Growing older has taught me how to mark the end of the seasons. I watched the brilliant blue of a summer sky become grotesquely marked by wildfire, felt the suffocating heaviness of heat waves succumb to cold breezes that blew through me as sharp as daggers. I watched as tree canopies transformed from lush greeneries to impressionist mosaics of dandelion yellow and burnt orange, until all that remained were the black and barren branches of their naked forms, forlorn and elegant.
The transitions from summer to fall to winter have only become more familiar, and yet they seem to change more quickly, the time passing faster every year. I mourn too much the departure of the seasons, cling a little too desperately to these chapters that I never feel I had enough time to fully savor. It is a bit like catching a glimpse of a hummingbird in a garden: just as you are truly taking in the grace of its beauty, it has already disappeared the moment you stop to blink.
This fall I said goodbye for an indefinite amount of time to the grandmother that raised me. The woman who wiped my tears and made me snacks and picked me up from kindergarten. As I got older, the role of caregiver and care receiver reversed, and like the passing of the seasons, it somehow happened without me realizing. It is even strange now, to think she is not a part of my life everyday — though I suppose she still is, because I think of her, and am grateful to her everyday of my life.
As I get older, I always find myself wishing I spent more time with family. I am constantly beating myself up over things I think I should do, even when it isn’t my first instinct to do them. I ruminate a lot over this: my tendency to suffer from internal negative feedback over every action I take.
I buckle so often under some perceived pressure from others, to show up more for them, to be more for them, internalizing and creating unnecessary guilt that dampens the quality of my relationships. I am learning to trace this back to my own insecurities about being good enough, to stop second guessing how well I am treating others, to stop doubting my own worth.
Every day is a step forward in my evolution of self. Here is the thing I continue to learn with age: as you fill it, the metaphysical cup of life only gets larger. You try to balance what you hold space for, with all your passions and career choices, your friends and your family. Despite the fact that our families created the foundations for who we are, the nuances of what shapes our lives grows infinitely beyond them. And as we grow, we become so attached to the idea of progress — to be able to make concrete comparisons that who we are now is qualitatively better than who we were before.
But I don’t believe there is such thing as linear development of growth. Not like the facts and figures and direct causations you can find in the immaculate truth of science and math. Growth in how we change as people is a phenomena that never really becomes clear until you’re past it, can turn around and see the clear reflection of who you used to be. Even then, so much of what catalyzes change is not fixed but fluid, as the actions of your past self continue to affect the decisions you make in the present, ultimately shaping the person you are actively becoming.
In many ways, growth has turned into this criminal line up of all my past selves standing in a room, shoulder to shoulder. I look at all these previous iterations of myself, and love them so much more now than I did when I was them. So maybe that is actually what growth is: honoring every version of who you used to be — their dreams, desires, and their mistakes — and learning what it means to take all the best parts with you as you keep moving forward.
It’s all a rigorous balancing act, trying to understand yourself. Wanting to know why you are the way you are, striving to understand your purpose, to once and for all know what you need to do to make yourself “happy”. But here is what we forget when we think about happiness: at the end of the day, you will live and die alone in the body you were born in. I don’t mean this to sound defeatist in anyway, but the hard truth is that our existence is ultimately a solitary one. This is where the misconception comes in — or maybe it is the very nature of being human — that we strive for structure or a sense of meaning in the ways we construct the world around us.
If we have the right amount of money, the ideal family, the prestigious job title — if we travel to breathtaking places or own beautiful things, only then will we be complete. But none of those things will ever offer you a guaranteed happiness. You will continue throughout your life making different choices that change the outcome of your circumstances. Throughout the ebb and flow of those experiences, you will encounter not just happiness and sadness, but also monotony and routine. Life itself, the day to day goings on of it all, even when you discover something new, will inevitably become boring. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t some affliction that must be immediately remedied. It’s important to discern the difference between stagnation and restlessness. Because in the end, it is your choice whether or not you are content with your circumstances. Nothing outside you will grant you the peace you are looking for. I say all these things in no way to discount the autonomy we have to construct the substance of our lives. I mean to say, there is no point in focusing on material things or goals that you hope will grant you some eternal, permanent happiness — because it doesn’t exist.
There is no actual way to convey the complexity of life’s experiences through social media. Three years ago I ran away from a routine I grew to despise, what felt like the all-consuming mediocrity of an unfulfilling life — and to this day I have no regrets. But more than ever, life is an uneven road.
Just because you figure out what makes you happy doesn’t mean that you have it all figured out. Life is not as simple as finding your passion and then going out and doing it. We live in a world where the infrastructure of society requires you to be complicit in systems that perpetuate consumption, frivolity, and destruction — and reconciling this with needing to financially support oneself is no easy feat. It’s not about being able to over-idealistically “follow your dreams”, but having the freedom to live a meaningful life, one that creates more harmony than discord, more equity than inequality.
I do not live my life or make the choices I do because I have the utmost clarity that it is the right thing to do. I do them, because I don’t know what else to do, besides follow the intuition of my own heart. I still suffer from my own self-machinations, insecurities, and constant procrastination. But the greatest gift life has granted me, whether simply a consequence of age or through experiences I chose to have, is an understanding of myself. Even when I stray, when I become fixated on things that ultimately don’t matter, I remember what motivated the choices that brought me this far.
It was love. Love for the world, that it was worthwhile to go out and see it, to try and create change in it, even amongst fears that I’d lose time or was choosing the wrong path. Love for me, that I owed it to myself to try and do something that I at first didn’t know I was capable of.
My extended time in California has reminded me that I am anchored by a deep foundation of love, instilled in me by a family more resilient and nurturing than I’d ever realized. I have also rediscovered what it means to be emotionally vulnerable, and to share intimacy with another person again, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
So this is where I stand now, with all the acuity of self-awareness brought about by age, and yet still buoyed by a sense of childlike wonder for this world, and all that I continue to discover on my journey through it. I am on a path of becoming more in tune with myself, of trusting the people I love, of creating powerful intention with my words and my actions instead of passively experiencing a world that appears drowned in chaos.
Time will continue passing, the seasons will come and go — what matters is not what is left behind, but what you continue to create for yourself moving forward. I hope you remember you have the power to make the world better, by simply loving who you are, and not accepting the reality that others force you to believe. We are the makers of our own reality, we are the sole owners of our truth.
If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read all this.