An age fraught with expectations, full of shoulds and musts, and overburdened with unsolicited advice. Like many women, I imagined my 35 looking differently when I was 20 something. 35 was a time of having-your-shit-togetherness and I-do-what-I-want-titude. Now I've arrived but at a different destination than I originally imagined.

I usually treat my birthday as my personal new year: a time to relive the highlights of the past and revel in the anticipation of what lies ahead. Last year, at 34, I beat myself over failures and missteps and felt the dread of another upcoming year wasted.

Not eager to repeat that performance, I've thought through what a happy birthday feels like now. I tell myself and others to make new mistakes so I'm approaching this milestone birthday differently in an effort to at least fail differently. I figure I'm a budding could I think about the future of Vanessa? What is #bestyourself2019?

First preparing for the future by examining the past. I've been flipping through journals from the past decade. I'm not a consistent journal but I can be a colorful one even through two depressive episodes. I can't tell you how wrong I was about the mindsets, goals, outcomes, and feelings that I would have...the ability to hear my voice both holding me back and cheering me forward remains a curious situation.

This flip through helped me challenge the assumptions and stories I've told to myself about the meaning, purpose and experience of this age: less of you-fancy-tuation and more eek out-vulnerability.

At first I thought I would make of 35 things I taught myself, but then I wondered if that was me still hanging on to my old perfectionist self too much. So I've got a list of whatever was meaningful to me because that's what matters; my 35 should be defined by me and for me (yeah I stole that from FUBU).

Can't write the list here because Instagram has limits but check it out in the blog I wrote at the link in my bio.

  1. Working out for the purposes of punishing your body does not work. Your "real" body is not hiding under a layer of fat or behind a scar. It's here now and needs you to focus on your continued existence as motivation and purpose for moving it around from time to time (August 2010)

  2. Comparing yourself to imaginary women because of your insecurity in dating is a shortcut to crazyville. Regardless of how "with someone" is defined, invisible measuring sticks will always have you coming up short even though they aren't really measuring anything at all. (August 2010)

  3. Take nonstop trips toward what you want. Don't pursue a stopgap or look to polish yourself up. You will get to the end of that diversion and still not feel ready. You won't feel ready until you decide that you are ready. (September 2010)

  4. Gifting your self worth to another person will always be a bad deal. (September 2010)

  5. Seeing your natural hair for the first time since you were 9 will start a cascade of you coming face to face with your authentic self. This cascade will not stop and will only accelerate in unpredictable ways (September 2010)

  6. Sometimes planning is too much work, a call to focus on all the areas that you need or want to grow in. Try living without a calendar, to do lists, goals for a bit to take the pressure off. Sponteneity activates life-giving energy. (October 2010)

  7. Not pursuing the "cool" job comes with creative freedom and immense pressure to make a path were one does not exist. This will not be the first or last time that you have to build the plane while flying it (November 2010)

  8. Similarly, the pressure to conform to settling down in a place with a job with a person will screw with your intuition. You write that being an adult feels like the end of curiosity but this is not a requirement. (November 2010)

  9. "I don't feel like an important agent in my own life." When you look outside rather than inside for answers, you also look outside for solutions. And not feeling like you have control is the same as not having any in terms of the impact it has on you. (May 2011)

  10. Depression is utterly exhausting. Keeping it to yourself compounds this burden. (May 2011)

  11. "I will always be the fat awkward girl who doesn't belong." Luckily, this wasn't and isn't true. You have either found or created spaces that you belong. At 35, you are definitely a woman, even if some people think you look like a girl. You're less fat than you used to be, not there was anything wrong before. And you are less awkward although much of that was insecurity rather than actual fact. (June 2011)

  12. In the immediate aftermath of the end of a depressive episode, you blame yourself for your neurotransmitters letting you down. Depression doesn't happen because you're indulgent. It just happens. Give yourself grace for being human. (September 2011)

  13. Your timidity about vulnerability is a defense mechanism from the past that no longer serves you as protection. (October 2011)

  14. You loved the idea of completing a Fulbright in Brazil more than the reality but saying no to what you're "supposed" to want is terrifying because if you don't want "good" things, what do you want? But possibly for the first time ever, you've made a decision that about you and what you need: rest. (November 2011)

  15. Not everyone will care about the things that are important to you, even those close to you. You have the courage to stand apart from their judgment and hype the accomplishments that you're proud of and not the ones that society taps. Boundaries work. (December 2011)

  16. "How does one learn to trust their instincts? I look at the last three years and see a series of decisions that I made our of fear or necessity but definitely not following any kind of intuition....It's less about figuring out what I want and more identifying my values and guiding principles so I don't deviate from them again like I just did." When you allow it, your wisdom will show itself so that you don't make these kind of unforced errors. Zooming out from the day to day chaos to focus on a larger picture of purpose and meaning will help you say no more often to faux opportunities. (September 2012)

  17. "I keep trying to make myself fit to a future rather than make a future that fits me." You remind yourself constantly over the next several years to not put limits on your vision. (September 2012)

  18. "I want to FEEL success more than ACHIEVE success." This is one of the truest statements that you've ever written and a principle that you can carry forward for the foreseeable future. (October 2012)

  19. "May I need to re-educate myself on things to be afraid of. Thinking small is something to be afraid of. Selling myself short is something to be afraid of. Hiding myself is something to be afraid of." Getting out of your way was and still continues to be a challenge but you are getting better with practice. (October 2012)

  20. You've loved writing for years but are scared to practice your craft both for yourself and other people. It's not complicated even though the fear makes it feel that way. Write because it makes you happy (December 2012)

  21. Your career took a hard left, leaving you dizzy. In true lemons to lemonade form, you decided to make it a purposeful sabbatical, focusing on putting self-care at the center and getting clear on your career direction. (July 2013)

  22. Just in case there wasn't enough on your plate between finding a new career while recovering from burnout, you add a breakup to the mix. And much like turning down the Fulbright, it's an adult decision that's better for your future but makes for a sucky present. But it becomes another proof point that you can trust your decisions are meant for your future good. This will come in handy, time and time again. (September 2013)

  23. You learned how to advocate for your needs in the workplace and how to demonstrate your value. Trust your instincts when your advocacy only has crickets as the audience. (December 2014)

  24. Challenge yourself to think bigger. You don't have to settle for table scraps. You don't want too much. (December 2014)

  25. Spontaneous travel is a surefire pick-me-up when life doesn't feel like it moving along well. Starting a travel fund is one of the best self-care decisions that you have ever made.(January 2015)

  26. Choosing between passion and financial stability is a false choice. (February 2015)

  27. Working with smart creative people makes navigating toxic work environments more tolerable. That said, don't allow a toxic workplace to drag you down to their level. (April 2015)

  28. The words you choose to describe starting your business: scared, relieved, proud, unconfident, delusional. At least a couple of the descriptors are positive. Nonetheless, you move past arguably major fears to recognize your own potential. Adulting at it's realest...not quite finest. But you also write that you want to continue choosing yourself. (April 2015)

  29. You underestimate the value of negotiation. This will be the second time in your that you see you need an approach to sales that works for you and not something ripped from Hacker News. You will face this issue will sales in later years with larger consequences. Sales is not about worth but rather value. In other words, it's not about you, but rather the customer. (July 2015)

  30. Fear of success stymies your way forward. (August 2015)

  31. Managing your attention and anxiety opens up new worlds of productivity and creativity. This is less about the specifics and more about you knowing and trusting your patterns to help you reach your goals. Acknowledging your sources of gratitude and anxiety helps channel your attention. (June 2016)

  32. "I'm gradually realizing that I can do consulting but don't really want to." You make this statement but continue doing work that you don't want to do for two more years. This is a testament to your strength as well as a sign of your lack of faith in your intuition. You eventually learn to act on these small but profound messages from yourself. (June 2016)

  33. "Lessons in accidental vulnerability": you start to make conscious choices to respond to defensiveness rather than react. Although sharing your vulnerability is still distant, you have learned how to hold space for others. In many situations, this is a defense tactic that keeps you from feeling vulnerable by focusing on other people. In therapy, you learn this is an example of connecting feelings to insight, in that you feel secure when the spotlight is on others. This is a short-lived strategy (July 2016)

  34. You underestimate the importance of vulnerability as well as the effort you need to invest to practice being vulnerable. (July 2016)

  35. You see a negative shift in your finances. Although the bottom has not fallen out by this time, you are more acutely aware of the risks of entrepreneurship more than ever before. You think that you are unprepared for the worst but then the worst happens for an entire year and you survive. You are always learning about yourself and what you are capable of when facing overwhelming adversity. (January 2017)