Here is something very important that I’m not very good at remembering: the age you are today is the best time to learn that thing. I don’t care what thing exactly, I just mean the thing that you wish you’d learned years ago. The boundaries or the confidence or the ways of enjoying vegetables so that you eat them more often. Whatever it is you’re learning now and wish you’d learned a long time ago. That thing. Right now is the best possible time to learn it.
Here’s how I know this: regret. It is easy to look at myself in high school or college and wonder why that version of me didn’t enjoy working out consistently or eat a little bit less breakfast cereal and a little more protein. Why she didn’t have more confidence or, for goodness sake, stop wearing oversized t-shirts with baggy jeans (do not go stalk my old Facebook photos, now is not the time). But the truth is she was doing her best. Past me and past you – they can’t fix anything now. It’s happened. That story has been written and there aren’t any backspace keys. You did what you could with what you had. That’s what matters.
Today is my birthday. Birthdays are important to me. I’ve always loved them. And having a January birthday is hard in the midwest where I grew up, because snowstorms and blizzards are just too popular there. But Colorado is coming in clutch with that sunshine and I’m sitting by an open window listening to the birds right now, no snow in the forecast all week. I’ve learned a lot this year. It was sort of the J-term none of us wanted, yeah? 2020 was the school happening when there shouldn’t be school and none of us had much choice besides adjusting to the pressure somehow, and if we didn’t learn it all this year, we’ve got time to unpack it going forward. But it was a year meant to teach and test, maybe over and over again like the nine months of a school year (may summer break come quickly, amen.) But birthdays are not just fantastic, they’re a fantastic time to reflect and reflecting tends to remind me of all the things I wish I’d known earlier. Never mind the whys and hows of how I could have learned them earlier, or the things I was learning earlier. I just wish, you know?
But here’s the thing about birthdays and wishes: those wishes aren’t meant to be spent on regrets. You take those wishes and aim them forward, pull back all the way like you did when you borrowed your brother’s slingshot and flung bits of gravel across the yard. Pull back and close one eye and aim forward. Point those wishes towards learning new things, not regretting old things. You did what you could. You made it through. You’re here now. We’re taking this birthday and this sunshine and this big set of wishes and we’re taking one step forward at a time. This is no time to be looking over your shoulder.
What’s important, what’s really going to make the difference this time, is that you’re more aware. Odds are you weren’t able to learn this particular thing way back when. You were still laying a foundation in those days. You had to learn why vegetables were important and also how to cook before you could feel at home messing around in your kitchen, whipping up healthy meals day after day. And sometimes it takes years of trying to become a runner before you recognize that running is your arch-nemesis and those twenty-five minute cardio-strength circuits on YouTube were made with you in mind. Not everybody can run half-marathons. My sister can and I call her from my couch after she’s gone home and showered to tell her she’s amazing. Not everybody can make a great salad from scratch, guided by the subtle touch of intuition and a shared genetic code with Gordon Ramsey. But damn if I can’t season my sauteed veggies like nobody’s business. And you’ll never see me on the Great British Baking Show (partially because I’m not British), but my kitchen has still seen its share of chocolate cakes, and chocolate covers a multitude of ills. (To most people; not Paul Hollywood, but whatever.)
So eyes forward, darling. Accept that there were foundations and layers of bricks that had to be laid down in order for you to get here. You’re not behind. You. Are. Not. Behind. Look up and walk forward, one foot in front of the other, because there are wishes to be made on candles this year. There are new things for you to learn and baby this is the absolute best time for you to learn them.