Today, I turn 30 years old. It's my Golden Birthday (30th on August 30th). Here's a picture of me and a couple friends celebrating on a hiking trip. I'm in the middle.
At my 29th lap, most of my friends had already crossed the finish line into their 30’s or would very soon. I’m a bit younger than my peers, so positionally I’ve witnessed them weathering the third-decade-storms in advance of my own.
I’ve had time to brace myself. I’ve heard the phrase “quarter-life-crisis” tossed around a few times.
On the surface, my story is quite a bit different.
While they struggled with falling short of their financial or relational goals, I surpassed mine. Some of my closest friends have grappled with severe loneliness or intense career fatigue.
But for nearly seven years now, I’ve enjoyed the company of a radiant wife, I’ve had enough financial wiggle room to indulge in many extravagant adventures in my 20’s, et cetera. This all came to me while I was working far fewer hours than most of my peers, with less grind and ambition. The story I told myself was that I was better than they were.
Smarter, more attractive, more confident, more capable.
While the primary feeling I’ve watched others deal with is their sense of failure, the narrative I’ve propagated to myself (and others) is that I’m an abundant success.
When one of my friends told me, “I’m just not where I thought I would be,” my first instinct wasn’t compassion, it was judgment. “I think maybe I just partnered with the wrong people in my twenties,” they said, while I thought, “I overcame those obstacles.”
Ouch. That hurts to look at.
Part of me wants to say something right now that would flatter myself, and separate me from my peers. To show you how different I am (in a good way, of course). I want to cast a favorable light on myself to prove my value.
It took me a while to realize that the part of me I just mentioned is experiencing feelings identical to those I see in the others around me.
Those feelings unconsciously nudge me to laud my successes and tout my achievements, while subtly mentioning how challengingly high I set my goals, yet also how I remarkably leapt over them with grace, ease, and poise.
In fact, I’m embarrassed to realize as I type this that I have done exactly that many, many times in private conversations with my friends. I’ve set myself up next to them, attempting to cast a shadow that highlights my height and superiority.
But you see which part of me did that, and wants to do the same thing right now, don’t you?
It’s the same part that I see in my friends who didn’t achieve their goals by age 30. And the ones who are genuinely concerned they may never find a spouse. The ones that think they are ugly, stupid, and impotent.
We all have that little child in us, begging for love, care, nurturing, attention, praise.
It’s the part of me that doesn’t believe in my greatness. It’s the part that thinks it needs you. It thinks it needs your belief, your affirmation, your positive assessment of my value. It thinks that those things could convince the real naysayer (me).
The hurt child inside that keeps repeating: I haven’t done enough. Which looks a bit like, “I am not enough” in sheep’s clothing.
I must confess I have not left these feelings behind. They are still guests at my dinner table, companions at my workplace, and ghosts in my house.
But, I do have something to open up to you about beyond just these feelings.
Something I’ve been gazing thoughtfully at for a little while has started to transform these darknesses into lamps for my feet, you could say. Just simply gazing upon this idea has brought healing into my life.
Self-acceptance. Self-compassion. Self-love. Love. Love love love love love. Just looking at it does wonders. Meditating on it… musing about it. Asking, “What does it feel like?”
I am finally exploring the most threatening territory, the most dangerous destination… my own sacred self. The desert of my own soul.
And I’m aiming to do so with great care and love. What I’m finding I can hardly put into words. Some have called it, “The treasure in a field,” worth selling everything for.
But to get an ounce of this gold… this mysterious goodness, I have to first be willing to look at my junk. In my journey of self-awareness, I have only begun to develop a tolerance for my pain, embarrassment, shame, and fear. These are the gatekeepers. They are the bouncers to the private access, VIP Club called my heart. My nakedness.
And I have not moved beyond these things. The characters I’ve met along the way somehow follow me wherever I go. I despised their presence at first. “Hey Mr. Fear! I passed you a mile ago! You’re supposed to stay back there! Quit following me!” (points back where I first saw Mr. Fear). But slowly, I am allowing them to simply “be”.
Now, something has begun to happen to them, though… even the devilish ones are beginning to transform before my very eyes.
The hated ones are becoming the luminaries. By my very love of the book, every page, and every chapter… the enemies who taunt me are now becoming my teachers and friends. The role that they play in my fairy-tale has morphed from oppressor to candle, they have evolved from tyrants to counselors, condemners to advisors, haters to lovers.
Punishment is becoming discipline. Darkness is becoming Light. Enemy is becoming friend.
Let me state loud and clear, again: I have scarcely begun this quest. Yet I am noticing that the more I can accept the fear and the pain, the less frightening and painful my “reality” seems. Perhaps these negative feelings have not decreased at all, but my strength, acceptance, and permission have all increased with exercise. Maybe this is making the giants seem smaller, more my height. In time, my hope is that the love becomes much larger than they.
But I have not demanded that the demons depart the earth before I brave it, nor have I required the ghosts go from the house before I walk its hallways and creaky staircases.
There’s no escaping the darkness of the valley. Sometimes I grope with my hands, sometimes I sit still, sometimes I retreat for a while. Then I keep going.
Because if accomplishing my goals hasn’t convinced me of my value and worth, what will? If measuring up against my peers still leaves me feeling half-whole, what will make me feel whole?
Where do I want to go, and what path do I want to take?
Down here, I found a couple things. Not shortcuts to escape the valley, just a couple insights that have begun speaking to what I truly desire, guiding me on this path.
There is something that will enlarge within that emptiness beneath the, “I’m not enough” feelings…
Here is one of the “something”: Love. I want to love. I want to deeply love. I want to give. I believe that’s my purpose and my destiny. To be a lover and a giver.
Here’s another insight about the “something”: Love is already here. It’s already in me.
I’m writing this post in an attempt to pair words with a couple of the insights I’ve found down here in the valley, but I’m also writing it as a gesture to my self, to demonstrate to myself love of the present “me”. The “me” that doesn’t have it figured out, but is living each day with love.
I’m doing that by publishing some words that aren’t perfect, that likely won’t command the fullness of wisdom into my millions of readers (just kidding, hi Mom!), but are vulnerable, honest, and open.
So here’s how I’m picking up the pen to write the next page of my life’s story. Instead of writing, “I’m not enough”, I’m going to write, “I am deeply loving”.
To be clear, the path or the journey itself has transformed. I’m less on a road to get somewhere, and more focused on fully being exactly where I am. In doing so, I find myself transcending. It’s not so much that I have left pain or fear behind, as much as they have revealed their true nature to me, and sometimes… they aren’t real. But I must readily admit, I am only beginning, and many of my feelings are still very “real” to me.
I believe that until we know our Oneness with love, we will feel that nagging sense of dread, haunting us. Without over-evangelizing this concept to you, let me turn back to “I” statements.
What I’m looking for is love. I want it turned inward and outward. I want its presence in my everyday life. Part of the inward-healing involves an outward-turning, and part of the outward-healing needed involves an inward-looking.
And I’d like to invite you. If you want to accept the invitation, join me in gazing upon your life with the eyes of love.
Perhaps reading what I write will help you— you can subscribe to my email list at the top of this website.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.” Gaze lovingly, friends.