Reflections on 35

I turn 36 in just under an hour, at 6:52 pm Central time…and for the first time in my life, I’m not worried about the future. 35 was the last year in a trilogy of sorts: 33 was a year in which the life I’d been building since I arrived in Seattle came crumbling down around me, and I had to pick through the pieces and decide what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to let go of; I spent 34 sketching out a plan for existing in the world as my true self, without worrying about fitting neatly into all of life’s blanks; and I spent the last 12 months watching that plan come to life in ways that I never could have imagined, fueled almost entirely by the incredible people in my life.

That’s the quick summary of what the last year has meant to me—here are 35 highlights, in an annual tradition that I’ve borrowed from two of my friends because I like it so much:

  1. Friends & family. All of you really are the heart and soul of my world today. The last time I did a cross-country road trip was in early 2009, and it ended with my arriving in Seattle 7 years ago last night knowing maybe 5 people in the city but determined to make a home for myself. Last night I threw the biggest party I’ve ever thrown for all my different groups of friends (although because of the venue capacity I could only invite about half as many people as I would have liked to), and it was one of the most magical nights of my life. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart; the last 7 years have been amazing, and I’m looking forward to the next 7 years, and the next 7, and the 7 after that, all the way out to the horizon.
  2. Real estate. 35 was the year that real estate really came into its own for me—it was exciting, close to overwhelming at times (I’ve never worked as hard as I did between March and August of last year, including my time as a Field Organizer on the Obama campaign in Ohio in 2008), and totally transformative in terms of the opportunities it’s given me and the way it’s allowed me to think about my life. None of it would have been possible without all of you, though; so again, thank you.
  3. The birth of my first niece. My younger sister and her husband had their first child in September; I was fortunate enough to be able to be there when she was born, and I saw her again as a 4-month-old when I drove through Texas on the road trip last month. I have lots of friends and cousins with kids, but the feeling of cradling my own niece in my arms is something else entirely.
  4. Dating. This was by far the best year I’ve had, dating-wise, in the last three years—I went on precisely three first dates while I was 35, but one of them in the beginning of the year turned into a great relationship that lasted most of 2015, and from which I learned an enormous amount. Hopefully 36 holds more of the same.
  5. The BMW. After wanting one for 13 years, I finally bought my dream car, a brand new BMW 328i. It’s difficult to express in a small number of words what this car means to me and just how deeply happy it makes me, but “a symbol…of the Hegelian synthesis of freedom and stability that is my life in Seattle right now” (as I put it in my long blog post on the subject at the end of my European Delivery trip in October) is a pretty good start.
  6. Seattle or Bust. When I was ordering the car last September at BMW of Seattle, the dealership told me that after I finished my European Delivery trip they could either ship it to Seattle, or to the BMW plant in South Carolina for no additional charge. I of course chose South Carolina, and after I got back from my week and a half driving the car around Europe with a friend, I set to work planning what would become the most epic road trip of my long and storied road trip career—16 states, 31 days, 48 friends visited and/or traveled with along the way, and 8,503 miles, starting on January 4th and ending yesterday afternoon. I tried 6 or 7 times in the last week to write a blog post about the trip itself, but the experience just couldn’t survive the transition into language from the feeling of omnipresent joy and peace and rightness vibrating through my cells. Suffice to say it was a life highlight.
  7. Therapy. 2015 was a very intense year—I started going to a therapist again in July for the first time in almost two years, and it’s been really good.
  8. Admitting that I had no idea what I actually want from my life. This was one of my most important realizations of 2015—it was sometime in the fall, real estate had slowed down to the point that I had plenty of time to sit back and reflect, and I had just broken up with the woman I’d been dating since late January. I suddenly found myself with a lot more time to think about the direction that my life is taking, and having reached a lot of the goals that I’d been striving towards for made me realize that I’d been so focused on my day-to-day life for so long that it had been awhile since I stopped to think about what I want the overarching focus of my life to be.
  9. Personal retreats. As a result of that realization, I took a lot of time for myself at the end of the year and at various points on the road trip to sit back and think about what I want the next 35 years of my life to look like, which was really useful. I’ve got a pretty good list of quiet places around the region and the country at this point that well-suited to this sort of thing—let me know if you want a recommendation.
  10. Being confronted head-on with my white privilege. There was a lot of discussion about institutional racism last year. It’s something that I understood from a philosophical perspective, but it was driven home for me very viscerally at, of all places, an environmental conference/retreat on Whidbey Island in November, where the Q&A session following a keynote speech by a woman of color to a mostly white audience went very quickly off-script in a really uncomfortable way that made me see my role in perpetuating the system in a whole new light. It was a revelation somewhat akin to #YesAllWomen a couple of years ago, in that it got me to see the world from a viewpoint other than my own in a very powerful way.
  11. You’ve got a friend in real estate. There was an overlap between #1 & 2 last year, too—one of my closest friends saw how much fun I was having (and, to be fair, also all of the downsides as well as the upsides) and decided to get into the business herself. It’s been great being able to go through this journey together.
  12. Time tracking. When I worked in the Mayor’s Office, I tracked the time I spent working—actually doing work, not just being physically present in the office—down to the minute. It was a great tool for seeing where all of my time was going, so I started doing the same thing back in October for real estate.
  13. Public speaking. I gave my second-best Ignite talk of all time last February, during which I pulled an audience volunteer up onstage and had her give a fully improvised, on-the-fly talk for three minutes with no advance warning. I also spoke about the City’s housing policies at the first City Inspired forum in Pioneer Square…which made me realize that I really like talking about local government in front of an audience.
  14. Seattle Public Theater. I’ve had more time to settle in as a board member, and I’m really enjoying it—the second show of our 2015-2016 season, a re-interpretation of Amadeus, is playing now, and we’ve got two more great ones on tap after that.
  15. Sleep No More. I took a whirlwind trip to New York to see Sleep No More after hearing about it from my playwriting group and a couple of different friends. It was my first experience with immersive theater, and I absolutely loved it.
  16. Drinking About Local Politics. One of the things that I missed from working at City Hall was being able to dive deep on all of the issues of the day with a bunch of wonky political insiders…so I started putting together a monthly happy hour with the local political reporters that I know, which has been a lot of fun.
  17. “Can you hear me now?” Talking on the phone is now a mission-critical part of my job, which means that my iPhone’s tendency to drop roughly 33% of the calls that I make or receive isn’t as cute as it used to be. In the ultimate Throwback Thursday, I ordered up a line of Vonage service, Amazon Primed myself a sleek new cordless phone, and regained the ability to call people like it’s 1999.
  18. Afternoon naps. Definitely one of the best benefits of working mostly from home. I was too busy to think about sleeping during the day from pretty much March to September, but when things slowed down a bit in October I started making the most of it.
  19. A new caretaker. I’m the President of the Board for my co-op apartment building (similar to a condo, except that instead of owning your unit outright you own shares in a corporation that owns the entire building), and last year I led the search for a new live-in caretaker after our old one bought a house and moved out. It was the first time I’d run a full hiring process from start to finish, and it was a great learning experience.
  20. Writing the New City. After living a few blocks away for 5 ½ years, I finally took my first Hugo House class after a friend forwarded me the listing. It was taught by The Stranger’s Charles Mudede, and the topic was writing about the changes happening to different neighborhoods in Seattle. I loved it, for a lot of reasons; it definitely won’t be my last class there.
  21. A singing telegram. One of my good friends had a Salon of Shame-style birthday party that involved everyone reading an embarrassing journal entry from their past. I was out of town, but unbeknownst to the birthday girl I hired a singing telegram actor to dress up as my future self and show up at the party to read one of my old journal entries for me. He was apparently a big hit; it still makes me smile just thinking about it.
  22. HUMP! After hearing about it for years, I finally went to Seattle’s premiere amateur porn festival for the first time with a bunch of friends. I had no idea what to expect going in, but it turned out to be more or less a series of mini-documentaries about the sex lives of ordinary Seattleites, which was fascinating.
  23. Trying Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as VR technologies go—it’s just a little cardboard enclosure that you slide your phone into—but when I used it at a friend’s house with one of the NY Times VR stories, it blew me away. The revolution is coming.
  24. A playlist system for the ages. After a long dry spell of iTunes genius mixes and large, hastily-thrown-together mishmashes of different kinds of music, in preparation for the road trip I sat down and carefully organized my collection of more than 11,000 MP3s into 71 playlists spanning 5 different taxonomic systems. As with any first draft, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s far better than anything I’ve had before.
  25. Shopping. I finally started investing in my wardrobe in a meaningful way, including ordering some custom-fit shirts and pants from Trumaker and Trunk Club and discovering the joy of clothes shopping, something I used to do only when forced.
  26. A morning routine. One of the big lessons I learned this past year was that I need time for relaxation and reflection built into my daily life, otherwise it’s going to disappear whenever I’m really busy. In late October I came up with a morning routine and started going to bed early so that I could have two full hours every morning before I even turn on my phone…and it’s been one of the most transformative things that I’ve ever done for myself.
  27. A truly great habit-tracking app. I’ve dabbled with different apps over the years for building daily habits that don’t fit well onto a traditional to-do list, but it wasn’t until Productive that I truly found my muse. I can’t say enough good things about it—if there are habits that you’re trying to build, do yourself a favor and download it today.
  28. Sending cards. One of my resolutions last year was to be better about sending birthday cards and holiday cards—I did a great job with the former and a decent job with the latter, but there’s room for improvement on both fronts this year.
  29. Reaching for my phone less often. I bought an Apple Watch last year after my first-generation Basis B1 gave up the ghost, for two main reasons—the ability to get notifications from my phone without taking it out of my pocket, and the sheer amount of information that I can get on the front screen with just a quick glance at my wrist. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice; it’s amazing how much of a difference those two things make, and how much less time I spend looking at my phone as a result.
  30. Selling the Fit. The only downside to buying the BMW was having to give up my trusty little Fit. Luckily, though, I ended up selling it to a friend who I know will give it a good home and get good use out of it. It was my first time completing a private-party car sale to someone who wasn’t a family member, so it was also a good learning opportunity.
  31. The new Star Wars movie. I’ve seen The Force Awakens three times now in three of the best movie theaters in the world—the Pacific Science Center IMAX and the Cinerama in Seattle, and the holiest-of-holy Chinese Theater in Los Angeles—and I’ve liked it more each time. I re-watched Episodes I – VI between the first and second time, too, which really helped me appreciate it more fully…and, if I’m being honest, my high school self is really glad that a non-James Cameron movie finally beat Titanic’s domestic box office record from 1997 (and Avatar’s too, for good measure). Next stop: taking down Titanic’s #5 spot on the inflation-adjusted all-time box office list.
  32. An accountant of my own. After doing my own taxes for 19 years, I’ve finally enlisted the help of a professional ally—I’m a long way from the 1040 EZs of my youth, and it’s been great to have someone who can answer all of the questions that I have throughout the year.
  33. A sharing economy listserv. As an experiment, I set up a Google group for a group of my friends that’s kind of like a private version of the “Community” section of Craigslist; it’s been going well so far.
  34. Actually using my CRM. It sounds mundane, but as a real estate agent I live and die by my sales pipeline—I was using a jury-rigged setup that was held together by the electronic equivalent of duct tape and pipe cleaners for most of 2015, so once things slowed down a bit I spent a lot of time in the late fall and winter building out a much more robust system, and it’s made a huge difference in my daily workflow.
  35. Transitioning from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance. I never would have thought of myself as seeing the world through a lens of scarcity, but in hindsight that’s exactly how I’ve structured my life since college. I spent most of my twenties with one foot out the door of wherever I was, constantly oriented towards some distant, better version of the future, always chasing whatever new experiences were waiting for me around the next corner. Even after I settled in to Seattle around 30 and started putting down roots, I spent a long time worrying about what my life lacked instead of enjoying everything that it had—worrying that I would never find a career that felt right to me, that I would never really fit in, that I would die alone and unloved. I remember very clearly the moment when that changed. It was last November, my first full year as a real estate agent was wrapping up, and I was surrounded by a community of people the likes of which I could never have imagined even a few short years ago. I had just had the kind of conversation with a very close friend that shows you how deep the bond is that you share…and I was suddenly overcome by this incredible feeling of peace and invincibility and utter calmness, like it was OK for me to stop worrying about the future because I had finally arrived at that better place I’d been trying to get to for all these years. That was the spirit with which I entered into the road trip at the beginning of the year, and the spirit with which I’m now entering into my 36th year of life. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally reached Peak Sol; I have no idea what the next 12 months have in store for me, but I can’t wait to find out.

6 thoughts on “Reflections on 35

  1. This is so neat, Sol. What a wonderful way to greet a new year–I’m totally doing something like this for my birthday next month. Thanks for sharing!

    • You were definitely part of the renaissance, Annie! You were more directly responsible for its beginning in 2014 than its most recent evolution in 2015, though. If anyone deserves a shout-out for last year, it’s really Carrie.

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