Thirty.

I’ve been thinking about the last decade of my life. On the verge of thirty and I don’t fully know who I am or where I’m supposed to be going or what I’m supposed to be doing. When I was on the verge of my twenties, I was filled to the brim with ideas of possibility on how the decade would shape up. I thought for sure I’d be married with the love of my life, have a house, have a family started, and living out my passion, whatever it may be. Thought I might be able to make a difference and do good in the world. Thought that I wanted to grow up still and become a man still and be my wisest friend’s wisest friend. I wish I knew then a fraction of what I know now.

I’ve fallen in love several times and out of it, too. Most of who I thought I might be by now hasn’t happened yet. I’m thirty tomorrow and I have a cat. I live in a residence hall still (because my job requires it). I still think about things I said six and a half years ago. Still think about who I was when I didn’t think I knew who I was. Still wonder if I made the right decision way back when. Any of them, really. The questions I asked these last ten years have shaped me. Like how do I know someone is the one? Or when is the best time to let things go? Or does this person have my best interest in mind? I think about how I’ve waded in the water waiting for people to love me back. Waiting for someone to find me. Treading along in this thing we all call life and letting it come to me. Trying to make it through in the ways I know how to.

I wrote countless letters to myself in hopes that I’d know how to love the person I was becoming. The truth is I haven’t loved me in my own love language my whole life. I haven’t been put back together when I’m out of order since I was 22, drunk on the idea of growth through unknowing, so deeply in love with someone who I didn’t have to explain myself to. But I had a hard time explaining me to myself and as a result, that relationship crumbled. The same at 25. 26. 27. 29. I’ve spent much of my time living trying to convince myself that I’m worthy of all the good things that someone else might give me. Worthy of all the good things I could give to myself. I’ve talked myself out of beautiful things because I’ve been afraid of how I might be able to sustain a life where joy exists so abundantly.

I’ve come to learn that a soulmate doesn’t have to be romantic. Every person I call a friend is a soulmate in a way; somehow, someway, we’ve made our way into each other’s lives, challenging and changing each other for the better. Messing up and trying again with each other. I’ve also learned that some friends won’t make it to the next chapter. They don’t need to. And I don’t need to try to convince them to stay. The world will keep spinning. There may be a void. It will fill again. Sometimes the space someone is taking up can’t be noticed until they’re not there anymore. Once they do, no matter the reason, there’s more room for someone who is going to love you well.

I’ve learned that thirty is “old” for younger folks but “young” for older folks. I’ve found that showing up is truly half the battle and that the greatest leaders I know are marked by their ability to have difficult conversations, not because they have to, but rather because they’re willing to. I’ve learned that people will try to change me into a version of who I am that is digestible for them. I’ve also learned that those people are committed to misunderstanding me. We are merely acquaintances. And that’s okay.

I’ve learned, particularly in the last four years, that the ability to think critically about the world and how we show up in it is a characteristic about other humans I appreciate more and more every day. I am constantly changed by friends all across the world who want to expand their capacity to think, feel, and answer tough questions. Inspired, even, by the folks who are able to change their minds after spending so much time being closed off. The words people use have consequences. If you need a reminder, turn to local leaders. What are they saying? How is it impacting your life and the lives of others? So many are quick to say that words are just words. But I’ve known words to be bridges or canisters of gasoline. They can obliterate someone or inspire them. And that they count. All of them. What we say to others, what we say to ourselves, it all counts.

I’ve learned that the universe will write people together and write them apart, but it’s the writing that matters most sometimes, and that’s the only thing that has saved my life every year since I picked up a pen. Tenderness towards myself is a gift I’ve failed at over and over again but sitting down to write with a blank page reminds me sometimes: creating can be the most healing part of this life. Building something can change everything. Even if it’s just a place where everything inside of me can come out without judgement and I can sort through what needs sorting today. Put the rest back for tomorrow. Not everything needs to be figured out right away.

I’ve learned that there’s so much more to learn. So much more about the ways we all live that fascinates me. So much to study and dig deep into. I’m cautiously hopeful that there’s a world we can keep building together. On the page. On the canvas. On the screen. In our churches, schools, workplaces, and homes. There’s so much more to each of us than we will ever let others know. There won’t be enough time to know everything. But we can always want to know more. Perhaps that’s the greatest gift I’ll take with me to a new decade.

A friend told me what he remembers in turning 30 is all of the “holy shit” moments of his life. How he survived all of that. How he decided to set some of it down and leave it in his twenties. Permission to let go. “Whatever it is,” he says, “it will live in your twenties. You leave it behind only in the sense that you’re making room for new things for your thirties.”

What a gift. The idea that I’ve gone through an immeasurable amount of things, publicly and privately, that I didn’t think I’d make it through: heartbreak, grief, insurmountable sadness, failure after failure after failure. So many mistakes, wrong turns, and otherwise mishaps that led me to this moment. I made it through all of it. There was joy, too. I don’t have to hold onto it anymore. I can set it down and breathe again knowing that I’ve been changed by it, for better or worse, and have the opportunity to turn to tomorrow again.

Tomorrow again, my friends. There will be darkness and light. I want to know both of them like old friends, welcome them in for a meal with every hope that there are better days ahead despite every bad day. Writing all the while.

Published by Robbie Williford

Writer from Flint, Michigan. Partial but slowly becoming. Educator. Storyteller. Bashful. Paying attention to the quiet.

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