Thanks to Freshly Pressed, I recently read an interesting blog by a 16-year-old in which she shared her ambitious bucket list. It got me thinking about the aspirations I had when I was her age and compelled me to share this cautionary tale.
Unlike Morgan, I didn’t have a clear set of goals when I was in high school. “Vague” is the word I would use to describe my view of the future back then. Yet, even this vague vision included having a successful career and a loving family of my own.
I had no idea what form my career would take, but it definitely involved becoming a high-powered business woman, a la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. I even chose Business Accounting as my major in college.
A few accounting classes and many tears later, I ditched that dream and changed my major to English. My parents applauded the decision. “We’ve been waiting for you to figure this out,” they admitted.
Apparently, their vision of my future involved writing. Understandably so. As a child, my Christmas presents were pens and pencils and beautiful notebooks I would effortlessly fill with poems. Later, they became an outlet for teenage angst. But writing, for me, was an escape, not a career choice.
It wasn’t until I took a playwriting class in college that I tried my hand at writing for an audience. The experience was fantastic. It’s still one of my favorite memories of all time. Still, despite much encouragement, I didn’t pursue a career in the arts.
After the playwriting class, I took a screenwriting class, and it became painfully clear that I was out of ideas. All of my passion had been expressed in my little one-act play and now there was nothing left. I looked around the room at my classmates. Some of them were incredibly talented. Some of them weren’t. All of them were overflowing with ideas. All of them had an insatiable desire to write them down. I did not. And that’s when I realized that, yes, I could write, but I was not a writer.
Still, I loved words. I was good with words. Words were my friends. So I pursued a career as an editor. And now, thankfully, I can check “successful career” off my bucket list.
Except, I didn’t feel successful. My career as an editor was not the glamorous kind that everyone imagines. My career was spent sitting in a grey cubicle for too many hours as I watched my life quickly pass me by.
To make matters worse, at 34, I still hadn’t found my soul mate or given birth to any children. If I had created that bucket list when I was 16, I would have burned it.
So what I’d like to say to Morgan, if she reads this, is that setting goals is valuable, but it’s even more valuable to recognize when those goals need to change. Yes, pursue the path you envision, but remain open to possibilities you never imagined. Most importantly, if, for some reason, your life doesn’t take the path you thought it would, never ever consider yourself a failure.
When I was 16 or 20 or 25 or even 30, I never would have dreamed I would leave the stability of 12-year career to become a snowboard instructor and then, eventually, move to Korea for an undetermined amount of time. That turn of events would not have been on my bucket list. Yet, those are the best decisions I have ever made.
I also would not have imagined I would still be unmarried and without children at age 40. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow, but I realize it’s also a blessing. Not only has my untethered status been a catalyst for change in my life, it has given me the freedom to create a new list of amazing things to accomplish before I kick the bucket — things my 16-year-old self never could have imagined.
So what would be on my bucket list today? Well, it would reflect a desire to combine travel, writing, photography and humanitarian work to make positive change in the world. Of course, I don’t currently have a clear idea what form this desire will take. (I am me, after all.) But I know I will make it happen somehow.
And of course, I still want to find my soul mate. It’s getting harder and harder to keep the faith on that one, but I’m doing my best. As for children, I’m not so sure that one’s in the cards for me, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: You never know what the future holds.