I turn thirty this Saturday, which has been freaking me out for a number of reasons— round numbers are always scary, I guess this means I’m an ACTUAL grownup now?, and of course, I should have accomplished so much more than I have by now. I was listening to a live song by one of my favorite musicians last month, and he said something during an instrumental that has plagued me ever since:
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’m thirty. I’ve made a lot of things happen for myself— and that is a really cool thing to be able to say when you’re in your twenties, ‘I made a lot of things happen for myself.”
Shit, I thought. I haven’t made ANYthing happen for myself.
It’s not that I haven’t done anything. The more I thought about it, the more there is to be proud of from my twenties: Six books in publication with my name on them, two great kids, loving family, dream job doing what I love, some awards, people who love me and who I love back, I raised over $20,000 for people who needed it in the last year alone. I own (outright!) an old car that is only slightly run down and which is very practical. I am doing okay, in the grand scheme of things.
None of this, not any of it, is something that I would say I “made happen.”
My mother, for as long as I can remember, has chided me to “live with an attitude of gratitude.” And perhaps I overdo it a bit— I am always very conscious of who I am thankful to and for what, to the point where friends have made fun of me for expressing my gratitude to them all the time. Call me untalented, self-absorbed, ugly, lazy, whatever— just never boring or ungrateful. I am fortunate to have been able to accomplish as many things as I’ve accomplished in the last thirty years, and not a single bit of it is something I could have made happen for myself. I have been crazy lucky to meet the right people at the right time to help set me on the path I have been following, and I keep that list of names in my head, and every day I think about how fortunate I am to have crossed paths with these people. (And yes, one of the “names” on the list is “every person who has ever bought one of my games.”)
Seriously. Sometimes people ask me how to “break into” games or how I managed to find an awesome job in this economy or something similar, and my answer is so freaking pedestrian. Be polite, find people willing to help you and then don’t take that for granted. Be polite some more. If that doesn’t get you all the way there, rinse and repeat. I mean, there’s social networking and digital whatever and who knows how the kids are demonstrating their with-it-iness these days, but civility and gratitude are like a string of pearls— they never go out of style.
So, yeah. The more I think about it, the more okay I am with not being able to brag about how I made a lot of things happen for myself over the last thirty years. I’d rather give credit where credit is due— and besides, I think it’s way cooler to think about the ways I have helped make a lot of things happen for others.
I was anguishing on this very subject at Brenda Garno in the kitchen at work last month. I said something about how I’d fully expected to take over the world when I was in my twenties. Brenda gave me a withering look. “Why would you ever want to take over the world? That’s just taking over someone else’s IP. We make worlds. That’s better.” It is, perhaps, the choicest piece of perspective I have ever been given, and if I ever have a computer room again, I am getting that printed out and framed on the wall.