Friday, June 10, 2016

I Accomplished Absolutely Nothing (and yet Everything) in the Past 10 Years

I have a friend (no seriously, I do... This is not like the times I ask for a band-aid "for my friend" even though I'm the one with the wound) who has begun to spiral into what I can only refer to as a complete come-apart as she evaluates where she is in her life. She is questioning her career. She is unsettled at her single status and frustrated with her dating prospects. She is unhappy with where she lives. And she fears that, even though she is only in her early thirties, that she has failed to make something of herself yet. There are not enough phone calls, text messages, inspirational quotes, funny comments, sarcastic antidotes or "snap out of it" outbursts that will change her opinion. In her eyes being in your early 30s without a husband, children, a house, a job you love unconditionally, the ability to travel and an indelible imprint already made on society is cause for not only concern but complete panic. And every time I hang up the phone with her I just think to myself... "Ouch." While she may not know it her words echo loudly in my ears (almost at deafening levels) because everything she believes is a failure in her life mirrors mine. And I don't think I have failed (yet). So what's the difference between us? 

In May of 2006 I graduated from college. The day I graduated I made a list of things I was going to accomplish by May of 2016. It was my "Adult To-Do List" and I was so confident after I pieced it together, put it in an envelope and wrote OPEN MAY 13, 2016 that I was predicting the future perfectly. 

I needed a bag of popcorn, a cold beer and a VERY good laugh to read the contents of that envelope last month. 

There is not one accomplishment on that list that I completed. Not one I had even come close to completing. 22 year old Kristen thought she had it all figured out... 31 year old Kristen gave her a harsh dose of reality. 

* Be a size 6
* Be married with have 2 kids (a boy and a girl) 
* Drive a Lexus RX 
* Live in the house on 2404 Tyne Boulevard (Nashville)
* Wear designer clothing only 
* Published a book
* Be running for Tennessee State Senate 2016 

Reading this list is exhausting to me. My head actually spun and I could feel the contents of my lunch rising up just a bit. The dreams of 2006 Kristen who just donned her cap and gown and went out to fight for a place in the world by shattering glass ceilings and wearing expensive (size 6) business suits with children, a husband, a Lexus and a successful political career got hit over the head with the largest dose of reality. Because in her graduation stupor 2006 Kristen forgot one minor detail while planning out the next ten years of her life: You can't plan life. 

* I wear a multiple of 6 which means 6 is in there but you just have to do some math to get it.
* There is no ring on my finger. But I do have two kids- a boy and a girl. The boy is 12 and he spent the afternoon jumping off the fridge repeatedly in desperate attempts to remind me to feed him. The girl is 8 and she is curled up on the floor licking my flip flop and her paws. 
* Ford. I drive a 2012 Ford Escape named Olivia Benson. I couldn't point out a Lexus RX in a parking lot even if someone put an arrow on it. 
* According to Zillow the market value of my Nashville dream home is $1.3 million. I currently reside in a 640 square foot apartment outside of Dallas where I have a good view of the water tower and books stored in my oven. Rent is due the first of the month and that means we don't eat until the fifth. 
* I don't know the last time I bought a piece of clothing. And with that if it didn't come from Target I probably don't own it. The only designer I wear "exclusively" on various occasions says "RED CROSS" across the back. 
* I published a thesis. A thesis that I was told is the greatest thing since Ambien to put my family and friends to sleep when their insomnia kicks in. 
* Not only am I not running for Tennessee State Senate- I ran from the state of Tennessee and my political career altogether.  

So essentially all of the goals that I had set for myself ten years ago were never accomplished. My last name hasn't changed, there's still an apartment number on my address and I search daily for a full time job as I attempt to make ends meet through three part-time ones. I wasn't asked to speak of my wonderful life and monumental contributions to society at the ten year reunion of Belmont University. If I had attended my reunion I would have seen former roommates and classmates with wedding bands on their ring finger, talking of their children and homes in the suburbs, their lucrative jobs and the actual food (they use their ovens) they put on the table. They travel to exotic places and have special towels in the bathroom for only guests to use. According to my friend this means as I stare in the mirror at a soon-to-be 32 year old I'm a failure. If I use her litmus test on what success is and what milestones I should have already reached at my age I should be absolutely miserable with my current lifestyle and I should look to my former classmates with jealousy and resentment for all they have accomplished and all I have failed to do. 

But I don't see it that way. I'm happy for those who's path in life brought them to where they are today. I can't use their life as a measurement of success for my own. And no matter how many times I listen to her tell me how disappointed she is as she stands at this crossroads in her life I firmly believe "I'm just so glad to be here." I never imagined at 32 this would be the life I was living. I thought I would have those fancy guest towels too but alas I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off a paper towel tonight for dinner. Superfluous towels aren't a priority. I thought I would have traveled the world by now having thrown coins into the Trevi Fountain, kissed the Blarney Stone, and chomped on some bamboo with giant pandas in a Chinese forest (I don't know if you're allowed to do that exactly but it's a risk I would take if the opportunity presented itself). I haven't used a passport since 1999 and I don't foresee myself getting a new one any time soon. The last trip I took was a road trip to Palo Pinto, Texas to assess flood damage and hand out supplies. I didn't throw coins into a fountain... I threw sandbags onto a levee. I didn't kiss the Blarney stone... I kissed the cheek of a scared little boy at our evacuation building... And I chomped on some MRE's with the National Guard as we took a break in the shade. And although I didn't need a passport to do any of those things I found the experience pretty eye opening, cultural and educational all at the same time. 

We all own calendars. We own planners that we meticulously write down times and dates into as a way to organize our life and outline our future. But no matter what we write in those little squares or type into those calendars... Life always has other plans.  Some of the greatest accomplishments you make in life don't come when you've checked something off of your laminated to-do list. Rather: It was a storm system that wouldn't stop dropping rain... A goodbye you just couldn't see the "good" in... An x-ray you didn't schedule that lead to a surgery you never planned...A co-worker you barely knew who became the man you can't live without... A failed presidential election that brought you from the height of your career to stacking warehouse boxes... A Nashville dream that turned into a Texas reality... And a fear of falling that lead you to fly with a broken wing. 

So to my sweet friend that questions her self worth and her place in this world because those around her seem to have so much more than she does: You're richer than you think. You're loved more than you know. Your happiness is in your hands. For all those shortcomings you believe you possess count all the blessings that you have. For all the failures you take inventory of on a daily basis stock your life with words of confidence and positivity. Those around you may look like they have achieved more and met the societal standards people our age are "supposed" to meet. But just think about it... When we left that tiny town to go out and face the world as 18 year old kids we were the crazy ones. We were the ones breaking the mold and going against the grain. Find in you that spirit of "what if" and "you never know" and run with it. 

You're never a failure unless you stop trying. And even then... You have your friends to pick you up the next day, brush you off, and put your feet back on this path called "life." We would give you directions but none of us know where the heck we're going. We're just happy to be on this journey together. We may all be at different places in life with husbands or kids or jobs or homes but we're always striving for that one thing in life we all deserve to never fail at: Happiness. 

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