When I was in elementary school, I'd play M.A.S.H with my friends to figure out my future. I always ended up with some combination of living in a shack or mansion with Jonathan Taylor Thomas or Devon Sawa in California or Florida with four or six kids, a Corvette or a pickup truck and a pet horse or fish. All of the these possibilities were fine by me, there was really no bad combination of variables — I wouldn't die alone, I'd have a roof over my head, wheels at my feet, and a pet to name after a Disney character. No matter how I looked at that ink smudged piece of paper, my life was to be full and most importantly, my life was promised to me.
When I was in high school, my friends and I would have conversations about the future that were disguised as games. One friend wanted to be married by 21, have two kids by 24 and be a CEO by 30. I wanted to be a CEO by 25, and have three kids and a husband by 30. The numbers were as good as arbitrary but made sense in our game. And we weren't really sure what the acronym CEO stood for, but we knew it was a symbol of being on top of our professional game, which was important to us even before we knew which profession we were interested in.
What we didn't know, was that those goals made in jest would stick with us into adulthood and plague our every birthday. At 25 I could only frown at my associate position; it wasn't anywhere near CEO, and while it was a step in the right direction — a secured paycheck and a validation of my skill set — I couldn't find the peace I hoped to have by 25. When we fantasized about our futures, we didn't realize that life's milestones were more than choices. We didn't realize that our wants and needs would change as we aged. We didn't realize that we couldn't pluck our life partners from the universe and weave our careers out of stardust.
And yet, as we approach 30, we find it hard to let go of the lists. We find it hard to reconcile with the fact that we are not living the lives we drew up for ourselves. My best friend who wanted to be married by 21 was just happily married to the man of her dreams at 28 years old. And yet, on the car ride to the church she couldn't help but think, "If only I weren't seven years late for meeting my goal..." And if my teenage self was still in charge of my destiny, I'd be a mother of three and the chief executive officer of my career. The danger in letting your childhood projections of adulthood dictate your satisfaction in your adult life is that they squander it. Your childhood dreams oversimplified the reality of the dating pools and jobscapes. Your childhood dreams stunted your growth and lead you to assume that you wouldn't or shouldn't evolve.
Sometimes plan-making is useful. Sometimes plans can provide comfort and guidance to make the vast unknown that is life just a bit more accessible and a lot less scary. But sometimes plans get in the way of life happening. Sometimes plans put you on auto-pilot when you should really be in manual — totally alert, constantly shifting gears to accommodate the changes in the road. If you think about what you really wanted for yourself as a child, it wasn't to have X number of kids by a certain age. It wasn't to have a specific kind of car. It wasn't to adhere to this convention or that. It was to have it all. But what you didn't realize as a child, was that having it all is subjective.
The woman you are today is so much smarter and stronger and wiser than the little girl you were in school — hunched over the cafeteria table, elbows sticky, eyes wide. The woman you are today is more that a future wife, or car owner, or pet owner. The woman you are today is exactly who you were meant to be. You are more exquisite and more accomplished than any list or game could ever predict.
Images: Courtesy of Kaitlyn Wylde, Giphy