Friday, January 24, 2014

What to Do When Your World Gets Rocked

I met two girlfriends for dinner last night, and a common theme rotated around the table: we have all been lied to about life.

We all grew up with plans and goals and expectations for ourselves that were fed by our surroundings. For example, you do well in high school, go to a good college, major in a subject that will prepare you perfectly for the rest of your professional life, graduate with a starting salary of 50k, begin a career and meet your significant other, and then balance said career with starting your own family.

Piece of cake.

I totally understand the first part of the above example: if you do well in high school, you go to a good college. Thankfully, we grew up in supportive households that taught the value and reward that lie in hard work. Yes, there is always value in hard work. Reward, though? In our twenties, we are no longer always rewarded for our hard work. Which, I know in the scheme of things, is important. It’s what adds value to ourselves as humans and teaches us not to be entitled. I've come to terms with always working hard, even when it isn't recognized by others because, well, I recognize it. Which leads me to the next part, the part of the example that I'm totally hung up on.

I had to make a decision that would affect the rest of my adult life when I was seventeen. (As in "major in a subject that will prepare you perfectly for the rest of your professional life".) Yes, I went to college when I was seventeen, and felt weighed down in having to make the right academic moves to set myself up well for the real world.

I reiterate: I was seventeen.  A mature, head-on-her-shoulders, driven seventeen-year-old, but a seventeen-year-old nonetheless.

I was also the type of seventeen-year-old that made choices and saw them through. While I believe that this is a good quality to have, I believe that my stick-to-it attitude has gotten in the way of listening to my gut and staying true to my values.

Both of which—my gut and my values—have changed since. Because that’s what happens: you grow, and you change. And that’s what we were lied to about.

Nobody let us in on the secret that we would graduate and not have it all figured out after college, or even in the years to follow. Nobody told us that our hearts, relationships and identities would change as we got older. Instead, this is what we were told: make a plan, stick to your goals, and everything, eventually, will come.

But what happens when your plans change? When your goals are completely different from what they were just a year ago?

Something beautiful. That’s what happens. Because here we are, in a decade known for changing, for developing (though still, why didn’t they tell that to us before we got here?). So although we didn’t necessarily expect the change, here we are.

I am not bitter about the lie, about being ill-prepared for adulthood. And actually, I think that I was prepared for it as well as possible. It just wasn’t enough, but purely because it couldn’t be enough. The proper preparation, the understanding, the getting a grip, all comes from one thing: experience.

And in this time of gaining experience, of living a life independent of everything we once knew, we can no longer point fingers.  We can no longer blame the lie we were told about how life would be. Instead, we have to embrace everything that is happening. We have to experience life. Most of all, more than anything, we have to stay true to ourselves.

No more comparing our lives now to where we thought they would be when planning five or ten years ago. No more comparing our careers or our relationships to those around us. No more comparing our hectic situations to the seemingly normal situations that others are in. No more comparing. There is no normal. There is only life, and one thing to do with it. Live. Live your own life, wherever or whatever that may mean.

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