6 lessons from my 36th year

Today is my 37th birthday. I know I’m supposed to be ashamed of getting up there in years, “never ask a woman her age” and all that, but I’m thrilled to be getting old. Every year, I feel more confident in my beliefs and more comfortable in my own skin. Plus, not everyone gets the privilege of becoming middle-aged and I’m grateful to still be around for it. 

This time of year also marks 14 years of Otaku Journalist! In the photo collage above, I put a picture of me at 22 on the left, coming back from my internship at the Newseum to attend a class for my Masters in Print Journalism at American University. On the right, there’s me about a month ago on the playground with my son.

I used to work normally on my birthday, but as I get older I feel more of an urge to celebrate. So today I got a sitter, went out for sushi, and spent some time working on my end-of-year review questions and resolutions, which is the kind of thing I do for fun. It has me in a reflective mood.

I used to write a post on my birthday every year. Here’s the post I wrote for my 25th birthday—12 years ago!—and I am floored by how much I accomplished that year, including winning a journalism contest, getting a job at the Daily Dot, and working as an adjunct professor.

This year was subdued by comparison. Some of the professional things I did include:

This is a much smaller list than it used to be, back when I was working full-time. Though I haven’t been putting much out into the world, I’ve learned and processed several lessons this year. Here are a few epiphanies from my drafts folder:

If you don’t do it, somebody else will

Sometimes I feel guilty about barely blogging anymore. Then I remember that millions of people are out there writing more blogs, articles, and newsletters than anyone could ever read. If I don’t write, people will just find something else to read. You can take this one of two ways: either as your motivation to get That Thing done so people read YOUR work instead of somebody else’s, or your permission slip to just forget about it because so many other people are creating new stuff, there’s no pressure.

Small habits add up

After I had my kids, I felt like my brain was turning to mush. But I realized I could read books on my phone and easily read a few pages every day and think about something other than babies. In 2021 I read 50 books, in 2022 I read 60; this year I read 71. Let me know if you want book recommendations because I keep track of everything I read. I read a lot of science fiction, LGBT romance, and self-improvement nonfiction.

Habits follow identity

If you’re reading this, it might be because you started following me as a journalist and author. But I think of myself as “just a mom” more than anything else because I spend all day as my children’s personal janitor. In Atomic Habits*, James Clear discusses the importance of identity for creating good habits: if you think of yourself as a fit person, you’ll be more likely to go to the gym regularly, for example. So weirdly, if I think of myself as a “reader,” it helps me read more books, instead of the other way around. 

If you don’t do anything, nothing happens

I used to think I was really lucky because opportunities were always landing in my lap, like when a publisher emailed me, seemingly out of the blue, to offer me a contract to write a book about cosplay. It’s only that I’ve dialed down my output so much that I’ve realized none of it was luck: everything I published was positioning me to receive new opportunities. For example, the reason Carlton Books offered me the contract was an editor read and liked an article I wrote for the Daily Dot about cosplay.

Write every day (if you are me)

This is advice from me to me; I know this doesn’t work for everyone. I can’t believe how long it took me to sit here and write this blog post when I used to hammer out multiple blog posts in a day. I need to practice something regularly or else that skill atrophies to nothing. In 2023, I’ve been using an app called Way Of Life that lets me make a custom daily checklist with behaviors I want to do (or not do) every day. It’s helped me remember to wear sunscreen and stretch daily, and now I also have an item on it reminding me to write 100 words a day, just to get back into the habit.

Ask yourself: how badly do you want it?

Years ago I read the book How Bad Do You Want It?* about endurance athletes and the circumstances in which they exceed their limitations: namely, they want to win badly enough. This has helped me reframe my work habits with less of a value judgment. If I can’t bring myself to focus on a writing project after a full day of chasing my kids, it doesn’t mean I’m lazy; it means I don’t want it badly enough. Meanwhile if I do end up working on it, it’s not because I’m virtuous, it means that it’s important enough to me that I’m choosing to spend my free time on it.

Thanks for following me down this introspective rabbit hole. I hope you found something helpful no matter how old you are turning this year. 

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