The post below started last night as an Instagram caption, got far too long, and in my exhausted state I couldn't think of an appropriate place to put it and posted it on Facebook. A very smart friend reminded me in a comment that I have a blog I almost never post to. Oops. So here it is, the morning after.
"How does 30 feel?"
Today marked 10 days of me getting this question, laughing it off along with whomever is asking, and replying offhandedly, "just like 29!"
Today was both just another day and a day full of so many parts of my life and so much inadvertent introspection that I have a real answer.
Warning: You’re going to have to work to get to it.
This morning I woke up knowing I get to go to an awesome job I love. I got to walk to work. I got to work with amazing coworkers I love, many of whom came to my birthday party last week and I couldn't have fathomed not inviting. I got to have meaningful conversations focused on investing in *people* and am blessed to have a role in the office very focused on that investment. None of these things are new to 30. Not the company I work for. Not the walk. Not the amazing coworkers. Not my desire to invest in others or the role I have that allows me to so much. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are amazing, and better at 30 than they were at 29.
During the day today I had multiple text message threads going with friends I made in my freshman year of high school in August of 2000. I was 14! That was 16 years ago, and those text message threads? Totally normal: politics in one, video games in the other. This isn't new to 30. The relationships nor the normality of these messages. To me they’re still amazing and better at 30 than 29. And as an aside, one of these two friends was at that birthday party last week I mentioned earlier (the other living in another state).
After work I walked home, dropped my laptop off, then walked to Marta with an umbrella and a nerdy programming podcast in my ears to go to Buckhead Church for a Kick Off event celebrating the start of a new year as volunteers with our children's ministries. The torrential downpour caught me when leaving the station, nearly taking my 8-years-old and well-loved Georgia Tech umbrella clear out of my hands. I arrived in the church totally soaked and just found it hilarious instead of frustrating. It didn’t occur to me once that I could have chosen not to come to the event because volunteering at this church has been the highlight of my week nearly every single week for 7 years. This includes exactly 2 full years (to the day) I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and drove up most weekends (at least 3 times a month) to continue to volunteer because this service is a deep, important part of me that gives to me immensely more than it takes from me.
I arrived and saw a multitude of familiar, loving, amazing faces belonging to other people with huge hearts for service and for children. I happily grabbed two name tags and wrote my name twice: Once on my Waumba Land (Preschool) tag and once on my UpStreet (K-5) tag and grabbed my volunteer shirts for both… because I’m excited to be returning to both this year–coaching some amazing dedicated fellow volunteers in 5 rooms full of 2-year-olds during the 9AM service as well as going up to 1st grade (FIRST GRADE!!!) with my own small group kids during the 11AM service. I’ve been with those kids since they were 2! The idea of starting a new year with these adults and with these children is overwhelming and fills me with more joy than any other aspect of my life. I don’t know how many more years I’ll have it in me to serve during multiple services, but this year certainly isn’t the year I’m going to stop. As we sat down to see the stories of families who’ve felt the love we feel for them and prepared to worship and bring in the new year, the staff announced they were going to hand out a few prizes. I was very surprised and honored to hear my name called first because of a funny story I shared with my RSVP. (We have a song in Waumba Land a child was once singing to me. The moment went like this: “My God is so big, so strong and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing my God cannot do!………*pause* Mr. Michael, are you God?”) Because of this story I “won” an awesome water bottle I will absolutely treasure because of where it came from and the fact it was specifically chosen for me because the staff knows how much running I do these days!
This is where someone else might reluctantly say they were secretly hoping to get the spotlight put on them when put on camera and others applauded, but if you’re reading this you already know I was hoping I would “win”. To be clear, this is because I love attention (which you know), not because I somehow think I was more deserving than a single other person in the room. There are so many other volunteers for whom the commitment is more difficult, for whom the stretch from their comfort zone is further, or who have been serving longer or more effectively in any number of ways that I couldn’t even begin to pretend I was more *deserving* than others. No. I just wanted to “win” because I like attention a lot. Especially in groups. I would have happily bounced onto the stage, taken a bow, and said a few words. So yeah. Not so secretly wishing I would win. (Did I mention I like attention?)
We finished the evening and this is when things started clicking in to place. None of this evening was new to 30. Not the umbrella. Not the nerdy podcasts. Not the church. Not the service. Not being surrounded by other people I love who serve. Not the love for serving. Not how much I enjoy attention in large groups. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are better at 30 than they were at 29.
One part of the “clicking in to place” during the service was a personal moment during some worship music that is not a rare moment. Some introspection started and I began to reflect on some recent events. Recently multiple coworkers (including my boss today!) have asked about my well-being when I've seemed "less smiley", more tired, or more quiet than usual. Today I responded with an honest thought that I was totally fine and that sometimes I just get locked into concentration when I haven’t been around people much (it’s true, I had basically been locked away in my headphones with no people in my vicinity for most of 2 hours at that point). It turns out, though, that my coworkers have been on to something before I was. I don’t want to turn this into an entirely different post, so it will suffice to say what they were noticing–and what I hadn’t noticing–is a bout of my clinical depression creeping in. Before you ask me why, if there’s anything you can do, etc: Don’t worry! I’m not just fine. I’m good! As anyone who has depression knows, but few people who don’t do, it’s not a thing that generally has a particular cause and it’s not productive to try to nail one down. I have strategies that have long served me in managing it, am blessed to have it generally be mild enough that it can be managed, and a very very big part of managing it for me is recognizing when it’s affecting me–and relying on others’ observations of me is a huge part of that recognition. These wonderful coworkers of mine asked the right questions at the right time, now I realize what’s been happening and can see the slump, and I’m equipped to get out of it. None of this is new to 30. My depression isn’t, my recognition of it isn’t, my refusal to be afraid of it isn’t, and my being surrounded by insightful, caring people who help me deal with it day in and day out without knowing it isn’t. I don’t take these things for granted, and they’re better at 30 than they were at 29.
So then I got home and the next thing on my docket was to hit the treadmill and train. This… I guess this is new to 30! I mean, I’ve liked running for a few years, but at 29 I was in the beginning stages of training for my first full marathon and had done just 2 half marathons total. Both without training even the tiniest bit. For the record: Don’t do that. It is stupid. I was stupid for doing that. Don’t be stupid like I was. At 30, I’ve done 2 more half marathons, several other races, 3 full marathons, and am currently training for both my 4th and 5th–with aspirations to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and have many bigger race challenges on the docket soon. This is new to 30. It’s awesome. I love it. And yet it’s also reflective of my long-standing trait of just getting entirely obsessed with things and not letting go.
Right as I was heading down to the gym for the treadmill, I received a text from a friend I do a podcast with and we decided to scrap our next episode’s topic in favor of taking notes while reading the new Harry Potter play so we can talk about that instead. This friendship isn’t new to 30. The podcast isn’t. My love for reading and other media isn’t (did you know I was grounded from reading as a kid?). Nerdy conversations that have way more organization around them than is entirely necessary (but is oh-so-satisfying) aren’t. My love of Harry Potter isn’t. My desire to critically read/consume media instead of just passively doing so isn’t. They’re all better at 30, though.
After getting back from training, I opened some packages that arrived today. Among them are some prize additions to my budding retro video game collection: A Sega CD add-on for the Genesis and a Famicom Disk System! (Some of you know how exciting this is to me. Some of you don’t have even the faintest idea.) As a bonus, today at lunch a coworker drove me to my place to give me an old CRT TV he wanted to get rid of that I want to properly hook up all these old video game systems to. There are very very obvious through-lines from 8-year-old me to now. Pretty much none of this is new to 30. Not my love of video games. Not my nostalgia. Not my proclivity for collecting things in a huge burst with eventual slowdown and no regret (as can be confirmed by anyone who has seen my media collections, my long-growing video game collections, my small-ish but budding record collection, my comics collection–especially digital, or my toy collection on my desk at work). Not my obsession with doing things “the right way” and to completion (what good would this retro collection be without a CRT to play them on!?). Not even my irrational love of Sonic the Hedgehog. (Piece of trivia: All I’ve been listening to at work this week, most of last week, and while typing this post up has been Sonic the Hedgehog music… this is not uncommon.) These are all pretty much exactly the same as they’ve been my entire life… but I sure as heck enjoy them just as much as ever at 30.
Earlier today I was bummed to tell my mom I wasn’t free tonight or tomorrow because she, my cousin, my brother, and I want to make plans to watch Jungle Book together. Clearly my family isn’t new to 30. My desire to do things with them isn’t, either. Nor my love for Disney movies. All better, though.
Next I get to think about the things I’m looking forward to this weekend: Aside from the obvious first Sunday of the new service year at church I’m excited to follow a huge event (to me) through social media. She’s the First, a charitable organization I absolutely love and am happy to contribute to, is having #STFSummit (https://www.shesthefirst.org/2016-stfsummit-preview/) to celebrate and promote everything involved in their mission to send more girls in developing nations to school so they can be the first in their families to graduate. I love the vision of the women who founded this organization, love what the organization does, love my newfound awareness of it, and am happy to be involved. Side note: If you ever want to do something for me or get me a gift, just donate through my STF fundraising page (here). It would mean the world to me to know you are helping to pay for girls’ education around the world even partially because of awareness I’ve brought. My desire to help others isn’t new to 30. My awareness of and commitment to raise money for She’s the First isn’t entirely new. My passion for it is, though, and I’m really grateful for that.
Also coming this weekend and on the front of my mind today is a joint belated 30th birthday party and celebration of my brother being temporarily home with family and close family friends who have known me my entire life. My excitement and love of these relationships isn’t new. As yet another aside: My brother is about to spend a year traveling the world to educate community leaders on how to use soccer to enact positive social change starting with Cambodia and Indonesia, then on to numerous other places that will benefit immensely from him. The dude is amazing and I’m so glad we share a passion to help others who’ve grown up without the many advantages we’ve been afforded in our lives.
So yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. At some point several years ago I crossed from being someone who knew who he wanted to be to becoming someone who is who he wants to be. Since then it’s just been a matter of continuing to be better at being me. The important things that make me… uh… me haven’t changed since then. Some of these traits existed before I became who I want to be, but it’s when they all became true that I knew I wasn’t reaching to become a different person any longer. I’m hungry for knowledge and want to continue to be ever hungrier for it. I’m a person who wants to be uncomfortable with disliking things and seek to find the value in everything… and seek to only have a larger number of passions over time. I seek to not take my own advantages and privileges for granted, and to continue to continually understand them further so that I can leverage them to help those who don’t share them. I try to recognize, understand, and diminish my many prejudices as they become evident to me through listening to others. I firmly believe that I am, and everyone else is, always missing something important–which means I should be (and seek to be) always open to new knowledge and perspectives large and small that fly in the face of my own observations. I strive to continually get better and better at pretty much everything, just for the sake of doing better. I seek to have an accurate view of my abilities: both when I’m better at and when I’m worse at something than others–to better recognize when I’m in a position to help others or should seek assistance from, learn from , or defer to others. I believe deeply in assessing other people accurately and genuinely–getting to know them and appreciate them for who they are. That means not pretending people are the best or worst versions of themselves, but instead focusing on their positive traits first, knowing they’re valuable and worth loving for who they are, and then also recognizing those peoples’ flaws–not out of a cynical recognition that everyone is flawed, but out of an appreciation that everyone is flawed *and those flaws do not diminish them or the respect and love they are due*. This means seeking the genuine things to praise people for, of which I’ve rarely (never?) found people lacking–and avoiding the damage that comes from undue praise. I’m immensely introspective, constantly revisiting and reassessing my own character to see how and when I can improve. I have very nearly no temper at all, barely remembering what getting angry at someone feels like. I don’t do grudges. My life is dedicated to serving and investing in others, to building new quality relationships continually, to maintaining the ones I have as best I can, and to continue to do all these things better as time goes on. Lastly: I love you, whoever you are, from basically the moment I meet you to forever, whether I’ve told you so or not and whether you believe it or not–and it’s not negotiable (others might say it should be, but I absolutely qualify this as one of my strengths–I don’t WANT it to be negotiable, it took a lot of effort to make this the case, and don’t plan to ever let this change). All these things have been a part of me for years, and I continue to get better at them.
Similarly, my many flaws have long been accepted: I can be overwhelming to others. I talk… a lot… and can hijack conversations unfairly. I often come off as thinking something much more decisively than I intend to, leading people to think something has been decided when in fact I’d love to hear their input. I like attention… perhaps a little too much. I, despite an air of confidence, am never ever free of near-debilitating levels of second-guessing (this and my appreciation of attention are a very very delicate balance). I can want to talk things into the ground when others are tired of a conversation. I get very very overzealous about a lot of things. I have a major tendency to overcommit myself to the verge of burnout, then flake out or withdraw into a proverbial shell. I struggle continually with depression. These have all been true for a long time and aren’t likely to go away, but they’re all things I’ve gotten drastically better at recognizing and managing with time.
In the end, 30 year old me is the same as 29 year old me, 28 year old me, and on back several years to some undefined point in my early-to-mid-20s when I became who I wanted to be. As time goes on I just get better at being the same person. *I’m more unabashedly me.* With all that said, let’s go back to the original question.
“How does 30 feel?”
Amazing. Just like 29… but more so. And not quite as amazing as 31.
(Final aside: This whole… mess of a thing I wrote in a single draft with weird paragraph breakdowns; far too many commas, ellipses, and em dashes; a meandering stream of consciousness; and no real thought as to where it should go is so. completely. me.)