When birthdays meant presents and attention, they couldn’t come soon enough. Eighteen granted me the keys to freedom. The excitement died down in my twenties as I became more familiar with the harsher realities of adulthood. And from there its been rising waters and futile attempts to pull some sort of hand brake on this whole thing. (Well, for a start, I should probably be looking for a plug).

I don’t know where I got the idea that things would someday make sense.  You know, ‘fall into place’ as they say. That at some point I’d be able to take two steps back and marvel at how my life looks. Perhaps even hang it up because I’m set; I know things aren’t going to change too much. Well, maybe with the exception of some smaller details – throw in a dog, bird, child here and there. Whatever works.

While most people my age are fixed on the future; I’ve been taking the time to work backwards. I’ve been searching for clues as to how I can make some of the bigger decisions ahead of me. This has involved thinking about the times I felt the most fulfilled, in flow, and alive. To avoid being cliche, I’m going to add: happier. The past isn’t an easy trek. But amongst the ruins, there often lays reward.  Here are some little gems I found while reflecting over the last few days, months and years.

1. It’s not a race

My manger is younger than me. My office’s janitor is a qualified dentist with multiple practices in his home country which he fled to avoid extortion. It’s easy to feel like we’re not ticking off the things we should, but we have to remember that we’re all running different races paved with different obstacles. Not everyone even starts at the same point – just remember that kid in your grade who rarely had packed lunches. Due to misfortune or choice, some people start again several times which is also okay. I believe we’re on different journeys while we’re here, but we can definitely help each other out. And that’s not done by judging or running ahead alone.

2. We make decisions based on what we know 

I laugh when I remember that I worked in the automotive industry. I kick myself when I regret getting fired over a simple comment. But the alluring clarity of hindsight has its imperfections. We have to remember why we made the decisions we did and the limitations we faced. Things will always be different looking back – that’s just the way perspective works. So go easy on yourself. Our best decisions aren’t always ‘the best’; they’re just the best we can do at the time.

3. Enjoy life now

I recently heard something during a staff workshop that really stuck with me. I can’t recall the context, but an older co-worker expressed his heart-felt wish to be twenty-five, fit, and back on the lacrosse field. It made me realise how easy it is to take things for granted – especially when they’re all we have ever known with no comprehension of the reality that they’ll someday be gone.  So cartwheel while you can and tell people you appreciate them while they’re around to hear it.

4. Focus on where you fit

Auditioning gets exhausting. Its taken some time, but I have a better idea of the roles I’m suited to play and the ways I can add value to the world. Sure, Shakespeare quoted the average to be around seven, but I’m okay with just playing the role of me. As a good friend recently put it, “You’re an expert in being you.” The workshop I mentioned in point three also really helped me here. We ended with recognising each others contributions with personalised notes. Even though I wasn’t leadership material, I was still able to contribute in other ways. I guess it’s hard to notice our gifts when we’re too busy giving them away.

5. Value and nourish your relationships

Relocating to both Sydney and Melbourne was made much easier by the sheer generosity of friends I had made several years previously in Brisbane. Despite heading in different directions,  I made the effort to stay in touch. I didn’t anticipate our paths would once again cross, but they sure did – big time, as in, I needed a place to stay. It’s always worth checking in and keeping friendships alive. Likewise, returning to Brisbane recently meant I had many familiar faces show up to celebrate my birthday even though I’ve been away for three years.

Next stop, the big three – zero. F****.

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