Thursday, August 09, 2007

Timelines

I have been thinking quite a bit about the order of things lately.

Two inspirations for this train of thought 1) I might be tired of living with other people and 2) real estate in the area in which I live is obscene.

I like my roommates. I have been picky over the years and have managed to live in clean, drama-free environments with women who have busy separate lives and can co-exist peacefully. But my general concern is that perhaps I am getting too old to still be living like a college student. Maybe it's time to be a real adult, suck it up and buy something where I get to decide what goes on the walls.

So that brings me to the next point which is, I live in a place where a one-bedroom apartment can set you back $340K. For $400K in Utah, you could live here. The entire Orange County apartment could probably fit in that bathroom and your two kids and dog would have to sleep out in the courtyard.

But I don't have two kids or a dog. And every Saturday this summer I have gotten on my bike, ridden four blocks, and spent the afternoon parked on the beach. Every morning when I walk outside and it's warm and sunny and I drive down a palm-tree lined street to Pacific Coast highway, my heart skips a slight beat that I actually get to live here. I am 30 years old. If I live to be 80, I still have 50 years of potential home-ownership years to look foward to. I still have 50 years of potential marital bliss and 50 potential years of being someone's mother. Realistically I probably only have a few more years of ocean breezes lulling me to sleep, a closet full of cute shoes and a schedule over which I have complete control. So why can't I shake that feeling that I am behind? And how come sometimes I feel behind because I don't have four kids and a mortgage, and sometimes I feel behind because I still haven't been to Spain and have yet to actually do anything with my writing? Does anyone else think it must be absolutely exhausting to be inside my brain?

This will be the second time I bring up this book in as many weeks, which should probably signal that you ought to read it, but I just got to the chapter in Crossing to Safety where the Langs and the Morgans spend a year on sabbatical in Italy. They are all in their forties at this point and the kids are mostly grown and out of the house. For the Morgans, it's their first time out of the country and they are understandably giddy about the upcoming experience. The main character says "..at past forty,with a daughter starting college, we could begin". One of my major regrets from college is that I never figured out how to do a sememster abroad. At the time it just felt like that could slow down graduation, or that it would be too expensive. I'm not sure why I was so hell-bent on getting out in four years and after a long period of regular paychecks, I realize that a quarter in Prague would have been a debt fairly easily repaid and worth every penny. So that's an adventure I've thought I missed out on, something that made me feel behind. I read that passage in the book and it occured to me that my arbitrary timelines were telling me that only a person between the ages of 18-21 is allowed that kind of experience and that if I didn't do it then, time's up.

So when is time up? Outside of obvious biological limitations on things like childbirth and Olympic medal winning, I submit that time doesn't run out until you do. If you are 60 when you run your first marathon that doesn't put you "behind" someone who did it at 20. I've mentioned this before but Julia Child, who built a cooking empire and whose kitchen is on display in the Smithsonian Museum, didn't even go to culinary school until she was 36. 36! And without her it's doubtful we would ever have The Naked Chef OR Rachel Ray (ok, not the greatest example but you see where I am going right?)

I see two dangers in limiting ourselves to timelines and worrying too much about order. One is that you resign yourself to things you might not want or really be ready for. Maybe you get married to a person you've been dating for awhile because it seems like the next logical step. Maybe you stay in a job you hate because you are too old to start over in a new industry. Maybe you don't go back to school because you don't want to be the "non-trad" in the program. And two, I think you can undervalue what you have accomplished thus far when you are too freaked out about what you haven't done. If I really do feel a genuine sense of happiness everytime I step out my front door, then why on earth would I give that up just because it seems like I ought to own something by this point of my life. If I am really honest with myself, I wouldn't rather have a bedroom set and a nice couch over say, two years of struggle and growth in Boston.

And really, the time I feel the most behind or time line obsessed is when I get caught up comparing my life to other people's, a practice which someday I hope to grow out of entirely. It is so easy in this age of easy easy access to other people's worlds to feel 100% inadequate. It does not matter that most of us only let you see the really fantastic parts (like a week ago I was chatting up a celebrity in Manhattan and today I'm doing a task so dreadfully boring I've written almost a whole blog post on my breaks from the monotony but you don't see entries about THAT!), your smiling baby and cute husband, your endless weekend getaways to somewhere fabulous, your good taste, your amazing talents so often get held up against my insecurities and weaknesses. Don't get me wrong, I want all of those wonderful things for all the people around me, I just don't want YOUR life paths to make me worry about my own. And that's no one's responsiblity but mine.

So, this random thursday in August, I am giving all of us permission to put aside silly timelines and stop being slaves to order. If all of our lives were exactly the same, what on earth would I read to keep myself from doing any work?

22 comments:

jess said...

Katie, what well expressed thoughts. I will mull this over.....
In the meantime, I think of my mom. I think she is still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up. She has a college degree, taught, went back to school, was an interpreter, a tour guide, and now is a literacy teacher, but thinks she might go back to school again. She said she's got a lot of life left and she wants to find something she really likes to do for the next couple decades or so.
Also, its good to know you show the best of your life. I compare like crazy and feel inadequate for not having the beach living, awesome career experience right now. Maybe we should have a "most boring part of life" blog entry day.

vfg said...

(1) I love Crossing to Safety. (and badly want a Charity & Sid to add sparkle to our professor-and-wife life)

(2) really appreciated this post.

Am working really hard lately at liking where I am.

renting.

Miss Hass said...

I keep having to make lists of what I've done with my life so that I can stop thinking about how my life doesn't measure up to what I thought it should be at this point in life. Why is it so hard to be happy with life?

I'm going to think about this.

chloe elizabeth said...

Working in the counseling center of a University has worked wonders for how I feel about my lot in life. Not because I compare myself to the students that come in and think my life is so much better, but because I see everyday that we all have our own paths. I am so grateful for mine. But it is so easy to get caught up in it all. That's when I just trust in the Lord. I mean, I graduated from college and then went to beauty school. Who does that? And now I'm going back. I bought a house at 23 and now I live with my parents, grateful that they can help me out.

It really is just one crazy road that we each drive. I loved your thoughts. And, while you may not be publishing books, I would submit that you are doing something with your writing.

Katie, you are fabulous (and keep renting...I'm so excited to be renting again, once I have sold the house).

f*bomb. said...

We can have it all, when we get it sequentually. The thing is, we seem to feel as though we're supposed to have it all NOW. Once we let go those confines of other people's expectations, it frees us to the world of experience.
I've always wanted to go to Europe. I promised my high school English teacher I would "dance in the daffodils" before I "settled down and grew up." So far, I've only been to dirty poor countries, and Europe seems like a dreamworld, but...I've been to a multitude of dirty poor countries and had AMAZING experiences I would have never planned for myself, let alone imagined would build my life up the way that these experiences have!

So here's to living without timelines, enjoying where you're at and where you're going, all the while appreciating and valuing all the things that you HAVE done.

Jayne said...

Ahhh timelines! Wherever they come from, parents, society, friends - they are meant to either guide us or shame us. The guiding part is okay, I guess, provided it is only a guide to the possibilities, not a forced march. But the shame part - shoulnd't you have.......by now, isn't really good ever!

Bev said...

This past Saturday I watched a clip of the Ironman. The story was of a catholic nun who completed the race (her fourth) within a minute of the cut off...she was 75. Her statement at the conclusion of the race, "I guess I have to create a category for 80 and above". It completely cured the, "It's too late to start over" buzzing in my mind of late. Enjoy the ocean breeze...you have multitudes of time...

KatieGirlBlue said...

I do this, too, from time to time, and what sometimes helps me break the cycle of wondering is to picture Ouroborous, the ancient figure of a snake eating its own tail. Because no matter how strong/focused/driven/"together" a person seems on the outside, she has moments of doubt, too, and chances are, she looks at me occasionally and wonders how I manage to seem so strong/focused/driven/"together." We are continual sources of inspiration for others, even if we don't always believe it. You seem pretty "with it" to me.

Mega N! said...

I have a dear friend who, upon completing her degree in biochemistry, went to medical school in Mexico. When she found that the medical profession did not fit the paramaters of her hopes for a lifelong career, she moved. To Paris. Long story short, I think she's been to every continent except Antartica and continues to live life on her terms. She does perscribe to some of the establishment's trappings. She is a terrific aunt and a homeowner, however, she has her roommates help foot the morgatge.

Do I compare her life to mine? I do in the way I look at, let's say, a buffet. There are things I definately want and things I just want to try. And what's great is she's there at the buffet with me saying, "Yeah, that's probably a little sweet for your tastes", knowing me, I'd eat it out of spite and THEN agree.

Either way it sounds like I got 50 or so years of eating ahead of me, with some amazing folks to enjoy them with. So do you.

Bon Appetit!

ThomCarter.com said...

I love this post. This is fantastic and I totally agree.

The way that I deal with it are the ThomCarter Rules on Life.

lilcis said...

In case you haven't already done the calculations yourself, The mortgage on that one bedroom condo will run you about $2500-$3000 a month. That's without havind a downpayment. Since it's on your mind, I suggest you start saving whatever part of that you're not putting towards rent, just to get used to it. The market does seem to be softening, so prices may come down a bit. But not by much.
So, enjoy another year or so at the beach, and then buy something. But don't settle.

I really wish someone had encouraged me to buy a condo for myself five years ago, when it was still somewhat reasonable. But I always thought that buying a home was something you did after you got married. Now, even with dual incomes we'll be lucky if we can find a condo that we can afford. It's so sad.

MissEm said...

Life is life. You can't change it or rush it.

And 30 hardly puts you in the "old maid" category. :)

Salt H2O said...

Beautiful entry- I argue with timelines constantly. It's hard when your boss is younger than you, or your younger siblings are on their second child.

You're right, there isn't a formula for life. We each get to live our own, why waste it comparing it to someone else's?

Rod Clifford said...

Katie,
Good writing is music to the eyes. When the writer also has something worth saying it's a symphony. Well done.

Santa's Little Helper said...

Hi, I found your blog through Therese, and I love reading it. I truly agree with this post. I love that everyone has their separate path, mission, and purpose on this earth. Comparison's really are IMPOSSIBLE considering the fact that we're not supposed to be the same as anyone else. What we have to offer is unique, and our life experiences help us to learn the things we need to learn to accomplish the things we need to accomplish.

On the other hand, I, of course, would like to check off certain goals that I have set for myself and move beyond some of the unknown that is my life at this moment. Stability does sound nice...

Dainon said...

A-freaking-men. I like the way your mind works. Fluid thoughts, my friend, and I could not agree more with them.

chloe elizabeth said...

lilcis has great advice. Make payments like you are paying a mortgage (to a high yield savings account) and then, whether renting or owning, you are at least saving that. You don't get the added bonus of rising property values, but at least it's something. That would be a great starting point. I, on the other hand, have done things backwards. I bought the house and am so excited to not own anything again until I'm really settled in a job, or married with chilluns.

Katie said...

I loved this post.

Loved it.

It kind of choked me up a little bit.

snapdragon said...

Katie, the funny thing is, we consider some of the opposite things. Like, we DO live in a home and have our kid, but sometimes we wonder if we're not even living life because we haven't lived in all these different places and experienced all these different experiences? I guess there's a happy medium. Or maybe there's just "your life" and what you make of it. We're always going back and forth on this issue.
-kylie

Cristin Lassen said...

That was good. When I say things like, "Oh, I can't go to law school, because by the time I graduate I'll be 33," My mom always says to me, "You'll be 33 anyway." I bring this up because sometimes I feel like my time has passed to do things... and I must be reminded that its never too late.

Oh, and we rent too. Too make ourselves feel better, my husband and I drive past people that are unable to sell $900k tract homes in Southern California and laugh at how they will be foreclosed on soon when their mortgage (ARM)changes. We literally point and laugh as we drive by. It's mean, but we do feel better afterwards.

jennyd said...

Hi Katie. I really like what you have to say about timelines and comparing our paths to other's.

I think things kinda came to a head for me maybe 5 yrs ago where I felt like a flop because I was close to my mid-30s and hadn't accomplished anything "noteworthy," and many expectations I had about how my life should be or what I should be like by that time were unfulfilled.

Re-evaluated stuff, sorted it out, got over it. Am totally loving this feeling that it's not "too late" for me.

Started taking piano a couple of years ago like I'd always wanted to. Am working on finishing my BA. Use to think it was a shame that I'd probably be 30 by the time I finished...but now I'm going to be 40 by the time I finish. But big rip. Plan to study art after that (in my 20s, I thought it was "too late" for me and art). Took up running last year in hopes of doing a marathon. I'd love to go to cooking school...

Turned 39 today, and I feel like, "so what?" This isn't to say good on me, I'm just glad to feel like it's not "too late" for me anymore. Because what is that anyway? Stupid timelines.

k8 said...

i'm so thrilled that this struck a chord with so many people. that signals to me that we all need to work harder to stop inflicting these expectations on each other...