'Woman on beach looking back' photo (c) 2010, Derrick Coetzee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Every Friday my syndicated column “Reality Check” appears in a variety of newspapers. This week’s is based on a blog post I wrote earlier this week. Amazingly, my husband gave me permission for the first paragraph!

Last weekend my husband brought home the movie Marley & Me thinking that since it was romantic, it would naturally lead to romance. Unfortunately, the length of the movie threatened his intended result, and he confessed later that he found himself whispering under his breath, “Die, already dog. Hurry up and die!” But Marley took a while to succumb, and I, who am not particularly a dog person, found myself tearing up.

Marley & Me, though, isn’t really a dog movie. It’s more about what it means to be at peace, even with a dog that eats answering machines without chewing. The focus is on columnist John Grogan, who has made all the right choices. He marries a good woman; he lands a good job; he has wonderful children. But despite making these correct choices he’s restless. He had a certain vision of himself, and now he’s hitting forty and he’s not that person. And as he stares at his friends and family at his surprise birthday party, he wonders if he has failed.

Last weekend, right before we watched this movie, my family and friends threw me a “Forever Thirty-Nine” party. They figured doing it next year, when I really will be forty, would be too difficult because I’d be expecting it. So last Sunday my best friend unveiled a scrapbook of my life, people told stories and roasted me, and in general I felt extremely appreciated.

Such events, though, do cause you to examine your choices. And all too often, when we go through this exercise, we look back on our lives and find them wanting. Yet perhaps the reason this examination is so painful is because we use the wrong measuring stick.

In that scrapbook, the 23-year-old version of me in the graduation gown had a certain vision for my life. I was supposed to be the CEO of a hospital, or the director of a think tank foundation. But here I am, homeschooling my kids, putting dinner in the crockpot, folding laundry, writing columns, and raising money for an orphanage in Kenya. Not exactly what I had planned. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s wrong.

Many of us feel restless because we haven’t achieved our dreams, but I think what we miss is that we are not the same people who dreamed them. I am not fresh out of graduate school with visions of Toronto skyscrapers in my head. I’m a small town mom with a tent trailer.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but the dreams should be about looking forward, not looking back. When I hit forty, I won’t have achieved many of the things I thought I would. But I’ve achieved different things. True peace comes not when we tick off everything on our life’s to-do list; it comes when we get comfortable in our skin, make choices that reflect our values and who we are, and then live out those choices, in the nitty gritty, day by day. There’s nothing wrong with assessing your life and making changes, but make sure those changes reflect who you are now, not who you thought you’d be once.

I am not who I was. And my dreams, though they seemed big then, were really quite small. They didn’t involve two blonde teenagers who still like to hold my hand when we walk. They couldn’t see the changes trips to Kenya would make in me. They didn’t know how a small tombstone tucked in a country cemetery would change my heart. They didn’t realize how being married to my best friend could bring a satisfaction so much deeper than any paycheque or title. And so I am different today, but I’m comfortable with it. And as I approach middle age, that’s really the best gift I could have.

Reality Check is also a book! You can get 85 of my favourite columns to read in the bathroom (at least that’s where everybody tells me they read them!). Find out more here.


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