On a search for Christmas decorations, I stumbled across a box of university-era journals. Post high school, my journaling was always well-meant, but inconsistent at best. One notebook – a spiral that I ended up using for lecture notes but started as an assortment of collages and blurbs about what kind of future I wanted for myself, had two gems that reminded me of several intense desires I used to have. A few have resurfaced over the years, others completely fallen by the wayside. But a May 2009 “Strive List”, written at the end of my first year and featuring a fairly well-articulated series of both short and long-term goals I had, was particularly striking.
Write a book? Done. Write a successful screenplay? My biggest current passion project. Own a dog? Hey, have you met Gil?
Some are less black and white. Love my job? Well, yes and no. The luckiest people in this world get to love their job every day. I rank in the second luckiest group, which is that where people get to like their job most of the time, and get paid well for it. So I suppose I’ve achieved that goal in my own way. “Become a yoga aficionado” and “learn how to shoot a gun” make me gag for different reasons. “Not be attracted to horrible, arrogant men” isn’t really one I’ve been confronted with lately – I haven’t been attracted to much of anyone on that front since my last serious relationship, so there that is.
So where those goals are all concerned, I like to think I’ve landed in a solid place for twenty-eight – nine years after the writing of said list.
But the second striking piece was this rather heart-breaking entry about how afraid I was of amounting to nothing beyond a financially unstable, paycheck-to-paycheck “adult”, incapable of ever looking feminine or like a real woman. And, startling for me because I remember more than anything feeling utterly confident, happy, and golden for the majority of the time I spent in England, this entry was written a mere two months before I graduated from college.
The timing of both entries isn’t lost on me. In the middle of college, it’s really easy to casually expect amazing things from life. It wouldn’t occur to me to aim for anything but the absolute sun after one year of college. Even the most dramatic challenges could always be overcome by the right night out with the right people, by the right series of movies and chocolate. And while I’ve retained some of that light-hearted and enviable ability to look past the impossible in my life and aim high, the version of me that wrote hopelessly, two months before entering that dreaded “real world”, that I was likely to never achieve anything was very afraid. She had a real fear that the sunshine that was so recently certain, had no guarantees.
And the truth is, I did spend the year following my graduation coming to terms with those non-guarantees. I returned to my home town, to my old job, and spent a great deal of time doing everything in my power to go back to England, and the surety of the future and life that I had when I lived there. And the same way that everyone – everyone – tells you, the moment you switch your focus away from worrying about how to fix everything, everything somehow fixed itself.
I learned the most important lesson there is when measuring success in life – that success is different for everyone, and that it’s not about checking off specific goals. It’s about finding what makes you happy and taking whatever steps, however small, however gradual, to get you to that end game. Achieving a job title isn’t my measurement of success, the same way that hitting a particular salary isn’t a goal anymore either. Making a home, in a place that feels right, surrounded by the things I love – that’s the goal.
It’s comforting to know that some of the tangible things I was worried about in the post of despair – you know, knowing how to dress well, wear makeup, and become financially stable – are things that I have most definitely achieved. But the important thing is that in the long term, I’m in a far healthier place when it comes to ensuring happiness for myself.
Yes, I’m working on a screenplay. Will it ever see the light of day? God only knows.
But does working on it make me happy? You bet it does.
And that’s all that matters.