My 29th Birthday

Last week I had the wonderful experience of celebrating my 29th birthday with my friends here in St. Louis. It was a joyful gathering of both my philosophy friends and swing dancing friends, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. A few of my philosophy friends were kind enough to allow me to host my party at their house, which was fully equipped with ample seating, dining space, and a fire pit.

We started the evening with a couple of rounds of Catch Phrases, which is a Taboo-like game. Then we took a food break to enjoy all the delicious eateries that my friends brought to the party. There was apple pie, cheesecake, animal crackers, fruit, hummus, and two birthday cakes. This was actually the first birthday where my friends bought me a cake. I normally just go to a nice restaurant to celebrate, so I am not used to the traditional birthday celebration. When we were eating one of my friends told me to start opening my cards. So I did. There were a few humorous ones, which I enjoyed, but the last one I opened turned out to be a card that informed me that my friends had bought me a ticket to the Nevermore Jazz Festival, which is a large swing dancing event that takes place in St. Louis in November every year. I did not go to the last one, and I was not planning on attending this one either because it is too expensive, so one can imagine how touched I was when I received this gift. I have to say that I almost cried. It was one of the sweetest presents I have ever received. I feel so lucky to have met such nice and interesting people here.

While my birthday party was a wonderful event that could not have been better, the general mindset that I have had recently has not been so positive. Becoming a year older has only exacerbated my fear of not living a full life and I have no idea how to stop worrying. I know if anything changes, it must be my mindset, since it is impossible to get back lost time. But the question is how?

For those of you who do not understand why I have this fear, let me explain. Self-development is one of the highest values that I hold in life. I define self-development as the passionate development and exercise of one’s capacities, talents, skills, and/or intellect. I strongly believe that being all that one can be is a necessary ingredient to living fully. I, however, did not always believe this. Prior to my senior year of undergrad, I had no idea what it meant to develop one’s potential, nor did I care. I was living in a less-than-fully-human state of intellectual darkness. It was not until I read John Stuart Mill that I realized what it meant to develop oneself.

I am glad that I experienced my intellectual enlightenment; I would never go back to the way I was before. However, there has always been a part of me that wishes I had experienced it much earlier. I feel that if I had, I would be more accomplished in my life. But perhaps I needed to have the life I did in order to be where I am now. At least that is what others tell me. And there is some truth to that. It is because I know what it is like living in the dark that I am so convinced that self-development is necessary for a full human life. But still, it is hard to be fully convinced.

What follows from this mindset is that a part of me always lives in regret. I cannot stop wanting to have lived my youth differently. I know it is a waste of time and I do not want to live this way, but it is so hard not to because there are numerous things that remind me of my aging. I am balding, my body is getting weaker, and there are occasions, like my birthday, that remind me that another year has passed. With each day, I have less and less time to catch up to the other version of me that did not live in the dark for so long.

What makes things worse is that I also compare myself to excellent people who I am exposed to on a regular basis. Nothing makes me feel more like a failure than to hear that so and so did X before the age of Y. It is amazing the things that human beings can accomplish, given the right direction.

So this is the current predicament that I find myself in. I am self-developing but not self-developing enough. I am young but not young enough. I am smart but not smart enough. Perhaps one day I will be fine with just being me.

But today is not that day.