Ten years ago, I packed up my Chevy Tracker with as many things as I could fit into it and left the rest behind. I caravaned 1,200 miles south with my then-boyfriend whose smaller Honda Civic was also stuffed to the gills. We said good-bye to both of our families, neither of which thought what we were doing was smart, and drove the long 18-hour trip from Northern Indiana to Central Florida. We arrived late at night at our new apartment and had no furniture, so we slept that first night on the floor, heads resting on duffle bags for pillows.
I would have never admitted it then, but it was true that leaving a paying job with insurance to move somewhere completely new with my college boyfriend, where I’d likely have to revert back to waiting tables to scrape by, wasn’t my smartest move. I’ve always had a restless spirit, though, and one that longed for new things, for risky things, for things that may not be perfectly spelled out. As much as I tried to tell myself I made that move for my romantic relationship, I think he and I both knew that I made that move for myself.
Fast forward 10 years and the mental images of that first trek to my new home seem like distant memories. It took less than three months for my travel companion and I to see that we weren’t meant to spend an eternity in a humid swamp together, and about two months after that I learned I was going to be a mother. With no family nearby, no boyfriend, and more acquaintances than friends, I was faced with a decision: move back home or dig my heels in and make a life for myself right where I was. I think either decision would have worked out just fine – but taking the road less traveled, well… it’s made all the difference.
I’ve learned a lot in the decade since I left home – since I REALLY left home, for good. Some of it’s been difficult, and some of it’s been revealing about who I am as a person. Some has been downright heartbreaking. I’ve disappointed myself, I’ve surprised myself, and the other people in my life have done the same. I’ve come a long way from that gypsy spirit who felt called to wander, unsure of what it would mean long term.
These days I’m a mother of 3, stepmother of 2, mortgage-paying PTO President who hates to drive after dark. I’m thankful for the lessons these past 10 years have taught me, like realizing that…
Your roots are just a starting point.
Whether your parents raised you well or poorly, at some point you are your own person. What they instilled in you can either drive you toward more of the same, or pit you against it. In most cases, it’s a little bit of both. Who you are and where you came from will always be a part of your identity, but like a tree, you still have branches and leaves to grow that extend far above and beyond your roots.
You are capable.
I remember trying to open a bottle of wine at my new Florida apartment, like a total adult, and not having a corkscrew. I was annoyed that it wasn’t a twist-off cap (classy!). I remember having a moment when I thought about calling my dad. I thought about driving to the store. I thought about asking my boyfriend to drive to the store. Eventually I Googled some alternatives and discovered a screw and hammer would do the trick. I happened to have both in a toolbox my dad had made for me when I first went to college, one that had made it into my Tracker for the trip to Florida. That wine tasted amazing – mainly because it was the kind of wine that doesn’t come from a bottle with a twist-off cap.
I’m sort of joking about that wine bottle, but it’s an example of what I felt like when I started to have more confidence in my ability to actually survive, and thrive, in life. I realized that I was capable of making a life for myself, wine and all. That life has blossomed in the decade since, with new friends, new career opportunities, new babies, and new love. I am capable of being an adult – and a successful one.
There’s a lot you don’t know.
Oh my, there’s just SO much I didn’t know about the world and still don’t. Moving away from all the comforts of home forced me to meet new people, try new things, and go new places. What I’ve learned is this: everyone can teach me something. I’m more compassionate and kind than I was a decade ago. I’m open to the fact that my way is not always the right way, and rules on life are relative.
People are so beautifully nuanced. When I was a child, I used to see the world in such a black and white way, but through the years, the shades of gray have become so apparent. I don’t know what people have been through, or what they are currently going through, and even if I asked, I would probably not get the full story. Be kind. Be compassionate. Realize that people will disappoint you, but it doesn’t make them bad people. Don’t judge. Don’t criticize. Just listen. You might learn something.
Good people are everywhere.
I made this same point in a post I wrote when my oldest daughter turned 5. My three years as a single mother were the most heartening of my life. People reached out to me with encouragement, with money for groceries, with flexible-schedule job offers, and more. I had a friend come over to do my laundry once when my daughter was an infant. I asked if she would mind just holding the baby instead so I could have some peace in the laundry room. She agreed and brought me dessert, too. These days I’m reminded of the goodness people contain when I take all 5 kids to the grocery store and people tell me I’m doing a good job (even when my kids are truly acting terribly). Hate and evil exist – but the good in the world will bowl you over if you look for it.
You have nothing to prove.
I’ve heard people say that you have nothing to prove to anyone… except yourself. I’ve always wondered about the actual reassurance in that phrase because, at least in my case, I am my worst critic and the person who puts the most pressure on myself. Ten years ago I used to worry about having the right things in life – the right job, the right spouse, the right house, the right kids, the right friends, the right salary, and more. Now I don’t worry about having what is “right.” I just focus on what is right for me and for my family. My version of a happy life may not look like yours, and vice versa, but at the end of the day, it’s our own lives. I don’t need to impress anyone, not even myself.
It’s okay to change your mind.
Decisions are not definitive. You can make one and then decide to make a different one later. Don’t stick to your guns out of pride. If something isn’t working the way you envisioned — a relationship, a job, a potty training method with your toddler — it’s okay to change course. You don’t have to always be right on the first try. Trial and error are a healthy part of life. Don’t let bad decisions hold you back from future good ones.
It’s okay to redefine yourself.
The truth is that all people change. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. People change throughout their lives, molded by life experiences that take them to new places of understanding. You don’t have to be a version of yourself that you’ve outgrown for the benefit of others. Embrace who you are, at each life stage, and let your own insight shape a new you.
How you treat people matters.
At the end of the day, kindness wins. If you have to hurt someone else to reach a goal, that victory will be an empty one. Treat people how you want to be treated and the good vibes will come back to you. This is especially true when it comes to how we treat our significant others and our children. If you wouldn’t want another person speaking to your spouse or child in a certain way, then you shouldn’t do it either. Treat the people in your life, especially the ones that matter the most, like they are valuable. You are valuable too, by the way, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Your voice matters.
Don’t be afraid of what you believe. Your viewpoint and perspective on life is important and your voice MATTERS. Before my husband and I got married, I struggled with pushing “publish” on a blog post I’d written. The subject matter made me uncomfortable, even though I meant every word I’d written. I mentioned that perhaps I’d just scrub it and write something a little lighter, a little more mainstream, instead. He said: “Don’t do that. Don’t write something someone else would write. Your voice matters.” That’s always stuck with me and I try to remember it when I know I’m crossing over that comfortable, neutral line in my life. Not everything is worth a confrontation or putting a foot down; you’ll know the important things, though. Don’t be afraid to say how you feel.
Good friends make a world of difference.
The quality of the people who surround you has a direct impact on how you feel about yourself and the world. Find the people who make you feel like the best version of yourself, always, and don’t force relationships with people who don’t. It’s important to have a strong relationship with your spouse, but the support system of a few platonic friends elevates everything in your life. Find the people who accept you for the person you are today – the ones who don’t expect you to be someone you were in the past, or who want you to change for the future. When you meet those people, return the favor by being an enthusiastic, supportive friend too.
What have you learned in life that’s made a difference in how you live it?
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