Last weekend I had a little reunion with my best friends from college. Brittany and Stacey live in the Indy area, so we see each other often, but our beloved Abby lives in Toledo, OH, and it’s rare that the four of us are together.
I rode with Brittany and Stacey to spend a day with Abby and meet her boyfriend. (Most likely the worst passenger on the planet, I fell asleep in the back seat to the sweet lull of the interstate for miles and miles on the way there and the way back. I’m like an infant. Or a cat. Or an elderly man.)
On the way there, we made a pit stop at our alma mater, Taylor University, where we all met 11 years ago when Brittany and I were sophomores and Abby and Stacey were freshmen. I cherish my time at Taylor, a tiny Christian school in the middle of nowhere Indiana, literally across the street from a corn field. It’s where I learned to live in intentional community, where God grew my love for serving people, where I struggled and failed and succeeded and celebrated. And skipped a lot more classes than I probably should have.
As we drove around campus, I had flashbacks of myself in every familiar place: the student union, the dining commons, the chapel, my dorm, the library, Taylor Lake. I tried to remember my college self — to recall the expectations I had for myself and where I thought I’d be at 30. I thought about what Brittany, Stacey, and Abby were like in college, wondering if they’ve ever compared their now-selves to who their then-selves thought they would be.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what my expectations were of the person I’d become, but I’ve managed to piece together an idea.
- I was an English education major, so I assumed I would be a teacher. I admired (and still do) people who retired from teaching after 35 or 40 faithful years and thought I’d do the same thing. In my mind, that would make me a hero.
- I had a boyfriend for a while. I remember exactly ONE conversation where the M-word was used, and from that point on in our relationship, I thought I would marry him. Even though we broke up, and I spent a week in bed watching entire seasons of America’s Next Top Model to recover, I still thought I would be married by the time I turned 30.
- I started planning my move to Nashville with Brittany during my last semester at Taylor. I thought I’d move away, possibly meet someone and start a family there. It was an exciting city, far enough from home to be independent and adventurous, but close enough to visit my family on long weekends.
So there it is. A picture of the person I thought I’d be in the year 2014 — a far cry from the unmarried graphic designer residing in her hometown. It’s a strange thing how our expectations of ourselves change and morph and melt down to fit into new molds of new adventures and new paths. Whole new lives, even. It’s both humbling and refreshing.
Sometimes I think about the decisions, big and small, and the weights God has placed on my heart that have led to bent and broken expectations. What if I had decided to keep teaching? What if I had never moved away from Nashville? What if I had met “the one,” started a family, bought a house? The only answer I can come up with is things would be different.
Wait. Is that right?
I think I just managed to surprise myself with that answer. Every ounce of my being is tempted to say things would be better. That if things would have turned out the way I thought they would ten years ago, my life would be better. Somewhere deep down, I want to believe that I’d be happier with an alternate ending.
But I don’t. And that’s a relief.
I’m relieved that my faith in God’s plan for my life outweighs my nature to obsess over what might have been. Although, maybe I just caught myself at a good moment. Perhaps if I ask myself the same questions tomorrow, my answer will be fueled by doubts and lies. But I can’t know what tomorrow will bring, and right here, in this moment, I am endlessly grateful for that.
The goals and expectations I have for myself now are a little more broad and a lot more malleable than they were 8 to 12 years ago. I’ve learned to allow myself more room for trial and error, the starts and stops that give way to the undiscovered territory I never knew I’d love stumbling upon.
A few months ago, I filled out an extensive job application for a position at a ministry organization that included a section with this instruction: “List your career goals for the next three to five years.” A copy of my application was emailed to me, so I dug it up to see how I answered. This is it:
“My goal is to remain open to what God has for me professionally and to walk through doors as they open. In three to five years, if I can look back and say I worked as hard as I could and served God through my career, I’ll consider it a mission accomplished.”
I guess I didn’t know exactly how to answer. I didn’t have a vision of a particular position I wanted to climb to. I didn’t have a clue about awards or accolades I wanted to earn. All I could do was give an honest response, and that’s what came out.
I’m thankful to finally be in a place, right now, personally/professionally/mentally/spiritually, where I can think of the next three to five years (and beyond) as a wide open space. A space big enough to fit all my expectations inside until they get melted down, refined, and molded into something different — something better and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.