My birthday is this week. In a strange twist of fate, I didn’t know my birth date until I was twelve years old. Even after I learned my birthday, no one celebrated it. Lacking parties and other distractions, I developed my own way to honor the passing of another year of my life and the graduation to a new level (this year I’m level 29!). I look at where I am this year, compare it to where I was in life on prior birthdays, and try to project where I want to be on future ones.

This year I’m working an office job, paying off credit card and other debt, driving a crappy car, dating an awesome dude, living with a great friend, making even more great friends, and pursuing mental healthcare. My life isn’t perfect, but I don’t need it to be. I am happy with where I am for now.

A year ago I was in Suzhou, China. I had recently graduated college, obtained my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate, and was teaching at an after-school program. My Chinese was improving, and I was studying hard. However, I was very isolated. I didn’t have any friends, and my colleagues were not looking for new ones. At the time, I was hopeful, but ultimately the isolation caused my return to the US a couple months later.

Five years ago I was facing midterms for my first quarter in college. In spite of the stress of entering college without the benefits of having attended high school, I was in high spirits and excited about finally being in college. One of my classmates from that quarter became my college boyfriend, and we had a good relationship (still friends).

Six years ago I was in Yantai, China, with my now ex-husband. It was about this time I started to realize he was the problem in the relationship, and began considering leaving (I didn’t leave for another five months). I was teaching Conversational English to freshmen at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, and had recently taken up photography again.

Ten years ago I was on the farm I grew up on, and had given up on my life ever changing. I’d been doing my annual birthday retrospect for around six years, and each year I would try to guess where I was going to be on my next birthday. On my 19th birthday, I’d given up on anything ever changing. It was my last birthday on the farm.

Where will I be on future birthdays? Next year I hope to be out from under my credit card debt, driving a new(er) car, and working towards publication in some form or fashion. Perhaps I’ll be a teacher resident, or a truck driver, or still in the same company I am now.

Each year I enjoy the opportunity to be surprised by the changes I didn’t expect, and the chance to make goals for the future. Does anyone else do this?

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