How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Made My 30s the Best Yet

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I was flattered, this morning, when I received a Tweet from Divine Caroline asking me to share a story about a quarter-life crisis. Thing is, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d had one. I’ve just turned thirty-four and I’m having a pretty darned good year, but the last decade or so has certainly had its ups and downs.

So I wandered over to trusty Wikipedia (I know, I know…) and looked up the term “quarter-life crisis.” According to the many editors of Wikipedia, a quarter-life crisis is, in a nutshell, that feeling of being lost and confused as one transitions from adolescence to adulthood. After forming an identity in the teen years, adulthood and all of its scary qualities—say, paying rent without the help of Mom and Dad—can be overwhelming and angst-inducing.

Reading the short blurb, I started laughing. If this is a quarter-life crisis, then I’ve been having one, non-stop, since I was fifteen years old.

I’ve been searching for meaning and clarity for a long time. I’ve looked high (religion) and low (debauchery). I’ve looked right (Conservatism) and left (Liberalism). I’ve even looked in places far, far away, moving to England to teach in 2004 and vowing never to return to California.

I moved back in 2006 and haven’t left.

I have apologized for my beliefs, apologized for things I’ve said, and I’ve apologized for loving someone and making them feel uncomfortable for not being able to love me back. In the end, I realized the only apologizing I needed to do was to me, for allowing my need for love and acceptance to override my need to just be who I am.

It all came to a head when I turned thirty. I felt like now that my twenties were behind me, I could finally be taken seriously as an adult. I’d navigated my way through an international adventure, tried and completely failed at being a single woman on the scene (turns out being ninety pounds overweight and always apologizing for being “a nerd” really doesn’t garner a lot of attraction), and on a more serious note, I’d become incredibly unhealthy. My weight caused high blood pressure, and job-induced anxiety and depression didn’t exactly help matters.

Thirty started to look good, like a turning point. I decided to make it a new beginning in my life, to blast away the confusion and constant apologizing of my twenties and live my life on my terms for a change.

I started by singing show tunes at a gay bar in San Francisco on my birthday. After an evening of drunken renditions of Elton John’s greatest hits playlist, the crowd loved hearing me—a trained singer with maybe just a touch of ego—and I ate up the attention. When I look back on the direction my life has taken since that evening, I always see that moment—singing “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” for a raucous audience in a San Francisco bar—as the moment where things started to turn around, where I finally threw all of that apologizing out the window.

My success and my delight in it caused a rift with a friend who was there that night. She thought I was being “too high” on myself. For the first time in my life, instead of getting hurt and sending off an instant apology, I thought to myself, “Oh, come on…get over it!” A change was beginning.

Since that thirtieth birthday celebration, much in my life has changed—the usual highs and lows of a life well-lived. I left a stressful high school choir job for a better job—and after two years, I was ousted from that by a vindictive boss. I’ve survived two years of unemployment and the indignity of moving back home to my parents’ house at thirty-three.

You’d think I’d be in the midst of a huge crisis, but surprisingly, I’m not—because I’ve done some pretty amazing things since turning thirty and deciding that I was going to stop apologizing and just start living.

I’ve spent huge sums of money on personal training, losing ninety—yes, nine-zero—pounds in the last three-and-a-half years. I’ve become a runner, lowered my blood pressure back to normal, and kissed the anti-depressants goodbye. Even getting fired was really just a blip on the radar; I was too busy making rude remarks to my trainer at the time as he literally pushed me into running. And I do mean literally—with his hand on my back as he told me to keep up.

If my twenties were spent searching and feeling irrelevant, my thirties have been about finally acknowledging who I’ve been all along—a strong, opinionated, kind-hearted, and yes, very nerdy woman. A woman who carries a lucky rubber ducky around in her purse, laughing at the strange looks received when the duck comes out for a photo opportunity. I laugh a little too loud, love my favorite rock band a little bit more than seems appropriate, and refuse to belittle my accomplishments by being falsely modest.

The friends I’ve made in the last four years are my friends because they appreciate very much that what you see is what you get with me. I’m dating more, and finding that instead of feeling awkward, I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to tell people what I want and don’t want.

Do I have all of the answers? Heavens, no. But I do know that my thirties have been some of the best years of my life, even though I’ve been unemployed for a stretch, and am still recovering financially. And yet, I’m happy with who I am, and confident that life is taking me in the direction I want to be moving in.

All because I stopped apologizing.



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