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If I were to look at my life today from the eyes of my fifteen-year-old self, I would consider myself a failure.
I lived in California from the time I was seven years old until I was 15. Surf boards and eucalyptus trees and stucco homes with red tile roofs were the setting of my foundational years. We learned about the gold rush (not the land run and not the Alamo), and we created alternative uses for the word like.
San Diego is where I fell in love with the sea. It’s where I tracked out the course of my life to be a marine mammal biologist. It’s where I actually got to work with dolphins. It’s where I whale watched and cataloged tide pools.
I was passionate about my life goals. My gung-ho fifteen-year-old self foolishly believed that all the people around me had once also desired to be marine mammal biologists, but they had let their dreams slip away and now they were shadow people – not doing the things they loved, settling for mediocrity. I despised mediocrity.
I took loads of aptitude tests and every one of them came back saying my talents were in writing and design. Every one was wrong, and I knew it. My talents were in science and math. Now, I never actually excelled in science and math, but I knew that somewhere deep down inside of me was a wellspring of left-brained brilliance. Besides, aptitude tests measured aptitude. They didn’t measure passion, and I had loads of that.
It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I finally reached my rude awakening and realized I would never be a marine mammal biologist. I was a writer, not a scientist. I was made to tell stories, not write grant proposals and analyze data. I traded my childhood dreams for my real aptitudes.
New dreams evolved. Now I was going to be a high-powered writer and wear expensive suits and drive a BMW. Or I was going to live in the country and write in my romantic manor, just like in Under the Tuscan Sun.
Never in my dreams did I picture the reality of the giant student loan payments that came with my private college education, loving a low-paying job doing public relations for a non-profit, saving for months to spend a weekend in a cabin in Arkansas, and suburbia – my old idealistic self saw the suburbs as failure. But here I am. That is my life.
And it is a very sweet life.
I am blessed with the greatest husband, an amazing community, a little business and good job where I get to do good. I have fabulous parents who still provide wisdom and a sister who stuns me with her photographic memory and heart of gold. And me, the little girl who longed for a brother, now has four brothers-in-law. I have family near and far and a passport with stamps and a master’s degree. The Professor and I are learning Italian in hopes of going someday. And I have a great little house in suburbia (thank you very much). I’m not out lighting the world on fire, but we support missionaries who are fighting child trafficking, and we’re saving money so that one day we can have our own kiddos.
Yep, fifteen-year-old me would be so utterly disappointed. Fifteen-year-old me would pronounce me mediocre. Fifteen-year-old me sometimes haunts me and teases me and whispers in my ear that I’m a failure and that my world is small and my contribution meaningless. But fifteen-year-old me had no idea what she was talking about and had the smallest, most narrow view of success.
Dear fifteen-year-old me, I still hate mediocrity. I just have a better definition of it than you did.
What does your fifteen-year-old self tell you?