This year was supposed to be my 25th class reunion. Obviously, 2020 had other plans for the Class of 1995.
Maybe that’s part of why I‘ve been thinking back on the expectations I’ve had for my life and how they‘ve changed throughout the years. Or maybe it’s that I have Hamilton stuck in my head, and that man had some serious aspirations (I didn’t mean to get obsessed, but I finally watched it and now it’s infiltrated my brain…) Regardless of what inspired this reflection, it’s been pretty interesting to sit back and think about my younger self and what I expected my life now to look like.
Obviously, my life now looks very little like I envisioned 25 years ago. I assume that’s probably true for most folks my age, though.
When I was in high school, I was a major band geek. In fact, that’s what made me decide I wanted to teach music and become the Ultimate Band Geek. So I went to college convinced that I was going to teach music.
But eventually, I realized that all of the joy was being slowly leached out of making music. Playing and studying music had become a chore, and the music program that I was in wasn’t a good enough fit for me to find the challenge, fun and motivation I needed. So I faced a choice: stay with music and transfer to another school’s music program or leave music and stay with the university I had fallen in love with (UW-Stevens Point— Go Pointers!). Since I didn’t know if a change of school would really have the impact I wanted it to, I stayed where I was and looked for a program I would better suit me.
That’s where I found the program I fell in love with... I changed to a major in Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations. It felt like a match made in heaven. In fact, by this time, I had already been considering graduate school to go into a university leadership/ student development role. But by the time I needed to start applying to graduate schools I was so in love with my choice of major and the classes I was taking that I decided this was what I needed to do with my life.
By the end of my senior year, I was working an internship in the university’s News Services department. All but one business writing class that I was taking was in my major, and my grades had never been better. Why? Because I was in my element. You needed a press release? I was your girl. Group project? I’ll take everyone’s work at the end and do the proofreading, collating, and general overall cohesiveness checks and love every minute of it. I simply geeked out over it all, and I loved it more than I ever expected. I was so excited to find myself in a career…
After college, I ended up spending a year with AmeriCorps. By the time that was over, this girl just needed to pay some bills. So I took a job that paid fairly well but didn’t have anything to do with my education. I stayed with that company for 15 ½ years until my position was cut. By then I had my favorite boys to support, so as much as I wanted to get back to public relations, it just wasn’t an option—I needed a decent job and soon.
Clearly, my priorities had changed over time in a major way. First I met Kirk and fell in love… Then we decided to start a family, and Nolan came into our lives. If parenthood alone hadn’t caused me to shift focus, the realization that Nolan’s development was atypical would have forced it.
So instead of looking for something specific, like I once had, I found myself interviewing for jobs managing group homes, fundraising for a non-profit, processing loan paperwork, and selling life insurance. I tried thinking back to goals I’d had for myself when I was younger—things I wanted to do with my life and how I wanted to impact the world. But every time I’d translate that into a career path all of my options felt like a major step backwards.
I landed with a decent job in a bank. High School Cindy would never have believed that in a million years… “Sure it’s an okay job, but that’s not what I was meant to do,” would surely have been my refrain. End of College Cindy would have been skeptical—but she also understood that there was student debt to be paid along with rent, food, and utilities, so she probably would have been more understanding than High School Cindy. I think she still would have been disappointed, though.
What my former selves wouldn’t have had, though, was the bigger picture. What I do for a living doesn’t have to define me. In fact, it doesn’t define me at all. If I were to introduce myself to a random stranger on the street (or let’s be more realistic—on social media), it’s not likely that I would lead with “Here’s résumé…”
No. I’m going to tell them about the people I share my life with. I’m going to tell them about my adorable, hilarious and emotionally needy cat. I’m going to tell them about my husband who has given up his career aspirations in order to ensure Nolan has everything he needs every day, who loves to scour flea markets, and who likes to make the same jokes every day. And I’m going to tell them about my amazing kid, his funny quirks, the way his smile lights up a room, and about the challenges he faces every day without so much as batting an eyelash.
This piece has been a centerpiece of our home decor for several years now... It sums up our lives perfectly. And yes it's chipped-- like I said it's perfectly us.
Sure an amazing career can be a huge gift in your life… But it’s not a requirement for happiness. I’m not going to lie—a paycheck that gives you more wiggle room in the budget than stress would be ideal. But it’s not going to be what defines us (Shapes us? Sure—but not defines us).
So I ask my younger selves to have some patience with an overtired middle-aged mom… Flexibility matters. Your life will change, and you’ll need to be able to keep up. Cherish the rest you get in your youth—you may not be able to stay so well-rested forever. And most importantly, be willing to forgive yourself for not landing where you expect to—just try to adjust to get yourself to the best landing spot you can while you’re in mid-air.