When you’re little, you know how your life is going to go. You’ll grow up, get married, become a mommy or a daddy. You’ll become a firefighter or a teacher or a pilot. You’ll stay up as late as you want. You’ll live in a house and drive a car and maybe have a dog or a cat.
I’ve been thinking too much lately, but one of the things that’s been on my mind is what to do when your plans don’t become realities.
Exhibit A: My cousin, who is brilliant, hardworking, personable, and attractive, who double majored (or was it triple majored) in Spanish, Portuguese?, and biochemistry?. I think the last two are right. Anyway, fields that you’d think were ultra-marketable. She graduated a year ago and has been looking for a job in one of her fields ever since. She’s still working at Target. Now, I think this particular cousin is doing a phenomenal job of staying optimistic, but clearly this is not what she imagined when she declared her majors, when she worked hard to complete her degree(s). But the economy won out over her credentials, keeping her in a job that is way, way below her abilities.
Exhibit B: My sister is a kind, gentle, service-oriented woman who is phenomenal with kids. She works really hard at everything she does, which earned her a very high GPA in college. She majored in nursing and is now working as a nurse (but it took her five months to land the job) in a tiny town 2.5 hours away from where she lives, working night shifts even though she’s a serious morning person. What she really dreams of doing, though, is being a world-class mom. Short of that, a better nursing job, preferably in labor and delivery, would probably make her happy.
Exhibit C: I grew up knowing how to scrimp and save and live on little. I never expected to be rich, or even moderately well off. I pictured myself marrying a man who was passionate about his work but who didn’t make a whole lot. I pictured a small, older house, older cars, and used clothing and furniture. I didn’t really imagine that we’d still be renting an apartment eight years into our marriage, possibly more.
I know that going back to school was an important thing for us as a family to do, especially since as it was, we probably never would have been able to afford a house on Jon Boy’s salary alone. And I wanted to avoid working if I could. I also know that it might be the right thing for him to go on to get his PhD. I’m theoretically okay with doing that. In the grand scheme of things, not buying a house until you’re in your 30s isn’t so bad.
In the here and now, sometimes it feels like we—and my sister and my cousin—are in an in-between place in our lives, where we’re doing stuff because we have to have something to do, knowing that what we’re doing in the meantime is definitely not what we want to be doing forever.
It’s not even the temporary situation that I think bothers me, which I’m sure made no sense at all. I mean, I don’t mind our apartment. It’s meeting our needs right now. (I know my sister kind of hates her job and dreads going to work, so this might be worse for her.) We have great neighbors and a great yard, a great neighborhood and a spot for everything we need (more or less).
It’s the temporariness. It’s knowing this won’t be the home my kids remember growing up in. It’s knowing there’s no point in getting rid of a piece of furniture or painting a room or removing carpet because we’re probably moving in a year. It’s the feeling of, “I just have to put up with this for a little while longer,” as if life itself were something that is just being “put up with.”
I want to feel like I’m living my life right now, not waiting for some future event that will mark its true beginning. I have the job I want (jobs, actually), the kids I want, the husband I want, the friends I want. Other than the lack of a house to call my own, my life is great. Why do I focus on the missing brick in the wall instead of the wall as a whole?
Further, once we buy our first place, whether two or ten years from now, will I shift and say that I won’t really feel like my life has started until [fill in the blank]? I sure hope not. I wonder sometimes about people who have the “American dream” and whether they feel like this too.
And I wonder how my sister and my cousin should go about finding joy in their lives when their lives aren’t at all what they’d hoped or planned or worked for.
I’ve done this, too. I’m working on not, because I don’t really want to spend my whole life planning to be happy later.