When I was in high school, you know when being cutting edge with technology meant have two phones connected to the landline instead of one, we were set an assignment in English which asked us to write about where we saw ourselves in 10 years.
Long story short, I got an A+ (humble brag, I know) but if I look back I know that it wasn’t necessarily the future I wrote about that impressed my teacher but rather the acknowledgement of how the past would influence the woman I was to become.
At 15, my youngest brother was born to my relatively young parents, and my relatively young mother (35 years old) haemorrhaged, was given an emergency hysterectomy and was then put life support for awhile. Needless to say, this had a profound impact upon my other brother and me as we were sent to visit our new brother before word of my mother’s condition had reached us. Upon arrival we were confronted by the machines, drips and team of medical professionals crowding around her trying to keep her alive, oblivious to the 2 teenage children standing in the corner of the room who’d been told to ‘go on through’.
It was at this moment that I built a distrust of the future because, as far as I was concerned, the ‘future’ was not a beast upon which anyone could rely. Consequently, as a younger woman I was obsessed with planning main paths, contingency paths and escape paths. I didn’t realise how locked I was into this mindset until 3 weeks from our wedding, I panicked that there was no ‘escape path’. So, having long been familiar with my level of crazy (no matter how loveable) my husband helped me forge an escape path so that I could happily commit with the knowledge that if things got ugly, I could leave.
Relax, it’s been over 20 years and we are still going strong, but I must admit, I like knowing the ‘escape path’ is still there.
Anyhow, the future decided that I would experience my own childbearing challenge some 5 years later, and even though I was survived to tell the tale, my baby girl did not. In my wildest dreams, not going home with a healthy baby had not even been a consideration. Why would it?
I felt cheated. The plans I had made had involved a prolonged absence from paid work, a job transfer, even a divorce but I didn’t plan for a death and, based upon my experience, I probably should have. But, we block out those things, don’t we?
Then, something else happened I hadn’t planned; I got depressed. I’m not talking about sad, I am talking about a deep emotional hole that seems to sink further and further from hope and light. In this hole; however, I felt safe from the pitying looks I imagined from those who had known of my plans and seen them fail.
Fortunately my mother, who had survived and had suffered her own emotional pits, turned up on my doorstep. She firmly told me that I now belonged to a large club that has many members but about which no one speaks because it is too painful. Mum made coffee and demanded I get dressed because we were going to go outside to where the people are as ‘life is too precious’ to waste.
I never argue with my mother and so we went outside to where the people are and I heard the stories from other women in ‘the club’. I realised that not all the looks were pitying, some of them were knowing. I realised that unfulfilled plans weren’t failures, just bumps along life which make it more interesting. I looked at photos of these women’s families and I realised that their plans did end up kind of coming to fruition, just not necessarily in the way the imagined but that didn’t make them failures.
Which brings me back into the ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ thing; what a load of malarkey. It puts so much pressure on people to plan and then feel like failures if they don’t reach that elusive goal. I actually had a student years ago who had planned which degree she would be able to gain entry to; what age she would graduate; the age she would meet the love of her life; how he would propose; when and where they would marry; when she would start having children and what gender they’d be. The same student would have anxiety attacks every time she had exams and would live on next to no sleep because she was worried if she ‘messed up’ her plan wouldn’t be realised. No matter how much I reasoned with her; how much her friends reasoned with her; how much her parents reasoned with her; she would not be swayed. Her future was planned and she would not veer from it’s path.
If only no one had asked her where she saw herself in 10 years time.
After having children, I am less obsessed with my own life ‘path’ or ‘paths’ (once you add escape and contingency routes) because even though the future can lie and make the present unkind for a moment, in general it can make us better, more resilient, more empathetic people when it becomes our past. I wouldn’t wish some of my experiences on anyone, but the few that were difficult have made me what I am today and I quite like myself and my life when it is all said and done.
So, if I were to be asked now ‘Where do I see myself in 10 years?” what would I say?
Who knows? I’m having a lot of fun today though.