It’s easy to romanticize the past. I look back on my teenage years and I remember being a carefree and confident idealist, not an awkward and overweight misfit. My twenties are not a decade of chaos, but a series of adventures and new beginnings. Looking back on my thirties there are no shades of grey; too recent to be past, the truth of the last decade is black and white.
I said goodbye to 29 while sitting in a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was horrified to be turning 30, surrounded by mistakes and certain that I had done nothing more than waste the last 29 years of my life. It didn’t matter that I was the first person in my family to go to college or that I had spent a year traveling through Europe or that I had realized my lifelong dream of living in New York, I was a failure. It was not the best attitude to take into my thirties.
I’m not sure what it was that I was meant to have accomplished by the time I reached 30. I never had any great career aspirations or the desire to be rich and famous or a need to leave an impression, except suddenly I did. I suppose I wanted those things I didn’t have simply because I didn’t have them and if I couldn’t, or didn’t, have them then I’d pass the time stewing in a soup of regret in some dimly lit bar.
There is nothing more self-defeating than regret. Regret is a constant reminder of bad choices. Regret is failing even when you succeed. Regret is yesterday and last week, but never right now. Regret is pointless. In my thirties I stopped having regret. In my thirties I finally realized that every choice, every experience, every everything had helped me to get to this very moment, now. Regret wasn’t my enemy, regret was my friend.
If I could go back to that bar in Hoboken ten years ago I would celebrate. I would realize that being an awkward teenager had laid the foundation to become a confident adult. I would understand that every wrong turn was a new beginning. I would raise a glass to leaving college one credit short of graduation because in that moment I was choosing a path that two months later would lead me to Todd. I would embrace every obstacle because without those obstacles I would not be who I am.
I could look back at my thirties and remember the bad times, of which there were many. I could focus on the difficult years in my relationship with Todd. I could obsess over the years I wasted trying to make someone not crazy. I could get lost in a maze of ill-conceived friendships. But those moments and those people led me to now. Without them the timing would have been wrong. They gave me my marriage and my house and my job and my friends. They gave me Chris and Elijah.
These last days of thirty have been the best days of my life. It’s hard to imagine that me at 29 would appreciate me at 39. I don’t think my former self would understand the joy of quiet nights at home surrounded by family. I suspect he would rather be in a bar slamming back his fourth glass of regret, wondering where it all went wrong. I won’t judge him though. He made me the person I am today.