In my early 20s, I had the feeling I should know who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
But I had trouble settling on a major in undergrad. I changed my mind a few times and ended up with a degree in English/Creative Writing. At the time, I knew I liked writing non-fiction narrative but I loved poetry.
I married young and went to grad school. If you asked me at age 22 what I wanted to be, I would have told you that I wanted to go overseas as a missionary, so I finished a degree in Intercultural Studies and Missions.
Except I never went overseas.
Instead, I spent my 20s supporting my husband’s career as a pastor, and, after working in what was more a job than a career, at age 30, I had my first daughter.
Through that decade of my 20s, I definitely enjoyed my life, and felt invigorated and inspired by my work (both 9-5 and after hours), but I never felt that I’d arrived or that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
But I did feel the pressure to know.
In my mind, I had a list of degrees I’d like to pursue, degrees that would lead to a career, possibilities. My mom is a nurse; I contemplated (and applied to) nursing school. I loved working with the people in my job at a non-profit, so I investigated MSW (Master of Social Work) programs.
I missed writing, so I considered pursuing an advanced degree in writing.
I dreamed of being a nurse, being a social worker or counselor, of writing.
Mostly I dreamed of motherhood.
Was that the answer? That becoming a parent would signal my arrival as an adult, my discovery of who I might be when I grew up?
I’m not sure.
But in my 30s, a decade that now seems to have passed in only moments, I lived the dream of being a full-time mother, welcoming three daughters into our family over the span of six years, completely immersed in motherhood, rarely leaving my daughters, even for an hour.
Those years, idyllic in some ways: walks on the beaches of Lake Michigan, barefoot in the sand, one baby or another in a sling against my chest; lazy hours snuggled on the couch with a stack of board books and a trio of little girls tucked in beside me; the girls and me, sitting in a circle on our playroom rug or around our dining table for lessons when we started homeschooling. And: endless laundry, and every day cleaning up the same messes. Longing for those quiet moments in the evening when the girls collapsed, finally, into bed.
Looking back, I see that I felt a little lost during those years.
Yesterday, after a busy and productive morning of working, I went out with my girls shopping.
Driving home, I had this sensation that I have arrived, finally, at who I am meant to be, what I am meant to do. It feels like landing on solid ground after a very long voyage or seeing the puzzle picture come together as you press in the final piece. It feels like struggling to get into shape through weeks of slogging through miles and then finding my legs and breaking into a sprint.
It’s completeness and certainty — the kind I felt pressured to discover in my 2os but proved elusive to me.
That it took 20 years to get here doesn’t seem important now, and any of the anxiety in the intervening years seems insignificant now, though it was intense and unsettling at the time.
When I look at my friends in their 20s, friends who seem lost at times and uncertain others, I want to tell them:
Be patient. It’s a journey. You’ll find your way. Enjoy where you are. Keep exploring. Be patient.
And when I look at my friends in their 50s or older, I can see that where they are is quite different from where I am now.
To them, I say:
Let me learn from you. Show me the way. I’m still on a journey. Remind me to be patient.
So, this decade of my 40s is the new 20s, at least for me.
Tell me something! What do you want to be when you grow up? Where are you on your journey? What do you dream of doing? Who do you dream of becoming?