Birthdays provide tangible proof of personal growth

Funfetti cake. Brief peril in the proximity of my crazy hair to birthday candles. The yearly barrage of, “Hey, [@EveryTennisProEver]! It’s my birthday — please tweet at me!”

I love birthdays. There’s something irresistible about their innate tangibility.

Whether I’m flipping my calendar from November 2013 to now or mentally preparing myself for 24 hours of Taylor Swift’s “22,” I crave tangible proof I’ve grown in the past year.

And yet, the tangible things I’ve counted on over the years have lost some of their luster this time. Fear not, I’ll still bake Funfetti cake with blindingly pink frosting, and Roger Federer will tweet at me this year (wishful thinking italicized for dramatic effect). This birthday, though, I’ve reinvented some of the tangible experiences I once clung to for evidence of personal growth.

Like tennis. When I quit playing my junior year of college, courtesy of homework/work/life in general, I felt lost. The physical act of playing tennis was ingrained in my identity. It provided a go-to means of relieving whatever trauma I faced that day.

Thanks to my senior capstone for my English writing degree, I’ve realized newfound complexity in the game of tennis. Though I can’t hit a forehand with the same finesse as my 17-year-old self, I’ve realized I love writing about tennis far more than I ever enjoyed playing it.

Plus, there’s a bizarre dichotomy in tennis. It’s intensely private and public, simultaneously. The player is alone on the court, as fans, coaches, photographers and even the umpire experience the narrative from a different vantage point. A fan-sanctioned form of solitary confinement.

Exploring this complexity in writing has renewed tennis’ purpose in my life.

Birthdays remind me it’s OK to be ridiculous (i.e. fangirl tweeting at Roger Federer while inhaling one-too-many Funfetti cupcakes), but they also remind me that personal growth transcends those 24 hours. It blurs into something more nuanced, in which the tangible and intangible are inextricable.

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