Turning 30: How I learned to stop running in Charlotte

Turning 30: How I learned to stop running in Charlotte
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That picture is ironic given the title, right? Don’t worry, we’ll get to it.

We live in an era where we can carefully craft our public image — the perfect profile picture on Facebook, the perfect resume on LinkedIn, the perfect family photo on Instagram, the perfect commentary on Twitter.

If you look through my social profiles, that’s what you’ll find: the perfectly curated version of myself. It all looks great. I’ve checked off the big boxes people turning 30 often stress about. I’m married, and I’ve got a 5-year-old who started kindergarten this year. We bought our first house last year and both are lucky to have graduated from a great college with no debt.

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The problem? It’s not really the truth. That’s much darker and scarier and hard to bring up at a party — much less social media.

The first half of my 20s were turbulent. They started with a sexual assault that left some deep scars and cost me four best friends. (PSA: Please go talk to someone — anyone — if this happens to you. Counseling doesn’t fix everything, but it helps.)

The next couple of years brought a devastating breakup, shattered confidence and an unexpected pregnancy at 23 that left me planning for single parenthood. How do you present that image to the world when you looked before like someone who’s got it all together?

What changed? The simplest, and most complicated, answer is faith. Faith in God. Faith in new life and renewal. Faith in miracles. You can’t tell me a 22-year-old reconnecting with his college girlfriend, asking her to marry him and adopting her son isn’t one.

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Charlotte was my sixth town in three years when we moved here in fall 2011. It’s really hard to put down roots and build friendships when you’re constantly moving. It is very easy to keep people at a distance.

Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations beyond another stop in the road. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly Charlotte became home.

I could tell you it was the playground trips to Freedom Park in the fall, the splash pad visits to Latta Park in the summer or a brewery excursion on a perfect spring evening.

But it’s really about the people — many are transplants like us. People here really care about building something better and connecting with each other.

My family is in Cincinnati, and my husband’s is in the Raleigh area, so these friendships have been especially important.

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Tonight I get to celebrate my 30th birthday with my favorite people (and some yummy Charlotte eats — Olde Mecklenburg beer and Bill Spoon’s BBQ). It’s a chance for all of my separate, and important, worlds in Charlotte to come together.

My church friends from Christ Lutheran who ground me, my local news friends who understand me, my neighborhood friends who have embraced me, and my FiA workout friends who have helped me fly.

When I moved to Charlotte, I was still adapting to new motherhood and understanding the new person I would become. I begrudgingly started running to lose some baby weight. (Hey, it doesn’t cost much money.)

Two and a half years ago, I found the free exercise group FiA. Somewhere along the way they even made me like running. I recently ran Thunder Road Marathon — my second full this year. What’s made all the sweat and pain worth it is getting to know people. You learn an awful lot when you’re running together for miles on end or sweating at bootcamps.

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What I love most about this group is we don’t care about our Facebook profiles when we’re out there at 5:15 a.m. It’s about presenting our authentic selves and pushing each other to be better. It’s a place where I’ve been free to be myself and share my story. It’s a place that’s helped me find who I am and who I am becoming.

The older we get, the less time we have for facades. I’ve got a lot of flaws, but I’m working on them.

I’ll still be posting to Instagram and Facebook tonight as my friends help me celebrate the start of my fourth decade. I’m sure there will be good times and bad in the next 10 years.

But I’ve learned a valuable lesson in Charlotte to go beyond the beaming family portraits. Get to know each other and reach out. Stop running away from who we really are. You never know whose life you might change.

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