It’s a funny thing, getting older. At least, it’s funny now. I may think differently in a few years. For now it amuses me, though. I say this because I was flipping through a stack of old pictures after chatting with a friend. I was in my early 20s in these photos, and it’s so strange to think of all that’s come since I was that young man. I like to imagine a short conversation between that Chris and myself. Maybe we’ve run into each other at a bookstore.
“Hey, buddy. What’s up?” I say.
“Who are you?” he says.
“Um, I’m you, like, six years from now. I haven’t changed that much have I?”
“No, I guess not. I just thought I’d look, I don’t know, cooler.”
“Whatever. I’m the epitome of cool.”
“Sure you are. So, what am I up to these days? Family? Career? I wrote a bestseller, right?”
“Yeah, about all of that. Things didn’t go quite as expected…”
Here’s where my imaginary conversation takes a tough turn. That younger, more naive, extraordinarily handsome version of me had a lot of expectations for himself, for me, and a lot of those expectations haven’t been met.
I’ll be 30 next year.
I’m pretty okay with that but I have to admit putting it in writing is a little depressing. Meh, I’ll get over it.
Anyway, I figured by now my life would be a lot different than it actually is. I thought I’d be married with a kid or two. I ambitiously thought I’d have stumbled into an enviable career. I’d have a cozy cottage in the hills somewhere, and I wouldn’t have much to worry about. I imagined things would be simpler, less oppressing. It’s a nice dream, right? Yeah, I thought so, too.
In my concocted conversation with younger me I would be forced to admit that I failed. I failed to meet the expectations I set for myself and there’s no one to blame but me.
I failed, it’s true, but here’s the crazy thing: I’m happy.
Through my failure I’ve learned what I really want for myself in life and what I’m willing to do to work towards those things. Most importantly, I’ve learned that failing to meet my own expectations is acceptable.
We live our lives faced with the expectations of others, which is pressure enough, but we pile our own on top of that. When we fall short we can be tyrants, mentally beating ourselves without mercy. We rake ourselves over coals far hotter than any we would subject others to or others would foist upon us. The times I spent berating myself for my shortcomings didn’t result in any great push to the finish line. They only ended with my staying down longer. When I finally came to the point when I put the whip down and silenced the ‘woe is me’ chant I was able to get up and try again.
It’s safe to say I’ll fail some more. So what? Our expectations have the power to fence us in, imprisoning us away from things far greater than we could know. Let’s not be afraid to let go of a few of our agendas. Let’s not skimp on the mercy when it comes to ourselves and let’s not be afraid to try again.
I still have goals for myself. Lofty ones, to be sure. However, the expectations I place on myself for those goals are inconsequential when viewed in light of grace. The beauty of grace is that it only works when freely given, even to ourselves.
In my explanations and excuses to the unseasoned me there’s one thing I wouldn’t say. I wouldn’t say “I’m sorry.”
“”What do you mean you’re not sorry?” he says. “You screwed up my life.”
“Did I? Take a seat, junior. Class is about to begin.”
“Junior? Watch it, pal!”
“Life doesn’t happen the way you expect it to. Be okay with that. There’s beauty in the unexpected. There are so many things to be learned from failing, things both difficult and mesmerizing. Don’t be afraid to take the time to learn those things.”
I don’t know what to expect in the coming years but I know that, rise or fall, it’s okay.
It’s not simple and it’s rarely easy but I will learn and I will grow and I will try again.
About the Author: From time to time Chris Hall writes a blog or two on life and the lessons he’s slowly learning. Otherwise, he’s refining the art of sarcasm or planning a global takeover. He’s currently finishing up his first novel, Earthking, a fantasy epic. Follow him on Twitter @C3H!