Very soon I will turn 35. If you had asked me 10 years ago what I thought my life would look like on this day, I would have painted the following picture:
I’m married with two young children (or maybe one with another on the way). I’m climbing the ladder at a reputable company and have my sights set on a senior title. I go to the gym regularly and try my best to have a consistent yoga practice. We live in a nice-but-not-too-nice house and drive nice-but-not-too-nice cars. We spend our weekends with family or traveling to fun cities. I am happy.
It’s a lovely fantasy, one I imagined countless times over the years. But it is not my reality.
My reality is that I am not married, and I never have been. The closest I’ve come to marriage was almost destroying one. I’ve fed, burped, rocked, and changed diaper after diaper, but not for children that are my own. I’ve climbed a couple corporate ladders and reached substantial salaries, then left it all to pursue what could be a pipe dream. I can’t afford a gym membership or yoga, and I’ll drive my current car until it dies… which sadly could be any day now. I don’t own a home and I don’t even rent – I bounce between squatting at my parents’ place and my boyfriend’s place. I guess technically I’m homeless. My weekends are spent trying to figure out how to turn my dream into livable dollars or retreating away to a quiet, remote place on a river where service is spotty so I can’t be reached. Yet I am the happiest I’ve ever been.
I guess Forrest Gump nailed it when it comes to life – ya never know what you’re gonna get. And maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe it’s because life knows better than us. The life I had designed for myself would have been great. I don’t doubt that. But look at what life gave me instead.
It gave me heartache to show me the love I really needed was my own, miserable drives to work to teach me those careers weren’t for me, mistakes that made for great writing material, and struggles that gave me a story to tell.
No, I didn’t get the life I wanted, but maybe I got the life I needed. A life that painfully pushed me in a direction I wouldn’t have gone on my own. A life that taught me lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn.
We grow up with these very specific ideas of what it means to be happy, to be successful, to “have it all.” But as time goes on, those ideas often don’t work out or don’t deliver. And it can take a long time to remove them from our psyche, to detach them from our definition of happiness, and to see that sometimes it’s our connection to what we assumed would make us happy that is doing just the opposite.
Maybe that’s ultimately what life is trying to teach us – that it isn’t about living our best-laid plans. Maybe through all its twists and turns, life’s main goal is to actually free us from them. To remove the concept of need. To break all the attachments we have to people, to things, to identities and to ideas. To show us the only thing we need to be happy is something we’ve had from day one and along every step of the way. For all we need is us.
This isn’t to say we should abandon all dreams and goals and plans. Just throw our hands in the air and let life call all the shots. We must continue to make decisions and go after the things we want. That is the beauty of free will. It is how we show up. How we show life we came to play. But ultimately, we must accept we aren’t playing alone. That with our every move, life has a counter move.
And while we will only ever see one hand, life is playing with a full deck. It has countless turns, a bigger board, and more pieces than we can imagine. But that doesn’t mean we are at a disadvantage. Because the real game is with ourselves – playing our hand despite what we’re dealt, keeping our footing through every push and pull, and maintaining our balance no matter how rough the road.
And winning? Well, we win when we finally realize life isn’t our opponent, it’s our teammate.