This week I turn 35.
What can I say about 35 … I’m halfway through my 30s and barreling toward 40 like a greasy sled in an avalanche. I call 20-somethings “kids” and they call me “ma’am”. My hairdresser (friend) found my first grays. I’ve decided to name them Salt, Peppa and Spinderella. My underwear is as big as my fitted sheet, but I have a few Stitch Fix pieces the young gals at work think are dope. I’m straddling the numerical divide, just a pant pleat away from middle age.
There’s something about birthdays, much like the turning of the calendar year, that tickles the reflective parts of my brain. I mean, more aggressively than they’re normally tickled, if you can imagine. I always come back to the romantic, unrealistic visions past. The ones where I imagined where I’d be by 35. I think about what this age looked like to me 20, 15, 10 or 5 years ago. Am I there? Am I even close to there?
I probably thought I’d be married at 35. And a mom, with three kids. CHECK.
I probably thought I’d be a moderately successful writer living in a semi-intimidating metropolis exposing all that’s beautiful and ugly and hilarious and ironic in the world. That I’d have a tailored capsule wardrobe curated by someone who knew how to hide these hips. That I would have something bound and boldly placed out into the universe for others to read and dissect at book clubs where expensive red wine flows like soda pop in the south.
I probably thought I’d be my best self physically. My child-bearing years behind me, I’d have a sculpted physique I chiseled in the wee hours of the morning when all the doers are already doing, while the want-to-doers are fast asleep.
That’s probably what I thought.
Now, I’m not mad at where I am. No sir. As I sit here listening to my baby chuckle at her dad in the next room, I declare myself a proud, card-carrying member of the suburban working mothers’ guild. I feel blessed that my most critical struggles are teetering on the high end of my recommended BMI and disciplining a 6-year-old who I’m certain is smarter than I am. That is God’s gift to me. A life rich in blessings and poor in complexities. A life where I can toil over the simple glory of being present and connected, rather than where I’ll put my babes to sleep at night or how I’ll fill their little tummies. I count my blessings every morning and twice each night, knowing none of this is guaranteed and nothing separates me from those heavy hearts but a little bad luck and a wrong turn or two.
Whether this stop was on my roadmap or not, it’s where I live. It’s where the branches on my tree first sprouted, and where they’ll continue to grow. This is exactly where I should be, and where you’ll likely find me at 40 … and 45. So, if I’m not planning on going anywhere, perhaps it’s time to form a new vision for my future. And I know exactly what it is.
Guys … I want to be a hero.
I had the chance to hear motivational speaker Kevin Brown a few weeks back, and he was phenomenal. I was buying everything he was selling. The masterful storyteller stood on the stage and reflected on many things, including the times he pretended to be Superman as a child. He started jumping off the couch. Then the table. Then, eventually, he decided to jump off the roof of his garage. He was young, invincible, and he believed he could soar. Of course, he didn’t. He got hurt. And that was likely the beginning of the end of such bold attempts. He says now, “I would love to go back and ask that little boy, ‘When did you forget you could fly?’”
When did I forget I could fly? When did you?
We’ve all heard people say that heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. But Kevin believes that heroes are the people who choose not to be ordinary at all. Ever. To never buy into it. The fact that we are here – that we swam faster than the others and our mother carried us for nine months and we made it into the world – is extraordinary. We’re created in an image of excellence, and we arrive with a unique set of talents and thoughts and gifts. But somewhere along the line, slowly, gradually, we start to believe that good enough is good enough. That if we do the bare minimum, we can coast along. We can blend and dissolve into the sea of other ordinary people doing ordinary things. We can fly under the radar, which isn’t really flying at all.
And in the end, if this is your choice, that’s all you get.
Kevin called it “terminally corporate”. We’re chained to a string of mundane tasks, mundane accomplishments, mundane days, leaving nothing of note to live on in others when we go. A lackluster job that doesn’t quite fit, or a loveless marriage, or the loss of something or someone becomes an excuse to go numb. And letting that mentality take over seeps out into every interaction. Every moment, every memory. It becomes the script you live by.
We think that the only choices are, we’re either backpacking across Ireland or we’re sitting on the couch eating Chili Cheese Fritos, bingeing the whole first season of Ozark. But what if there was something else you could use to measure?
Enter Kevin’s definition of heroism.
Heroes change lives. They seize every opportunity, big and small, to impact others. Heroes make every person feel seen and valued and important. They do things from a place of sincere respect and genuine compassion, two things they award to all people, who’v earned them by simply being human. Heroes recognize the value of the space they occupy while they occupy it. It’s not about dwelling on what happened yesterday, or dreaming about what may come and what you’ll do if and when it does. It’s about taking the moment you’re standing in, right now, and making it count, both for you and for the other people standing in that space with you.
Have you ever passed someone who looked disheartened and thought, “Man, I should have stopped. I should have said something”? Well, heroes do. Heroes are boldly and unapologetically empathetic. Heroes ask the tough questions with the hope they can impact the answers.
Being a hero means somebody else’s life is better because you showed up.
So, that’s the vision for 35 … and 36. And all the days, weeks, months and years I’m gifted after that. To become a hero, by Kevin Brown’s definition, to the people I love and the people I will love but haven’t met yet. What I do is what I do. It’s not who I am. If I write something truly profound (Lord willing) and it catches fire, that’s great. But it’s not what will define me. The way I make people feel will be what defines me.
It will be my cape. It will help me soar.
If I can pour a little positivity into every person I pass each day, that’s the stuff of legacies. That’s the flame of the torch. Accomplishments matter, sure. I want to be healthy, fulfilled, successful. But I want to really see people, hear people, impact the people standing right in front of me much, much more than that.
I want to be a hero, and I want you to be one, too.
[blows out candles.]