Do you ever have those moments where you think, "how did I get here?" Not in the physical sense of being lost and not knowing where you are. But, in the sense of wondering whose life you are living? I had one of those moments the other night while driving home from work. I glanced in my rear view mirror as I was braking in traffic, hoping the car behind me didn't end up in my trunk. That quick glance brought on all sorts of thoughts. How on earth am I 34 years old, driving a sedan, on my way home to make dinner for my husband? Am I really an attorney? Do I really live in a place other than Columbus? None of these thoughts were accompanied by feelings of regret, disappointment, or sadness. Rather, it was simply a reflection on how quickly life passes by us. And, on how we can plan and dream and hope for one thing, and get something altogether different, and if you are lucky, better. I grew up with this idea of what my adult life would be like. And though I'm exceptionally happy with my real, full life, it looks nothing like what I imagined it would. And, as I realized that, I also realized that I'm perfectly okay that the specifics of my childhood dream for my adult life didn't come true. Of course the simple parts did: wanting to be happy, wanting to feel fulfilled in a career, wanting a loving husband and great friends, and wanting to be healthy.
I grew up wanting to be a doctor. For as far back as I can remember, that was my career plan, I think under the naive impression that being a doctor would automatically guarantee financial security (that was before I had any idea about the burden of student loans). I thought I'd marry my high school sweetheart by the time I was 25 and be done having babies by 30. I'd live in Columbus, have weekly dinners with my parents, and be the best of friends with the friends I had had since elementary school. I don't know where my "dreams" about my adult life came from. I suppose I dreamed of marrying a high school sweetheart because that is what my parents did. The genesis of the rest of my dreamed-up adulthood is a mystery to me.
Decades after this dream of mine developed, the life I'm living is exceptionally different and better than I could have anticipated. This despite the fact that I'm not a doctor. I didn't marry a high school sweetheart and at 34, I don't have any children. I don't live in Columbus and don't get to see my parents as often as I would like. And, other than through the miracle of facebook and high school reunions, I'm not in touch with my friends from my childhood.
All these thoughts went through my mind the other night in the blink of an eye. In another blink of the eye, I was right back to the present, thinking about what was on the menu for dinner and all the tasks I had on my weekend to-do list. It may be easy, in those moments of reflection, to dwell on all the could- and should-have-beens; you can dwell on the fact that the neighbors down the street have a nicer car, a bigger house, and go on grander vacations; you can feel like what you have is not "enough". But, that is defeatist and the surest way to feel unhappy. Instead, I try to live in the present, to be happy with what I have and not be defined by the possessions and jobs and lives of others. Sure, we can dream and hope and plan and work for a better future. There is nothing wrong with that. But, feeling like a failure for not having the life you dreamed of as a naive teenager or even twenty-something? Not in a million years.