July 15, 2015

What we Discover when we Turn 35.


I turn 35 in a few weeks and in some ways it scares me.

35 sounds like an age for people who can be counted on to return a Redbox or library book on time. 35 year olds can make a bottle of wine last a whole week and probably don’t lose their bike lock keys the day they purchase the lock.

I realize that the reason these qualities intimidate me is because they are the precise qualities I lack: discipline; being grounded; follow-through.

For a girl who has lived 34 years flitting from interest to interest, this year holds a certain challenge for me. The challenge of finding balance between dreaming with my head in the clouds and digging my feet into the earth and trying for the things I want.

Learning to sail for the past few summers has dusted off a fundamental part of who I am and what I want:

I want to live a simple life of travel and writing stories.

I want to laugh and be my goofy self without regard for impressing anyone.

I know the people I want in my life for the long haul.

And I know I want to sail on a small boat on the big ocean.

But sometimes I have to be patient and trust that all these things will happen in time.

Five years ago, my dream was to act. I was going to be an indie movie goddess and that would be that. And it’s funny, I actually made a short film with people I love—and I found that it was enough. I didn’t need it to be seen by a wide audience to feel proud of its creation. I didn’t need other people to define my success.

I also made three, comically bad, films where I played—among other roles—a post-apocalyptic war widow searching for meaning in a now-meaningless void. (I sometimes give copies to my close friends as birthday presents.)

When I did humanitarian work, I used to think I had to be Jane Addams to be a worthwhile contributor. After several volunteer experiences, I have realized that for me, the best way to contribute to the world is to be a good human in the everyday. I no longer want to arrive in a culture and try to help them. Instead, I want to have an exchange with people. To treat those who cross my path with dignity and compassion, even when I’m tired or hot or depressed. Am I always good at it? No way. Sometimes I’m the worst—especially when I’m hot. But the point is to try.

So it’s interesting how priorities shift and how I am so different two weeks shy of 35 than I ever thought I would be as a younger person.

I don’t have kids, or a partner, or a stable career, or whatever the world trains you to believe you need in order to be a success story by American standards. Maybe I never will, who knows?

Instead, I have a job as a deckhand on a pretty wooden sailboat.

I have one more payment on my credit card until I’m free. I have a still-frozen student loan and I have $76 dollars in my bank account.

I have friends and family I love to death.

I have two wedding RSVP’s filled out and stamped that I will probably never send because I also cannot mail things.

I have a back that hurts sometimes. What happens to backs in our thirties?

I have a ridiculous appetite for humor.

And I own one broken down bike named Ruby.

I’m prone to melancholy, so I have to use my comedy to balance out the very real sadness I absorb in the world every day.

I sleep on a bunk bed with a Fabio poster hanging next to it.

And I have a loose promise to sail to Cuba in November with the coolest 70 year old man in the world.

All in all, I’m happy. I have everything I need and then some.

So I guess the thing about turning 35 is, it is just an arbitrary number—as most people suggest. But it is important to me as a measure of the cosmic shift of my life lately. It’s a fire lit directly under my butt, urging me to live bravely and get grounded. To wander and dream and not to equate some measure of stability with a loss of freedom. To remember that a lot can happen in a year, so I should make the most of it.

And I think when 35 taps me on the shoulder in a few weeks, I’ll be excited to turn around and see what happens next.



Getting Older and Getting Bolder.

To Love a Girl Who Wanders.

Author: Erin Johnson

Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: author’s own

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