Paths Unknown

I have been thinking a lot about paths these days. Since I’ve returned to NYC from Mumbai earlier this year, my focus has been exploring what I want next — not just professionally, but personally. What do I expect from myself? How can I meet those expectations? Have those expectations changed from, say, five years ago? Ten years ago?

Everyone reminds you that change is inevitable — that is the most predictable force in our lives. We change our minds, our behaviors, ourselves. We adapt to emerging circumstances, and it would be foolish to think we will forever remain unchanged in spite of this. When I look back at my life so far, I recognize that despite all my careful planning, there have been a few detours, and circumstances I could never have foreseen changed the direction and shape of the paths I had previously mapped out. And yes, the experience of all this — the living of it all — has changed me.

It is all too easy to be disappointed by how I have not followed my map. For instance, when I was a teenager living in my own story imagination and reading the novels of my literary titans, I told myself that I would be a successful, published novelist by the age of 21. (I later amended that age to a more practical 25.) I am now knocking on the door of 31 and that has yet to happen. As much as I hate to admit it, I do feel a keen sense of disappointment in myself over that, and now I wonder if I have the same drive and abilities that I had when I was younger.

It’s a foolish question though, isn’t it? I cannot expect to be the same now as I was when I was a teen. I grew up. My path changed. I adapted. But I  haven’t let go of that early map.

The years have passed since then. I have so many other life experiences. The ones that I carefully mapped — education, career — they did materialize. I can check those off my life list, but they didn’t necessarily take the shape and form I thought they would.

And then comes the fact that I never mapped my “personal” life, yet it practically fell into my lap in a beautiful box, wrapped neatly and tightly with a bow. Meeting my hubby and experiencing the world in a fresh way are great gifts. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined these parts of my life — they were beyond anything and everything I saw for myself.

I pay attention to these gifts, and I count my blessings, but I feel the familiar stirrings of disappointment — the disappointment of forgoing earlier designs, of not always following through, of not knowing exactly what comes next. On that latter point, it’s exciting: in a sense, it’s like a fresh start. The last three years in India have brought me closer to my dreams: I became a writer. I immersed myself in my passions, and I saw how rewarding that is and how it sustains you even in the most frustrating and dysfunctional of times. I want to continue that, but how? What map do I draw up this time?

So now I’m an explorer in my own life. Terrifying as it is, I’m stepping outside of boxes, maybe even coloring outside the lines a bit. It’s liberating, but it’s not easy. It’s hard work. When I’m most frustrated or confused or scared, I remind myself of the things I never mapped out. And look how much happiness, how much warmth, how much peace those blessings have given me.

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