Well, it happened. On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018, I turned 50. Whaaaat? I’m going to sound very contradictory here, but I was extremely bothered. It’s only a number. That’s what I always tell others. Hell, that’s the name of this blog! When the day actually dawned, however, I am embarrassed to say that I felt more than a little down.
That this milestone birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving was quite fortunate for me and proof of the infinite wisdom of the Universe. Although I try live with an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis, Thanksgiving is always a special time of reflection when many of us share with family and friends all the blessings in our lives. As we went around the table, and everyone shared those things for which they were grateful, I heard all of the common blessings. “I am thankful for my family.” “I am thankful for my health.” “I am thankful I have a job, a roof over my head, and food on the table.” “I am thankful for beer.” The latter being said by that one crazy cousin we all have. I am thankful for all of these things and more, but was really trying to think of something unique and clever to say when I was struck by a profound thought.
“I am so thankful for all of my struggles.” This was met with silence and more than a few quizzical looks. So much of my current success as a human being, though, comes from the struggles I have faced in my past. I’m not saying that I have been through anything too devastating, but I have experienced worse things in life than breaking a nail or rain on my wedding day. I have had to work three jobs just to make ends meet, and one winter, I could not afford to turn on my heat. The upside to that was that the supreme physical shape I attained that winter because I frequently exercised to stay warm! Hey, make lemonade, right? There was that time I was struck dumb and allowed myself to be in an extremely emotionally abusive relationship that left me picking up shattered pieces of myself for years. The cracks between those pieces have since been filled with precious metals, by the way. I have been the target of bullying and hurtful rumors. I have been lied to, cheated on, stabbed in the back. I have been denied, overlooked, and forgotten. I have suffered from depression and experienced the terrifying pain of a panic attack. I have lost. I am sure everyone of you reading this have had similar experiences, and many of you have probably experienced much worse. But here we are. We rose from the ashes and have become something much more beautiful than we could have ever become without those struggles. Isn’t that amazing?
Because of my struggles, I am more confident and so strong. I have no fear of trying something new (like blogging and painting). I might fail, but so what? I know I can get back up, dust myself off, and try again. I am much more optimistic because I know things can and will get better. I am smarter in how I manage my finances and how I choose my friends and lovers. I know what I bring to the table, and I’m not afraid to eat alone (love this saying so much it may end up as a tattoo somewhere). I spend much less time worrying or fretting about superficial things, or First World problems, as I call them. Most importantly to me, my struggles have shown me compassion and filled me with a sense of empathy I don’t think I would have without them. I am not so quick to judge others or be offended. I find beauty in the most unexpected places. I live with more gratitude because of my struggles. I am more giving of my time and resources. I am a better friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend. I am a better person because of my struggles.
This realization put my fabulous 50-year old heart at peace. It really is just a number and absolutely does not matter. What does matter is that I have had some amazing experiences, and the journey to this stage of life has been full of ups and downs that have shaped me into who I am today. In these past 50 years, I have been carefully sculpted with pieces torn off by bad judgement or unfortunate choices only to be rebuilt by experience and confidence. The best part is that I am still a work in progress, and the evolution and growth continues. Of course, what we gain, if anything, from our struggles is completely up to us and whether or not we are willing to take personal responsibility for our mistakes or take the opportunity to learn from the uncontrollable obstacles that are thrown in our paths. What have your struggles taught you and added to your life? Where do you think you would be without them? Sometimes our greatest lessons and triumphs are born of hardships, and although I am not openly inviting more hard times into my life, I am confident I can weather the storm, learn, grow, and fly again.