Approaching your mid-30s.
If you had asked me five years ago how I felt about this milestone, I'd have taken a long, deep breath and sighed, my eyes getting that classic deer-in-the-headlights glaze as the future weighed down on me like an anchor.
After all, I'd known what to expect from my fourth decade for, well, decades — at least in terms of what I'd seen portrayed on television. Remember that show Thirtysomething from the early '90s? As a kid, I'd watch it with my mom and think, "OMG, what if I get that old?"
The characters were in a perpetual state of being stressed out, overworked, and overwhelmed. That, I reasoned, is what getting old must be like. That is what I had to look forward to.
Fast-forward to 2011 and I'm at my 30th birthday party. It's a surprise party, and the irony of it all is not lost on me: Surprise! How had this day come already? It just seemed to sneak up on me. What happened?
I'd spent so much time mourning the loss of my 20s, as if I'd just reached some sort of finish line and my life was over, that I'd failed to see the promise of entering a new decade.
This year, I turn 35 — that odd age where you're too old to still say you're in your early 30s but still too young to elicit sympathy when you complain to someone about how old you feel.
But nonetheless, there's no denying this decade has changed me already. In ways I expected and ways I'm still learning about every day. Here, seven surprising ways my happiness has soared so far.
1. I Ditched the Phrase "I'm Sorry"
Now, before you think I'm a horrible person incapable of taking responsibility, I'm talking about this habit we've developed of apologizing for every little thing. It's become such a knee-jerk reaction, hasn't it? We even feel responsible for things out of our control and apologize profusely for them, like inconvenient weather or computer malfunctions. My three-word mantra: No. More. Guilt.
2. I Embraced My Quirky Side
I've always been a little left of center, and it used to really bother me at times. Why can't I just be like everyone else, I'd wonder? Things would be so much easier that way. But in the long run, trying to be someone else slowly eroded my happiness. So now? I wear my polo shirt collection proudly and have fully accepted my status as Cat Lady.
3. I Don't Need a Relationship to Complete Me
Sure, it would be nice if I someday met The One, but my life isn't going to be over if I don't. I've come to realize that I don't need someone else to be OK. Besides, I've got the comfort of my cats, remember?
4. I Stopped Letting Other People's Opinions Define Me
There was a time, especially during those confusing and awkward teen years, when I let the opinions of others color my reality. I wanted to please people, to get them to like me, to see me, and the only way to do this was to care about what they thought and did and said. I cared far too much. Now? Well, let's just say I don't care what people think AT ALL.
5. I Became in Charge of My Own Happiness
Maybe it's that I didn't love myself enough back then, but I think we all get in this trap sometimes where we look externally for our happiness. Honestly, that strategy is sort of like gaping into a black hole; you're never going to find what you're looking for in that never-ending darkness. You'll only find it by making yourself happy and loving yourself first.
6. I Became Content With My Own Company
Flying solo gets a bad rap. We're taught that wanting to be alone is abnormal and that we need to surround ourselves with people to avoid a deathly case of loneliness. But over the years, I've come to love going places solo, spending time at home, Netflix and chilling, and even — gasp! — eating out by myself.
7. I've Learned to Laugh
My father's death in 2003 showed me that life can get really serious really quickly. We can never really know when those hard times will come and how long they'll last, so we have to find those little moments of laughter any chance we get. They might just save our lives.
We're so quick to say that any decade prior to the one we're living now was our heyday, our elusive "glory days" that we'll never get back no matter how hard we try to re-create them — just ask Bruce Springsteen about that one. I dreaded approaching 30 and being forced to leave all those good times behind.
But as I sat in my living room during my surprise party, surrounded by so many family and friends, my thinking began to shift. I realized something: it wasn't the end of anything. Instead, it was the start of a new chapter in my life — a new journey. Who knows where the rest of this decade will take me, but I'm certain of one thing . . . I'll be rocking a polo shirt and smiling!
Product Credit: Zara silk shirt + pants