My life is full of surprises lately. Here is one of them: strangers confide in me. I noticed it at my first signing. I spent the evening standing near a table piled with copies of my book. Frazzled parents darted past, chasing their tiny offspring. Occasionally, one would wander over and begin a conversation. I would always start by telling them that this is my first book. They would congratulate me and ask if I’d always wanted to be a writer. I’d say yes, but it was a long road full of setbacks that led me to this day. Perhaps something about me admitting that pursuing my dreams was not easy and I have been largely unsuccessful disarmed them because then came the stories of their unrealized dreams, heartbreaks, frustrations, and regrets.
I’ve met some fantastic people. Kind, intelligent, and talented people. Frustrated, discouraged, and overwhelmed people – people not unlike myself. I have been frustrated and discouraged many times, and some days, I still am. I am deeply moved by the stories people have told me, and by the fact that they trusted me with their stories. Women and men who had dreams but who put their ambitions on hold to raise their families. People who, like me, began their young adult lives so sure of their plans and direction, only to be sidetracked by life’s curveballs. All of us had dreams and ambitions. None of us knew what those dreams would take to realize, and none of us knew that these tiny, wonderful people we decided to bring into the world would take up so much time, energy, and resources that we’d have to choose, at least for a while, between the dream of being the parents they deserved and the dreams we dreamt pre-parenthood. I’ve met women who wanted so much to become something – dancer, actress, politician, writer – but they realized that their dream and motherhood could not peacefully coexist. “You can’t have it all,” they say, but I would amend that statement to say “You can’t do it all perfectly at the same time.” Perfectionism is the first thing that has to go; if you want to accomplish many things, you must prioritize done over perfect, and you must make hard choices. Often, one dream comes at the expense of another. Sacrifices must be made as you try to keep all of the balls in the air – mother, wife, friend, career woman – at every moment, something has to give. If the same thing gives for a sustained period, you usually lose that thing – for example, many of us put our marriages on the back burner while our children were young. Eventually, we lost our husbands and kept the kids. Some of us took time off from working to raise our offspring, and when we were ready to return to the workforce, we found that our skills were outdated or the jobs we used to love were no longer an option for us. Some of us chose career over children, and so when our children grew up and made their own choices, they decided not to associate with us, because they remembered that when they needed us, we weren’t there.
When deciding what to let go of, and what to keep, I put things in perspective by asking myself, when I reach the end of my life, what will I regret most, and what will I wish that I had made more time for? I also ask myself if the current disheartening circumstance is forever. For example, my beloved children monopolize time that could otherwise be devoted to a romantic relationship, or my career. When I have to choose between them and another commitment, I think about the fact that in a few years they will be at college, and I will miss them. I will miss watching their sports games, going to a movie with them, or cooking them dinner. So I do those things now, because I’ll have plenty of time for working, and dating, and anything else I want after they’ve grown and moved out. This time with them is precious, and it will not last forever. So I try not to be selfish now because there is plenty of time to be selfish later. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever regret sacrifices made for my children, but if I sacrificed my relationship with them for money, fame, or dating, I would regret that. Any person who drives a wedge between my children and me is not a person that I’m interested in having in my life.
So dear readers, thank you for confiding in me; I am inspired by your selflessness, your bravery, your compassion, and your gifts. And I would say this to you: timing is everything, and God’s timing is perfect. If you have a talent or a dream, it’s there for a reason, and just because it has not come to fruition yet does not mean that it never will. There are seasons in life, and maybe in this season, you need to set aside your ambitions to raise your precious tiny people. Or perhaps right now you need to put your career on hold to focus on your marriage, or perhaps you’ve made those sacrifices in the past, and now it’s time for your professional life to take center stage. Whatever season of your life you are in, don’t think that you are doomed to a life of failure, regret, and unrealized potential. No matter how busy you are, find something to do that makes you feel alive, and do it, even if you can only spare ten minutes a day right now; you never know where it might lead. Love the life you have and the people who are in it, but also love yourself enough to know that the people who truly love you will support you, and help you become the best version of yourself. What you don’t have time or room for in your life for is anyone who distracts you from your purpose, whether your purpose is being a great mom, a great wife, a top-notch professional, or any combination thereof.
Sometimes our accomplishments in life are significant – like winning an award, or getting a Ph.D. – but sometimes, in the world’s eyes, our achievements are mundane. Like getting out of bed when you feel like sleeping in, dropping two kids off at two different schools and then getting to work on time, or nursing a sick child back to health. But an accomplishment doesn’t have to be Facebook worthy to be an accomplishment. Doing your best each day, with whatever tasks are yours is an accomplishment. Those tiny people or that spouse who depend on you may not have a fan page set up in your honor, but their devotion is more of a reward than any fame or money the world could ever offer. And loving them to the best of your ability and cherishing your time with them is not something that you will ever regret. I can’t think of a greater accomplishment than a regret-free life, even if no one but you ever knows about it.