A little while ago, I found an old image journal.
It was full of pictures, not words; I’d pasted it full of magazine cut-outs when I was in my twenties, living in Tokyo, working as an actor. This was pre-kids, pre-Portland, pre-life-coach-training.
It was FASCINATING to get a glimpse into the images I’d pasted in there. I wasn’t deliberately using it as a “vision board,” per se– I don’t think I’d even heard that phrase at the time– but it was a comforting, inspiring habit, one that took me out of my anxious and word-filled mind.
The journal was filled with art, fashion, fierce women, and shoes… SO MANY shoes.
At the time, my life was filled parties, the theater gigs I loved, and terrible acting jobs I did for money– the kind where I’d have to wake up at 4am to be on a set where I’d stand in a dowdy suit next to a printer and repeat inane lines for some promotional video. It was also filled with a lot of booze, some very unwise choices, and a kind of almost-delirious glee that I’d escaped a bad marriage, a religion that I was allergic to, and an intense depression that almost felled me in my early 20s.
I was ecstatic– and I was miserable. I was mostly broke, but at least I was supporting myself as a bona fide actor. I knew who I wasn’t, any more– but I hadn’t yet figured out who I was going to be.
Those images brought me back viscerally to that time of my life, when I was trying to figure out how to shape a life out of the ashes of the one I’d burned down.
Back then, when I thought about being the decrepit old age of 40, I thought I was ready for it. Ready to be modest, embrace my sagging neck and laugh lines. Except I figured that by then, I’d surely have a million dollars in the bank. At least one good-selling book. I’d throw a big bash in a glamorous city and all my famous friends would come.
Oh, I could just picture it: my favorite designers would send me edgy, gorgeous coats and shoes and dresses for my birthday. I’d hang them up in the big huge closet-room I’d had built into my beautiful house by the ocean. Liz Gilbert and Natalie Maines would call. I’d splurge and buy myself a Porsche, then make droll comments about the irony of my midlife-crisis-mobile.
That’s the recipe I had in my head for how my life was going to go.
Here I am, a 40-year-old woman, and my life doesn’t look much like I’d imagined at ALL.
I have five kids. I drive a Dodge minivan that I am still paying off every month. I live in a small, pretty, rented house in a modest part of the modest suburbs of a modest town.
There is not a tree, a fashion designer, or a hipster coffee shop in sight.
The 20-something me would have been horrified!!
But buried in that journal are some anomalies. There’s a whole spread of women with big, ripe, pregnant bellies. (Even though I was 100% CONVINCED I didn’t want children.) A page full of green country vistas and eyelet dresses and handmade quilts. (Even though I was a hip city girl through and through.) And a page– I remember being mortified at the time– with billowy white dresses, pearls, flowers, and diamond rings. (I would have sworn that it wasn’t really about weddings, since I was DAMN WELL NEVER getting married again!!!)
Kind of funny, right?
I felt a strange mix of emotions as I paged through all those contradictory images from the past. Compassion for that young, lost woman who was so shaky but doing her very best. Immense gratitude for the rich, beautiful life I live now. Respect for the mature, whole person I’ve become.
And…if I’m being honest…a tiny twinge that my life isn’t nearly as cool, glamorous, or wealthy as I thought it would be.
Immediately, of course, the guilt storms in.
HERESY!! HOW DARE I TYPE SUCH A THING!!! *Slap!!!* UNGRATEFUL WRETCH!!!!
I’m full of panic that I don’t feel grateful.
Because oh my god, wait, I AM grateful!! I am, I am!
I have five beautiful children I adore. I live and work and sleep with my best friend, my favorite human, my soulmate, the love of my life. We have money for everything we need, Veuve Clicquot on special occasions, and flowers all over the place ALL the time.
I get to work from my favorite place– home– talking and writing to the smartest, funniest, deepest, kindest, most mystical women on earth. For this they pay me actual dollars. I don’t ever have to wake up at 3am to go be on a set for a terrible promotional video shoot for a printer. I don’t ever have to wake up at 6am to put on pantyhose and a suit to go sit in meetings with people who bore me to death.
I am lucky– OH SO FREAKING LUCKY. And I know it.
I’m rrrrrrich beyond belief.
And? Even so? Sometimes?
I’m not quite sure how I went from being a glamorous creature of fire and mystery, someone who was on my way to MAKING it, to me. Cooking mac and cheese for my kids and then wincing when they put ketchup on it. Wiping, washing, folding, chauffeuring.
It’s exactly what I want. I chose it wholeheartedly, and I will keep choosing it again and again.
But I also feel a little lost.
I thought the way I would matter in this world would be public. Big. Visible. I’d be in magazines and newspapers. People (the right people) would know my name. Most of all, I thought for sure that I’d be a famous and distinguished author.
Instead I am a mom, and a coach, and a wife, and a breadwinner.
I’m proud of all those things. I love being all those things.
But as Josh Lyman once said, there comes a moment in each man’s life when he realizes that he’s never going to pitch for the Yankees.
And in my own life, there came a moment when I realized that I’m never going to be a fashion editor who gets invited to all the Paris shows.
It sounds a bit ludicrous, doesn’t it? I didn’t even try to be a fashion writer! It wasn’t what I really wanted.
But there was still that old recipe lingering in my mind, an expectation that my life was supposed to look a certain way. I brought that recipe with me in ways I didn’t even realize, and as long as I held on to it, it made what I have seem less-than.
Because when I look around, I can see that that old recipe doesn’t fit any more, not at all.
Instead, I have THESE beautiful raw ingredients:
sacred wild gorgeous children,
a job I love,
the best partner anyone could ever dream of,
my own fierce heart,
and beautiful Alberta skies.
They’re not the raw ingredients I thought I’d be working with– published books or fame or gobs of money. But they are still wonderful, remarkable, MIRACULOUS raw ingredients.
So what will I make of them?
Guys. I want to make something AMAZING out of them.
I’m working every day trying to figure that out. And I’m realizing that the recipe in my head is the problem, not the ingredients. I have a recipe for a fancy six-layer cake in my head.
But instead of cream and sugar and gold leaf, (not to mention a qualified pastry chef), I have very different ingredients before me. Cans of tomatoes, ground beef, and dry noodles in a box.
Not nearly as glamorous.
BUT!!! I also have aged cheddar, good parmesan, and fresh spinach and basil.
That sounds like an amazing lasagne to me!!!
The best cooks don’t just follow a recipe; they work with what is before them.
They approach what they have with ingenuity, humor, and even reverence. And they can create something delicious out of even the most surprising ingredients.
So that’s what I’m trying to do.
If I can look for the potential in THESE ingredients, instead of trying to turn them into something they’re not, I know that they will yield something mouth-watering and mind-blowing.
This is true for all of us.
Do you have any old recipes in your head that are just making you feel dissatisfied? What ingredients are you working with right now, in your REAL life? Not the one you thought you’d have, but the one you’re actually living. What will you make of them, dearheart?
Let’s make it delicious. And while we’re at it– let’s make it gorgeous, too.