Outside the cave, part 1: Birthday blues

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, and although it would be easy to blame my absence on business school (and I admit, I would certainly be justified in doing so) the real truth is a bit more than that.

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At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I had an epiphany about a few things sometime during the winter. My birthday was in January – 34 years old – and it wasn’t quite the traditional 1/3 life crisis some have (you know, the one that goes something like “oh no, I’m getting so old, my life is over, etc, etc.”) No, I don’t feel old despite the fact that I have nearly a decade on some of my classmates. Maybe it’s the fact that I still look younger (wear sunscreen, you guys) or that I can out-party a lot of the other students (thank you, U.S. Navy). No, my 1/3 life crisis has more to do with the fact that I reached a point where I should be stable in life, where I have everything a 30-something should have, everything that made me successful according to my mother and all the older relatives in my life. And I realized that I was miserable, although I couldn’t pinpoint the reason why.

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Years ago when I was in college the first time, I remember reading an article in Entertainment Weekly or some movie magazine about actress Nicole Kidman revamping her life after she turned 34, shedding the “discarded wife” image after her divorce and becoming a superstar. It’s ridiculous how something so silly can stay with you over the years. I don’t even care for Hollywood gossip (I was reading the magazine to kill time at an airport, if I remember right) but I recall that the article then gave examples of other actresses reinventing their lives at that age. Ingrid Bergman was one, leaving her husband after finding love with a director. (Now that I look back, I’m wondering why these examples of changing your life involved marriages ending, but I guess you can’t expect much else from an entertainment magazine.) Anyway, I began to wonder if 34 was this magical age where everything clicked in your head and if you weren’t happy with your life, you said “fuck this” and threw caution to the wind to seek out whatever it was you were looking for.

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As I approached my 34th birthday, I started wondering if I had already done this. After all, I had gotten out of the Navy, leaving behind a line of work that had made me very unhappy, and gone back to school which was something I’d been wanting to do. I’d been married for almost a year and no longer had to deal with criticism from my more traditional-minded family members about my “scandalous” single life. I was preparing to write a blog post about how, at 34, I was finally truly satisfied. But the day came and went, and I still felt like something was missing. I wasn’t happy, and I had no idea why.

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It would be a few more weeks before I would figure out what was wrong, but at this point in January all I knew was that I didn’t know what I wanted for my life, only that the direction it was going wasn’t it. Something was wrong, and I couldn’t fix it if I didn’t even know what the problem was. Chuck choosing to spend the winter in Key West was both a blessing and a source of resentment; while I needed to focus and school and the all-important internship search, I was committed to spending the next year and a half in a city I didn’t enjoy, and wouldn’t have even been in if not for wanting to be close to him. I gave up going back to school on the West Coast because of him, and he decided to hightail it to Florida. So I did the only thing I could do which was throw myself into schoolwork, convincing myself that if I worked hard I could find that job that would help me break into the tech industry like I’ve been wanting, and then everything would be fine.

To be continued in Part 2

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