I turned 34 last week. I am now officially in my mid-thirties. The older I get, the more ambivalent I become towards birthdays. Except the cake, of course. And the presents…
And the more I realise how much I have wasted so much of my life. The older I get, and probably the more chocolate I eat, the closer I get to the grave. I often imagine what someone would say for my eulogy (presumably not my husband, because we will of course die at exactly the same time holding hands in our comfy chairs), and how satisfied I am with my life. I couldn’t possibly say I am unhappy with my life. My life is inordinately blessed. I’m married to my best friend, the man of my dreams, the man I used to daydream about our lives together before we were even a couple. I have two amazing, healthy children, who are my absolute universe, and who fill my heart with joy on a daily basis. My parents, sisters and in-laws are beyond amazing. I have a fantastic group of friends that I’ve basically grown up with and that I love more than life. Added to all that, I get to do the most awesome and fun job in the world – taking photos of people and their lives, and being allowed into their private worlds. And people actually give me money for it! It wouldn’t be possible to complain about any aspect of my life as it stands.
Yet, I still sometimes get a sense of missing out on things, of getting to the end of my life and not having experienced everything that I could have. Not having done things that I could have because I was too scared. A lot of my life has been ruled by fear. To clarify my earlier comment on “wasting my life”, I didn’t do anything “wrong” or “bad” to waste my life, nor do I particularly regret anything I’ve done. I regret the things I haven’t done because I was too scared. I feel like a lot of my life has been living inside a bottle, waiting. In “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”, Dr Seuss talks about The Waiting Place. Waiting for a train, for a phone to ring, for hair to grow, for Friday night, for a Better Break, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting. (Dr Seuss is a genius.) Sometimes I have to remind myself that This is IT. There’s no second chance. Yet, I keep putting things off. Waiting.
I panic when I picture getting to the end of my life without having seen every corner of the Earth. There is so much to see and experience and to do. Among all the minutiae of everyday life, I worry I’ll never get to see Barcelona. Maybe I’ll never go on a safari. Will I ever get to visit my exchange student in Germany? Will I ever go to the top of the Empire State building? The thought is terrifying. However, unlike some people who regret not travelling before they have children, I actually really look forward to travelling with my children and showing them the world. Of course, at 3 and 5, they’re not likely to be great travelling companions just yet. So we will stay in The Waiting Place for a bit longer when it comes to travelling. I can’t help but worry that we’ll be stuck in The Waiting Place forever.
Growing up, I was extremely shy. Not just shy. Pathologically, social anxiety shy. Walking into a room of strangers would induce panic. Having to speak to a stranger. Speaking on the telephone. Standing up in front of a room. Walking down the street. When I was at uni, I would skip a lecture if I turned up late rather than walk into the lecture theatre by myself. Horrifying, when I think of it now, and such a waste. To care so much what people might be thinking about me. To let it control my life.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to overcome that a lot. Not through any magic transformation or turning point, just with age, maturity, practice, and a growing realisation that people are generally too worried about themselves to be focusing on you. A small turning point was at uni, when we were told in the first lecture of a subject that we would have to do a presentation in front of the entire lecture theatre at the end of the semester. I immediately started to have a meltdown, panicking, tears filling my eyes, at the sheer terror of having to stand in front of a lecture theatre full of watching, judging eyes, with 20% of my grade dependent on my presentation. I considered dropping the course, but it was unfortunately compulsory. There were three weeks of presentations, and luckily I got the very last week for my presentation time. After the first week of presentations, my panic was gone. Everyone was absolutely terrible. There was the girl that spoke as if punctuation had never existed. The guy who mumbled for the entire time. The girl who stared at the floor. I realised every single person was just as nervous as I was, but much more, they didn’t care about me. They were just trying to get it over with. Somehow, seeing everyone else sucking gave me the confidence to say to myself, “hey, you might suck, but what’s the worst that can happen?” I was so worried about failing, and failing so very publicly, I forgot that everyone else was worried too much about failing themselves, and were likely to be so bored to tears that they weren’t going to be listening anyway. I got through the presentation, probably got an average mark that continues to have no influence over my life whatsoever, and came away with a little bit more confidence to fail.
And confidence is what it comes down to. I don’t think anything has given me more confidence than being a mother. I’m not sure why the simple act of reproduction could provide confidence for me that nothing else has been able to. All I know is that I don’t want my children to live their lives the way I have. I don’t want them to be afraid of what people might be thinking about them. I don’t want them to be afraid to talk to people. I don’t want them to miss out on anything.
It’s this confidence that has allowed me to keep going with Jo Kim Photography. I still doubt myself frequently. I still fret over every single photo session; whether my work is good enough, whether the clients will be happy. But if someone had told me even two years ago that I would walk into a room of entire strangers and photograph a wedding, I would have laughed and laughed. I can see what I can achieve when I actually try things, and it makes me less afraid to try other new things. I will most likely fail a lot. And that’s okay. It’s okay to suck every now and then.
While I am surrounded by love and happiness, I have to also separate my own sense of self from my family. I am not the sum of my loved ones. The last five and half years of my life have been focused on raising my children, and while I am proud of my children just for being the awesome kids that they are, I don’t know if that counts as an achievement. I could live vicariously through my children, I guess, but that would probably lead to a lifetime of anxiety and disappointment for everyone involved, particularly when neither of them are likely to don a tutu and dance as a prima ballerina. While I will always have my primary focus on trying to build my little boys into happy, wise, healthy, confident men, I also need to focus on my own achievements and my own journey. I need to find what I want from life. And then actually do it. I don’t want to let fear of failure stop me from potentially doing anything amazing.
The title of this post is a Spanish proverb quoted in Strictly Ballroom. Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. While I do question the rationality of finding life lessons in a Baz Luhrman film, it is a thought that has been encouraging me to be more open to life. To not be afraid to try things professionally and personally. I don’t want to spend my life in The Waiting Place.