In 2 days, I will turn 25. Kind of a big birthday in my eyes.

On my last birthday, I wrote a column about the discipline of celebrating what is good, even if life is hard. It was a good piece that I still think I should abide by. The thing is, I wrote about how life is really hard sometimes, and that in those times, it’s easy to want to just ignore the opportunity to celebrate. When birthdays come after a death, it’s easy to just want to skip it. When holidays come after divorce, it’s easy to just want to ignore them. But really, we should celebrate. Even when we don’t feel like it.

I wrote: “It is not easy. It is a discipline. But the discipline of celebration itself helps to bring me back to life again. I believe life is always worth celebrating. And in the midst of life being hard, I intend to choose to celebrate what is good.”

But then when the actual day came, it was easier written than exercised. I had horrible hives on my birthday all over my back and stomach, and by lunch time they had crawled their way up on my neck and face. (For perspective, to me, the ninth level of hell would be itching without ceasing.) I ended up leaving work to go to the doctors because I was so miserable and it continued to get worse.

My family came together to have dinner with me, and I couldn’t even tell you where we ate. They talked about things and I was miserably distant, not able to think of anything but the itching, my migraine, how tired I was from the shots the doctor had given me, and how my sucky broken life was hard enough to try to celebrate without all of this.

We got back to my parents and were about to open presents when I started crying and canceled my birthday. “Can we just not?” I said. “I don’t want to open these presents. I’m miserable. I have no idea what you guys talked about at dinner. I just can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

And I sobbed as my dad and brother waited, unsure of how to proceed, having gathered in traditional O’Hanlon family places for birthday-present opening. My mom came over to the side of my chair and told me it was OK. We didn’t have to do it if it was too hard. They wanted to celebrate my life, but not if it was too hard for me.

So after writing about celebrating what’s good, and deciding that’s what I was going to do, I instead canceled my birthday with itchy, drowsy tears.

But, through those tears, I asked if we could have a re-do the next week. Which we did. It wasn’t really a special thing, just family dinner again. But at least I was mentally present that time. I wanted to try my hardest to celebrate what was good in life. But to be honest, it was a real struggle. And I flat-out failed the first time I tried.

But the thing is, I tried again. I asked for a re-do.

And that’s how I’m trying to live my life these days and years now.  I’m trying to identify the ways I think it’s valuable to live, but sometimes those are hard ways to really live out. So I try. And when I fail, I try again. And even when I succeed, sometimes it’s not glamorous. It just barely qualifies.

But as I’m getting older, that’s actually one of my things I’m trying to do more — I want to fail sometimes. I want to be trying to do the hard things. And that means failing sometimes. And sometimes it means making it — barely — and not in the way I thought I would. That’s what my life is about these days — trying to dream big dreams, tackle big goals, and have grace for myself along the way. Because it’s true, sometimes I will fail.


As someone who always accomplished what I’d set out to do before, this has been a different approach to life for me in the past year, and I think it’s been a really healthy shift. I’ve failed at more things this year than maybe any other year. And I’ve also grown personally this year more than in any other year.

So, the world can know that I started off my 25th year by failing. And by the end of that year now, I’m OK with that.

I’m going to celebrate my 25th birthday by playing mini golf, which I have never done. So I’m betting there will be a fair amount of failing on this birthday as well. But I’m excited to try!

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

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