When I was a little kid I’d say with full conviction that I wanted to become a singer or scientist or archaeologist when I grew up. As a middle schooler I was determined to become a lawyer or soccer player. In high school I’d tell you I was going to be a talking head on a TV station. But by college I had no clue what I wanted to be, even when “grown up” life loomed like a monster just around the corner. In fact, I was so clueless that I took the first job offered to me after graduation and started six days later. Quickly, I realized that media buying was not the occupation for me. What in the world was I going to do with my life?
As I got older I tried my hand at a few more things – at a magazine, in social media, for a non-profit, and finally, in the tech world – and slowly became brave enough to let my thoughts about pursing a dream job that I felt peer pressured into desiring give way to a new idea: I wanted my life to have a particular shape rather than to be defined by an occupation. Granted, I hope to like whatever it is that I do, but I don’t see how having my dream job is the teleology of my life; only an added bonus if I’m so fortunate. (Side note: David Brooks touched on this here)
What shape did I and do I still want my life to take?
I want a life made alive by family, marked by hospitality, painted with the laughter and tears of dear friends both old and new, one that is fixed during times of famine and suffering, and ultimately centered on objectively good, true, and beautiful things. I crave things that are solid and real, the ‘stuff life’s made of.’ Namely, I desire a life that will tie me down to particular people and to a particular place.
In short, I want to exist in a family.
Today, my counselor told me the stories of a handful of women in their mid 40’s who had come to her in tears wishing that they could press the redo button on the previous decade or two of their lives. At at the juncture of career and family, they chose to elevate their careers at the cost of having a family. In hindsight, they wish with all of their hearts that would have chosen the life centered on family instead. Family’s now an elusive dream that at one time they thought would be limiting, rather than the source of life and joy – the thing that ultimately would give color and shape to their life. In Heretics, Chesterton writes at length about the family. He says,
“It is a good thing for a man to live in a family in the same sense that it is a beautiful and delightful thing for a man to be snowed up in a street. They all force him to realise that life is not a thing from outside, but a thing from inside. Above all, they all insist upon the fact that life, if it be a truly stimulating and fascinating life, is a thing which, of its nature, exists in spite of ourselves.”
Here I am, 25 going on 30, an old soul who is frustrated that the world (or at least NYC) has thrown the idea of someone my age – or anyone really – ‘settling’ into a family out with the bathwater. Having a family and existing within a family, is the most beautiful and least shameful thing in the world. It is a dream I’m constantly surrendering to God and has been one of the most painful parts of the past five months. I look forward to the coming days when, God-willing, family can be part of my story.
Until then, I’ll leave you with the wit and wisdom of my friend GK:
“But in order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential. It may often happen, no doubt, that a drama may be written by somebody else which we like very little. But we should like it still less if the author came before the curtain every hour or so, and forced on us the whole trouble of inventing the next act. A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect. It is vain for the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings. To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance. Of all these great limitations and frameworks which fashion and create the poetry and variety of life, the family is the most definite and important. Hence it is misunderstood by the moderns, who imagine that romance would exist most perfectly in a complete state of what they call liberty. They think that if a man makes a gesture it would be a startling and romantic matter that the sun should fall from the sky. But the startling and romantic thing about the sun is that it does not fall from the sky. They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations — that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes. There is nothing baser than that infinity. They say they wish to be, as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves.”