On Turning 33 who do you want to be? My 33rd Birthday at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

On turning 33. Who do you want to be?

Reflections on my 33rd birthday.

I still bite my nails, still throw my dirty laundry on the floor, still leave used dishes in the sink.
I can’t play the guitar, can’t knit, can’t paint.
I never finished that novel I started writing in college.
I haven’t had a boyfriend in over ten years.
I never became a dancer, an actor, a writer.
I don’t even have a career.
I’m still paying off my grad school loans.
I’m afraid of heights, of talking on the phone, of getting eaten by a shark.
I’m getting to the age where I should start having kids.


Birthday Dinner at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

I celebrated my birthday at Las Tablas — a Colombian restaurant in Chicago that has live salsa music on Saturday nights.

Birthday Dinner at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

I drank all the sangria.

Yesterday I turned thirty-three, which is closer to thirty-five than to thirty. And thirty-five is closer to forty. And for some reason, I’m a bit freaked out.

I’ve met people who refused to turn thirty, those people who are perpetually twenty-nine, who reject moving into a new age bracket. Who reject turning 30. Who reject turning 31. Who reject turning 32. Who reject turning 33.

When I turned thirty, three years ago, I embraced it. Thirty was the year I quit my job and bought a one way ticket to Europe. Thirty was the year I started sleeping around, stopped overthinking everything. Thirty was the year I started doing things, living the life I wanted.

Some people say life begins at 30. And, while it might not for everyone, it certainly did for me.

And ever since I turned 30, my life has just gotten better and better.

Birthday Dinner at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

Me and Heather.

So it’s not that I care about age, really. I mean, everyone is shocked when I tell them how old I am anyways, them thinking I’m about ten years younger. And I don’t feel thirty-three either.

But maybe that’s the problem.

I should have my life together by now. Right? I should have kicked all those bad habits. I should be self-sufficient. I should have fallen in love. I should know how to play the guitar.

I should know who I am and be the person I want to be.

I think of who I want to be physically. While I may never again be the 99 pound nymph I was in high school I could use to get back in shape. I should have stopped biting my nails thirty years ago. My style is always changing, slightly, but I feel like I’m settling into the look I feel is right for me. I no longer wear a lot of makeup, but every so often like some mascara or lipstick. I’ve learned that I only like t-shirts that are long enough to hit my hips. I like skinny jeans. I embrace the simplicity of throwing on a dress. I like wearing scarves even if it’s 90 degrees outside. I recently switched from a tiny fake-diamond nose stud to a small gold hoop and I love it. I’ve started dying my hair pink and no, I don’t think I’m too old for it. (I think what I just described is “hipster” — but believe me you won’t hear me listening to any music that no one else has ever heard of.) I have ideas for four or so tattoos that I want to get and I think I’m going to get them all.

I think of where I want to be mentally. I want to read more. Read everything. I want to be more up to date on current events even if the news makes me too sad or mad to ever want to know what’s going on. I want to be self-sufficient, have a career, whatever that career may be. I want to have more convictions and stick to them. I want to eat mostly vegetarian (well, pescatarian really, though I don’t plan on giving up meat entirely, especially as I travel and want to try everything and, you know, am competing in a hot dog eating contest.) I want to change the way I travel: go slower, volunteer more, move away from completely hostel-based living conditions. I guess I want my travels to have a bigger purpose. Whether it be for the world or for me.

Bandeja paisa at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

I realize I just said I wanted to cut down on meat consumption…but I couldn’t not get a bandeja paisa: a Colombian dish featuring pretty much every meat you can think of.

I think of where I want to be creatively. I want to know how to play the guitar. I want to be able to draw something other than lopsided hearts. I want my blog to be something more than just my random thoughts. I want to write that novel I’ve always said I would. I want to dance every kind of dance.

Salsa dancing at Las Tablas, a Colombian restaurant in Chicago

I got just enough margarita in my friend JoeJoe to get him to try to dance salsa. Try.

So, I guess, I’m not quite where I want to be at thirty-three. But maybe, for the first time, I know exactly where and who I do want to be. So, I suppose I can only keep striving to be that person from here-on-in.

Some people refer to your 33rd birthday, your 33rd year, as your “Jesus Year.” Age 33 is thought, by many, to be the year Jesus was crucified. Age 33 is thought, by some, to therefore be a year of rebirth. A year of change. A year of growth. A year where your past is abandoned you can start anew.

Maybe there’s hope yet.

So, perhaps, by the time I’m thirty-five I’ll have everything together. Or Forty? Fifty? Please someone tell me that I’ll have my life in order by the time I’m fifty. Please?

Oh, and I don’t want children. Never have. Even my high-school-health-class husband high-school-health-class divorced me because I didn’t want to have egg babies. So the fact that I’ve actually cried, cried, recently, over the fact that I am getting too old to have children is impossibly ridiculous.

But, I suppose, I’m turning 33 years old, and it is what it is.

How about you? How old are you this year? What do you want to do at that age? Who do you want to be and what do you keep putting off? When do you think you’ll get there? Or are you one of those people who actually has their life in order, in which case…how did you manage that???


p.s. Last week two of my favorite (fine, favourite) travel bloggers mentioned my blog amongst their favorites, and I couldn’t be more touched by the kind words they had about me. Check out these posts from Backpacker Banter and Rexy Edventures.


On turning 33. Who do you want to be? Reflections on my 33rd birthday.
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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • mom
    January 20, 2014at9:49 am

    you are a writer, already, and people enjoy reading what you write. so scratch that one off your list. no one ever thinks that they have their life in order. also, look at the genes you have to work with, love mom

  • Amber Marlow, theAmberShow
    January 20, 2014at12:10 pm

    You have over a decade to have a baby if you decide you want to. Trust me; I’m in a neighborhood where women way older than us are running around knocked up.

    You are certainly not too old for pink hair.

    It sounds like you are getting more and more awesome. I like it and am inspired.

    Happy birthday.

  • Priya
    January 20, 2014at1:17 pm

    Beautiful post, Val! I totally know what you mean when you say that you don’t have it all figured out. I’m in my mid-twenties and I feel like I should have it all figured out but I’m far from having it all figured out, especially when I have the attention span of a 3-year-old.

  • Jen
    January 20, 2014at1:35 pm

    Val, don’t worry I don’t think most of us have it figured out yet. Andrew and I definitely don’t. This year’s goal is to get back into school. I need to start a new career path. One with better hours and less uncertainty. I’ve now been out of school 10 years and it’s time to get that damn degree. I’m so tired of feeling unqualified for anything decent and so embarrassed by the fact that I failed so badly when I was younger. To me, you have it more together than I do since you’re actually doing something awesome with your time instead of being trapped in a dead end job. And your mom’s right. You are a writer already.

  • Ali
    January 21, 2014at4:03 am

    Exactly like your mom said, you ARE a writer. I struggle with that one too, believing I’m a writer. I’m finally starting to get paid freelancing work and I still feel weird telling people I’m a writer. As for the other stuff, remember that life doesn’t have to look like what you thought it would or what everyone else thinks it should look like. You do what works for you. I love that you’re trying to find a way to make money while you’re on the road so you can continue that lifestyle for however long it suits you. If you don’t want kids, just put it out of your mind. I’ve known I don’t want kids since I was old enough to realize that not everyone has to have kids. People always told Andy he’d never find a girl who didn’t want kids. We’re in the minority, sure, but we’re all out there, and I believe people who don’t want kids gravitate towards each other because we have different goals for our lives in some ways. I love continuing to widen my circle of friends who don’t want kids!

    Pick one or two things that are really important to you, and focus on those. Once they become habits or are ingrained in your life or whatever, pick another couple of things to focus on. It will all work out as long as you are taking steps to get there. And remember your priorities will continue to change, and that’s ok too. I think “becoming who you want to be” is a lifelong, ever changing process, and if we ever reached that place and accomplished every single goal without replacing them with new ones, life would get boring.

    I say all of this knowing full well that I would love to just become the person I’d like to be and accomplish all kinds of goals, yet I’ve spent the past 2 hours doing mostly nonsense. Sigh 😉

  • Mandy
    January 21, 2014at2:50 pm

    Hey Val!

    I have been reading your blog for a while and felt inclined to write a comment after reading this post. I am turning 21 in a couple months, and I’m nowhere near having it all figured out. Sometimes I’m okay with that, and sometimes it scares me more than anything else.

    The reason I wanted to comment is- Maybe not having everything all figured out is okay! You have inspired me SO much with your blog posts. You are amazing, and I know I can’t be the only person you have inspired. I love reading your posts and seeing all the awesome adventures you have been on.

    I don’t think anyone really has it all figured out. I don’t, and I don’t know anyone else who does (at any age). If someone seems to have it all figured out, it’s probably just a smoke screen.

    You have accomplished so much already and done so much with your life! Keep living, keep growing, and keep inspiring others to be the best they can be!


  • Jodie
    January 21, 2014at3:04 pm

    This is the first blog of yours I have read but it was exactly what I needed to read today. I will be turning 23 this year and I’m completely lost with what I want to do and have been since I was 19 when I started travelling. I plan to start a degree in September but the though of committing to something scares me.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is no one ever really knows what they are doing, no matter your age. And that’s okay as long as your happy.

  • H-Bombarino
    January 22, 2014at10:56 am

    I possibly look liKe I now have my life together, and I hate having plans. Plans can go wrong. plans can get messed up. Then i can be disappointed. This is how plans get formed in McDonalds drive thru’s. Ifthey go wrong, it doesn’t seem as awful.

    That’s my roundabout way of saying life happens regardless of plans. Which is why I’m starting to anti-plan.

  • Hannah
    February 3, 2014at1:59 am

    No need to freak out! Age will always be a number! The main point is, you lived your life and you are living to the full. Right? :p

  • rebecca
    February 8, 2014at3:18 pm

    Does ANYONE EVER have it all figured out? Freaking out is normal, I freaked out on my 25th birthday for probably all of those same reasons! I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it! I would say your a writer. And I guess in reading this I would say you have shit pretty figured out, maybe your just overthinking!

  • Sally
    February 26, 2014at9:21 am

    You are being way too hard on yourself, a problem I also know a little too well (and can always recognize in other people but not myself LOL). Life is not perfect for anyone, and bettering yourself already gives you a leg up on a lot of people in the world. As for the little things, make a plan and dedicate yourself to it. Something like the Spin-Off Project (google it!) where you spend a month doing just guitar or just art or just whatever you want to learn/practice.

    But probably, you’re just fine haha. Happy birthday!

  • Erika
    March 1, 2014at5:35 pm

    This is my first encounter with your blog but I am so intrigued already! I love the way you write and it sounds to me that your life sounds pretty awesome from what I can tell! We have a habit of looking at the things we haven’t done, the things we have yet to attain, but feeling free and being yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin seems to be what most people want but few people achieve… at least by 33. And having it all together sometimes can be boring. As long as you are prioritizing what’s most important to you, then you’re winning. 🙂

  • Thandy
    May 7, 2014at10:16 am

    I”m turning 33 in September and i have nothing??? I want a husband , I want kids< iwant to travel , I wan't to change the world oh yes and learn how to play guiter I cry everyda at the lost oppourtunities at the loss of time I can"t believe I have such a small window to have all that I want …It's sad , so very sad, Thanks for the blog I just happened upon it but it made me feel less mad at myself….

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