As I rapidly approach my 38th birthday, I can't help but to look in the mirror and size up what I see. For the most part, I'm happy with what I'm looking at. Genetics have smiled upon me, and so far I'm holding up well in the wrinkle and lines department. If anything, 38 has brought me the beginning of smile lines, and to be honest, I'm pretty okay with those. I've started calling them the scars of a happy live, so how can I complain? I could do without those dark under-eye circles, but it could be worse...what can I say? I work a lot! When I look in the mirror, I can almost see the face I had in my twenties...a little older and wiser, but physically I am still so familiar with who I am. It's the inside that's a different story. I sometimes try to envision running into my twenty-year-old self in my almost-40-year-old skin, and I wonder how the two of us would connect. I have a feeling that we wouldn't get along all that well.
When I attempt to remember my thought processes back then, it's like delving into the mind of a stranger. Oh, I'm still basically the same person; I'm still creative and quirky and have the sickest sense of humor around. I still have many of the same fears and desires. Yet, age has been a good thing for me. It has tempered my selfishness, my quickness to join a cause for the sake of appeasing others, my desire to hide my deepest, truest self behind a guise of fun and entertainment. Back then, I judged myself based on the judgment of others. I couldn't be happy unless I had succeeded in my mission of making everyone else around me happy. I thought I was confident, but that was all just show-true confidence doesn't depend on the opinions of others. It's the ability to be content with showing every side of yourself-even the parts that aren't so pretty-and just being easy in your mind regardless of how others perceive you.
I used to think that confidence was an external concept. I thought that it was walking into a room with your head held high, approaching every situation exuding absolute certainty that you are going to get what you want, knowing that everyone is regarding you with a certain degree of respect and admiration. It's not. It's quieter than that. Confidence is the ability to be comfortable with yourself even if you're not the center of attention, even if you're feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and unproductive. Confidence is looking past all that, and still enjoying the skin that you are in, despite it all.
I'm so much more honest now than I was in my twenties. Not just with others, but with myself, as well. I don't need to delude myself to feel better; I simply accept what is and either embrace it or move on. And I seem to have lost much of the fear surrounding my flaws and shortcomings. I'm not perfect, and I'm fine with that. No one is. Looking back, I can't believe how much my happiness revolved around validation from others. I lived and died by the compliments and insults of those around me. I so clearly remember being 21 or so, running late to work, and not having time to do my makeup. Back then, I would never leave my house without a full face of makeup: foundation, powder, shadow and liner, mascara, lipstick, bronzer. Going to work without makeup was akin to showing up just wearing underwear. Yet, that day, I had no choice. I showed up, and one of the snarky guys I worked with couldn't wait to make a comment: "No wonder you always wear so much makeup. You look awful without it!"
I laughed it off, but I didn't leave my house without makeup for the next ten years. I couldn't imagine showing my bare face to the world, when clearly I was unacceptable without it. It wasn't until around 31 that I, exhausted from grad school and work and interning, started going without. Ironically, I found that I got far more male attention without makeup, wearing a ponytail, than I did when I was fully done up. All that time, hiding out until I had "my face on," all because one person who was truly insignificant in my life stated a negative judgment about me.
I'm sure that when I'm 50 I will look back and shudder at how little I knew right now, and that's also okay. Because we are all works in progress, and when we stop growing and changing, we die. For now, though, I will cherish another year past, another year of learning and growing.