Where did you think you’d be by now – because when it comes to our life’s trajectory, expectation vs reality can throw up some stark contrasts. This is something that comes up for me a lot in therapy – I feel a great deal of confusion and, I guess, disappointment, at where my life is at 31 years of age, compared with where I thought it would be.
That’s not to say that it’s all worse – some of it is way better, and in totally unexpected ways. But still, there’s a slight internal struggle when I try to shake off that little picture I had in my head of my future life – and accept that I’m here, now, where I am, and that that’s okay.
Expectation vs reality – where did I think I’d be?
I would definitely have a full-time job. This is such a basic one, it seems almost laughable to write it down. Of course, when, as a teenager, I imagined myself at 30-something years of age, I had a job. I would be somewhere between Andy in The Devil Wears Prada and Lois Lane – definitely working in journalism, but something slightly glam and high-octane. There would definitely be morning coffee runs, and I’d probably be working in New York.
As it happens? I quit my job – to focus on doing more of what I love doing (which is still writing, so I wasn’t wrong there) – and I don’t have to do the coffee runs for anyone but myself. It means that my days are a whole lot less organised than I thought they’d be, and my “career trajectory”, if you can call it that, is a whole lot less certain, but I love having the freedom to decide my own hours and make my own rules.
I would own my own house. Ah, Ireland – the land of the dreamers and the poets and the young home-owners. I grew up in an era when “getting on the property ladder” was pretty much the number one priority once you graduated from college, so I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at the fact that, not only am I still renting, but I probably will be renting for a long time yet.
I know that a big part of this is my own fault; I haven’t always been self-employed, after all, and I have had a few good years of earning good money. I just, er, never saved any of it. I’ve been too busy buying (and selling) clothes, and buying expensive takeout coffees. Just, y’know, for myself.
I would be married, and probably have at least two kids. To my teenage self, that seemed like a done deal; 31-year-olds were past the age of marrying, and definitely old enough to have at least one child. And when I think about it now, my sister had her first child at 31 – which didn’t seem that young.But for me? 31 still feels way too young to have kids and, in any case, I’m 99% sure I don’t want children at any stage. (I even did a YouTube video on it, above!) But it is weird, now, to be reimagining my child-free life when, for so many years, children were kind of a done deal – sure, everyone had kids sooner or later!
As for marriage? Well, consider this a warning to anyone who considers dating a younger person – my man isn’t quite ready to get married and, though I wouldn’t mind tying the knot, I’m not in a rush (probably a lot of that is due to the fact that the ticking of my biological clock isn’t an incentive). So, whatever happens, happens. My teenage self would be so horrified with this laissez-faire attitude.
I wouldn’t get upset when I encountered mean girls. I found secondary school really tough. I wasn’t in the popular crew – in fact, I think I was probably pretty close to the bottom of the societal rung – and I was really sensitive to any slights, perceived or otherwise. I had curly hair that my mother insisted on brushing for me (frizz ball) and I was that kind of dangerous combination of incredibly self-conscious about my looks, and incredibly self-assured about my intelligence. I was, in short, a massive nerd – and I felt the brunt of it at school.
If you asked my sixth-year self what would be different about my life in, say, 13 years’ time, she would have told you that I wouldn’t be feeling intimidated and humiliated by groups of girls who thought they were better than me – but she would have been totally wrong. At 31 years of age, I still find myself whimpering, tears welling in my eyes, when “girls are mean to me”. I should know better, but I just don’t.
The latest slight? When a girl I know – or, rather, woman – told me: “You know, everyone told me you were a bitch and I always defended you – now I feel like a fool.” Way harsh, Tai.
I would always know what to wear. It genuinely worries me to think that I am at least 33% of the way through my life (if not more!) and I still get into a hot, sweaty mess trying to figure out what to wear – and sometimes I’m not even doing anything special with my day. Throw in a fancy event and I practically lie on the ground, face down, pummelling the carpet with my fists. It’s never straightforward, and I really thought I’d have it together, sartorially speaking, by now.
I wouldn’t be hating my body any more, and (related) I’d definitely have my shit together when it came to food. Though my teens and twenties were entirely occupied with joining slimming group after slimming group, designating foods into “good”, “bad”, “low point” and “high point” categories, somehow I was so sure that, by the time I hit 30, that would all be behind me.
I would have chilled out about food; I’d just be so sorted, with my full-time job, always knowing what to wear and my two kids, that I wouldn’t have time to stress about dieting – I’d have found that elusive balance.
The truth? I’m still in a cycle of eating “healthily” and bingeing insanely, so that my life is a rollercoaster of smug self-satisfaction and guilt, each weighing the other out until I feel like Bill Murray in a foodie version of Groundhog Day, where every day is the same fight with myself – “treat yourself” vs “think of how your body will feel”. SIGH.
I’m wearing: Dress, French Connection; Scarf, Joules; Leather jacket, H&M (similar here); Tights, Penneys; Shoes, Finery London; Bag, Fossil at Kilkenny (similar here); Rings, Chupi and Cold Lilies.
Expectation vs reality – which is better?
There are probably so many more things I expected for myself, that have not come to pass (I’d have written my damn book, for another) – but ultimately, it all boils down to this: I’m a totally different person to who I expected I’d be.
In a way, I’m less “perfect” – I think my future self was a little too Stepford to be wholesome – but I think I’m also younger at heart than I thought I’d be. I laugh a lot more than I would have thought a “serious” 31-year-old should. I have a whole lot more flexibility in my career and, what’s even better, I have a whole lot more friends than I ever thought I’d have, from a much wider catchment area. (I expected I’d have three, each with their own children. We’d get together once a week over cups of tea, and watch our children writhe happily on the floor together.)
Ultimately, I think it boils down to the fact that I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet – and this is something I’m working on. I’ve always felt like I’m on my way somewhere – on my way to my goal weight, maybe, or working on achieving my “ideal” self. So now I’m working on trying to accept that where I am is here; my ideal self is me, right now; my goal weight is BS.
I’m not where I thought I’d be but, in the grand scheme of things, I think everything worked out okay. (Except for the clothes; I’d still like to be better at that.)
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