Monday, April 24, 2006


I just got back from a weekend with my two best friends from college. I love spending time with friends with whom I can just pick up as if no time has gone by. These are those kinds of friends, and we spent most of our time together just sitting and talking (and there was a lot of eating involved, too, of course).

Naturally, we reminisced about our college days, laughing and telling the familiar stories again and being reminded of things we had forgotten. But what I cherished most were the moments when we talked about who we are now, women approaching 40, none of us quite happy with where we are in our lives but each of us happy with certain aspects of it. Career-wise, we're all struggling - we haven't found the right jobs (nor have our partners). Two of us live in places where we don't want to stay. We're still figuring out the marriage and family deal (all of us are in serious relationships (two are married) and I'm the only one with a kid).

In college, I spent whole days with these women, puzzling out who we really were and who we wanted to be. I think maybe we had the sense that we would have figured it all out by the time we got to this point in our lives. I always thought that the discovery of my self would be a one-time event: I would figure out the truth of who I was meant to be and what I was meant to do, and then I'd have those answers and move on with my life. In the same way that my students will confess to me, "I don't really know what I want to be when I grow up," I struggled with not being certain of what I really wanted and with lacking a sense of clear purpose.

Talking this afternoon with my two friends, I remembered that the process of becoming is just that: a process. As we talked about the life decisions we'd made and were in the process of making - to have a baby, to not have a baby, to take this job, to move there - we also talked about regret. Will I regret this? Will I wish, later in my life, that I had done something else?

My one friend pointed out that we will always have regrets, no matter what we decide. I think it's true that we will always wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that we had made different choices, moved to a different city, begun or ended a relationship sooner. But in college it sometimes felt paralyzing to look out at the years ahead, like every decision was of the utmost importance, like the entirety of our lives was held in the balance. Looking back from this distance, I realize that every decision does seem to affect the courses our lives have taken, but that there are numerous ways in which we can go back and start over or choose a different path. Life now feels to me less like a game in which I have to be careful to move my piece just the right number of spaces, and more like an opportunity to experience new things and people and to learn from them.

If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her not to worry so much about figuring out who she was and what she wanted. I would tell her that I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And I would tell her, too, that regret is frequently just a signal that something needs to change - and that change is always possible.

That's my wisdom as I near midlife. Check back with me in another twenty years.

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