Image Credit: Sasha Freemind via Unsplash.
Written by H. WEND, May 26th, 2023.
What I like about age is that, though it is just a number— a measurement of our physical existence— it is a marker for important events in the timeline of our lives, the number that organises our memories and moments — the precious, mundane, shattering, and more — into years of our lives. Age may mean nothing to you, and that is bliss in itself, but I’ve had a small fixation on age lately, and I’m working it out.
I am turning 30 in about six weeks and I’m doing some reflecting. The thing I’m realising is that my fixation isn’t really about age itself; it’s about my mother— that each year I become an older, slightly different version of myself, and she’s not here to witness it or be a part of my life. She will not know 30-year-old me or walk me through my thirties and the experiences I will have in those years, and that is something that knocks me off my feet.
If grief has taught me anything, it’s taught me that we aren’t promised anything—not tomorrow, not even my thirties. Each day that we get to experience this wonderful, brutal life, to write another story, and to be able to hold the ones we love close to us is a gift (and that doesn’t mean ‘make the most of it’ the way everyone annoyingly tells us to). These days, I am starting with appreciation— I am trying to live with gratitude rather than give up because of the pain of deep loss. I know my mother would be here if she had the choice. I know she would want me to wake up and use my agency to choose a life that is not without pain, but one that is whole— pain, joy, and all of the things— one that is mine.
So, I’ve been reflecting and taking inventory of my life thus far, and I’ve realised that my twenties have been kind of profound, mostly because, well, nothing changes your life like loss and grief. This past decade has changed my life in many ways, and there are things I will carry with me forever.
So, unsurprisingly, I thought I’d write about it— the most meaningful things I’ve learned in my twenties. I will share them over the next few weeks as the decade of my twenties comes to a close. They’re mostly for my own reference, so I can one day look back and see what was happening and what I was learning.
1. Courage to Enter the Arena
I recently created a collection to share my favourite quotes, and I posted a passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, which he delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910. The passage is called ‘The Man in the Arena.’
As someone who has stood frozen in ‘the arena’ because of fear of failure and fear of judgement, this passage is an incredibly powerful reminder that my life is mine just as yours is yours. It is a reminder that the arena is personal— the arena we find ourselves in can appear as both big and small challenges, and everyday occurrences that put us at the forefront. It is a reminder that failure isn’t the worst thing that could happen— it’s kind of guaranteed and necessary. Life is messy and full of challenges, they are ours to own and overcome. The passage is a reminder to have the courage to wend and weave my own path, to own it, embrace vulnerability, and be seen as a whole— unapologetically and honestly so.
This is definitely a recent concept I am learning. It is in progress, no doubt. For me, it hasn’t been easy to find my own footing and to decide whose voice matters. I have held a core belief about myself since I was a little girl— that I am not enough and that my story doesn’t matter. It’s someone else’s voice telling me what and who I am— based on their expectations. I missed opportunities and let fear steal my joy. Whether I was eight-years-old and terrified to ask questions and make mistakes, nineteen-years-old and feeling shame because I struggled with depression, or grieving at twenty-five-years-old and telling myself that I wasn’t good enough of a daughter— the critics always won because I was always listening, as if my arena was theirs to dominate. It will likely take a lifetime to disarm and banish the core belief I’ve held for so long. I know the things associated with that belief are not true but I also know that the critics can take many forms and pretend to be harmless while infiltrating and distorting our minds. I know now that no one can write or tell our stories like we, ourselves, can.
That old core belief may still linger but it will no longer be disguised as my inner voice. No longer will I give importance to the judgement of those who are not invested in my story, specifically the loud and determined voices coming from the cheap seats.
I’m grateful that life is always offering growth if we are willing to be in the arena. I’m grateful to know that our stories can change and evolve in beautiful ways regardless of the critics who watch on.
It was through one of my favourite authors, Brené Brown, that I learned about the passage by Theodore Roosevelt. I also could not resonate more with a passage from her own work:
“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”Brené Brown
If I could sit down and tell my mother everything— share what I am learning— I’d start with this post here.
May we have the courage to enter the arena knowing what and who truly counts, be brave enough to wear our victories and defeats on our sleeves, and use vulnerability to grow and create beautiful things.