The titles that I’ve amassed in my life thus far sometimes feel like cold metal keys of all shapes and sizes, strung together on the same key ring and shoved awkwardly into my pocket. I can hear them making noise when I walk, sending me audible reminders of their presence: daughter, sister, friend, significant other, woman, adult, writer, lazy imposter, etc.
Some of these keys I made myself, others were bestowed upon me. Each one is a portal to its own set of nuanced expectations, obligations, opportunities, privileges, double standards, limitations, and possibilities. For example, my woman key still won’t get me into a world where we are primarily seen as people instead of objects, and lately my writer key seems to only work on doors requiring “focus” or some productive bullshit like that. Sometimes I try to open a door with the wrong key, abruptly forcing myself into something I’m not ready for or, equally as often, something not ready for me.
I acquired a shiny new key a few weeks ago that says 30 on it, which, to my (expected) dismay, offered no sudden sense of confidence and no magical alchemy for navigating adulthood. As this milestone approached, I oscillated between anxiously viewing it as a monumental deadline for responsible domestication and as a frivolous façade, erected by the imaginary forces that try to define our worth by dictating the appropriate schedule for our life paths.
And then the day came, and my friends did nice things like take airplanes across the country to come see me, and we drank and laughed and I felt more loved than I secretly thought I deserved to feel.
Now I hold this key, not entirely sure what to do with it but thankful of the door it closes behind me. My 20s were everything I needed them to be: a mosaic of mistakes and experiments that helped me define the type of person I want to be – and be with – through the process of (somewhat regrettable) elimination.
Enter the first lesson borne of my 30s: it’s the ring holding these keys together that deserves all the attention, that requires constant work and upkeep. That stabilizing core, that continuous loop of self, is both a separate entity from its ever-changing roster of titles and the omnipresent base from which they dangle. Stripped away of all its keys it would still exist, it would still have meaning.
So there’s my personal New Year/New Decade resolution: to give my titles an increasingly solid ring to hang from, to worry less about the imperceptible noise I make when I walk and more about which door I’m going to open next.