It was my 20-year high school reunion a couple of months ago and all of a sudden I felt like a kid again. Considering that I have been known to say that I was my wisest at 17, that was a good thing.
It was 1995.
I knew what I wanted and I knew who I was. I made every decision with an unfaltering sense of urgency and appropriateness for my life in the moment.
My future was guided by my love of potential and opportunity — it wasn’t curbed by fear of failure or stabs of self-impaling ego. Everything was possible and I was unfettered. I didn’t waste energy or time doubting myself. My goals, no matter what, seemed accessible and attainable.
If I didn’t like something, I changed it.
If I was mad, I let it out.
If I needed something, I made sure I had it.
I did it all, and it was the most natural thing in the world.
I never laughed at thoughts like:
I’m going to be famous.
I’m going to be wildly successful.
I’m going to leave my mark on the world.
I just thought them. And then I knew them to be true.
I don’t know what happened over the years. Slowly disbelief tugged at the corners of my ambition. Somehow, things wormed their way in that had no place in my dreams. I started to think that faltering was a natural part of success. That my ideas weren’t ‘realistic’ and that as an adult I was only a seasoned veteran in my experiences if I had felt my share of betrayal, or shame, or heartbreak. I was nothing if I didn’t suffer for it.
My belief in myself became replaced by a sardonic eye-roll and the weighted sighs of ‘been there done that’. Soon the way I listened to others changed too. It was easy to dismiss first-time enthusiasm as green and bittersweet, while I was a veteran of the ‘I Told You So’ war.
When did that happen?
In high school my classmates and I used to listen unquestioningly to each other’s goals. It didn’t matter if we wanted to be filmmakers or physicists, we just nodded encouragingly to each other while we treaded water and tried to keep our heads above others’ expectations.
There was never any question that we would do what we loved with our lives. There was never a doubt that we would eventually get there. There was no work up to slam down —no build to break.
We seemed to accept that we were all different. We had a self-informed sense of humour and individuality that simultaneously let us say and do things that others wouldn’t, and not sweat the consequences because we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We didn’t take life seriously, because life was plastic. It would mould to our intentions. It would become what we wanted and our vision was the key in the ignition.
Maybe it was the collective surge of our fight to be ourselves that gave us our edge. Maybe we were just all in the right place at the right time. Maybe I have just told the story of every teen on their unstoppable quest for life, and none of us were the unique snowflakes we wanted to be. But something stayed with me. Some kind of primal ‘go get it’ conditioning. Some sort of ‘push’. Something that made it impossible for me to compromise without looking back to that 17 year old for guidance.
What would she do? I would wonder over the years.
How could I have known then, but not now?
There were times over the last 20 years that my dreams would seem convoluted and the opinions of others would impose themselves on my heart. Their doubt would echo through my foundations. I spent quite a few years like that —not knowing. Not doing. Blindly looking forward through the filters of ‘I should’ instead of looking back to the oracle of my youth.
I started to take what I thought was the ‘responsible’ route ( but which was often just a well disguised device for self-sabotage) instead of listening to my heart and trusting my gut. There were times I questioned my blueprints and tried to unmake myself.
Well, you’re a mom now.
This is it. Stop thinking there’s more.
I would get to the point where I almost believed it, too.
Lucky for me that 17 year old never fell for crap like that. The percussive pop of kiboshed self-rejection would snap me back on track.
Well, you’re a mom now. So? So what?
This is it. Stop thinking there’s more. No. You know there’s more. Go get it.
What if you fail and nothing changes? Screw failure. Screw success. Are you really going to be happy unless something changes?
Stop pretending that life is so dramatic. Everything is not a game-changing crossroad. Really? Because I’m pretty sure there’s a big difference between staying still and taking a step forward.
The 20 years that has passed is entirely comprised of steps that I may not have taken if not for that girl.
In quiet times of self-reflection when I feel lost, I let her surface and tell me what she wants to be when she grows up. And then we make a plan. In times of conflict I let her honesty and self-awareness make the call.
I relish the way she pulls me to stand up, and stand apart. In her eyes, and in the eyes of my classmates, there is no time. There’s no deadline and no expiry date, and it’s never too late to be happy, to travel the world, to start something or to start again.
And If I don’t like something, I’ll change it.
If I’m mad, I’ll let it out.
If I need something, I’ll make sure I have it.
I’m doing it all, like it’s the most natural thing.
I’m going to leave my mark on the world…
To ‘That Class’ of 1995, and all the people and experiences that made us who we are, whether we are standing alone or together, then, now, or 20 years from now. I feel proud to have that fixed point of origin and you to share it with.
And much, much more than this, I did it my way.