An Introvert Birthday in China 75 Floors Up

An Introvert Birthday in China

When I was a child, I grew up in a tiny town on a cul de sac lined with cute little houses in some variation of one of five models, where in each lived two to four kids, and most of the dads on the block worked with mine. Facing our house lived my best friend, my sister’s best friend, and my parents’ best friends – they are family, no way around it.

On my sixth birthday, we strolled on over to my best friends’ like any other day and, “Surprise!” All my friends were there to celebrate with me, sing happy birthday, and partake in cake and obnoxiously colored ice cream. My favorite gift was a big red candy ring. It was all downhill from there. The thing that never sat well with me about birthdays, as a classic introvert, is that if you want a hullabaloo, you have to make it yourself. I want people to celebrate me because they want to – not because of the annual countdown to a prescribed day of mandatory adulation, so formulaic it hurts.

On my 17th birthday, I left the country for the first time on an orchestra and chamber choir tour of Europe. Every year thereafter whenever possible, I found that leaving the country was an ideal way for me to celebrate. I got to slip further into my introvert safe-haven – avoiding the extra attention or disappointment from the lack thereof – and experience new places and learn.

Somewhere around 32, however, a friend told she used her birthday (and half birthday!) to evaluate the last year and set goals and intentions for the next. What a lovely idea, and truly, it’s helpful to partition the time to reflect and create the opportunity dream big.

The last year of my life was a challenge in most ways, with lots of lows and higher pinnacles to climb, but I achieved new heights. It began when I found a perfect new job, and I was on the road when I accepted the offer. I agreed to start, in a new city two hours north, mind you, one month later. I lived in an apartment for a month while I established in the new city, made offers on two houses, uprooted my family taking my daughter out of a daycare we adored and my husband from a city he loves, was unable to sell my old house and paid two mortgages for greater part of the year…and lots of other “surprises” along the way. Physically, I struggled with lingering baby weight, lack of a budget to deal with escalated aging issues on my face, and a fresh outcropping of light-catching defiant grays (or “hair bling”) on the right side of my head (luckily the opposite side of my part). Seriously, folks, I went from three grays to coup d’etat in a matter of months.

To be honest, I really didn’t feel like reflecting.

So this June 14, I was in China on business where, after meetings, I spent the afternoon shopping with my sheroe boss, and retired to my room for ice cream and cake…alone…no shame. Being on the other side of the world gave me a surprisingly great view of home and, as it often does, put things in perspective. My wallet wasn’t overflowing, but my experiences were rich; the celebration was quiet, but I prefer quiet; I’m tied to my family and home, but the world can be ours. And then there was this great quote I ready in Thoughtfully Magazine (Issue 5) that finally accurately framed aging gracefully for me: 

Beauty, as it was defined in the past, doesn’t make sense anymore. You cannot pretend to look like you are in your 20s when you will be above 50 half your life. … Healthy is the new beauty! -Romain GailllardThe Detox Market 

Every year, I get sour at the fact that I missed my chance to be a child prodigy and that I don’t yet have my honorary doctorate. I set the bar high and get really angsty when I miss. But when I was a kid – let’s say 16, for the sake of argument – and I imagined who I wanted to be as I approached 40, forgivingly, I must admit, I’m pretty much on-target. Great career, I’ve seen the world, cool husband, beautiful child, nice new house. Really, to want more at this point would be plain greedy.

This is the dream. And I earned every laugh line, gray hair, and pound on this strong body – battle scars, maybe, but of all the silly things in life, they won’t bring me down.

This was an exceptionally trying year, but what I’ve learned is that no matter what life throws at me and how challenged I feel at that moment, I can always handle more – I am absolutely unbreakable. I’m getting back in shape and made peace with my late 30s face and hair, my family is adjusted to the new environs, the relief of this happy new job where I’m trusted and empowered has finally set in – in short, I chose the less safe path with higher rewards for the welfare and future prosperity of my family and me. The foundation is laid and the universal favors are there for our taking.

Tianzifang, Shanghai, China, on a stormy night.

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