I’ve always been a space and science nerd. I used to run home after school to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy and Mr. Wizard. I’d get real hype over a trip to the Space Center or the Planetarium. One time, I met astronaut Alan Shepherd there. I told him all about the planetary model that I built and how I took care to precisely mimic the swoops and swirls we see on the gaseous planets. Space represents the potential for discovery. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with discovery, encompassing my love of space as well as psychology.
We can live huge swathes of our lives unaware of quirks and strengths within us until someone or something prompts them to reveal themselves. How lovely and tragic is it that we can be surprised by ourselves? For the first time this year, I felt sad rather than excited about my birthday. In past years, I’d treat the day as my personal new year, reviewing all of my growth and achievements, and eagerly planning and envisioning the following year. This year I cried, and then had tacos, which admittedly helped. My birthday reflection catalyzed a bit of unanticipated self-discovery.
I dabble in astrology, mostly as entertainment and the ability to brag that I have something in common with Beyonce and Michael Jackson, inarguably two of the best entertainers to ever grace this world. My level of organization as a Virgo seems antithetical to stereotypes about the sign. However, I do enjoy establishing clear goals as well as the pathway forward to making those goals reality. I’ve never attained all of the goals I set for myself; they tend to be 15–20% out of reach so I stretch myself beyond my expectation. So imagine my shock when I reviewed my goals on my birthday and found that I had attained zero percent of what I was aiming for.
It may not be accurate to say that the past year of my life was a failure. Perhaps I should say that I fell significantly short of my own expectations. I set a goal for nine different areas of life: purpose, personal, professional, loved ones, friends, health and fitness, learning, play and finances. My birthday represented a come to Jesus moment about what it meant that I was so off about myself.
The morning of my birthday rolled around, and I struggled to swing my knees over the side of the bed. I avoided happy birthday texts and messages from friends. I told those closest to me that I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday at all. Not to sound overly dramatic, but as a goal-oriented person, failure of this magnitude shook my trust in my judgment. Had I aimed too high or wanted too much?
That evening over tacos, my boyfriend sat with me in my melancholy as I drowned my sorrows in Tapatio. We spoke about the goals I set and what those said about me. I wanted to make more money so that I could pay off student loan debt, hit some strength milestones like a handstand or the splits, build consistent robust daily routines that included reading and a spiritual practice, and move outside of the Bay Area. But somehow I had even linked my non-financial goals with aggressive revenue targets that I set for myself. In other words, my year’s success hinged on something that was not wholly within my control, especially as I had seriously begun to reconsider my choice of career.
Once I sat with that revelation, I realized that my discontent wasn’t about goals at all, but rather the fact that they were a way of coping with the symptoms of pursuing the wrong professional passions. It occurred to me that even if my life followed my plan perfectly, that it was a life that I didn’t want to lead. I had ignored a huge part of myself, the part of me that enjoys creativity and building community and less of my analytical side focused on metrics and ROI. I simply did not realize how important I needed creativity in my life.
Being 34 and pivoting your career and business is a huge surprise. Even for someone like me who approaches more change as a series of iterative experiment, I was as the kids say shook. I spent a few more days doubting what my intuition knew to be true, calling it a quarter life crisis (or is it a third life crisis at this age?). But once you know something, and not just intellectually, but in your soul or your gut, or wherever else your other judgments come from, you can’t unknow it. As soon as I said yes to taking my creative interests more seriously, opportunities opened up and I progressed in making moves that were still scary. But the fear of leveling up is much different than fear that results from being a square peg trying to wiggle into a round hole.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.