My group of friends had been emailing for months. Our 10 year undergrad reunion was coming up, and we were all planning to go!
It was an especially big trip for me, involving a flight, car rental, hotel, etc. But I had missed my 5 year reunion, and living as an expat means that I’ve often missed birthdays, bridal showers, baptisms, funerals, etc. The opportunity to see all of my friends together at the same time was one I had to take.
Despite nearly missing my flight while I was just sitting in the airport waiting for it (when you get time to yourself as a mom, the sink into relaxation is deep), I made it down to Washington, picked up a friend on the way to Baltimore, and we got ready for the reunion.
The anticipation for this trip was all excitement. But when we were actually there, the realization of having graduated TEN YEARS AGO began to set in. And with that realization came the self-scrutiny and harsh reflection that ten long years shines on your life. What have I accomplished since then? Have I been successful? How do I compare to everyone else?
That reflection was, at first, ugly–the initial glare tends to show the pits and smudges, the “lack ofs” and insecurities. Despite being ten years away from those days when I imagined I’d find some sort of success for myself, I haven’t had much of a “professional” life. I’ve had jobs. But I haven’t exactly built a career. And though I mostly love being a stay-at-home mom, I don’t get paid for it. I’m essentially reliant on my husband for financial security, and that’s an uncomfortable truth for an educated, feminist woman to admit.
In chatting with my close friends as we got ready for the weekend’s events, I clearly wasn’t alone in feeling nervous. Even my friends whom I looked up to as being highly accomplished and “doing well” seemed to have something that made them feel like they were lagging behind everyone else. Judging by our small sample size, I guessed that this was probably true of most people. Whether they’d travelled, where they were relationship-wise, whether they were happy with their career, had they started a family, etc–we all had something that was like that blemish taking over our entire face, when in reality nobody else notices.
Despite the nerves, the weekend was generally pretty awesome. Catching up in person with some of my best friends in the world and being back on the beautiful campus I love and where I’d spent such a defining (and fun!) period of my life, was invigorating. And, after the pressure of making small talk and catching up subsided, it gave me an opportunity to reflect more deeply, beyond the initial insecurities. Ok, so I haven’t had a career in the traditional sense, and I don’t have much money to my own name. But, I did live abroad for a year and have traveled more since, I moved to a new country, got married, started a family. I’ve had a business, gotten my Master’s degree, survived the death of a close relative (which, though negative, should absolutely be counted as an accomplishment–the surviving part). Though I still feel in many ways like the same person I was ten years ago, I’ve added many more chapters to my story.
And as to the source of my anxiety, I also have to embrace the fact that my “career aspirations” are atypical. Being a writer and living a self-styled life rather than a “normal” one means that I shouldn’t be measuring myself against the typical benchmarks of success. What success is, as what the journey will be, is something I define. And really, we should all be defining success by our own standards!
Do you have aspects of your life that bring out your insecurities? How to you manage this? What makes you feel good about where you are in life?