Today, I am 33 years old. WOOF, am I right? There’s no denying it: I’m a real adult. I have four weddings this year (and that’s just the ones I know of already!). People I know are starting to have babies. I’ve been in an apartment I own for over 2 years.
In other words, shit isn’t just getting real. It is real. I always feel reflective (and if I’m being honest, a bit emotional) around my birthday. I mean, can a girl get a boyfriend and can he send flowers to her office on her birthday FOR CRYING OUT LOUD?! Just kidding. Except not. What I would give for a man to send flowers to my office.
ANYWAY, my point is this: every year when my birthday rolls around, I start thinking about where I am in life. And inevitably, it’s not exactly where I want to be, or, perhaps more accurately, “where I thought I’d be.” Because it never is, is it? We hold ourselves to these crazy standards: This is the year I’ll fall in love! This is the year I’ll get married! This is the year I’ll get a new job! This is the year I’ll…
But what if this year, I tried to think differently? What if this year, my goal was simple: to live, and love, well. To stop waiting around to do the things I want to do, or say the things I want to say. To take the trips, and write the stories, and let the people I love know that I really love them.
Maybe, if I start there, I might just end up where I want to be.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll get through my birthday without some healthy reflection. So, let’s do it, shall we? Here are 32 things I learned in my 32nd year (alternate title: 32 things I know to be true at the dawn of 33).
- Life is short. Over the past few months and weeks, I’ve watched multiple friends grapple with the worst of things: illness. Death. I’ve watched them rise, strong and mighty, vulnerable but powerful, to the occasion again and again. And I’ve thought to myself, nothing is forever. No day is guaranteed. Is it a cliché? Yes. But it’s also true: life is short. And it deserves to be lived. With gusto.
- Your parents will not live forever. I’ve officially hit the age where it’s not unusual to lose a parent. God, I hate typing that sentence. I wish my parents would live forever, I really do. I hate that there are all these milestones I’ve yet to check off (see: wedding, kids) that they may not live to see. My mommy experienced some health issues this year and it threw me for a loop. Every time she called, my paranoia kicked in: was it cancer? Was she dying? I compulsively say “I love you” every time I get off the phone with my moms, just in case it’s the last time we speak. It’s insane, I know. But I know they won’t live forever, and so in addition to spending all the time I can with them, I want to be sure they know: they’re the best damn moms in the world.
my work team (a bunch of badass ladies)
- You cannot do it all (even though you want to). This past December, I hit rock bottom at work. Not to toot my own horn, but it takes quite a bit for me to hit that point. I am nothing if not insanely efficient. But between juggling multiple direct reports, a workload better fit for 3 people than one (yours truly), and a difficult coworker I just couldn’t seem to click with, I broke. And it wasn’t pretty. I cried not just at my desk, but in front of a very senior boss. I started to dread coming to work—a feeling that affected me more than the workload did. My boss saw it happening, and in the New Year, she intervened. She took me off one of my three accounts, a move that I’m at once thankful for, and one that makes me feel like a failure. Who am I if I can’t do it all? Um, a regular person, Sarah. Because NO ONE CAN DO IT ALL. Okay, I guess I’m still learning this one.
- There’s nothing wrong with a rest day. When I first got into working out a few years ago, I wondered: what was up with those crazy people who did 2 a days and who got up at the crack of dawn to run along the East River? And then, glory be, I became one of those people. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but for the last few years, I’ve consistently worked out 6-7 times a week, sometimes doubling up on my workouts in a single day. For a while, I got on a schedule where I’d go weeks without a single rest day. I convinced myself that sleeping in and missing a workout was tantamount to undoing all the progress of the last 7 or so years. I mean, that’s ridiculous. After my two week trip in Europe this summer, I came back to New York and my classes and thought, oh my god, I’m going to have to start all over. But guess what? I didn’t! My body bounced back. It wasn’t 0-100, but it was pretty close to it. And I realized that maybe I could take a break every now and then. That I could release my grip just a bit. Now, I take a rest day on Friday or Saturday. And if I’m tired, I don’t beat myself up for sleeping in. I listen not to my crazy brain, but to my body. And so far, so good.
me, after nearly two weeks in europe
- A 2-week vacation is the best kind of vacation. I know: a 2-week trip (any trip, really!) is a luxury. But man, was my 2-week trip to Europe this summer magical. Sure, I was in a beautiful place eating beautiful food. Sure, I was with beautiful people (my friends). But more than that, I was away for long enough that my body, my brain, and my heart truly let go. Week 1 was fun, but I still felt myself caught up on the hamster wheel of the go go go mentality. It wasn’t until week 2 rolled around that I felt myself exhale. My smiles got bigger. My breathing got deeper. My mind rolled around in its cage for a bit, and then it settled. By the time I got back to New York, I felt something I haven’t felt in years: really, truly rested.
sipping coffee in mexico city
- The world is so much bigger than you can even imagine. I think I learn this more and more each year, and more and more each trip. Every time I travel, I seek out the smaller hotels. I look for the local haunts. I find the coffee shops and the hole in the wall restaurants, I jog along the water and shop in the local markets. It’s so easy, especially in New York City, to settle inside my bubble and never leave. But each time I do, I feel it: I feel my world expand. Sights, sounds, feelings, moments. The world is big, and I am but a speck atop it.
my new insta friends turned IRL friends, tiina (left) and bev (right)
- Strangers on the internet can actually be quite nice. This was the year I made friends on Instgram—and met a few of them in real life. I know you’re nothing ‘til you have a few haters, but I’m thrilled (and perhaps flattered) to say that the tiny community I’ve built on Instagram over the past year or so has been nothing short of wonderful. I feel like I’ve found my people, and it feels really good. PS: If that’s you, thank you. I’m so glad you’re here.
- It’s okay to feel like you’re behind everyone else. Because the truth is, you’re on no one’s timeline but your own. Earlier this year, I had my AMH levels tested (one of the indicators of fertility). Rounding the corner to my mid-thirties, I know the facts: after 35, your chances of having a baby naturally drop drastically. In other words, TICK TOCK. But as it turns out, my AMH levels are pretty darn high. Which means that even though the stats show time is a wastin’, I might just have a shot—even though I’m eons behind everyone else. This knowledge meant more to me than you’ll know (and I wrote more about it here, if you’re curious).
- You have no need for energy vampires. Last year, I read a passage about energy vampires: people who suck the energy out of you when you’re around them. We all have those friends, right? Who leave you feeling glass half empty, rather than half full? I know a few of those people, and in my 32nd year, I vowed to stay away from them. Life is too short to spend with people who make you feel like shit. Full stop.
- If you’re sick, it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down. Without fail, every single time I drank too much/worked too hard/stayed out too late/got too little sleep this year, my body threw up the middle finger. I learned to keep the colds at bay with natural remedies like elderberry syrup and oil of oregano, but those babies can only do much. The lesson? Don’t overdo it. And when your body says no, LISTEN.
- You don’t like running, and that’s okay. I tried, for years, to “learn how to be a runner.” I’d gone from an overweight couch potato to a still overweight (but very active!) fitness freak, and running was the one mountain I hadn’t conquered. For the last few years, I tried, in vain, to find that runner’s high everyone talks about. Spoiler alert: I never found it. And in my 32nd year, I let that shit go. Not everyone is meant to be a runner. And by that I mean: I think I am not meant to be a runner. It’s fine, though, because I’ve got SoulCycle.
- A good book is almost as good as a good friend. 8-year-old Sarah could have told me this—books were often better friends to her than actual humans were (especially because books didn’t get confused when you talked about feelings)—but books do something that sometimes, not even your very best friend can do. They lift you up, transporting you out of your body, into another story entirely. And then when you’re ready, they bring you back home again. And that’s quite a magical thing.
Side note: if books were friends, I’d be so goddamn popular.
my weekend MO: baking and a podcast
- Same with a good podcast. Living alone in a funny thing. I quite like it most of the time, and then there are those stretches where I don’t see or talk to another human being for a few days (unless you count the barista who makes my coffee or the people who check me into my workout class) and I start to feel like I’m floating in the ether. Like maybe I’m a total loner who has no friends and who might never talk to another soul again. When I don’t have someone to call, and I’m tired of talking to Penny, I turn on my favorite podcasts. And suddenly, it’s as though I’m surrounded by friends; their voices of choir around me, assuring me it’ll all be okay.
- It’s okay to cry at work. Okay, in all honesty, I’m still working on this one. But it’s a big goal of mine: to feel my feelings (within reason, of course) and NOT beat myself up about it. I cried at work twice this year. Okay, three times. And each time, that tiny little voice in my head was shout-whispering, “DON’T CRY. DON’T DO IT. DO NOT CRY. NOT HERE! NOT NOW!” And each time, I CRIED. Because crying is a NATURAL HUMAN REACTION to feeling things, and as you’ve all probably gathered by now, I feel ALL THE THINGS almost all the time. Goal for 33: keep crying, and don’t hate myself when it happens.
- Your greatest hurt can become your superpower. A decade ago, I went through something that turned my life upside down. Something that threw me into a deep depression. Something that made me question my sanity, my worth, my life. And in my 32nd year, all these years later, I started to feel like I had things under control. Like maybe all of that pain had been worth something. That maybe, just maybe, life had torn me down and built me back up again for a reason: so that I could be someone better, someone stronger. I’ll carry that little piece of hurt in my soul for the rest of my days—but I’m starting to think that same hurt might just be what makes my heart so big.
i didn’t get married, but i did do this.
- Things won’t be the way you thought they’d be. I’ve officially reached the age where most of my friends are married, and a few are even starting to have kids. And it’s obvious: I’m in my early thirties and I am not where I thought I’d be. In my 32nd year, I worked hard to make peace with that fact: to let go of the expectations of what should be, in hopes that it’ll open doors to what could be.
- New friends can be found in the darkest of places. If you’re a regular reader around these parts, you’re well aware that the last few months at my job were, in not so many words, ROUGH. But out of the darkness, I found a spark of light—in a woman named Hannah. Hannah was hired as my art partner, but over the past few months of late nights and weekend work, has become so much more than that: we’ve become great friends. It’s one thing to be drinking wine in a dark conference room at 8pm on a Monday. It’s a whole other thing to be drinking wine in a dark conference room whilst cry-laughing about the ridiculousness of your situation, and knowing you’re not in it alone.
- A good mascara can be life-changing. It’s true. Mine is Glossier Lash Slick, and I may never go back to drugstore mascara again.
- Sweat will ALWAYS help. Unless you’re so hungover you can’t get out of bed. Then it’s better to stay home. Because no one wants to be the one dry heaving on a spin bike.
- It’s okay to cry, period. One of my most favorite things about New York City is the way you can cry in public without anyone batting an eye. New Yorkers often get a bad rap: We’re rude. We’re pushy. We’re unfriendly. Say what you will about our attitude, but I will tell you this: a New Yorker will never ever judge you for crying on a stoop outside a Duane Reade. They may stop and offer you a tissue, or a sympathetic glance, but never ever will they look at you like it’s insane to be crying in public. I cried in public multiple times this year, and MAN IT FELT GOOD.
my family, otherwise known as the people who keep me sane
- And you’re never too old to call your mom (see also: #2). I should know – I have two of them. And I try to call them a few times a week. Because as I said above, I know they won’t live forever.
- Your dream man probably isn’t on Tinder. I got screwed (and screwed over) enough this year to know: Tinder is NOT the place to meet your dream man. It’s a great place for unsolicited advice (actual message I received: “Sit-ups. Do some.”), and an even better place for unsolicited dick pics (actual photo I received: not pictured, but it was Parisian, and would have been greatly improved if it were wearing a tiny beret!). It is not a good place for actual dating, or meeting the man of your dreams. I hope 33-year-old Sarah remembers this next time she’s drunkenly swiping in an Uber at 1am.
- But he might be on Hinge. The two good dates I’ve been on this past year both came from Hinge. Granted, two isn’t much, but it’s too good against MANY bad on the Tinder front.
my team of wonderful women
- It’s hard to be a good boss. But it’s worth it. Managing people, I have learned, is less about the work, and more about the people skills. I like people (I minored in sociology and psych), and I think my skills are relatively good. But sometimes, management feels like babysitting a bunch of toddlers who all want different things for dinner, and I’ve forgotten how to cook. Those are the hard days. Then there are the days when you watch the people on your team soar high above your wildest expectations, and you just want to yell, “THAT’S MY BABY! AIN’T SHE THE CUTEST/SMARTEST/MOST WONDERFUL CHILD EVER!?” On those days, all the bullshit is worth it, ten times over.
- People can only meet you where they are. Emotional intelligence is a thing, and it varies. I learned this time and time again this year, both in friendships and at the office. I cannot expect people to react the way I want them to react. I cannot expect them to react the way I would react. I can only expect them to react the way they react—to their best of their emotional capability. Asking (or hoping) for more than that is asking to be let down. We’re all just doing the best we can.
- You’ll never regret a workout. It’s hard to workout early in the morning. It’s even harder once winter rolls around, and it’s pitch black outside even at 7am. Here is what I’ve learned: if you can just get yourself out of bed, and brush your teeth, you’ll make it. Turning off your alarm (and not going back to sleep) is the worst part. Master that, and the rest is gravy. And you will never, ever, regret sweating it out.
a last minute long weekend in paris with my friend sara
- Or a last minute trip. My trip to Paris this year couldn’t have come at a better time. I was tearing my hair out at work, considering walking out of the office and never coming back. It was 72 hours, maybe even a little less, two 6 hour flights (plus airport delays) and not quite enough sleep. But it was also 3 days in PARIS—3 days of sightseeing and wine, of covering miles of the city with hot coffee cups in hand, of heart to hearts and catch ups and more giggles than I could count. I came home exhausted, but I came home full. When I left, my cup was empty, when I returned, it runneth over.
- Time is a powerful healer. At the beginning of last year, I was ghosted by a guy I’d put a lot of emotional effort into for the past few months. He didn’t live here, it was an entirely phone-based relationship, and still, there was a teeny tiny part of me that thought, maybe this is it. I opened a little door in my heart, and in it, I told myself a story: that maybe I’d move to England. Maybe he’d move here. Maybe fate would find a way to bring us together. Fate had other things in mind (as did he), and the romance, whatever there was of it, really and truly, fizzled. And it hurt. BAD. But each day, it hurt a little less. By spring, I’d almost entirely recovered; by May, when I met up with him in London (ahead of a two week trip I was taking with friends), I felt strong enough to spend 24 hours with him and NOT have my heart break all over again.
- Very little will make you happier than a Taylor Swift concert. And you should definitely splurge on the $200 tickets, because when she plays the side stage and she’s so close you can ACTUALLY SEE HER EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE IN A GIANT FOOTBALL STADIUM, you’ll experience a moment of bliss unlike any other.
- Except maybe your cat. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing will comfort you like Penny will. There is unconditional love, and then there’s the unconditional love of an animal. There is truly nothing like it.
- There’s a big difference between being alone, and being lonely. And though you might often be physically alone, you’ll come to realize you don’t mind that—in fact, you might just like it.
me and my two oldest friends (31 years!) over the holidays
- And even when you feel alone, you’re not. Not really, at least. Because even though you might not have a husband, you do have your friends—a select few of which might as well be family, because you know they’d see you through just about anything (and you’d do the same for them).