here I am

Tuesday marks one year since I accepted my job with Surfrider, a decision that has sparked, in turn, amazement, pride and trepidation.

I spent much of last year comparing notes with a good friend who was in a similar position as myself. We’d established ourselves in Humboldt well enough that we likely could’ve coasted for a long while. We’re self-aware enough to see the limitations inherent in that path – the way a lack of challenge translates into a lack of growth, personal and professional. We both cringe at the term “local celebrity,” while confessing that occasionally being labeled as such afforded us opportunity to influence for good. And sure, having egos, appreciative of the strokes popularity provides. But also having, I like to think, some humility, we both sought to avoid the trap of being the equivalent of the 30-year-old former quarterback still hanging out at high school parties asking, “Don’t you know who I am?”

And so while he jettisoned one long and successful career for a new excursion, I took a deep breath and sought my own next move. My launch wasn’t as pure as his – I had shitty people to leave behind, which meant semi-exiting Humboldt and tearing my own heart asunder –but this new chapter has made old dreams real. Once upon a time, I’d envisioned myself Doing Important Work Which Also Would Involve Traveling To Many Beautiful Places.

Here I am.

Oh, it’s not easy, for all the reasons one would expect: not everyone believes in protecting the coast, bills must still be paid, I have a family to attend to. But the ride has also been haunted by a sensation I failed to predict: being completely disconcerted by my age.

It’s as if the clock should reset relative to my career trajectory; 36 would be a fine place to initiate this life, the one that my 16-year-old self imagined. I think I could do 36. But 46? That sounds like an age wherein I should no longer have questions, self-doubts, bad habits. I am neither mature enough nor accomplished enough to be 46. I don’t know who the 46-year-old version of me is – I’m too busy redefining (or at least refining) her. Shouldn’t aging be put on hold while I’m figuring this part out? I’ve never felt such a split, never felt so distanced from this number that theoretically explains me.

Maybe that’s just part of getting older, an inevitable, “Hoo boy, how did I get here?!” moment. Or the fate of those of us who opted to focus on children first, career second – I’ve been watching Younger and, while I don’t lie about my age, fully sympathize with the protagonist.

Odd how the reward of having a larger career should come along with so much awareness of having it later than the people I work with, identify with. But then I realized something. Many of these same colleagues, who are five, eight, 10 years younger than me, are just having babies or chasing little kids, still dealing with mornings. They look at me and say, “Wow, you’re done!” (Which is something people with little kids still think happens, being “done,” but whatever, I’ll take it.) And I remember that it’s not as if I haven’t achieved things, not at all. I’ve raised three children, written things, made people happy on the radio, learned to surf, followed my love for the ocean into a real, true, meaningful, professional career. It’s just we arrived via different routes. We all, if lucky, have our long, beautiful, complicated lives. This is probably exactly the age I should be.

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