Perhaps I cursed myself by falling in love with the film 13 Going on 30 when it first came out (I was 15 at the time!). As I approach 30, I still look forward to being, if not flirty, thriving because my twenties have been anything but that.
Unlike Jenna Rink, I have neither clawed my way to the top to find it a house of cards nor have I fallen in love and led a simple, fulfilling life thus far. I’m more like the Jenna Rink that cries on the train while Billy Joel’s “Vienna” plays romantically in the background or the Jenna Rink who wishes she could go back and start over. In fact, I have in the past found myself so very disillusioned with my life that I’ve cried myself to sleep wishing that when I wake up I’ll find I’m much younger and this has all been a cautionary tale of what not to do with my life.
That, of course, is never going to happen, and sometimes I get very very depressed about how little I have to show for the last nearly twelve years of my life – by society’s standards and the standards I had for myself as a kid. I can’t go back an I’m bitter about it. As each year of my twenties has passed away, I’ve lamented the waste of my youth. I’ve cried and cussed and wanted to just give up on life altogether because it feels as though my youth was stolen from me. Yes, stolen. And, yes, when I’m being particularly bitter I do place the blame on my suffocating upbringing and some of the extremely legalistic teachings I grew up with.
Quick anecdote: My childhood pastor once told our youth group to tithe our teenage years to God and we would reap a better young adult life for it… Of course that kind of ideology conveniently places the blame on me, and others, for falling short and being faithless somewhere along the line when things don’t turn out better (or even remotely like we hoped), and I have blamed myself just as often, if not more, as blaming the circumstances largely out of my control. I’ve blamed myself for being faithless, I’ve blamed myself for missing God’s calling somewhere, I’ve blamed myself for being too fearful, I’ve blamed myself for not fighting harder to break free from my circumstances sooner. (Note: I’m not saying a person shouldn’t make commitments, of their lives or of seasons in their lives or any other thing if they feel led to, and not simply because of persuasion or outright pressure from someone else.)
But since no amount of wishing, being bitter, or being depressed is going to make things better either, I’ve decided it’s time to find a new way. Thankfully, both the film and Billy Joel still have my back.
The whole point of “Vienna” is that it’s never too late. As long as you’re alive, there’s still a chance for things to change, for you to accomplish something in this world. It’s also about realizing that life doesn’t always go the way we think it should. Some people don’t get anywhere until later in life. Some people skyrocket to success (however they define it) only – like with Jenna’s alternate future – for it to crumble somehow. The song is both idealistic and realistic. Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.
Similarly, while Jenna gets her happy ending with Matt, the biggest lesson in the film happens while she’s still in that alternate future, struggling with the reality of where her life is at and what she’s become. Her mother tells her that she’d made plenty of mistakes in her own life, but she doesn’t regret making them. When perplexed Jenna asks why her mother answers profoundly:
Because if I hadn’t have made them, I wouldn’t have learned how to make things right.
Jenna makes things right in her life and is rewarded with a second chance. Sure, I’d love the same do-over she gets, but maybe that’s not the point. And maybe I wouldn’t end up with anything monumentally better. Maybe the point is, here in reality, we have to learn how to make things right. Maybe our second chance comes when we realize mistakes have been made and we can either settle for where we are or rebuild.
That’s where I’m at right now. I’m still very much depressed, for a lot of different reasons, but when I think about this lesson, I feel a little clearer-headed in spite of everything. I feel hopeful and determined. Yes, at 29, my life may not be what I imagined it would be. Yes, I still feel like a lot of that isn’t necessarily my fault. But in six months I’ll be 30 and I’m a different me than I was when I first entered adulthood. I’m a different me than I was two years ago. And this me is more capable than that me was, even when she doesn’t feel like it.
I have the power to make my thirties, and all the years beyond, different than my twenties. I have the ability to thrive. I have the ability to reclaim the years “lost” by learning from the mistakes I made (letting fear control me, not taking chances, staying stuck in legalism, crying instead of trying to take small steps in an effort to change, etc.) and making up for them, maybe even making something better for myself than I can even imagine while I’m still here in my low state of mind.
Will I make mistakes when I’m 30? Sure. I’ll go on making mistakes for the rest of my life, but I’m finally looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to growing and to learning. I’m looking forward to thriving.
And I don’t even have to wait six months to start!