The Tension of Feeling Disappointed and Grateful on my 35th Birthday

tim chan —  January 16, 2016 — Leave a comment

Today I turn 35 years old. It’s a milestone birthday of officially being in my mid-thirties. Or as our friends pointed out to this morning, it’s halfway to “three score years and ten” (which is mentioned by the psalmist in Psalm 90:10 as the length of a normal lifespan). As I reflect on how I feel at 35 years old, I notice the tension I feel between disappointment and gratitude.


I feel disappointed at my life not being as successful as I had hoped or wished for. I wish I had more career success by this time. I wish I would be making more money. I wish we had more money saved up and more of our house paid for. I wish I had a stronger community that I was a part of. I wish I had deeper friendships. I wish I were healthier.

At the same time, I feel gratitude. I feel grateful for the wonderful wife I have and my loveable two girls. I feel grateful for the work experiences I’ve had and the mentors that helped me to grow. I feel grateful for the countries I’ve been fortunate to travel to. I feel grateful that I have a business that is sustainable and allows me to work with such amazing people. I feel grateful for the personal growth I’ve had.

As I reflected on the things I felt disappointed and grateful for, I started to wonder, “What is a healthy way to measure a life?” Are these healthy things to be disappointed at and grateful for? Is career, money, family, experiences, and friendships a good way to measure the progress of my life so far?

Before I answer my own question, I have to stop to remind myself that a life is valuable apart from its accomplishments. Each and every person is valued and loved and worthy no matter how much or little they have accomplished in life.

That being said, I started thinking that the best way to measure my progress at 35 years old is how much I understand who I am, how at peace I am with being myself, and how much I am authentically living out who I am in all aspects of life.

So that’s my thought of the day. Thanks for all the people that have made an effort to reach out to say “happy birthday”. Each year I like to personally reply back all the messages I get, and this year will be no different. To practise gratitude on my birthday, in my responses to people I’d like to tell them how I’m grateful for them, be it a memory we share or a way they’ve made a difference in my life.

One of the first people that sent me a birthday message was Rod Alm, who is a past colleague from my days at Power to Change. I wrote him to share one of my favourite memories of him. About 6 years ago I had finished a 6-month long project and was presenting the results to the National Leadership team. I was nervous at their response. Rod was on the team and the first person to give me feedback after the presentation. His response was one of encouragement, praising me for leading though data in my project. He may not remember this, but I remember very clearly, because it made me feel affirmed at a time I felt vulnerable. So I shared this story to him today, thanking him for being an encouragement to me and many others. It’s so true as Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now, back to celebrating my birthday.