I think many of us feel as if we are stumbling around through life, working our way ambitiously towards the destination of success. We live in a generation where the future seems to be more important than the present. We set our eyes on what our futures will be like, forcing tunnel vision upon ourselves in an obsession to attain our own idea of success. We seem to always be planning, always hoping, always feeling as if we have barely made it from A to B, overwhelmed with the expectation to make it from A to Z.
I remember being 15 years old, competing in pageants at the time and making a 5 year plan that included which titles I would win by the time I turned 21. After I graduated high school I stopped competing in pageants, and for awhile I felt as if I had failed. I spent years studying for titles I didn’t even run for, staring at a 5 year schedule on my wall that I never even completed.
Now, I am 21 years old, getting ready to graduate college in a couple of years and planning out my career. As I decide which classes to take, which internships to apply for, what part of the country I want to work in and what will look best on my resume, I am reminded of what was most likely the best piece of advice I have ever received.
During one of my pageant reigns, I had a lovely elderly man named Chuck as an escort. He would drive me around to different appearances, helping me promote my program. Sitting at lunch one afternoon I was expressing my stress of the next competition, and admitted for the first time that my heart was no longer in it. I was feeling ashamed of myself, after all of the planning and work I had put into the next title when he said to me- “Loren. I work for a company I barely knew existed. I married a woman that was last on my list when we met. I live in a town that I couldn’t wait to get out of growing up and have traveled to countries that I never saw myself setting foot in. My life didn’t go at all according to my plan, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am happier than I ever expected to be, and I owe that to all of the things I didn’t set in stone. Don’t set everything in stone because you will miss the opportunities that are right in front of you.”
I continued to diet, to study, to plan my life around a schedule that would ensure me another title, but in the end I was burnt out with what I was doing. It was no longer enjoyable like it had been in the beginning and I lost interest in the success I thought would surely make me happy. There was a point where I loved competing and would have chosen being on a stage to going on vacation or going to prom. But as I continued on with my 5 year plan, I noticed myself envying those of my friends who had the freedom to stay up all night eating cake and watching movies, or spend a weekend in a houseboat on the lake. I learned a great deal from pageants, and took away many qaulties I am very proud of, but I also see now how long I held onto something while what I really needed was to stop and enjoy the journey I was on, instead of being so obsessed with winning.
A few years later…
I got accepted into a school that I fell in love with, but one I would have never explored if I hadn’t gone on a spur of the moment trip. I starting dating someone I swore would always be my friend, and have made incredible memories with him. I started traveling more and explored other talents and passions I always ignored. Once I stopped competing I looked at my life and realized Chuck was right! I set all these plans in stone and ended up the furthest place from them. What I have begun to notice, is that everything I saw myself doing, everything I had planned out may have made me happy then, but those things wouldn’t make me happy now. My priorities have changed. My goals have changed and I have changed. I learned a great deal from the goals I did achieve, but I also learned a great deal about myself by changing my goals.
I think in the end, happiness is what we all strive for. To look back and say, “wow that was fun,” or “I learned so much about myself when…” and in the hustle and bustle of everyday life we tend to forget the end goal is not so important as is how we feel when we get there. For myself, I want to be surrounded by people I love, married to a husband I am crazy about and take in the beauty the world offers. I want to be confident and inspiring and proud of my character. As much as I hope to be successful and known in my career, being happy with me and those that are around me is what is most important. I’ve never heard of anyone’s last words including “I wish I would have been more well-known. I wish I would have put in more hours at the office so I could have been more successful.” So on that note, I urge you to remember the most important things of life, and as hard as it is to set aside our plans for the future, we must remember to live in the present, because time passes and we don’t even realize what we are missing.