So my birthday is coming up at the end of this month.
Normally, I would dread my birthday. I think this trend started sometime after 21, when the promises of high school and college evaporated into crappy jobs, which were little more than indentured servitude for health benefits and college debt. I became obsessed with Ebenezer Scrooge’s analysis of Christmas, another year gone and every item in your ledger dead set against you.
I think the pressure came from the world around me. It surely wasn’t my parents or my wife. Each year on my birthday, I would sit alone and think about all the things I failed to accomplish since the last birthday. It seemed like the only gains I made during the year were around my middle. A lot of my goals were things outside of my control – better job, more money, getting published, etc. It never occurred to me during the 365 days between birthdays that I should be focusing on those days instead of the one when my odometer would turn over another mile.
This hasn’t been the case the past few years. I love my job now. I have Timmy to keep me focused on the here-and-now. Joy is incredibly supportive of my writing. Somehow, my old birthday misery faded and I barely noticed it. One year would pass into another and I would just try to con my parents into buying me a really expensive present because, as you know, each year is a gift, so we need to commemorate that gift.
Seriously, Dad, if you’re reading this, I think the traditional gift for 37 is Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blue Ray. It’s in the Bible or something.
My old birthday self-pity party came back to me the other day when Joy was going through some boxes. We are finally in the house we intend to stay in forever, so we’re going through the boxes that traveled with us from house to house. Going through her boxes, she found a note someone had given her at her high school graduation: “Don’t fear being a failure. Fear being successful at something that doesn’t matter.”
How does one figure out what matters? Who decides that? Give me any profession – any at all – and given the right post-apocalyptic circumstances, those jobs don’t matter. Doctors matter. Unless we upload our consciousnesses into robot bodies, and then doctors aren’t as important as programmers and mechanics. See what I mean?
But why shouldn’t certain things matter? If it bring you happiness, if you enjoy doing them, and if you can pay your bills, who cares?
But think of the pressure that put on Joy, who was a high school graduate just striking out on her own. Somehow, I got the same message, though I never found that quote written anywhere. I had to do something that mattered. Spiritually, politically, grammatically: it had to matter.
In the end, anything we do, if it makes us happy or it makes the world around us a little less terrible, then it matters. Football players? They bring entertainment to millions of Americans. Actors? They allow us to escape reality for a couple of hours. Construction workers? They build the world we live in. Columnists?
Okay, well, you get the point. Go out there, do whatever you’re good at, and decide for yourself that it matters.
In the end, only you are fit to judge if what you do matters.