“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Ferris Bueller immortalized those words (many) years ago, but as my own life swirls around me, I now realize he was right. Our small day-to-day decisions may not seem important – let alone life-altering – but taken in aggregate, these smaller choices add up to the life you’re living right now, at this very moment.
The funny thing I’m learning about life is that often there’s a script we hold onto in our heads, the play-by-play of 'how my life will end up’ – and then there is reality. Like two paths diverging in a wood, the direction our lives actually takes often diverges from the script we’ve written in our heads.
Case in point: I’m from California, I’ve spent almost my entire life in California, and the script in my head has always said that I would live in California. And then, three years ago, I went ‘off-script’ and moved to Washington DC. Although that felt like a small decision at the time – ‘I can always move back!’ I swore to myself – I now realize that this seemingly-tiny change has completely altered the path of my life.
How do we manage the distance between the path we thought our life would take, and the path we’re actually on? My theory is that making sense of this gap and managing it is what makes us Grownups. In fact, in my own experience I’m learning that much of adulthood is about understanding and reconciling the distance between these two paths. Sometimes this means finding ways to course correct and bring the two paths back in line with each other. Other times this actually means celebrating the new direction my life has taken, and appreciating that the script I had in my head could have never envisioned a path better than the one I’m on.
How are your two paths diverging or converging? What gaps between paths have been easy to manage as you’ve grown into adulthood, and which ones have been harder to reconcile?
As Ferris so wisely told us, it’s in our best interest to take stock of our lives every so often and evaluate how we’re doing. The piece that Ferris missed, however, is that it’s not just about taking stock, but about actively managing the direction we’re heading in.
Whether you’re taking time to reflect once a year, once a month, or once a week, it’s important to practice giving yourself the time and space to check in, evaluate how you’re doing and identify the steps you may want to take to make changes. This may be in a journal, in your own head on a walk, or over coffee with a trusted friend or mentor. In the end, it’s this practice of reflection combined with forward planning that matters, not the method. Over time, this thoughtful work will help you not only see more clearly where you might have gone off-track, but also open your eyes to the places where going off-script resulted in serendipitous opportunities, new discoveries and important life lessons.
And that, in my opinion, is truly the definition of being a Grownup.