Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Birthday Cake and Aspirations

In medieval England, small objects—gold coins, rings, thimbles, etc.—were added to birthday cake batter before baking. Finding one of these in your piece of cake meant you would experience wealth, a wedding, spinsterhood or whatever the object symbolized.

Three of my friends are celebrating their birthdays today. The youngest one is turning 50 (which just shows how old my friends are) and enjoying a week-long party with her family and loved ones.

It’s been interesting to watch my friends reach this milestone birthday. The celebrations have ranged from big parties to more intimate gatherings of close friends to please let this day pass with as little fanfare as possible.

While the party/no party choice is sometimes a matter of personality (some people just hate being the center of attention), I think it also has to do with how we view ourselves and what we’ve accomplished—or haven’t—at this age.

Turning 50 last year certainly made me take stock of where I was in life. It made me look (and laugh) at some of my youthful aspirations.

When I graduated from college and was ready to start making it on my own, I had three main goals for my life. The first was that I wanted to have a lot of fun. That was paramount to me after spending so much of my time during high school in the hospital. I’m happy to report that having fun has been and continues to be a driving force in my life. Of course, my definition of fun has changed over the years. But it’s still one of my primary pursuits.

My second goal, somewhat related to the first, was to be happy. For some periods of my life I’ve succeeded beautifully at this. Then there are other times where contentment was not on my radar. In retrospect, this ebb and flow of happiness seems simply to be a reality of life. Things beyond our control can happen and suck the joy right out of our lives. The trick is to find a way back to what makes you smile. Thankfully, I’ve been able to negotiate all of the detours I’ve encountered to date.

My last goal was to make my living from writing. This, too, I have done (at least so far), though not exactly as I planned. Optimistic child that I was, I gave myself a target age of 25 to become a published author, which was then to lead a few years later to regularly making the best-seller list. (Technically, I did reach the “published author” goal. At 23, I wrote two columns—one with a byline—in an internal life-insurance publication produced by my employer.) Luckily, writing isn’t a career that’s defined by youth, so I still have time to get published—though in my own way as I’ve noted in previous posts.

Because I haven’t abandoned my youthful dreams, I was able to approach 50 with a smile and a look to the future. My dear friends joined me for a long weekend of celebration at a nearby resort, where they delighted me by acting out an adaptation (created by my two BFFs from college) of my children’s novel. It was a grand way of bringing together fun, happiness and my writing.

It’s friends and moments like this that make my life so rich. No gold coins needed in my birthday cake.


  1. wow (pause) very moving and intimate... struck a chord in me.

  2. Your life goals, like your writing, are inspirational.