I knew from a young age what “success” would look like. It included a husband, a couple kids, a few dogs, a great career, life in a city near a major airport, a nice car and travel. I worked very hard to achieve that.
During that time, I think that many of my friends, co-workers and neighbors thought I had it all.
I had the husband, two beautiful daughters, a very good job, a beautiful home, two dogs (a lab named Bear and a husky named Pushkin), a vacation home in the mountains, and loads of cool trips. But there were days I would look at my life, totally baffled. How did I end up with this?
And why did none of it make me happy? Because after the front door was closed in my beautiful San Diego neighborhood and the children were tucked in bed, and I had a chance to sit on the diving board of my back yard pool with killer views of the city lights off in the distance, I had time to take a good hard look at my reality. And it was this:
-My awesome hubby was passed out drunk in bed
-I still had dishes to put away
-I had loads of work I brought home with me that needed to get done
-I needed to put away piles of laundry
-The dogs still needed their walk
-I was overworked
-I loved my daughters more than anything in the entire world but I had no time to enjoy them
-I detested my husband. There were some nights I would stare at him while he slept/was passed out drunk and I realize that maybe I hated him
-My job did not inspire me one tiny bit. In fact, I felt it a professional wasteland
-Unbeknownst to me yet, I had cancer growing in my body
-My beautiful home, if you looked closely, needed more work than I could wrap my head around. Like the pristine, sparking swimming pool needed to be drained and completely redone. It was like my marriage– at a glance, it was awesome; look closely, and it was ugly and broken. I did not have the money or energy to fix it
How did I work so hard to achieve a life I hated? Was it possible in middle age to reverse course?
My friend, Kristina, just did! She left behind a mind-numbing (but very stable) job, moved across the country, and landed her dream job learning how to distill high-quality alcohol. I read about a woman in her twenties who left behind a job as a journalist in Manhattan and started selling ice cream on the beach. And immediately after my cancer diagnosis and after the most intense of treatment (stem cell transplants are no fun!), I built an entirely new life.
I work less, travel more, divorced the alcoholic hubby, found a great new guy, and actually started getting to know my children. I no longer live in coveted San Diego, but I have found peace and beauty that I never knew existed here in the Utah wilderness.
So what if we are living the life we always (thought) we wanted but find it awful? Or, what if you have yet to achieve the life you always dreamed of but, instead, got something else? Then what?
Let’s take my friend, Andy, as an example. After years of working for someone else, he started his own company and it is awesome. He gets to travel to super exotic locales around the world and, while it is hard work, reap the rewards all for himself. He started making great money, bought he and his wife nice new cars, and hired a company to do a remodel on their home. I (think) he loves his life, wife and children and has honestly been overwhelmed and surprised by his success. Not only has he been living the life he wanted, he exceeded that dream.
One day, Andy packed his bags for a three-week work trip to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Columbia and Guatemala. I was so envious– I wanted to go! He came back with awesome stories to tell and high-quality work that his client loved.
…And then he got the stomach flu. Turns out, this was no normal “bug.” It was three months in the hospital, touch and go. To this day, it is a big question if Andy will ever fully recover or if he will ultimately make it at all.
We truly never know what life holds in store for us. We must (or should) either embrace what God (or the universe) has given us or strive for something better. Failure to do either one is a really bad option.
There are certain things we must all work on achieving:
- Healthy relationships (If there is abuse, you must get out)
- A minimal acceptable level of living (An adequate living environment that is safe and comfortable, some clothes and shoes, and good health insurance should probably make your list)
- Good health— emotionally and physically (after all, if you are in deep emotional and physical duress, you are good to no one)
And beyond that, we need to make two very big decisions:
1. Is life good enough?
Can you find inspiration, joy and happiness with what you have now? Sometimes having unrealistic expectations in life can be a real bummer. I (likely) will not ever have a life where a fly private jets or first class (I wish!), or never have to think about cancer again. But beyond that, does my life have meaning? Or if it doesn’t, can I find it right here, right where I am at?
2. If life is failing to meet any kind of expectation, what can change it?
If you are sitting in Hell, why are you still there? Get moving, even if it is a small life change or a grand one? I deeply admire people who change life course, even in their later years. It can be really brave, especially when you are required to care for your dependents (like your children) but it is possible. People do it every day. The question is… do you have the desire to go for it? For me, that cancer diagnosis was a life-changing moment that forced me into something else.
Life can, and will, let you down. But there is beauty and meaning out there. If you don’t have it now, what are you doing to make it different? Because inertia will get you nowhere.