Life is unpredictable – we can’t be afraid to roll with the punches.
I grew up presuming I would get married and have a family, but I didn’t really give it much thought. I certainly wasn’t one of those girly-girls who daydreams about their fairytale wedding and starts a scrapbook of inspiration in their teens. I didn’t look too far into the future; I didn’t have a crystal-clear visualisation of my life plan, but it seemed you left university, started a career, met Mr Right, got married, and the rest of the book wrote itself. Life seemed to follow a template for everyone, so I didn’t question it.
Now, at 41, I very much live in the moment, because if I sat and allowed myself to list where I am in life compared to where I presumed I’d be, I think my head would physically spin off into the ocean.
I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I turned my back on a very successful career two years ago because it wasn’t making me happy anymore. So, in theory, if the life list of achievements includes all of those big goals, I have, well, nothing. I don’t own a house, I don’t have to think about dropping kids off at the school gate, and I don’t cook family meals.
Of course, there is a part of my heart that actually hurts when I write that. Seeing it in black and white brings tears to my eyes, because my life really is nothing like I expected it to be. That’s precisely why I don’t sit and dwell or look at my life as a to-do list anymore; it’s overwhelming.
I live day by day; today I am happy and I am grateful for that. I do what I love every day, which is write, and I have no interest in acquiring ‘things’ – because I lived that life of faux success, and when you come to see it doesn’t make you happy anymore, you have to make a very conscious decision to turn your preconceptions upside down and try life differently.
For many years I was obsessed with making it to the top of my career. Then I got there and found out it didn’t make me happy, so I took one brave step off the merry-go-round and have forced myself to keep walking forward since then.
As you get older, when your life isn’t on the same well-signposted routes as other people’s lives, you have two choices: you can wallow and think ‘Well… what do I now?’ while chewing anxiously at your fingernails, or you can take big, confident steps forward along the beach, throw your arms in the air and ask excitedly ‘Well, what do I do now?’. It is a daily choice to opt for the second and not drown in the first.
We are lucky in modern society that the landscape of our lives has changed and opportunities are all around us.
As psychologist Dr Erica Frydenberg says, “We think differently now about age in terms of what is age-appropriate – for example, the way we dress and the company we keep. There is even flexibility in when we can have children and how we can have children. There is a ticking biological clock, but it has a wide span.”
So, does checking off socially acceptable goals really matter?
“They only matter because we think they do, and because others around us might value them. If we choose company that does not, we are likely to be happier.”
Frydenberg’s words are music to my ageing ears. It’s very true: real happiness comes when we stop comparing ourselves to other people – and that’s a life lesson that comes with the confidence of self-acceptance when we’re further down the track and have shredded the book called ‘How Life Should Be’.
Image via tumblr.com.
Comment: What would you like to accomplish over the next five years?