“As you sit in your rocking chair at the age of 100, what might be a regret you will have if there was something(s) you did not do/achieve/try?”
I stared at the question on the work/life reflection worksheet given to me by my career counselor. One of several questions aimed at helping me find my “passion.” The idea being once I discover this elusive passion, I can direct my efforts toward an endeavor I’d truly find satisfying and meaningful, instead of middling through a career that like a perfunctory meal, provides nourishment, but doesn’t inspire, isn’t particularly memorable or something you want to effusively praise to your friends.
Things I’d regret not doing? I don’t even know what I’m doing 6 months from now! Since I stepped onto the other side of 30 it seems time hurtles by like it’s in a foot race. Occasionally, the race is interrupted by brief pause, an allowance for me to catch my breath. During one recent pause, feeling particularly present, I realized: I am not sure how I even got here. Whose life is this? One day I woke up with a career, a recruiter describing my resume as “impressive” and people asking me for advice because they think I know things. When did that happen? Was it not just yesterday when I moaned to my friend that no one seems to take you seriously in your twenties? But, that was years ago now.
I ask myself, what do I want my life to look like at 40? That’s my next major birthday milestone. It’s a tough question. In younger days the path was clearer, the choices more binary. Each phase ended with a right of passage: a graduation, a year ending dance, an exam of life-altering importance.
Then it’s welcome to adulthood! You’re in the real world now, baby! The paths are many: crooked, narrow, hazy, smooth, booby-trapped, newly paved, yellow-bricked or bumpy. There are fewer guideposts along the way to center you, fewer checkpoints that allow you to ask, “Am I going the right way?” Seemingly endless options, and like a menu with too many entrees, at times overwhelming. If you don’t choose well, you risk waking up after another blurred lapse of time wondering, “How did I get here?
When thirty neared, I had a serious crisis of confidence. During the post-college years I’d spent pursuing an unconventional life of meaning, deciding to pursue a longstanding dream of being an actress, a great many of my college friends had spent their time building careers, marrying and starting families. While I plodded through jobs unfulfilling jobs – to me, the kind of work I took on was for survival, not intrinsic satisfaction – my peers were taking glamorous international trips, buying their first homes, continuing on to grad school, talking about 401ks and life insurance and I was doing…what? Nothing I was proud of. After a few years, I recognized that the business of Hollywood isn’t for me and felt lost. Now what? For quite a while, I viewed the period I spent pursuing an acting career as a waste, a decision that set me back.
I enjoy reading autobiographies and stories about other’s lives. They are fascinating and often inspirational. In my twenties, reading bios detailing all the incredible accomplishments other people have achieved, I often feel like I’d done nothing to feel prideful over. Being surrounded by the conspicuous consumption culture of Los Angeles and living paycheck to paycheck didn’t help. Near thirty, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to myself or giving myself enough credit for all that I had experienced, seen and overcome. I climbed out of my well of self-pity and focused on the trajectory of my life for the next few years. What did I want to create, see, and do? Who did I want to become? I created a vision board. Make fun if you like, but I’ve been able to strike through a lot of things on that vision board because I’ve achieved them.
If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned about life in my 30+ years, it’s that it’s full of surprises. I may set the framework for what I hope for in my life, but the actual content is harder to predict and I’m mostly okay with that. Some aspects have unfolded in ways I would never have imagined. I would not have predicted that I’d live in Los Angeles for over a decade, quickly tire of Hollywood shenanigans, dump my starving artist life and return to the world of business. I wouldn’t have guessed that today I’d be single, childfree and living in San Francisco working for a tech startup. I enjoy and appreciate my life, but it’s not the one I thought I’d have. At 22, I thought by now – mostly due to the narratives we’re told through books, visual media and society – that I’d be married, have a couple of kids (a boy and a girl, of course) and have a high-powered job doing something worthwhile.
When I attempt to write the story of what life will be like for me at 40, I come up blank. I’m still on the fence about having kids. Some days I want to, other days I don’t and time isn’t on my side, Halle Berry’s amazing uterus notwithstanding. [Though, if I do decide to remain childfree, San Francisco is apparently the best place to do so!] I am realistic enough to consider that I may not find that life partner to share my future with and I have to account for that in my vision. Even my past dreams of owning a home are up in the air. I no longer think about owning a home in the suburbs because the word “suburb” scares me. I don’t know what kind of job I want or in what field. I’d love to live outside of the United States in France or Brazil or many other places and travel the world meeting interesting people, having stimulating experiences. I’d like to be fluent in at least one other language. There is a long list of things I’d like to accomplish, but no comprehensive story.
For now I’ve come up with simply this:
When I’m 40, I want:
- to be happy;
- to feel proud of my accomplishments;
- to continue having awe-inspiring, thought-provoking experiences;
- to continue learning;
- to feel like I’m progressing as a person;
- to have love in my life, whether that be the love of family and friends or them + life partner and children.;
- to keep traveling internationally (and domestically);
- a dog (and for my favorite cat to be around and kicking in his geriatric years).
Whatever it takes to get to achieve these things, I’ll set the stage and life can flesh out the script and fill in the cast of characters. My role is to stay focused on my goals and remember as often as I can, not to take the days for granted. Time isn’t going to slow down for me.
You have to live life deliberately. It’s all too easy to put things off, only to find one day you’ve lost precious time that you can’t recover.
- Why Time Goes Faster as You Get Older (psychologytoday.com)
- 40 Things Every Woman Should Do Before Turning 40 (youqueen.com)
- It’s Not That I Don’t Want Children. Exactly. (parenting.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Confession: I Am 35 (confessionsofanimperfectlife.com)
- Your Mid-Thirties. A Time of Metamorphosis and Reinvention (karinlehmann.com)