35 to Life (August 8, 2013)

Well the moment has arrived. Today my friends, I turn 35 years old. Many single women in my position might be drinking heavily while mourning the loss of their prime childbearing years. Thankfully I’ve never valued my uterus that highly, or even thought about it much except as a source of monthly pain and discomfort. Subconsciously at first, then with more awareness as I progressed through the first half of my 30s, I found myself aligning with the philosophy of the title character in Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

Still if you’d asked me in early May, just three short months ago, about my feelings as I approached the milestone birthday, the reaction would have been visceral. A sigh, a cringe, a stated desire to filibuster the inevitable. To put it bluntly, I was not at all content with the state of my life. I’d just lost my full-time job, was immersed in a committed relationship that increasingly left me wanting and struggling with a variety of stress-compounded ailments: chronic migraines, recurring eczema and insomnia. There’s nothing like aging another year to remind one of diminishing time, and goals yet to be accomplished.

A lot has changed since a personal low in late Spring, some of these metamorphoses owing to good old fashioned hard work, some of the alterations out of my control. Relentless pavement pounding and networking produced a mercifully brief period of unemployment. In just 10 weeks I traded the dole for a big career step up, landing a position as a Marketing Manager at the tenth largest insurance brokerage in the world. With regard to so many variables, the new job is far more suited to my talents and temperament, and I envision at least several contented years in the role. It was also mid-May when I was formally sworn in as the President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, an organization of communication professionals founded in 1885. With an alacrity of which I force myself to publicly own some pride, I ascended the ladder from new member to Commander-in-Chief in just three years. I am proud of the work I am doing, capitalizing on the organization’s tremendous historical assets to recruit a new generation of talented communicators.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, I received notification that I had been recognized as the Best Personal Blogger of 2012 by the National Federation of Press Women. I’ll travel to Salt Lake City at the end of the month (the first time I have vacation days and income with which to board a plane since Summer 2011) to attend the NFPW Conference and accept the award. I’m learning to balance the responsibilities of my day job with the time I need to set aside to complete personal writing projects, because it’s clear I must have both. In numerous professional ways, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. And it seems that as I grow and mature, the ultimate late bloomer, I find these vocational endeavors yield the give and take I’ve been unsuccessful in eliciting from personal relationships. The more work I put in, the more of my soul I pour into words and administration, the higher the dividends. I have full control without subjective variables. Tremendously gratifying.

Though my last effort at love went bust, even that failure carried valuable lessons that are fortifying a current state of equilibrium. I realized that at this point in my life, I have no inclination to divide my internal resources and time. Slowly but definitively I became aware that I was turning into a Jill of All Trades, Master of None, chipping away at overall satisfaction. I shared every idea and strategy I had for trying to make our union work, but when I wasn’t met in the middle in creativity and effort, I let it drop. This may not sound like a big deal, but it really is. Friends and foes alike have described me as “relentless,” and in general, I don’t mind a stubbornly persistent reputation. But it has its downsides. Sometimes one (me) can doggedly pursue something when it’s obvious to common sense that it’s time to surrender. It’s not that my inner voices failed to notify me in the past. I am just learning to heed the warnings and walk away with more of my dignity, as well as mental and physical health, intact.

Make no mistake, I still have my issues with aging. The body seems to injure more easily and heal more slowly with each passing year. Trying to stay in some sort of physical shape demands a little more dedication. The forehead creases and crow’s feet that grow incrementally deeper can be mitigated with Botox injections, but I am aware this is merely cosmetic. The character of Truvy in Steel Magnolias throws the quintessential truth bomb when she states, “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.” I am aware of the years lost in sedentary depression and confusion that I can never reclaim. All that said, I recognize that I wouldn’t be able to stand back and appreciate the accomplishments I’ve amassed – a loving family, a great network of friends, a thriving career – without the benefits of time and experience.

So today I celebrate movement out of the desirable 18-34 year old marketing demographic. My age doesn’t render me less cool. On the contrary. I know what I want, need, think and feel more than ever before. I’ll blow out 35 candles in celebration of the greatest gifts my time on this planet has given me: adventure and self-awareness.

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