I’m turning 32 tomorrow, and I suppose I can be excused for being a little nostalgic, melancholy, and a bit morose. After all, 32 is a big number that is supposed to come with big things, and at this point in my life I don’t feel like I have, am, or have done the “big things” yet—at least not the big ones in my book.
I had always thought that this point in my life would be one of “happily settled serenity.” The nice house and Sunday lunches. Lovely children and parenthood. The high-powered job with the cushy office and the very nice paycheck. Travels abroad with my family. White picket fence meets woman on top. And why not? I have always been driven and career-oriented, yet I have also been a bit domesticated and devoted to my family. I thought that by this age, 32, I would have successfully achieved some sort of balance between the two worlds that mattered to me.
But, well, here I am, turning 32 tomorrow and still feeling like the 19-year-old girl that I was fresh out of college. At 19, I had a huge “vision wall” in my room that was filled with big career goals such as going to law school after college (which I had shelved soon after that when I realized that my parents would no longer be able to afford to send me to law school), getting an MBA after getting my JD (I had planned on being a nerd, yes), getting a high-powered corporate job, and having a nice condo unit of my own, among other things. At 19, I was bright-eyed and optimistic, eager to take on the world and looking forward to life’s many adventures that would “someday” bring me closer to the things that I dreamed of.
At 32, a lot of the things that matter to me are still “somedays”, and I wonder (and fear) if time isn’t already running out.
While it’s true that I have done quite a bit by now—worked on my own start-ups, published books, helped run a national campaign, become editor-in-chief of a travel magazine, exhibited my art, performed onstage as an adult and no longer as a high school theater actress, took a scholarship program in Europe (although it was just for a week), and a few others—the two big things that I am looking for are still looming out there, and at this point in my life they are competing for attention. At 32, I have yet to earn a master’s degree (on scholarship, abroad, I insist); and, at 32, I have yet to have a child.
In her book Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, Sarah Ban Breathnach says, “The search for Something More doesn’t ask how much we actually have or haven’t. It asks us how much we feel we’re missing. Money, marital status, fame, admiration, and accomplishment mean nothing if the soul is starving.”
And at this point, I have to admit, my soul is starving. It’s craving these two hallmarks of accomplishment and… completeness… that have always mattered to me, but it’s also scared that, at this age, having one will necessarily mean giving up the other.
It I start studying abroad in a year or so, does it mean I’ll have to postpone having children ‘till after that? And when I have children soon, does it mean that I’ll have to give up all hope of studying abroad on scholarship lest I be castigated for “neglecting” my children? At 32, is there still a way to make both worlds meet and have both without endangering either my health or my family relationships? (A friend of mine actually suggested that I conceive a child while studying abroad—but that friend is male and has absolutely no idea what it might be like to be pregnant. Neither have I, actually, but I refuse to study abroad and be carrying a child at the same time.)
Or should I compromise and agree to study part-time master’s here even if the courses that I want to study are NOT here and even if one of my goals for studying abroad is to gain international experience and networks? After all, a married woman’s role is supposed to be that of wife and mother, right?
These are the moments when I hate being a woman living in a conservative culture, where people feel like they have the right to judge you for the choices that you make. I hate having to think of what people might think of me for choosing one over the other, or for insisting on both.
And what I hate the most—and fear the most—is the fact that I have found very few women around me who have been able to successfully achieve and balance the things that I seek. Am I doomed, then, for wanting these seemingly opposing forces so badly? Will I just end up being paralyzed by fear and therefore constrained to a life that does not truly bring me joy? I shudder to think of the worst-case scenarios, and I refuse to accept that there’s nothing I can do about it.
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”, an old song goes. Hmph. I’m turning 32 tomorrow (Chinese New Year, the year of the Water Dragon) and maybe I’ll cry a little, maybe I’ll whine a little. But I’ll also fight back a little because I refuse to think that this is all there is to my life and my choices. Who knows? This could even be the year when my biggest, brightest dreams will start coming true.