I turned 32 earlier this month, and I can honestly say it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had without there even being an actual celebration. I didn’t care that there wasn’t a party, a cake, or a date night. Instead, I chose to spend three days in Charlotte with my daughter, visiting family and showing support for my husband while he manned an artist table at HeroesCon. Then I decided to spend the following weeks resting and recharging my batteries.

Woman Offering Colorful Present

Although having an eight-month-old in a hotel on her first multi-day trip made my birthday weekend a bit overwhelming and exhausting, I still had a nice time. In fact, the whole weekend made me realize that the older I get, the more those things that mattered in my younger days don’t seem to matter. It’s actually freeing me to be the person I know I really am, and making life after 30 a whole lot better.

I don’t have to be the image of the person the “21-year-old me” thought I would be at 31.

In fact, there are a lot of things I don’t have to be:

1. I don’t have to be a person who looks like I have it all together

You don’t have to go everywhere with a full face of makeup, frizz-free hair, and the trendiest clothes. Your house doesn’t always have to be spotless. You don’t have to be the best cook. And that’s fine. After all, nobody on this Earth is perfect.

2. I don’t have to be a person who makes everyone happy

You don’t have to please everyone — because you can’t. It’s an impossible feat that will only run you ragged if you try to achieve it. The world won’t implode or stop turning if you give an honest answer, say no or disagree with someone.

3. I don’t have to be ashamed of my story

Your experiences tell the story of your life. Every misstep, every mistake, every hurt, and every heartache helps you become the person you are today. When you acknowledge that, you can grow. And when you learn to tread through the tough times, you can help others do the same.

4. I don’t have to act like I know everything

It’s okay to say you’re still learning. It’s okay to ask questions. The ultimate goal is to have understanding, not to have the right answers all the time. However, understanding a particular thing may take time.

5. I don’t have to be someone who works so hard to assert my independence

To be independent, you don’t have to hold on to the angst that makes you want to prove you can do something on your own. You can just do it. But it’s also okay to ask for help, or accept any help that you may be offered.

6. I don’t have to be someone who settles

Whether it’s buying a house, getting a particular job or committing to a relationship, you don’t have to settle. You can still dream, you can still set goals, you can still put in the work, and you can still let things happen in due time. You don’t have to throw away your God-sized dreams just to pick up the plan you think you should be following at your age. It may not be the plan God has for you.

The weekend I turned 32, it was the first time I was comfortable with the fact that it wasn’t all about me. I was elated when I saw my husband meet one of his heroes in the art world. I was overjoyed when I saw the eyes of my relatives light up at the chance to spend a little more time with my daughter. And it meant so much to celebrate a young cousin’s second birthday, and have her and her mother meet my baby girl for the first time. I saw that my life had changed so much for the better. And I was grateful. It made me see life as the ultimate gift.

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