Sometimes, things don't end up how we think they will. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's worse and in most cases, it's just different. When I was younger and had little experience with life, I pictured where I would be when I was 30. I believe there was an exercise we did in first grade where we had to draw and describe what our life was like at 30. I drew a house with two nice cars, the greenest grass there was, a husband and three children. In my mind, I was a mom who stayed at home with my kids. I didn't stop to consider money or how it would all happen -- in my 6-year-old mind, just seeing it and being able to express it was enough. But I did hold onto this vision as I got older. Having grown up in suburban New Jersey in the 1980s, it was basically engrained into my mind that I would or should follow certain guidelines as far as how to live my life. Everyone I saw got married, bought a house, had kids and stayed home to raise them. And to me, that seemed simple and fulfilling enough to be part of a well-rounded and happy life.
When my own parents were in their 30s they had three children -- my sister, my brother and I. My father worked in the corporate world and my mother, who stayed at home and did not work, had a full-time babysitter to look after my brother and I while my sister (older than the two of us) was in school all day. We lived in a large house in a upper-middle class neighborhood in northern New Jersey and though we didn't exactly have a "perfect life" it did certainly resemble one of stability, balance and financial success. This is what I saw growing up and not just in my own family, but in every other family in my neighborhood, on television, in movies and for the most part, everywhere I looked in my sheltered little life. The reason I thought I would be where I pictured myself at 30 is because it was what I was taught and I learned through seeing it, that it was the "right" way to do it. And in fact, I can go even further to say that I didn't actually know that there was an alternative.
I am 30 now and can still remember that drawing and description I did in first grade. Only now, instead of dreaming ahead to a time period that didn't yet exist, I am living a life that is more real than anything I have ever felt or experienced before. I do not have a house or a fancy car and I do not live in a fancy neighborhood. I work, very hard actually, and have a partner (though he and I are not married). I am not nearly as far along in my career as I thought I would be, though when I was 6, I didn't think I would have any other career than raising my children. So in some ways, I have already accomplished something I never really envisioned myself doing. And though there is no picket fence or BMW or wedding ring, I am indeed pregnant with my first child. In some ways I can see my 6-year-old self jumping up and down and seeing that I had succeeded with a few things but can also see how I may have disappointed that former, younger version of myself. In a lot of ways, my life is where I thought it would be and in many others, it isn't where I thought it would be at all. But what I am realizing about getting older is that nothing really turns out how you once thought it would. Life happens and unfolds in a way that younger people simply cannot understand. Sure, there may be parts of myself that are disappointed that I have not done everything the "right" way or in order, but there are also parts of myself that I have both surprised and impressed over the years. I would argue with my 6-year-old self saying that not everything has to look a certain way or have a certain rhyme or reason but that's only because I have had 24 years of life experience since then and can understand why it's actually better sometimes to not end up where you thought you would.
The truth is, life is a little harder than I thought it would and at the same time, much more fulfilling than I thought it would be. I am busier than I ever imagined myself and yet somehow seem to still have enough time to do things that mean something to me, like write. I work three jobs to match the price of one full-time job, handle all the things I need to (not always in a timely way), take care of myself (and my growing baby) and somehow manage to sleep and see my boyfriend, who works just as much as I do in all areas of his life. The two of us are in the thick of life, experiencing what neither of us thought was a possibility because how can you really know the reality of something until you live it? Life has much more meaning than I thought it would but it also has more frustrations. There are more good days than I pictured and more laughs, but when hard times hit, they hit hard. I don't have nearly the amount of friends I'd like or a social life to speak of, and I wish I vacuumed our apartment more than once every two weeks and I wish my dog got more exercise and attention... but I am slowly finding my way to that balance and harmony that I thought just came easy. And maybe that's just it. Maybe the lesson in all of this - in growing up and dealing with all that comes with it -- is that nothing is easy. I have always heard this in the past but never really understood it until now. Because for me anyway, when I work hard and look back on that work, I appreciate the result so much more. Do I like to struggle? No. Do I like to be challenged to the point of tears? Of course not. But there's something that holds so much value in those battle scars and emotional memories. Because like they also say, it isn't about the destination as much as it's about the journey.
And so, in all this rambling (I could just call this article "The Ramblings of a Pregnant Woman"), the truth is that there might not even really be a destination. Sure, I could look to the future as a child and predict (based on my very naive and inexperienced child mind) what might happen, but at the same time where I am at 30 is always changing. What happens at 30 is different than what comes with 31 or what happens when I turn 32. I used to think that the future would be this fixed, unmoving thing that would get to a certain point and stop moving. But in reality, it's just the opposite because time and experiences are always evolving and changing, sometimes every minute. There's no reason to be disappointed in where I am not or even to judge it, because tomorrow it could and will be completely different. We all make progress and then it's our progression that evolves. Everyone's starting point is vastly different but no one reaches a certain point and stops. And in fact, many people go backwards. So for me, the biggest lesson in all of this is that where I want to be now (and in the future) is in a place where I am always changing, growing and evolving. With kids, with myself, with my relationship or my career -- with my creativity and passion. I want to make sure I keep going, gathering important things along the way and using them when I need to. Life isn't about getting to a point an stopping. it's about reaching and moving and learning that the white picket fence will mean a whole lot more if I create it and install it myself.
Follow Robin Hoffman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StepintoSoul