Ten years ago I was a junior in high school. If you had asked 16-year old Emily where she thought she would be at 26, she probably would have told you something that looks very different from the life I am actually living now.
In high school I was very much influenced by my surroundings and adopted a checklist of certain expectations for my life. Here were the big ones:
- Graduate college in four years.
- Get married by 22.
- Have my first kid by 25.
- Start my own business before 30.
There is nothing wrong with having a ten-year plan. I love lists and I love goal setting. I have lists for everything. I even have a special notebook for all of my lists. However, in this particular case, the goals on the list were not realistic, not fair, and not healthy. If you know me then you know that the first three items on the list didn’t happen “on schedule.” I am very afraid of failure. I hate to fail at anything and more often than not, I base the worth of my life on my accomplishments and my success. I know that is wrong and that is sinful. My worth is defined in Jesus and I need to do a much better job of remembering that.
I started college in the fall of 2007. I jumped into school not really knowing what I wanted to study. I changed majors about four times, which made it very difficult to graduate in four years. When May 2011 came around and all of my friends were graduating and I wasn’t, I felt like a failure. I shrugged it off, but deep down I struggled with it immensely. I got my act together, made a plan, and graduated in December 2012 with a degree in Business Administration. I took a semester off and then started working towards my Masters degree in Business in the fall of 2013. While working on my MBA, I juggled multiple jobs and a full class load. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it all, but somehow I made it. I graduated with a very good GPA and pulled off grad school in just under two years. I think part of the reason I pushed myself so hard was because I wanted to prove that I was capable of achieving greatness. It was like a “take that” to anyone who ever gave me grief about taking my time whilst getting my first degree. Clearly, this was a time in life I forgot about finding my worth in Jesus and validated my worth with my accomplishments.
I will be 27 years old this year and I am not married and do not have kids of my own. High school Emily would be appalled by those facts. Why? For some reason I had it in my head that I had to be married by a certain age. If not, I was a failure. Growing up, I saw a pattern in other people’s lives—go to college, meet future spouse, get engaged, graduate, and get married. I just figured that was going to be the case for me. Well, things didn’t play out that way. I’ve had my fair share of crushes and being interested in certain boys, but I’ve only ever had one boyfriend. For the record, it barely lasted two months. More feelings of failure and shortcomings in my life, right? One day I finally realized that just because I am “x” years old, haven’t dated anyone recently, and am not currently interested in anybody special, doesn’t mean I am failing at my life. I don’t need to start playing the cruel game of “what ifs” in my life—What if I am still single at 30? What if I never find a man who wants to drink coffee and watch Doctor Who with me on a Saturday night? What if I never get married? Maybe one day I will get married. Maybe one day I will have kids of my own. However, the “what ifs” and the “maybes” in my life do not matter. At the end of the day, I want to live a life that brings God glory. There are things that I have been able to do in my twenties that I may not have been able to do if I were married or had kids. If I can best execute Kingdom work as a single lady, then bring it on. I trust that God is bigger than any plans I have for myself. I also know that on the days I am struggling with that hashtag single life, I have incredible people in my life who love me and will remind me of the promises of Jesus (obviously those conversations will be held over coffee and pie). My life isn’t defined by my marital status.
As for the last goal, the jury is still out. Like I mentioned above, I still have a few years to go before I hit 30. If I open my own coffee shop before I’m 30, cool. If I don’t open my own coffee shop for another twenty years, cool. My job/occupation does not define my life either. Living a life with and for Jesus is already the best and most important job I will ever have.
I am not a failure at life because it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would when I was in high school. I can keep making lists and keep setting goals as long as I don’t let those things run my life. My ultimate purpose in life is to live in a way that honors Jesus and Jesus trumps any list.