For the first couple of years of the last decade, I was mentally stuck at age 28. Mostly had my act together, but still felt fairly unencumbered and sometimes even breezy (make travel plans on the spur of the moment? Why not!), with an undercurrent of existential angst. I worried a lot that I should be doing something "bigger" with my life -- whatever that might mean -- and channeled some of that energy (whatever was left after working 50-60 hours a week) into training for marathons. It was a positive place to put anxiety, sure, and it burned up all those hours I had without any small people in the house (see also: naps, Sunday crossword puzzles, long stretches of reading on the couch, leisurely strolls in the park with the dog -- it's like I had nothing but time). However, as a carryover from my 20s, I still suffered from frequent, moderate-to-severe bouts of envy -- body envy, beauty envy, material envy, geographical envy, career envy. Exhausting.
By my mid-thirties I'd say I felt perpetually 32-ish. I had a stronger sense of who I was and who I wanted to be, only occasionally falling into the pointless trap of comparing myself and my life to others. I found greater peace with my physical plant -- so much time and energy spent fretting about that nonsense, only to realize that when I eat everything in moderation and exercise regularly (at even a moderate level), I feel good and don't care about the stupid assy scale -- imagine all the novels I could have written using all that brain space on something other than body size/shape and food.
Well into my 30s, I still received compliments on how young I looked (it's the freckles), or people would low-ball my age. It was confidence-building not only for my vanity, but also in the professional context: my adversaries routinely underestimated my experience and abilities, and I drew great satisfaction from demonstrating that in fact, I did know what I was doing and indeed was not someone to be trifled with. I'll never forget the opposing counsel -- a woman, by the way -- who screamed at me in a deposition, "When you grow up and become a lawyer, you will know better!" I won that case and to this day, I do a Tom Cruise-style fist pump every time I think of the appellate decision that clinched a victory for my client. Who's grown up NOW??
Today, I'd like to think I could pass for 35, but recently I told someone how old I was, and she looked at me a moment and said, "Oh, you look younger. I was going to guess 38." Hmm. The forehead wrinkles seem to have caught up with me, finally. As a perpetual worrier, it was bound to happen. At a work meeting once, at my prior firm, a woman who had a few years on me noticed my omnipresent brow-furrow and said, "Stop doing that with your face! It's going to be very expensive to fix!"
I believe I am reasonably attractive, still more so because of the next part: I am completely comfortable with myself.
Now I know: Everybody's just people. Doing the best they can. Some people are jerks. Sometimes I might meet them and be like, damn, what a jackass. But other people being horrible has nothing to do with me. Even if they're being an ass AT me. That's all on them. MOSTLY, though? We people are a good bunch. I'm going to assume the best unless I'm shown the worst. Somebody doesn't like me? No problem. A lid for every pot, etc. Next!
However, after Felicity came along, and then after she became not-a-baby, through a confluence of right-time/right-place events, I found several arenas in which to contribute my time and talents. I do a bunch of stuff at church (vestry, Sunday school teaching, committees, parish outreach); I'm on a board; I give to the ballet and go to the ballet; I do stuff at Felicity's school. Life is busier, but I feel better about it, and I both feel that I'm fulfilling a vital part of my legacy (my mom is, and her mother was, a tremendous giver of time and energy to important causes) and that I'm setting an example for Felicity (she volunteers with me for some of the church outreach and it is one of the greatest things ever). Plus, of course, it's just the right thing to do, and it feels terrific.
Hitting my midlife crisis right on time, I have a lot going on in my head. Am I getting things right? Am I using the talents I have in the best possible way? Is it too late to accomplish some of the things I've always dreamed of? (Answer: no, never.) Are those things truly dreams, rooted in reality, or are they fantasies? What is the ideal balance between being kind to myself/letting myself off the hook and pushing myself to achieve? Which next step will bring the most satisfaction and the fewest regrets?
(To the last question, I think regret is pretty pointless. I do believe in the power of gratitude (being satisfied with what we have is the quickest way to contentment and happiness) and in the value of small moments and quotidian pleasures (ugh, the word "pleasures" makes me want to barf). So then I wonder if, rather than taking some huge daring leap of some kind, I should instead just concentrate solely on being content with what I have -- therein lies much struggle, for me.)
Suggestions for mid-life crises/unravelings (TM Brene Brown) welcome.