and what I'd be doing at 40 back when I was 20, it'd seriously make me laugh my ass off. I was sure I was gonna be a high powered career chick and have some uber professional and highly impressive job. Although I got the fancy degrees and started down that path, all that went out the window the minute baby #1 came along. It took me a while to disentangle myself from a career I never really liked in the first place, but I know I'll always be glad I decided to stay home and homeschool my kids and I don't really care what anyone else thinks of that :) Although I might technically still be the same person I always was, I know far better who that person is and am much more sure of myself in making choices that respect who I am instead of the choices that everyone else thinks I should make based on their idea of who I am. Fashion sense? Nope, still don't have any :) But definitely a far lower tolerance for bullshit. I also wish the term "bucket list" could be eradicated from the face of the earth. Although I do have a few things I'd love to do - family bike tour of Italy being the big dream at the moment. And hey, I did finally get around to writing a book, which was another lifelong dream.

  3. All that really matters in life is doing what YOU want to do, it's true! And figuring that out is just as much about being willing to let go of your own ideas and beliefs that hold you back as much as it is anyone else's opinion. If that makes sense. In my life right now, I often feel like I "should" be happy--aren't I living my "dream job" life? Well, that's what I believed--but the reality is something else. So now I have to let go of a belief that no longer serves me and try on something else. Let's just say that I'm about to announce some big changes in my plans over the next few months!