Reflecting on Your Own Twisted Life Path
In most cases, we stray from the expected route anyway...
Posted Aug 28, 2019
Now that you are in midlife or beyond, what do you see when you look back on the path you’ve traveled? Did your early plans pan out—career goals, marriage, kids, travel, income? In most cases, we stray from the expected route, and sometimes we end up in a better place than we could have ever imagined.
Daily Om’s Madisyn Taylor, in her piece "There Are No Straight Lines in Nature or Life," says,
“If you trek into the wilderness and look around with a careful gaze, you'll see that the trees, flowers, and even the rocks have a tendency to flow. There is the curve of the branch that leads to the blossom, the smooth dip in a rock formation, the gnarled knot in a tree trunk, and the forking of shoots. As nature is overflowing with curves, corners, knots, and unexpected directions, so are our lives filled with unpredictable twists and turns. While you may find yourself briefly on a straight path, there is sure to be a sudden change in route up ahead. The journey of life doesn't necessarily always bring you closer to your goals. In fact, sometimes you may find yourself backtracking or meandering off in a wholly new direction. Because there is no way to predict the outcome of your journey (just as there is no way to predict the way a new bud will form), simply living is in itself the path to wisdom.”
When I was in my teens, I pictured magical things happening to me. I would finish high school (not my happy place), major in French in college, and become an interpreter for the United Nations. My dad painted this picture of a life of great meaning, using language to build bridges and have a rewarding career (although it was clear that it was partly to put myself in a position to meet an educated man).
Trouble is, even though my pronunciation of French was admirable for an American, my fluency was not. There were no native French speakers in the Midwest, where I went to college. Even a summer abroad in Paris was not enough to get me to rapid-fire conversational levels, because I spent my day with other language students and not with French people.
While I had an unforgettable college experience, reality hit when it was time for me to begin “adulting.” For years, I had sworn I would head back to my beloved San Francisco, and just two weeks after graduation, my parents gave in and drove me back there, pretty much to make sure that I found a job and a place to stay and then wave goodbye. I think they were tired of my whining.
Of course, the job I took had nothing to do with what I had studied in school and the place I found to live was merely a room in an elderly immigrant lady’s house not far from where I had been a child. But I was thrilled to be where I felt I belonged at last. It’s amazing how young people can lead fairly Spartan existences as long as they feel a sense of adventure happening to them.
From there, my life began taking its twisted path to great experiences and a few crappy ones thrown in for good measure. From secretarial work to hotel front desk work to working in the airline industry, everything I did felt like a higher step to something that would fulfill me even more.
In the course of this road I traveled, I met interesting people, famous people, sold high-ticket items and even trained people to have exciting careers. I changed my look over and over again, I traveled a lot, and by my late 20s, I pretty much made a “business decision” to marry and have kids. By age 30, I had taken the plunge, and by age 32, my amazing daughter was born.
I have had many careers since then, gone through a divorce after giving the marriage a good, long shelf life, and ended up very shortly thereafter with someone who had been lingering in the shadows a long time. Unbeknownst to me, he was to be my soul mate, restoring my faith in love, romance, and relationships. But I am not certain I would be able to appreciate a man like him until after I had been through my first very challenging marriage.
So when you reflect back on your life, are you able to connect the dots? Instead of lamenting the things you didn’t do, is it possible to be grateful for the path you eventually took, even if it looked nothing like what you had in mind in your 20s?
I do this reflective exercise on a regular basis. For instance, if it weren’t for my move back to San Francisco, I would not have known the joys of being totally on my own at age 20. I would never have enjoyed the excitement and free travel opportunities working for an airline brought to me. And had I not worked for that airline, I would not have met the man who would father my only child and delight in the rewards of motherhood.
I look back on my careers, my friends from all those careers, my ethnocentric involvement, my health challenges, and I have to think that—in the long run—I made some pretty good choices, even though some seemed unwise at the time. My ability to study life from up on a cloud has also helped me become a writer who is always grateful that somewhere, someone’s life may be touched by what I have to say.
ZenHabits’ Leo Babauta points out the beauty of reflection in his article, "5 Powerful Reasons to Make Reflection a Daily Habit, and How to Do It." First, it enables you to learn from your mistakes. “If we don’t reflect on our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them,” says Barbauta. “And that’s not very smart. However, if we reflect on those mistakes, figure out what went wrong, see how we can prevent them in the future, we can use our mistakes to get better. Mistakes, then, are a valuable learning tool, instead of something to feel embarrassed or upset about. Reflection is an important way to do that.”
Next, reflection can offer you some great ideas. It can help you get the big picture as if you are suspended in the air, looking down at your present circumstances. “I reflect on things that I’m doing or that are going on in my life," he says. “If things aren’t going well, I learn stuff I can share with others. If I reflect on something that’s a success for me, I think about how I got that success, and share that too. I’ve had hundreds of great ideas this year from reflection.”
The next advantage of self-reflection is one that has brought me some exciting times in life. There is a reward in itself from helping others. Because of my own struggles and eventual problem-solving skills, I have been able to help others realize they are not alone.
Babauta talks about how simple little tips can change people’s lives. It can inspire someone to change course, to buck up and see more in themselves, and to give them the inspiration to move to higher planes of understanding—sometimes just by saying something that hits them in the gut.
Recently I have been participating in a women’s entrepreneurial networking platform called Girlboss, where mostly younger women talk about risk-taking, learning something new, offering advice to and supporting other women in their quests to live out their career passions. Often, a young woman just out of college is asking others how it’s possible to find her dream job after receiving a degree in a certain field.
While other millennial women respond with encouraging words, I am the seasoned member who will tell her to work any job she can find, learn to live her daily life first, supporting herself and her future dreams, and then she will be in a position to be open to wherever her efforts and skills take her. Sometimes that means in an entirely different field than the one she had in mind. This life journey is difficult to explain to the young, but I guess someone has to do it.
Please understand that all of this is also fodder for how I live my life now. For every new challenge, I am interested in what comes next. With every new person I meet, I have more reason to ask questions and find out more about them. Hey, I'm just getting started.
I can easily become overwhelmed by life if I don’t step back and practice the art of reflection. A dose of the daily news can ruin my day. But a visit to Facebook, where hundreds of people I have known since my youth are gathered on my feed—childhood friends, classmates, travel buddies, former co-workers, and business acquaintances—can quickly soften those disturbing thoughts. Why? Because I know we are all in this together.
And because we all have the power to touch one another’s lives with our stories, our challenges, and even our sense of humor. That, in itself, has made life worth living.