Mr. Wonka: "Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted."
Charlie Bucket: "What happened?"
Mr. Wonka: "He lived happily ever after.”
When I turned 33, I invited ten friends to Jekyll and Hyde Club, a west village bar that can best be described as a “creepy Chuck E. Cheese.” We nearly had the place all to ourselves, a rarity in New York; the food was subpar, the drinks overpriced, and all of the animatronics had broken long ago. The air conditioning barely made a dent in the late-August humidity, but I loved every minute of the dinner, which included awkward interactions with the wait staff-slash-resident “actors,” and a private tour of the even-dustier second floor bar, which is now used as storage.
Some of my 34 years have passed by without much notice. There was one year during which I took exactly zero days of vacation, and others blur into each other, the clear boundaries between one another growing fuzzier with each passing day. My friends informed me that I was about to embark upon my so-called Jesus year. Jesus—the man, the myth, the deranged carpenter—was believed to be 33 when he amassed a c̶u̶l̶t̶ group of disciples, and preformed m̶a̶g̶i̶c̶ ̶t̶r̶i̶c̶k̶s̶ miracles. He never made it to 34, but his 33rd year was so impressive, you can’t blame the guy for going out on a high note (although of course, like Cher, he couldn’t resist a brief comeback tour).
I shrugged off the idea of a “Jesus year” as I do most things related to the OG JC, but as mine comes to a close, I must admit that—while I didn’t amass a global following or walk on water—my 33rd year was quite an extraordinary one.
My 33rd year began much like my 32nd ended: I was working at Penguin Random House and in a 3+ year relationship. In November, that relationship ended and in late January I received an email from the CEO and founder of Roadtrippers, asking if I’d be interested in discussing potential job opportunities. I initially dismissed it, trying not to get my hopes up for a job and a company that seemed too good to be true. But at the end of February, my life changed overnight when I started my new job as their Community Editor, managing social accounts and writing stories for their online magazine.
Everything about the new job and career shift spun me off my axis; six months later I just feel as if I’m starting to catch my breath. I’ve been recently promoted to Managing Editor of Roadtrippers Magazine and working remotely has been both wonderful and disorienting. Turning my hobby into a full-time job has had its challenges, but ultimately the fact that I get to think about, write about, and plan road trips for a living is an absolute joy.
For someone who has only dated coworkers, working from home also forced me into the world of online dating, which is absolutely scary and endlessly confusing. Coming to terms with my own identity has been a lifelong struggle, one which I have only really begun to feel comfortable sharing in my personal and professional life, but the journey has also been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
On paper, I now have nearly everything I’ve ever dreamed of—a job that I feel passionately about, a promising relationship, close friends, and a supportive family. I live in the only city I ever wanted to call home and I’m relatively healthy. In a lot of ways my life feels as if I have peaked. “It can only go downhill from here,” is an insidious thought that usually creeps in when I least expect it. But the flip side of that is the possibility that my life may improve beyond what I even imagine is possible. Much more likely, if the past is any indication, is that the future will be some combination of the two. There will be peaks and there will be valleys, but most of my life will fall somewhere in between.
So much of any life lies within the boundaries of the ordinary: those long days, weeks, months, and years when nothing much seems to happen. But more and more, it’s those banal stretches that interest me. They are the unsung heroes of a life; the unsexy, unremarkable, completely forgettable, comfortable building blocks that slowly lay the foundation that your life needs to fully take flight. Deceptively ordinary moments make up the hidden framework of any extraordinary life.
And yet, I don’t think anyone is immune to the pursuit of happiness: thinking that just maybe the next job, the next city, the next relationship will be the One. But here’s a thought that I hesitate to admit because it may appear as if I’m ungrateful: There is no Golden ticket. Having keys to the chocolate factory doesn’t solve everything. Seeking external validation (personally and professionally) and the acquisition of things (money, fame, and physical stuff) can only do so much. Eventually, the call needs to come from inside the house.
So what happened when I got (almost) everything I ever wanted? On most days, I feel much like I did before. I’m still 13-year-old me, agonizing over my crushes on girls; I’m still 22-year-old me, nervous to start a new job and feeling like an imposter in her career; I’m still 27-year-old me, packing up her old life and moving it halfway across the country; I’m still 33-year-old me, unsure about how to end a relationship that never quite felt right but didn’t quite feel wrong either.
I’m no doubt evolving and changing in ways both big and small, but even the most drastic changes are clearly visible only in the rear view. Instead of feeling disappointed that a new job or new relationship didn’t fundamentally alter me to my core, I choose to take comfort in it. There’s a freedom in knowing that you’ve decided to remove yourself from the rat race because you’ve finally realized that, as Lily Tomlin said (most likely echoing words written by her partner Jane Wagner): “The trouble with the rat race, is that even if you win you’re still a rat.”
I won’t live happily ever after because of the circumstances of my life, but rather, in spite of them. Because I strongly believe that happiness is a choice: My life isn’t perfect and I never expect it to be.
How and with whom I celebrate may look different every year, but the reason for celebrating remains the same: I’m so grateful for every second of my extraordinarily ordinary, perfectly imperfect life—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
If you miss my road trip updates, you can follow along over on Roadtrippers Magazine where I publish stories similar to what you used to find on this blog, but better. I plan to pop back in here from time to time when I feel as if I have something to say, but it will mostly stay quiet over here for the foreseeable future.