“30 of 28”, or “the life I never knew I’d have”

Versão em Português.

10 years ago, a month after turning 18 years of age, I published a text on this blog, called “‘30 of 18’, or ‘why I’m disappointed with myself’” (not translated). It’s a frustrated account of everything I expected to become before I turned 18, and how I felt at the time about not having accomplished any of that. I’m pretty sure I had just watched a clip of a brilliant young boy, around 13 years of age, which reminded me that I was no longer a teenager, too much of a grown up to keep sustaining my single personality trait as a try-hard brilliant young girl.

My belated 28th birthday playlist.

I cringe with profound embarrassment whenever I reread that text — not without feeling some compassion for 18-year-and-1-month-old Luisa, who still felt extremely lonely, lost and misunderstood most of the time. And I admit that I find the “response” I wrote four years later, “‘30 of 22’, or ‘why I am no longer disappointed with myself’”, even worse. 18-year-old Luisa wrote with the heartfelt frustration of someone whose dreams and plans had all failed, but 22-year-old Luisa wrote with the confidence of someone who thought she’d just cornered the Lord, and snatched from His hands the textbook of Eternity. The Luisa of early 2017 would go on to have a meltdown once she learned that all of that confidence about the future that had been holding her together would also break apart. Even worse — six years later, we are still working to erase the remains of all the hurt we got from the future we thought we were building and working towards. 

It was only recently — literally a few weeks ago — that the penny dropped: all of these years, I had been going on as if I was living the wrong life, completely incapable of truly embracing the life I had been given, the life that I hadn’t anticipated, that I hadn’t expected to get. It was a difficult conclusion to get to, but surprisingly easy to forgive. I look around, and I get it; I get it that people might simply find themselves stuck in ideal ideas about life, about others, about everything, because time goes by so quickly, and we can’t afford to pay attention to every single corner of our cortex, and it’s precisely in these little dark corners that dangerous thoughts take root and grow quietly. No amount of coaches, therapists, counsellors, assistants, juice-cleanse-influencers and all would be enough to handle all of the hidden, unseen depths of one’s soul. Getting lost in yourself is so, so easy. 

I came across a funny little sentence a few weeks ago, as I read a paper — “One might hope that 20 years of research would enhance the credibility of some theories and reduce that of others. But this does not seem to have happened”[1]. I giggled, thinking about everything I thought I would have learned by the time I turned 28. One might have hoped that 10 years of adult life would have helped me figure out my biggest issues, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. On the contrary, I seem to have gotten myself plenty of new challenges — the unseens depths, you know. Life kept happening even as I tried to clean the house; the wind brought dust through the cracks, the soles of my shoes are full of mud, the clothes I put on and take off cover the ground in feathers, and rain comes in through the window if I leave it open by accident. 

One of the few remaining pictures of my 18th birthday party, in the 24-hour study room of the Architecture building (RIP my hacked Facebook account) + the only picture I have from my 22nd birthday, having dinner with my family, from my sister’s instagram stories + a picture of the little celebration I got at KAIST Church, the Sunday after my birthday. The most important thing about these pictures is that, on the first and second ones, I could still eat gluten; on the third one, my lovely friends got me rice flour scones to wish me a happy birthday.

The biggest challenge, as I turn 28, is reconciling the different parts of me. It’s sure to be a long way, but I can’t afford not to believe that, one day, all of my thoughts, feelings and actions can get as close as possible to coming together in here, now. Though I must say, reflecting about the person I am today is quite amusing, especially considering how both Luisas — the 18-year-old one, and the 22-year old one — would have never imagined that, in the month of March when we turned 28, instead of the rainy end of Summer, we witnessed as Winter turned into a beautiful, albeit cold, early Spring, covered in cherry blossoms. I feel particularly about the me of ten years ago, who thought her time to go live out her dreams was already up (how innocent), because she would be the most surprised about what we do these days. Even so, accomplishing dreams and feeling successful is not what this text is about — achievements would be too shallow of a measure of everything that changed within me throughout this decade. Being human is something of a loud, dramatic experience of living every single day for the first, last, only time, and amassing way too many years before you can tell how many are too many, or too little. Wherever I turned out to be, in this big year of 2023, the only thing I would have liked to have accomplished would have been the same heart, going after the same things, pursuing the same goals.

There’s this thought that has the power of eating up all of my energy to keep going, which is the idea of how many more frustrations still remain for me to endure, as I keep walking down my path. Wondering if there’s another pandemic coming, or one more great war, or if technology will have finally gone too far, and contemporary society will finally self-implode, just as I was trying to find the perfect work-life balance. You never can tell. The only medicine seems to be a resolution to live slow and steady. Figuring out how to get my head somewhere I can make plans without trying to outsmart God, and how to find myself across the multiple juxtapositions of time and space that have made me who I am, with the assurance that there’s still a great deal of change awaiting. That’s all I can do — trying to live wisely, working, little by little, towards eventually getting there, sooner or later. I want to find contentment that doesn’t depend on the illusion of having control over my fate. I want to live with a little more peace today.

My official song for this birthday. There’s a lot of longing, but some good hope, going around these days.

[1] One might hope that 20 years of research would enhance the credibility of some theories and reduce that of others. But this does not seem to have happened, partly for a reason rarely discussed: researchers regularly describe their conclusions in terms too vague to be very useful. (p. 30).

Burstein, P. (2003). The Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy: A Review and an Agenda. Political Research Quarterly, 56(1), 29–40. https://doi.org/10.2307/3219881

Photo by Carolina on Unsplash

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