You are not finished
(Photo by synx508 on Flickr)
Something strange happened to me earlier this year. It was nothing new or out of the ordinary or anything really exciting like winning the lottery or a year of free pizzas. It was just my birthday. As far as I can tell, birthdays seem to happen every year, right on time. But this birthday felt a little different at first because it was my 30th. Turns out, turning 30 is no big deal…even if I thought it was for a while.
I don’t know how to describe it really, but when I turned the daunting 3-0 it was like a switch in my brain flipped and I thought it was the end. Well, not “THE END,” like life as you know it is now over and done with it, but it was the end of an era. Transitions like that can be good and positive things. They normally are for me, but this one wasn’t so positive because I felt I was set for a while, like I had arrived. And that feeling can be a dangerous thing.
During my twenties I experienced unprecedented change full of new first-time experiences. They happened so frequently I actually became accustomed to consistent change in my life.
My twenties brought about new relationships and new jobs and new adventures. I graduated school, got married, got a job, graduated from school again, paid off bills, got more bills, got a dog. It was a decade of firsts with change happening at an alarming rate. I guess I just expected the change because it was all I knew. And then I turned thirty and although I was still sure many more firsts were on the way, I thought there was a part of me that was finished. I thought I’d arrived as the person I wanted to be and there was really nothing I could do to change it.
But then something I liken to an epiphany happened. It wasn’t dramatic or anything–no brilliant lights or stentorian voices booming from up above. It was just a revelation as normal as remembering you need to pick up milk from the grocery store. I realized there were certain parts of my life, parts of me, that I wasn’t pleased with. They were subtle things, really, but they bothered me.
The first thing that happened is myself, my now 30-year-old-self, started rationalizing. For a few months I convinced myself that part of growing up and aging is learning to accept your personality and quirks for who you are. I agree with that to a certain extent, of course, but this was something else all together. I found I was making excuses for not continuing to work on myself. I’d done the very thing I never wanted to do: I spliced myself in two, compartmentalizing my life into sections. This part of Stephen was fine; this other part was not.
The excuses were easy to come by. I am thirty after all, and I’ve had plenty of time to create them and then recreate them again. I convinced myself that this is who I was because it’s who I’d been and what growth is really needed now that you’re 30? I have family and friends who love me and accept me. I have a good life. I’ve never been thrown in jail or faced off with a dementor. Life, as far as I can tell, is pretty grand.
But that revelation kept bugging me. It kept saying that work is never finished; that we are never finished.
Short Story: Michelangelo was thirty-three when he began work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took him four painstakingly grueling years to finish it. He tried to quit several times, protesting that he was a sculptor, not a painter. In fact, he actually had to learn how to paint frescos in the first place before he could even attempt to take on the project. At one point during his painting, he found mold forming and ran to tell the pope that it was over. “I told you I wasn’t a painter. “Everything I’ve done is ruined” he bemoaned. Michelangelo wanted to give up. He was completely happy with his life Pre-Sistine Chapel. But circumstances and his own creative drive kept moving him forward until it was completed.
Having stood in the Sistine Chapel, craning my neck up towards the ceiling to marvel at his work, I don’t know how anyone could think Michelangelo was just a sculptor. He was an artist through and through, and his most famous work was the very thing he thought he couldn’t do.
I realized I can settle for a version of myself that is less than best. I can assume that the person I am today is the person I’m going to be forever. There is nothing left do, and there is nowhere left to go, and no part of me that can still grow. I can live in falsehood like that. I can make excuses. Or I can face the truth that life is about constant growth, even when we think we’re through.
So I dealt with my tiny epiphany. I began to realize life is a series of seasons where growth happens at different rates, not always mimicking what’s happened before, but that doesn’t mean we’re not meant to continue growing. We might not grow the way we did ten or five years ago, but personal growth is always within our reach…if we’re willing to look.
Lately, I’ve caught a fresh vision for my life. I’ve seen where I want to be, or rather, who I want to be. I realized that my growth is not finished, just like my faith is not finished, just like we are not finished.
I’m starting to see I believe in the next chapter. I believe in the beauty of vulnerability, which is to be open and honest about the process of personal growth, and not be embarrassed to admit where we are, and also where we want to be.
I know I’m not finished yet. I hope you aren’t either.