What do I want my life to look like in five years?”
I sat cross-legged on the floor in the church. The chairs were all stacked up and pushed against the walls so the floors could be vacuumed on Saturday. In the quiet, almost still room, I looked around at the other girls who were thinking and writing while I sat there staring at a blank piece of paper and a pencil that refused to move. I knew I had a time limit, so I felt rushed, and my brain panicked. What if I still had a blank page when the time was up? I was supposed to write down what I wanted my life to look like in five years and seal it in an envelope. In five years, I would be twenty-three years old. My church leader would send our letters to us so we could see what our past selves wrote, and see if our life turned out how we wanted it to. It sounded like a cute idea at the time.
Each second seemed to pass quickly, yet to me, time seemed to move as slow as mud. I realized the reason I didn’t have anywords on my paper was not that I didn’t know what to write. I did know. I was just too afraid to write my goals down becauseI didn’t know if it was “right” to want them.
Growing up in a conservative religion, church leaders and my family taught me that I should want to be a stay-at-home mother and take care of my kids. They said that was the greatest thing I could do with my life, that it was my main purpose. However, I really wanted to go to school and get an education. I wanted to work and have a successful career. I wanted to travel to places like Italy and France because I had a newfound love for art history, and I wanted to see all the artwork I learned about with my own eyes. While I did want to be married at some point, it was an idea for the far future— although, for the right guy, I could be flexible with that timeline. But I also didn’t have a desire to have children. Well, actually, deep down, I really did want children, but being the oldest of seven kids, I felt like I had already helped raise a few kids. So I was ready to do what I wanted to do for once, and I guess I didn’t think I could have that while also having kids.
I had to make a decision: would I write down the life I was taught I should want, or would I write the true desires of my heart?
I started writing, and with each word that I wrote, I became more confident. As I wrote out the true desires of my heart that day, I decided that I was going to own it, and I looked hopefully toward my future life.
Five Years Later
I forgot all about that letter not too long after I’d written it. I’m not sure I ever really expected it to make its way to me. After all, five years is a long time to hold on to something without losing it. So, I was surprised when I got a phone call from my parents and siblings. They were gathered together, and, on speakerphone, told me they received a letter for me from an unknown sender. By then, I had moved out of the house and was living in a different state. I had forgotten that this letter existed and didn’t remember what it said, so I just had them open it up and read it to me over the phone—which I quickly regretted.
They read all my teenage hopes and dreams out loud so everyone could hear. My family kept erupting in peals of laughter. I was laughing, too, but truthfully, I was also really embarrassed. For one, remember how I said that I’d consider an earlier timeline for marriage for the right guy? Apparently, I had an idea of who that could’ve been because I mentioned Aaron, the boy I had a crush on in high school, by name.
Ugh. So embarrassing.
Second, guess how many of the things I listed in that letter had actually come true?
—NONE of them.—
There I was, five years later—a married, stay-at-home-mom with twins, never having traveled anywhere outside the United States, no degree to my name, and no career.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things, but I felt conflicted inside. Without a doubt, I loved my husband and my children, and I wouldn’t want to go back and give them up, but I also meant what I wrote back then, too.
I fake-laughed it off to my family, and brushed off the letter as silly teen stuff, but I felt really sad. Like, really sad. It wasn’t just because I didn’t get to live my dreams; it was more than that. I felt like I had sold out in some way. Like I’d betrayed the courageous version of me that had written the truth in my heart. It seemed like such a waste to feel so empowered, so determined, and so honest just to do nothing with it.