Every now and then I have a quiet moment that lets my mind wander and leaves me feeling a little nostalgic. It’s been ten years since I transferred to Penn State University to focus on my education and ultimately my career. I’ve been thinking back to that time a lot lately and have been remembering the dreams I had during those years.
As a dreamer and a doer – or as I prefer to call myself, goal-oriented and focused – I had big plans. Upon graduation, I would move to a city (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. were the ones I had my eye on) and begin to write health policy for a major firm or company. I would put in long hours but those long hours would translate to promotions which would lead to the opportunity to run board meetings and call the shots. After a long day at the office, I would meet friends at an upscale restaurant that required reservations and I would wear one of my many designer dresses. We would sip white wine and laugh over sushi and make plans to rent a beach house for the summer. Then I would go home to my pristine apartment with a killer view where everything was neat and clean. I would get to read the latest literary sensation before calling it a day and I would wake up feeling rested and refreshed.
None of this happened.
It’s laughable now, but that is actually what I thought would happen – what I thought my life would be like. I believed my plans were the gold standard or the ideal for success, but the goal for my identity was all based on material things. I knew I wanted to get married and have a family, but I wasn’t dating anyone at the time and just assumed that I would focus on my career first and those things would come later for me.
This is what actually happened.
I met my husband at the beginning of our senior year of college. A year after graduation, we got married. I was frustrated that my career plans weren’t working and after several years of waitressing and millions of resumes later, I finally let go and gave my frustrations to God. Some time later, I landed a job at the local hospital; I was also pregnant with our first child. This was followed up by a promotion and another kid.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be identified as a working mother, but God had a different plan for me. Now, I push myself at work to be the best for my family. Sure, I want those promotions, but they aren’t nearly as important as those I have waiting for me at home. I’ve never been to a restaurant that requires a reservation. In fact, the only time I’ve given my name in advance is when we were short on time and had to call ahead to the Olive Garden to put our name on the list. There is nothing designer about my life and the nicest dress I own was on sale at the Dress Barn. When I leave the office I go home to my kids where we sip from juice boxes and laugh over chicken nuggets while discussing the events of the day. As for renting a beach house, we piggy-back with my parents to the beach so we can afford to go and it’s probably going to be that way for a while longer. I get to read the latest adventures of Clifford the Big Red Dog before calling it a day and I can’t remember the last time I woke up feeling rested and refreshed.
And my life is so much better than I dreamed it would be.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t conceive of a life as full as mine is today. I look back on those dreams that I once thought were so glamorous and they feel empty. It would have been great to experience some of those things, but my actual life experiences have given me a drive like no other and have taught me that I am capable of more than I know – we all are.
Beyond that, the biggest realization has been that my identity isn’t found in my career or material things, just like my identity isn’t found in my family or how well I raise my children. My identity is found in Christ, in striving to be the woman he created me to be. By this definition, my identity would remain the same if I were that city-living, single, career woman as opposed to the working wife and mother I am today. I love that my identity is in Christ. You know why? I might lose my job, my kids are going to grow up, my financial situation won’t always be the same and if I hang my hat on these things, I’m going to be in for a rude awakening one day. I can plan and dream all I want, but Christ is the one constant in my life. My husband, children, and job just give me a purpose with which to live out my identity in Christ and having a clearly defined purpose is incredibly fulfilling.
But when it comes down to chicken nuggets vs. sushi, I would choose chicken nuggets every time.