noun: A stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
An action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Synonyms: landmark - mile post - milepost
A milestone in the physical sense is a posting along a road that indicates either how many miles you’ve traveled or how many remain until you reach your destination. It’s a sign that you’re moving forward, making progress, getting there. In professional fields, milestones are moments that call for a project team to stop and examine how their work is progressing, asking, “Do we need to change directions? Do we need to modify our course? How far along are we?”
Here I am on the other side of the 30 year milestone. What does reaching this mark along the road really mean?
In many ways the significance of milestone birthdays as opposed to that of others is completely arbitrary. Why do we celebrate a 5th birthday any more than a 6th one? Why is 21 so important, but not 23? Who’s to say that 32 or 28 are any less important or transformational years than 30? That said, I have to admit that 30 does feel different in some way. We can acknowledge the arbitrary nature of days/events like this while also embracing the utility of having something to remind us to appreciate and be reflective and evaluative about life.
In years’ past, on my birthday I would revisit and revise my “plan”-- be it a five year plan, a plan for the year, or otherwise. I have not yet crafted an up-to-date 5 year plan. I did, however, take a look at the one that I wrote at age 25. Imagine the shock and awe I experienced seeing all the things I didn’t do--live in South Africa or Chile or Ghana or Paris for six months, publish a novel, learn Spanish... I can’t deny that I had a moment of panic looking at this list of things undone. I wondered, am I going to look back at the end of my life and feel regret over all the things I haven’t done?! Where did all the time go?!
But this is what I’ve realized: when I wrote this plan I was a different person. Loss and other life experiences change you and they change your priorities. They also change the decisions you make and your motivation behind them. The thing that needs to happen over time is that you should be getting more and more grounded in your faith in your ability to modify “the plan.” Yes, I do kind of wish I had done more of the things on my old 5-year plan, but I also feel like I'm moving in the right direction and I don't feel inclined to change course. That's an excellent feeling.
For me, this 30th year milestone marks a shift in focus, away from my "wish list" of experiences and towards deepening important relationships and growing as a person. I believe it will always be a part of who I am to have a wish list of things to do--places to travel and live, for example. I think having an appetite for new and interesting things breathes life into, well, life. But I also know that this isn't the measure of a life well lived. Instead, I really want to know that I've poured myself into enriching the lives of my loved ones and becoming a better person.
In terms of that goal, a milestone birthday is no better occasion to take stock of how things are going than any other day in life. When you wake up in the morning, this is reason enough to celebrate and also think about how you're doing in terms of your path towards being who you're supposed to be. But since I suffer from chronic distraction, I'm certainly glad for the opportunity this birthday has given me to remember to do some of this reflection.