there are moments in life when you will feel that your best efforts have gone unnoticed. your cutest outfit, brightest lip color, widest smile have all been overlooked. and you’ll stand in the mirror and wonder, what the hell is wrong with me? how is it that i’m ___ years old and i’m still (fill in the blank: single. fat. broke. underemployed, angry, tired). every single one of us asks this question, particularly if we think other people are living a better life than we are. this outward focus on what we do not have or what we desire to have causes an internal crisis. somewhere along this journey we have been led to believe that certain behaviors, possessions, or activities should accompany certain milestones.
graduate college by 21, first job after enjoying a summer off. MBA by 25, marriage at 28 along with the starter home, promotion to director by 30 (gotta make the 30 by 30 list), babies by 32, veep by 40 (there’s another list 40 by 40), kids into college by 50, second house paid off by 55 (starter home was sold after the second baby and with a 15-year mortgage and a solid savings plan, this is doable) and sailing into early retirement well before 65 with the help of a financial adviser.
unlike the ambitious soul who designed the fictional life outlined above, my 20s were spent acquiring lessons i would not learn until my 30s. for example, the importance of diet and exercise, the meaning of unconditional love, the value of an MBA and why i needed to complete it within 5 years of undergrad (a promise i made myself and failed to keep). at the start of my third decade of life i was ready to settle down, to meet mr. right and maybe start a family. i was less interested in climbing the corporate ladder, in fact, i wasn’t sure i knew where to find the ladder and i was completely clueless about career building. i was drifting, questioning my decision making (i left a job thinking the grass was greener and found it was AstroTurf), and found myself falling in love, again.
from this vantage point, i look back and wish i’d had a guide, an atlas, a magic 8-ball, anything to help me navigate my life. someone to tell me that relationships should not be emotionally taxing, that pursuing my passion is acceptable, that corporate life isn’t for everybody. instead i was watching other people and wondering why i wasn’t as accomplished as they. why were they making 6-figures, managing teams, traveling, buying homes, relocating and i was…standing still, or so it seemed. when i hit 30 and didn’t have a career, wasn’t in love, and hadn’t bought a home, i was a prime candidate for settling. and i did, for a minute. i accepted what was presented and after several months was wholly unfulfilled, disappointed, and unhappy with what i allowed to happen. sadly, when love found me i was apprehensive, wound a bit too tight, and unwilling to let it go when Cupid’s arrow broke.
as i watch younger women make their way along the path i’ve trod, i want to waylay them and show them my hand drawn cartography. it resembles a mall directory with “you are here” depicted as a red dot. surrounding the dot to the upper left is an expansive orange area labeled “relationships” and within it are markers that resemble wooden crosses. off to the right is a green area with the word “career” scrawled below it and adjacent to this is a blue segment marked “education” with Lego-type blocks connecting undergrad to graduate school and a smaller block marked “certification.” the lower left area is bright yellow and tagged “family.” within this space are sections of varying sizes for parents, siblings, children, and others. in the center is a purple area called “faith” and it radiates in concentric circles across all other sections.
every one of us has a map of some sort, be it a vision board, journal, daydream, or even cultural mores that shape how we think our lives should unfold. i am reminded of a phrase i heard in either high school or college, “the map is not the territory” which means, the image in your mind of who you are or think you should be is not who you truly are. the greater the distance between reality and imagination the more dissonance we experience. reality tv blurs the line between truth and fiction and leaves us believing that women wake up made-up, are housewives without husbands, live in million dollar communities, and wear stilettos to the grocery store. free yourselves sisters, the ideal self is a myth. embrace the woman you see every day in the mirror. find something intrinsic or extrinsic to love about her until you love all of her, unconditionally.