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Where life will lead you

May 4th, 2004 · No Comments

Betsy Devine wanted to be a starving artist when she grew up: she imagined becoming a Parisian poet, subsisting on French bread and black coffee in her garret. Lisa Williams never imagined herself “retired” at age 33 (I don’t think she is “retired”) and will have to start her career all over again after an episode of at-home-mommyhood. Ten years ago, college student Wendy Koslow thought she’d be married and stage-managing in Manhattan at age 29, not working at Harvard and dating a Canadian accordian player.

I’ve already written a bit describing how my life has been different romantically and professionally from where I find myself today. When you’re young, it’s fun to dream and imagine, as Betsy did, even dramatic, romantic, impractical dreams involving French garrets and poets. Making plans is tempting and easy. Fill in the gaps on the calendar and decide where and when you want to go.

But life takes funny turns. Things happen that you don’t expect. You can’t predict them. You can’t fit them into your plans. Someone dies. You get sick. People love you. People leave your life. You find new friends. You find romance. You fall in love. Things fall apart. Doors open. Doors close. You get a glimpse from another angle. You make a different choice. You change your mind. You decide to go for it.

As Lisa describes:

Then my father died and I decided to stop living in such a crabbed, risk-averse way. Life is short! I thought. I bought a kayak. I went out and bought some expensive Christmas gifts, I took a cross-country drive with my college roommate (during which we got stuck in Omaha with no money) and I tossed my birth control.

Yet through all the changes she is now finding “a unique opportunity, now, to actually think about what I want to do and plan for it. […] I can’t really imagine going back to what I used to do; or at least how I used to do it. ” At home with two little boys, she is seeing how subsisting on caffeine and adrenaline wasn’t living – it was killing her. The unexpected has brought her unexpected gifts. A new way – and maybe even more years – of life.

Wendy looks at where she thought she was going to go with her career and realizes what is most important to her:

But now, when I really look at what I care about, it isn’t what I do eight hours a day to pay the bills. It’s the rest of it. It’s whom I’m with. It’s where I am. It’s what effect I have on the people in my life. It’s being good, not doing well.

Life is not the simple sum of accomplishments, stack of certificates, or number of rungs climbed on the career ladder. It’s not marking success by whether we end up making French poems in a Paris garret, or making French toast for a toddler in Paris, Illinois. What matters most is who we are. Whom we love. What’s inside and can’t be described by a career. What will be said about us when all is said and done.

Tags: journal