As a finale to our Great Things series where we explore our youthful desire to change the world, we wanted to offer the perspective of a Millennial who finds herself in the middle of asking, “How did I get here?” While we can all spend time discussing the best way to save the world, not very many of us consider what might happen if we are the ones who end up in need of saving. To provide some insight on this subject, I asked my wife, Anna McPeak (@annacmcpeak), to share with the world what she has shared with me so many times over the years: her insight into how beauty and brokenness can sometimes coexist in the same space, and what in the world we are supposed to do when it happens to us. We hope this series has been helpful for you, and we hope that you find some truth on your way to doing Great Things.
Disclaimer: my story is not your story.
My greatest mistake in life was expecting it would happen to me. Many of the big decisions people face and mull over for weeks, I made in a heartbeat. For better or for worse, I didn’t consider many colleges, I didn’t take two years to declare a major, and I didn’t choose a career path either. While I do not believe we are only the sum of the decisions we have made, I do believe these decisions played a significant part in bringing me to where I am today. Where I am today is not necessarily horrible, but my post college life is a far cry from what I imagined it would be. As a five year old looking to her golden birthday, I imagined by my 25th year I would be a princess, or something nearly as unrealistic. While I might not have used the phrase “the high life” when I was a child, the idea was still there.
Like many in my generation, I was told I could be anything, go anywhere, do anything – and to an extent that is true. The horizons of our world have broadened, even in the last 20 years, and the limits of human life and abilities are stretching farther and farther. This is, no doubt, a good thing, but along with it comes a sort of pressure on the millennial generation. The connectedness of the world, coupled with the expectations we put on ourselves have left us in a dizzying pursuit of unfocussed passions.
What we failed to realize behind our dreams of grandeur, were the “behind the scenes” efforts required in order for us to get to our version of “high life.” Like most high school and college students, I saw the tapestry, but didn’t see the broken threads that made up the bigger, more beautiful picture. We all go through our own versions of this liminal space, and to an extent I expected that to happen to me— but I didn’t expect that getting to my “great thing” would be so challenging, and I definitely didn’t expect even the next thing to come so agonizingly slow.
Perhaps this is a simple expectation versus reality problem, but, if I’m honest, I doubt it’s that simple. We think our life is going to look a certain way, and even if we don’t have a clear picture of what that means, we turn 25 sorely disappointed that our love life, career, and life in general look nothing like what we thought they would. Realizing life is a lot less like the epic tales we read about in adventure novels, and a lot more like an instruction manual for a store-bought bookshelf is a hard fact to reconcile. I thought I would be a Hermione or a Katniss, but the longer I live, the more I feel like a side character in someone else’s story.
And maybe that’s the point. My father wrote a really great email-turned-blog post to try and help me through this season (of which I am still living). In a conversation after sending that email, he made an insightful comment, “The superheroes we watch in movies — all they are really trying to do is make normal life a possibility for everyone else.” We all want to be a superhero, but no one wants to be saved. So what do we do when we aren’t the superhero we thought we would be?
I don’t claim to have concrete answers; I believe our generation is the first to really struggle with a “quarter life crisis” so not many resources are available on the topic, and those that do exist are conjectural at best. Many of us need to realize the simple fact that we are only 20-something, and it is okay to not have our dream realized right now. Others of us might have to come to terms with the fact that it may never be realized, and we are being called to something we never thought we would, or even could, be satisfied with. When our life does not turn out to look the way we thought it would, we lose hope pretty fast, missing some of the most poignant lessons along the way. Contentedness, it seems, is not a magical emotion that arrives the day we get what we always wanted; in fact, it’s just the opposite.
In the last episode of The Office, a show that is essentially a celebration of the mundane, recurring character Pam eloquently reflects upon her years, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that the point?” I think many of us have become focused on triumphant beginnings, and victorious finales*, that we forget it took three books for Frodo to reach Mount Doom and seven for Harry to defeat Voldemort. It’s not about the beginning, or the end — it’s about the beautiful, albeit sometimes agonizing in-between. It’s in the in-between where we learn that we cannot (or should not) compare our story to someone else’s. It is in the deserts and wildernesses where we are taught patience and contentment. And it’s in the confusing times and the unadorned moments where we are invited to a peace that passes understanding and to become who we were created to be. In the end it might actually be an adventure story. But if it is, it’s a story where great things look a little different than what we expected.
Get to know Anna by following her on twitter: @annacmcpeak!
*Line adapted from an essay by Sue Monk Kidd. Check out her writing!
Image used under the creative commons license courtesy of Loco Steve: http://bit.ly/1t1D7ME