33

Ah, yet another year closer to death.

Recently, I turned 33. Like any creative with ambition, every birthday I wonder about what I’ve achieved and the impact I’ve made on the world. And every year, if I’m honest, I don’t feel like I’ve made one. I also believe that’s not a particularly good mindset to have. I’m naturally cynical, especially about my own work and place in the world, so for this year I don’t want to focus on that type of negativity, even if it comes more naturally and more easily to me.

Instead, I decided to write about 33 positive things in my life, big and small. These might be things I’ve done well, things I’m proud of, or just things I enjoy. I’m sure somewhere in here is something impactful and meaningful, but I’ve always held the belief that one shouldn’t ascribe those characteristics to oneself. That would be narcissistic. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. While I say I don’t believe in luck (there is an idiom I like, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”) I do have to give props to circumstance. We’re all products of circumstance, and circumstances have led me to some cool shit. Like meeting my wife. At the time, the circumstances were just right for us to meet. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to considering myself lucky.
  2. I haven’t had much success as a writer, but I’ve done quite a few writerly things I’m quite proud of. Wrote and made a movie when I was 22. Run multiple blogs. Wrote science quizzes for a non-profit. Interviewed athletes for a sports magazine. None lucrative or with a wide readership, but all informing who I’ve become and all things I can point to with some pride.
  3. In my senior year of high school, I spent a night in jail for stealing old computers from a closet in my school with some friends. (They called it grand larceny, which was then and will always be bullshit). I’m not particularly proud of this fact (although I do have an anti-authoritarian streak in me that smiles when I think about it), but I am proud of what it taught me about myself. After being searched, fingerprinted, and otherwise processed I was put into a holding cell with other “criminals.” Not knowing what to expect, and only having what I’d seen in movies and been told by the cop that picked me and my accomplices up from the school, I was prepared for the worst. Verbal and physical violence. And I was ready for it. Which, in hindsight, is a relief. Nothing ended up happening, and in fact most of the guys in the holding cell that night were fairly pleasant (guys were in for things like public drunkeness, or loudly arguing with their girlfriends, and would be released without issue), but walking in with preconceived notions of violence and feeling prepared to face it head-on showed me that I don’t panic easily, and I’m tougher than I give myself credit for.
  4. I’ve struggled with social anxiety most of my life. On my first day of college, for example, I nearly didn’t get out of my car to go to class because I was afraid. Throughout college I avoided participating in groups like the school paper because I was scared. This was a trend into adulthood, like when I was hired for my first job after moving to DC. I nearly didn’t get on the metro to go because it felt like my chest was going to explode and my legs were stuck in wet concrete. Over time, with some work, I’ve been able to control the anxiety and now don’t struggle as much to try new things or meet new people. I still won’t be the one to start a conversation, though. So if you see me out and wonder if I’ll come say “hi” I probably won’t. You’ll have to initiate.
  5. When I was young, I thought of myself as having leadership qualities. High school and college taught me that just thinking you have those qualities isn’t the same as exhibiting them. That said, in my day job I’ve grown into a leadership role within our department and enjoy it.
  6. This year I decided to put myself out there and really make a push toward becoming a full-time writer and building an audience. No idea how it’ll turn out, but I’m actively walking that path, which is itself a small victory.
  7. I’ve learned that the best way to get people’s attention and, sometimes, to make friends is to demonstrate a skill that has value to them. I discovered this by being a pretty solid hockey goaltender.
  8. Similarly, I’ve learned that people will gravitate toward you if they believe you’re dependable. I do my best to be dependable.
  9. In college, while sitting in my car drinking, a friend told me that he respects me because I wasn’t necessarily exposed to art, literature, or other pursuits as a kid, but I discovered and pursued them on my own. I appreciated that he noticed my drive to be the best version of me possible.
  10. While volunteering, the director of a non-profit (Learning Life, for those interested) told me that I was the most “generally competent” person he’d ever met. Like 9, that sort of compliment means the world to me.
  11. Throughout my life, I’ve done a very good job of choosing who to be close with. If I have one skill, it’s finding good friends.
  12. I waited for years to propose to my wife because I wanted to be sure I could support her. Happily, while she finishes her doctoral degree I’m doing just that.
  13. I was an angry child and would often fly off the handle for small reasons. My father enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do, where I learned discipline and how to regulate my emotions. I’m probably on the opposite extreme now, as my lack of an emotional reaction is often interpreted as uncaring, but I prefer that over the alternative.
  14. I’ve always been something of a picky eater. Over the last ten years my wife has introduced me to all sorts of new foods and my palette has expanded quite a bit. Back then you wouldn’t have seen that from me.
  15. I wrote a novel. I never thought I’d be able to do that. Maybe one day you’ll even get to read it.
  16. Similarly, I built this website on my own.
  17. Discipline and responsibility are closely linked in my mind. Hard to be one without the other. I try to be both, and I think people recognize that in me.
  18. Working for Americorps was a life-changing experience. First, it taught me that I actually enjoy kids. Before doing Americorps they confused and frightened me. I also learned a lot about teaching and communication that has helped me in every aspect of my life. Oh, and I met my wife there.
  19. My cats are awesome, and my wife and I are excellent pet parents.
  20. My parents divorced when I was young and mine and my sister’s relationship with my mother was left in a bad place, leading to a three-year period of silence. One day, I decided to drive to my grandparents house, who we had lost communication with when we lost my mom. By some coincidence (miracle?) the entire family was there, including my aunt who lives multiple states away. That was the beginning of repairing our relationship. Eventually, my sister also salvaged her relationship with our mom, and things have been pretty great ever since. Now if I miss a week where I don’t call her she gets mad at me.
  21. Year after year I’ve slowly tried to ramp up my reading. Last year was an adulthood record for me in books read, including some mammoth ones like Chuck Wendig’s WANDERERS and Joe Hill’s THE FIREMAN. It helped me to alternate between epic novels like those with novellas like Victor LaValle’s THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, Ellen Klages’s PASSING STRANGE, or Paul Tremblay’s THE LAST CONVERSATION. This year I’m trying to read more short stories to allow myself more bite-sized reads that I don’t need to carve out a significant amount of time (in my life that means anything more than 15 minutes) to read.
  22. I have a pretty finely-tuned bullshit detector. It’s saved me from some sketchy situations and people, like when I was desperate for a job after college and almost got sucked into a multi-level marketing scheme. Going back to 11, this skill has helped me to quickly decide whether or not I should put effort into a potential relationship.
  23. While growing up in blue collar Buffalo, I thought that I wanted to work within an office, with my own cubicle and everything. Seemed safe. When I first moved to DC, I was able to find an office job within a month. It was writing-based and had a good salary with benefits. I finally felt like an adult. I was also terrible at it. From the job itself, to wearing a suit and commuting everyday, none of it was what I had thought it would be. I was fired within ten months. After a long stint of unemployment I found another office job doing the same thing. I lasted four months. Eight more months of unemployment I thought, “Well, third time’s the charm,” and applied to a proposal writing position that allowed me to telecommute. I’m now on the cusp of my sixth year with the company and lead our small division. In short, it wasn’t the job I was bad at (although the learning curve was steeper than I had expected at the time), it was working in an office.
  24. I do my best to be as honest as possible, even when it gets me in trouble.
  25. I’ve won a few awards for various things throughout my life–mostly athletics, but also public speaking and some workplace stuff. But in hindsight the most accurate award I’ve ever been given was “Most Helpful Boy” in third grade. I like helping others.
  26. As a straight white guy I recognize that I was born into privilege, even if I grew up poor. That said, I’m also very cognizant that even though you might recognize your own privilege, that doesn’t mean you’re culturally aware or not subject to ignorance. It’s something I actively work at and luckily have a wife that isn’t afraid to call me out when I’m being insensitive or ignorant.
  27. I enjoy most housework. Throwing on my headphones and cranking a podcast while I do the mindless task of cleaning is a break from living in my head. My wife appreciates it, too. Don’t ask me to cook, though.
  28. My father is proud of the person I am. I’m not sure whether or not he ever had doubts of me (maybe when I was arrested?), but he genuinely takes interest in most of the things I do.
  29. Maybe more importantly, I think my father respects me. He’s a complicated man, often stubborn, and much smarter than he lets on. But when we’re talking I can tell he makes an extra effort to really listen to what I’m telling him, good, bad, or otherwise, and engage with my thoughts more than superficially.
  30. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve only gotten more curious and more driven to learn new things. That’s exciting.
  31. I’m not a money-driven person. Sometimes this has been a bad thing, like my inability to negotiate for salary or raises. Recently, though, I’ve gotten better about recognizing that money is important (even if I hate it) and have taught myself how to be financially responsible. This led to my negotiating a promotion and raise recently. Guys, I even bought stocks. It’s crazy.
  32. Considering things like climate change and the general wastefulness of our culture, I try to live as sustainably as I can. This year, for example, my wife and I decided to only buy clothes from sustainable places. It’s been fun learning about the different products you can buy that are safer and better for the Earth. And, aside from costing a little bit more money, it hasn’t really affected our lifestyle much.
  33. I think, after much difficulty through my adolescence and early adulthood, I’ve become a decent man. Still lots of work to do, but I’m motivated to continually improve on myself.

So, that was actually pretty difficult. But as someone that can get hung up on the rejections and failures and mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, I think exercises like this are important for perspective, if nothing else.

3 Comments

  1. Jace

    Great post, Craig. Feels like I got to know you a lot more. In general, this was a good idea because if you ever need a self-esteem boost, you can revisit this list.

    “I do my best to be as honest as possible” — this is why I love when you give me script notes! I can always expect the unvarnished truth.

    Happy belated birthday. Wishing you all the best for 33.

    • admin

      Thanks so much, Jace! You’re definitely an example of my choosing good peeps to surround myself with!

      • Jace

        : )

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