If we are constantly struggling with feelings of inadequacy, we can never really enjoy the present moment.
It took my husband and me forever to decide to buy a house. Actually, I should say that it took me forever to decide to buy a house; my husband had come to the conclusion that it was the best move for us long before I did. I know that buying a house is a huge decision, but we weren’t stuck on which house to buy; we were stuck on whether or not we wanted to buy one at all. This really should have been an easy decision for us. All of our family is in the Chicago suburbs, and we have relatively stable jobs here, too, so buying property seemed like the most obvious choice.
So what was holding me back? Honestly, I wanted to do something more interesting with my life than teach high school and live in a cookie-cutter house in the middle of the suburbs while raising kids and dogs and growing old with my husband. All of my friends are in the midst of doing really awesome things like moving across the country to follow love or a perfect job, or they are having beautiful babies or writing books or getting second master’s degrees or PhD’s. I’m just settling down in the ‘burbs with my husband and our two dogs and it didn’t seem like enough.
The funny thing is, though, that a lot of my friends who are doing the things I perceive as awesome are wishing that they were living my life right now. My friends who are PhD candidates are wishing they could finish so they’d be able to get a job and have enough money to buy a house. My friends who are writing books are wishing they had more free time. My friends who are planning cross-country moves are wishing plans were finalized so they could stop feeling like they were in limbo.
I guess the grass really is always greener.
This feeling of inadequacy—maybe even envy of each other—that my friends and I are feeling is an epidemic among women in their late 20s and early 30s. It seems that, no matter what we do, we feel like we should be doing something else. Nothing we do is ever good enough, no matter how fantastic other people think it is. Being at peace with our choices is next to impossible, especially when we see others who are so happy doing something else that we’ve had on our own bucket lists for a long time.
We also seem to always be looking forward to the next thing rather than being happy with where we are. Part of that is society’s fault. When we bought our house, people immediately started asking us when we’d have kids. When people have a baby or write a book, we ask them when the next will be along. When students get close to finishing their degrees, we ask them what they plan to do after school. And so on. We can never just decide we’ve done enough because people won’t let us.
To this end, feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote, “I’ve always had two tracks running in my head. The pleasurable one was thinking forward to some future scene, imagining what should be, planning on the edge of fantasy. The other played underneath with all too realistic fragments of what I should have done. There it was in perfect microcosm, the past and future coming together to squeeze out the present, which is the only time in which we can be fully alive…These past and future tracks have gradually dimmed until they are rarely heard. More and more, there is only the full, glorious, alive-in-the-moment, don’t-give-a-damn yet caring-for-everything sense of the right now.”
Women spend so much time “squeezing out the present” with hopes and dreams for the future or regrets about choices made in the past that it makes it difficult to just enjoy what is for as long as it is and then move on to the next thing, whatever that may be.
Personally, as soon as my husband and I moved everything into our new house, I felt an immediate sense of calm. There is a permanence that goes along with property ownership that doesn’t come from much else in life. (We’ve often even joked that our mortgage is more binding than our marriage certificate.) Once we bought the house, it felt like a million other tiny decisions had been made for us. Not only were we staying near our families and in our jobs for the foreseeable future, but we will probably have a kid, and we will definitely always have at least one dog. Sure, I’ll get a PhD or write a book at some point, but I’m in no rush. The path my life is taking would have been different had we moved to an apartment in the city or had I started another degree program, but instead of feeling regret for what could have been, I’m actually feeling relieved.
Finally, I know what my life will probably look like, and I’m really happy with it, which allows me to enjoy the present while letting the future come at its own pace. I just hope my friends can find this same peace, too.
Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago where she lives with her husband and their two adopted dogs. She blogs about marriage, family, and education at Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com) and is a Causes Blogger for Care2.com.