Feeling Behind

Facing 40 Series

For a while this year I struggled with feeling like I was behind. I had the foreboding sense that I was left in the dust of a race where I couldn’t even see the other participants anymore. Overly dramatic I know, and yet…

If you had asked me prior to my senior year in college what I was going to be doing after college I would have told you ‘heading to grad school and into a job working 60 hour weeks because I was passionate about the work I would be doing.’ However, I ended up meeting Andy the summer before my senior year, and the girl whose classmates would have voted ‘most likely to get married last’ became the one to get there first. This, plus discovering in my senior year my major and career plans didn’t translate over to Michigan (where I would live) the same as they did in Indiana (where college was), left me on a completely different route than the one I had expected to take. Not a better or worse route, just an unexpected one.

Andy had a very specific and clear career direction as a teacher. His occupation requires continuing education, working towards a Master’s degree as well as other certifications, so it made sense for the money (or loans we took out) for higher education went towards his schooling. My career aspirations, however, were now ambiguous at best. Andy would always support me going back to school, but without a known financial benefit to the outcome of the education I’ve never been able justify spending the money or time.

I was 23 when I got married, 26 when I had Tate and 29 when I had Abigail. I didn’t think I was all that young, however, considering every friend I had from college didn’t get married or start having kids till they were much closer to 30, I was on the front end of the curve. Even today, in a lot of the circles I run, I have the oldest kids.

The same summer I found out I was pregnant I was hired as an elementary library ‘secretary’—school librarian without the degree expectation or the pay. It was a fantastic job to have through my pregnancies and my kids’ early childhood years. Creative and fulfilling, a similar yearly schedule to Andy without the pressure, and the ability to decide how much of it I wanted to take home. It was perfect and I loved it, but there was no ‘career ladder,’ nothing to strive towards, it was a job and at the end of my decade working there I was barely making a 30k annual salary.

Facing 40 it’s hard to know that I’ve never earned more than 30k. I know I’m capable of having done a much bigger job, with more credentials and pay. At first, I simply didn’t know what that would be and then it became about choices. I knew myself well enough to know that a ‘big job’ would be consuming to me—I am project driven, I like working and I am sort of an ‘all or nothing’ type person. Once I had kids I couldn’t choose the bigger job.

I don’t like the domestic role. I don’t enjoy cooking, I’m not a frugal coupon clipper, I honestly don’t like to do craft or other type projects with my kids and I pretty much believe that school is their job, not mine. But I’ve always wanted to be emotionally and mentally aware of where my kids are at and how they are doing at handling life, relationships, and the responsibilities that come with growing up—offering feedback and guidance as they go. I knew I couldn’t do that if I was mentally and emotionally consumed by work, so I had to choose. Learning to choose between better and best options is one of adulthood’s toughest lessons.

I wouldn’t change any of the choices I’ve made about college, career and children. I wouldn’t do anything different, yet I still felt the sense of being behind. I still didn’t have a specific ‘career path’ in mind. And when asked, “what do you do?”—a question I hate—I still didn’t have an easy answer.

For a while this year I felt hemmed in by all of this and depressed about what it would take—especially in years—to catch up. However, after sitting in the mental pit for a bit I came to realize wanting the ‘big job’ was always about trying to prove something. It was about proving I was valuable and needed…a lesson I talked about learning more in the Wrestling with Life Series.  The big job, college credentials and career path were about proving something I no longer feel the need to prove.

I know the quality of life I want to live, the type of person I want to be and I am starting to believe it possible to do work—like writing—which once only existed as a whispered desire in the corner of my mind. Nothing may ever come of the work that I do, but as I face 40 I can be content knowing I’ve lived life with intention and mindfulness about the things that matter most.

What about you? Are you feeling behind?

What different choices might you have made…but what would you have missed if you had made them?

I hope you’ll join me next week when we look at the regrets that come when facing 40.